Michael Elliott is an excellent film-maker whose children attend public schools in New York City. He understands the fight against high-stakes testing. Here is a short video he created to tell the story about how parents feel about PARCC.

Edward Johnson, a Deming adherent who believes in system reform, challenges the policymakers in Atlanta: stop blaming the parents, stop tinkering, stop the disruption: instead, fix the system.

Johnson writes:

Georgia administered its standardized tests, the Criterion-referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), from spring, 1999, though spring, 2014, to elementary and middle school children. At just about every year along the way, APS leadership could have taken CRCT results as an assessment of the district as a system. Had they done that, then maybe APS leadership would have realized long ago that entering first graders were always ready for APS but APS was always not ready for the entering first graders, with respect to the district having the capability to sustain, let alone the capability to advance, the first graders’ learning competencies.

CRCT results showed time and again that APS lacks the capability to sustain students’ learning competencies beyond first grade, relative to the state. APS first grade as a system generally performed better than the state. (Note: systems perform, children learn.) Absent interpreting CRCT results as systemic assessment, APS leadership and many others make the leap to “supposing” the problem is “out there” with the parents of the children that lack early childhood education. Consequently, APS leadership continues to harry certain parents of young children to step up to the plate when those very parents are already at the plate. APS just can’t see that they are, in spite of their data-driven decision making. CRCT results held the opportunity for APS leadership to see, and to use, the results as assessment of the district as a system and not of the children and not of their parents and not of the teachers. CRCT results showed year after year that first graders were ready for APS but APS was not ready for first graders. And in that situation was a higher leverage point from which to move toward improving APS as a system.

But having missed that opportunity, we now have APS leadership that thinks turning the district into a Charter System will do the trick. It will not. It will not simply because turning APS into a Charter System epitomizes the very meaning of failure to understand what a system is. Worse, the whole school-reform and charter school garb clocking efforts to privatize public education epitomizes the “blame game” institutionalized especially in so-called urban districts, where ultimately great social harm will emerge because of it. Turning APS into a Charter System is a lower leverage point that can only aim for change — disruptive change, at that — but not improvement. Change inherently is nonaligned, but improvement inherently is aligned.

The kind of reductive, failure to understand what a system is thinking that has decided to turn APS into a Charter System is the very same kind of reductive thinking that has decided that Georgia needs a statewide “Opportunity School District” (OSD) like that of New Orleans’ post-Katrina Recovery School District (RSD).

And it is the kind of reductive thinking that, on the one hand, sees no contradiction in striving to “offer better opportunities for ‘historically underserved’ children” and, on the other hand, subjecting those children to a computer-adaptive assessment system that “allows students and teachers to better predict performance on high stakes tests.” Why would APS leadership want to do that, but for mistakenly believing doing so embodies normal ethics and mores? “One man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole” (Mahatma Gandhi).

APS leadership has yet to realize, let alone to understand, that the problem is “in here, with us” and not “out there,” with the parents. So, please APS, enough with the harrying of parents of children supposedly lacking early childhood education. It’s the children’s job to harry their parents, not yours.

Ed Johnson
Advocate for Quality in Public Education
(404) 505-8176 | edwjohnson@aol.com

“There is no difference in culture between the things that actually count.”
–W. Edwards Deming

There has been animated conversation on the blog about whether school tests are benign because they are similar to medical tests. They are in fact very dissimilar.

The difference between standardized tests and medical tests are many.

One, the medical tests do not have multiple-choice answers. Dovtors understand that the same results mean different things for different patients, depending on their age, weight, medical history, and other factors.

Two, your doctor (a human being) interprets the test results, relying on her/his experience and wisdom

Three, in most cases, you get the test results within a few days, not months later

Four, by the time the results of the stsndardized tests are reported, the student has a different teacher. The teacher is not allowed to review the questions to see what the student got wrong. Unlike the medical tests, which pinpoints specific problems, the standardized tests provide no diagnostic information. They are worthless to teachers and students.

Four, the purpose of the medical tests is to find a treatment to make you feel better; the purpose of the standardized education test is to rank you against other students, to grade your teacher, and to evaluate your school. Imagine a medical test that told you not how to get better, but how you compare to patients in other states, and whether your doctor should be fired and his practice should be closed.

Liz Featherstone explains why her child will not take the state tests. She does not want her child subjected to endless test prep. She does not want teachers evaluated by her son’s test scores. She wants what the school offers:

“Studying ancient China, the third-graders at my son’s school made lanterns, clay plates and terra cotta masks. They learned how to write Chinese calligraphy. They wove silks.

“My son, Ivan, and his team made a papier-mâché model of the Great Wall as viewed from space. The kids displayed their works in a breathtaking “China Museum” for parents and younger children.”

Neil McClusky of the libertarian CAT Institute blames advocates of Common Core for the public’s confusion about them.

They say it is not a curriculum, but others admit it is a curriculum.

They say it contains specific content that all children should know, but simultaneously say it has no specific content.

