Archives for category: Accountability

“The Age that will Bury Us”
— by SomeDAM Poet (after The Age of Aquarius (5th Dimension) )

 

When the VAM is in the Random House
And stupid is as stupid does
Then tests will guide the teaching
And Gates will steer because
This is the dawning of the Age
of Economists, the Age of Economists
Economists, Economists
Ed and stats misunderstanding
Ignorance is just astounding
Tons more falsehoods and derisions
Chetty having dreams and visions
Cattle model mathturbation
And the mind’s tergiversation
Will Bury Us, Will Bury Us
When the VAM is in the Random House
And stupid is as stupid does
Then tests will guide the teaching
And Gates will steer because
This is the dawning of the Age
That will bury us, Age that will bury us
Will bury us

 

Let the sun shine, let the sun shine in
The sun shine in, na na na na na….

Gary Rubinstein has been following the results of the Tennessee “Achievement School District” since its inception. At the time, its founder Chris Barbic pledged that–in five years time– he would lift up the schools in the bottom 5% of the state to the top 25% in the state. His strategy: turn them into charters and let the charter magic do its work.

Barbic recently resigned, although the experiment has not reached the five year mark.

Gary Rubinstein here reports on the ASD’s failure to get anywhere near the goal of “top 25%.”

Although there are regular claims of dramatic progress, Gary has the results of three years of the experiment for the original six schools in the cohort.

Of the six, four are still in the bottom 5%; the other two are in the bottom 6%. Some scores went up, some went down. The strategy of converting schools to charter with TFA teachers has not produced miracles or dramatic progress. And yet, many states are rushing to create their own “achievement school districts.” Gary’s warning: Tennessee has an “underachievement district.”

Gary Rubinstein writes:

Throughout the country, there are states that are considering creating their own ASD based on the supposed success of this one and the Recovery School District in Louisiana, on which this one is based. Senate Democrats actually tried, and failed, to get an amendment into the reauthorization of the ESEA that would mandate that the bottom 5% of schools in each state become an ASD, essentially. I hope that my very simple calculations are compelling evidence that the ASD does not live up to the hype. Getting 2 out of 6 schools from the bottom 5% to the bottom 6% has not earned them the right to replicate around the country.

Mitchell Robinson, Associate Professor of Music Education at Michigan State University, has compiled a handy guide to the bold idea of “achievement school districts.”

 

There is the Recovery School District in New Orleans; the Education Achievement Authority in Michigan; the Achievement School District in Tennessee; and more on the way in other states.

 

The main thing you need to know about these experimental districts is that they promise rapid improvement in the state’s lowest performing schools, and all of them have failed.

 

Here are the key traits of Achievement School Districts:

 

School Funding

 

Individual ASD schools are often required to pay a “kickback” or “tax” to the state ASD authority for the “privilege” of being identified as a “low performing school”. In Nevada, “ASD schools receive the same state and local per-pupil resources that they would have received as part of their original home district. This includes local, state, and federal funding. As with other charter school sponsors, the ASD will receive a small administrative fee from each school it authorizes.” (bold added)
In other words, in spite of the probability that an ASD school has been chronically underfunded for years, perhaps decades, the state will now take its own cut from whatever local, state and federal funding the school may be receiving for administrative overhead, further decreasing the actual number of dollars that are going to classrooms, teachers and children.
Local Control

 

Local control, long recognized as a hallmark of public education, is a dinosaur in ASDs. In Detroit, the locally-elected school board still meets, but has essentially been stripped of all power and authority. The members of the elected school board refer to themselves as being “exiled,” and the newly elected state superintendent of schools has called on the governor and state legislators to return control of the Detroit Public Schools to the local school board, saying, “I believe we ought to have a Detroit school district for the Detroit community.” Instead, Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed a radical plan to split the city’s schools into two districts: one to educate children, and the other devoted to addressing the district’s debt problem.

 
Transparency

Even though it is often trumpeted as an integral aspect of effective school governance, very few ASDs follow their own propaganda when it comes to transparency in reporting. Detroit’s EAA is an especially notorious offender in this respect, making claims that do not stand even the faintest amounts of scrutiny. According to Wayne State professor of education Thomas Pedroni, the EAA’s “internal data directly contradicts their MEAP data. Even Scantron, the maker of the internal assessment, would not stand behind the EAA’s growth claims. And Veronica Conforme, the current EAA Chancellor, removed all the dishonest growth claims from their advertising and their website, and told me personally she doesn’t give them credence for the purpose the EAA used them for.” For more from Dr. Pedroni on the EAA’s specious relationship with transparency, see this, and this.