They say it was written by teachers. They say it was written by governors (who knew they had the expertise or time?) They say 45 states voluntarily endorsed the standards (before they were finished!). They say the federal government had no role in Common Core (and fail to mention that states were not eligible for billions of Race to the Top dollars unless they pledged to adopt college-and-career-ready standards, of which there was only one choice.

Of course the public is confused. They (we) have been fed a steady diet of lies about the origin, valdity, and efficacy of Common Core.

EduShyster lives in Massachusetts, so she has more than a passing interest in the selection of the new superintendent of schools.

 

She presents us with the four finalists here.

 

One, Guadalupe Guerrero, led a school that was taken over by the state. Worse, she says, he was kicked out of a doctoral program at Harvard. She thinks he is at the back of the pack.

 

Then there is Tommy Chang, a TFA alum who had a speedy ascent up the administrative pole to become principal of a Green Dot charter school, and most recently, “special assistant to LA’s then superintendent, the ethically embattled Dr. John Deasy, who then further elevated Chang to a special position overseeing LA high schools in need of special attention.” One of the schools for which he was responsible was Jefferson High School, where students walked out in protest because they had no schedules; Chang removed the principal without having a replacement. Chaos. A good choice? EduShyster thinks not.

 

Next is Pedro Martinez, who has the dubious distinction of being a graduate of the unaccredited Broad Superintendents Academy, whose graduates tend to leave in a huff, after alienating large numbers of parents with their top-down, take-no-prisoners management style.

 

And last, there is Dana Bedden of Richmond, Virginia. What distinguishes him from the others is that the stakeholders in Richmond don’t want him to leave. Imagine that! There is actually a petition drive to persuade him to stay in Richmond. EduShyster notes with astonishment that he does not speak edujargon. He is her candidate. Given such a field, he should be everyone’s candidate.

Allison Hunt is a teacher at DuPont Manual High School in Jefferson County, Kentucky. She is an NBCTwith an MAT in social studies from the University of Louisville. She wrote this reflection on hearing of the death of legendary basketball coach Dean Smith.

She writes:

“Sports commentators have emphasized Dean Smith’s practices more than they have focused on his games. The practices, according to reporters and former players, were carefully planned. He also did not hesitate to be innovative, informed by his knowledge of his players and their strengths and weaknesses. As teachers, we need to focus less on the assessments themselves and more on the lessons that lead to the assessments. We, like Smith, must carefully plan every minute of instruction and we must also make sure that we know our students and creatively maximize their strengths to overcome their weaknesses. What is our level of effectiveness in day-to-day lessons? Are we willing to be innovative and take risks?

“Former National Player of the Year Jerry Stackhouse, when reflecting on Dean Smith, said, “It was always about the players.” There is no doubt that Dean Smith wanted to win and, in fact, had to in order to keep his position as head coach, but he did not let the accountability detract from what he needed to be to his players. As teachers, we must not forget it should always be about the students, not about the assessments. We must be what we need to be for our students—not just for the stars or those who struggle, but for each and every student. All students needs to know that we put them first. Will your students reflect on your teaching and say it was always about the students? “

Ira Shor writes:

 

I refused PARCC for my 5th grade son in Montclair, NJ, and refused all PARCC test prep. AP at his school said that an alternate learning session will be available for him. My exchanges with AP and Principal have always been cordial; it’s the Broadie Supt. hired by the reactionary Board of Ed appointed by our developer Mayor which has created hostile turmoil and aggressive punishment here. Despite their fight to silence and suppress parent criticism and opting-out, the movement grows all around them. We parents have the power to shut down PARCC, CCSS, Gates, Pearson, Duncan, and their paid cronies in govt and media if we refuse to let them experiment on our kids with nonstop testing and refuse to let them waste our precious school moneys on endless tech buys, consultants, bandwidth, software, etc. We are gaining ground and soon will be an idea whose time has come, overtaking the bullies and the billionaire boys club with our multitude of concerned parents allied with all those brave enough to join against the abuse of our kids and the wreckage of our public schools.

Horace Meister, a former data analyst at the New York City Department of Education, knows how to find the data. Here he tells a gripping, data-based story of hypocrisy.

He writes:

“The Hypocrisy of So-Called Ed Reformers and Politicians: A Short Story”

Andrew Cuomo, the Governor of New York State, recently released a report called The State of New York’s Failing Schools. This report claims to present “statistics and facts” that “expose a public education system badly in need of change” and is designed to support Cuomo’s proposal to turn “failing” schools over to private management and convert them into charter schools. But are these public schools failing? Are charter schools the answer? The facts say no.

To help concretize the question why don’t we take a closer look at one charter chain? Let’s examine how Success Academy maintains its success. Success Academy, the largest charter chain in New York City, and Cuomo are close allies. Success Academy’s donors donated generously to Cuomo’s re-election campaign too. Cuomo was a behind-the-scenes advocate of last year’s charter school rally in Albany led by Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy. A rally for which Success Academy closed its schools and bussed its students to the capital. Success Academy is repeating this gimmick, a gimmick that would be illegal for any public school, again this week.

Success Academy’s schools in Harlem have data going back a couple of years. The most recent data show that the Success Academy schools are not truly succeeding and the public schools identified as “failing” are not truly failing. New York City’s districts 3, 4, 5, and 6 overlap with the geographic boundaries served by Success Academy’s Harlem schools. There are 31 schools within this geographic region that are “failing” New York State accountability measures.

How do the students served by these 31 schools compare to the students served by Success Academy? The data are incontrovertible. Success Academy serves a much more privileged student body. The 31 “failing” schools serve an average of 22.9% English Language Learners, 25.6% special education students, 7.9% high need special education students, 22.8% students living in temporary housing, 70.7% students receiving public assistance, 83.4% students receiving free lunch, and 5.4% students entering middle school overage. On the other hand, Success Academy schools in the same geographic region serve on average 4.9% English Language Learners, 13.9% special education students, 0.7% high need special education students, 7.9% students living in temporary housing, 55.7% students receiving public assistance, 72.3% students receiving free lunch, and 0% students entering middle school overage.

It is obvious, as has been shown again and again in every data set ever studied, that the measures currently used to identify failing schools fail to accurately measure true school performance. Instead, they largely penalize schools that serve the neediest students. Despite claims by advocacy groups such as the so-called “Families for Excellent Schools” [funded by the Walton family, the Broad family, and other billionaire families], “a major ally of charter-school leader Eva Moskowitz,” the data clearly show that charter schools only succeed by not serving the most challenging students. They are definitely not the solution for closing the opportunity gap between America’s privileged and under-privileged.

The ending of our short tale grows yet more sordid. It turns out that Success Academy deliberately manipulated its enrollment system to avoid serving the neediest students in the communities in which it was located. On March 28, 2012 Success Academy requested that its charter authorizer “eliminate an existing, absolute at-risk admissions priority for students zoned to attend failing New York City public schools.” In what can only be characterized as an outright lie Success Academy claimed that this “preference… was difficult to apply, confusing to the public and… contributed to not allowing the schools to attract sufficient numbers of English Language Learners.”

Success Academy revealed its disdain for the members of the communities it is supposedly serving when it claimed the public was confused by an enrollment system that gave priority to students from certain schools. The charter chain misled when it claimed that it was “difficult to apply.” How hard can it be to prioritize students from “failing” schools, schools that we know are really serving a preponderance of at-risk students?

Success Academy lied when it claimed to want to create “a variable set-aside for ELLs, which would be set at 20 percent of the incoming class for the 2012-13 school year.” The data show that in the 2011-12 school year the Success Academy schools in Harlem served 6.3% ELLs. In 2012-13 that number declined to 6.2% ELLs and in 2013-14 that number declined even further to 4.9% ELLs.

It is obvious that by eliminating the priority for students from schools serving a preponderance of at-risk students, including high numbers of English Language Learners, Success Academy was able to further diminish the already small number of ELLs they served.

The charter authorizer, as is all too common, rubber-stamped Success Academy’s request. There was no genuine accountability and no oversight. The truth is obvious to anyone who bothers to examine the facts. Charter schools as a whole, despite claims by Cuomo and by charter special interest groups, have no interest in serving the students who are most in need. In fact some charter schools, as we have seen is the case with Success Academy, actively avoid serving these students. So what is their end-game?

Charter schools such as Success Academy, and their enabling politicians, want to expand their privatized education empires by increasing their ability to skim off the better situated students in public schools. Instead of closing the achievement gap, such a policy, if enacted, would further bifurcate America. What then is the solution?

In a country with almost 14,000 school districts, in a country where private schools exist in order to avoid having students from certain social classes interact at school with students from other social classes, in a country where the courts have made it extremely difficult to enforce schemes designed to establish equitable diversity within schools, we must re-open the national conversation on how to create schools that are a microcosm of our ideal inclusive society. Whatever it takes, from re-thinking housing policy, to sharing tax-revenue across regions, to re-visiting school enrollment systems, we must ensure that schools across America become less segregated, more integrated, and that there is less variability in demographics between schools in geographic proximity.

The Education Writers Association held a panel discussion on the future of the Common Core. The panel included strong advocates for the controversial standards but no equally strong critic.

Is EWA afraid of a genuine debate?

“DENVER, Colorado – The Common Core needs to avoid an internet catastrophe with its new tests for the country to embrace the new multi-state education standards, a panel of experts agreed Thursday,

“It will need to survive the release of low test scores in late summer, just as Republican Presidential debates begin.

“And it will have to overcome ongoing “misinformation” – as supporters call it – before the public will fully accept it.”

Very likely there was no discussion of the millions of dollars spent by the Gates Foundation to sell the standards. Some of those millions went to EWA panelists.

It would not have been difficult to find a credible critic, like Anthony Cody, Carol Burris, Stephen Krashen, or other qualified voices.

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