 
Punitive vs. Educative Methods

Many ASD charters include language regarding the possible consequences if schools do not meet “adequate yearly progress” goals, such as: “Operators of ASD schools that do not demonstrate meaningful improvement will be held accountable pursuant to policies set by the ASD.” Indeed, school closings have become a prominent tool in the school reform playbook:
Washington, D.C. closed 23 buildings in 2008. Officials are currently considering another 15 closures.
New York City closed more than 140 schools since 2002; leaders recently announced plans to shutter 17 more, beginning in 2013-14.
Chicago closed 40-plus buildings in the early 2000s. The district recently released a list of 129 schools to be considered for closure.
This approach follows guidelines first established in the No Child Left Behind legislation, which stipulate draconian changes for any school that fails to meet yearly progress within five years….

 

This thinking represents a sea change in terms of strategy with respect to schooling and education policy. Never in our nation’s history have we taken a punitive approach rather than an educative approach when schools or children have struggled with demonstrating expected levels of progress.

This is an open letter to Senator Bernie Sanders written by teachers who support him but oppose high-stakes testing and the Common Core standards. They wanted to let him know that they were disappointed that he voted for the Murphy Amendment to the Senate’s “Every Child Achieves Act.” The Murphy Amendment would have continued, in fact intensified, the punishments attached to No Child Left Behind. These teachers want Senator Sanders to know that they oppose punishments and sanctions based on test scores.

They write:

We are disappointed with your recent votes in the senate that contain provisions which perpetuate quantitatively based measures of education. Your Tennessee senatorial colleague Lamar Alexander correctly stated that what you just recently voted for, “Instead of fixing No Child Left Behind, it keeps the worst parts of it.”

Quantitative measures are invalid. They are masks for social inequalities. They merely highlight and then reflect economic and racial inequalities. Mel Riddile, “PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid'” at the blog, “The Principal’s Corner”, found that numerical performance of districts mirrors the scale of economic inequalities of those districts. Statisticians have proven over and over again that the use of value added modeling is logically flawed. NCLB drove the use of value-added modeling (VAM) which negatively transformed the teaching and learning processes in the nation’s schools.

Furthermore, as union members we believe that the current education “reform” agenda is a relentless and insidious attack on unionism itself. This agenda’s usurpation of the language and iconography of the Civil Rights struggle and the limitlessness financial resources of the billionaires, hedge funders, and corporations who are championing and bank rolling it are reprehensible. It is therefore, sir, not merely an attack on children, teachers, and public education, but an undermining of the noblest and most progressive movements in American history: union rights and civil rights. We implore you to rethink your recent vote, which is wholly and utterly incongruous to your noble and progressive defense of the American working class.

That is only part of their letter. It appeared on the Huffington Post.

Education Next is an influential rightwing publication. Its editors are mostly fellows at the free-market Hoover Institution. It is based at Harvard University, because its editor-in-chief is Paul Peterson, who holds a chair at Harvard. Peterson is one of the leading voices (perhaps THE leading voice) in the academic world for free markets and unfettered choice. He was once a strong supporter of public schools; he is now a strong advocate for vouchers, charters, and anything but public schools. Paul Peterson is a tenured professor who opposes teacher tenure. He also opposes teachers’ unions; he believes they are selfish and greedy and disrupt the working of the free market.  Of course, professors at Harvard make double or triple what the average K-12 teacher earns in a year and work far fewer hours (nine hours a week of class time? three hours? none?). Paul, whom I knew well when I was a senior fellow at Hoover, is an amiable guy. He is also one of the most prolific of the academic boosters for privatization.

 

Paul Peterson’s influence can be seen in the new movement for vouchers, which have repeatedly been voted down by the public. He has trained a large number of scholars who are dedicated advocates of free-market policies and school choice. One of his former students, Patrick Wolf, is the official evaluator of the voucher programs in the District of Columbia, Milwaukee, and Louisiana. Wolf holds an endowed chair in the “Department of Educational Reform” at the University of Arkansas, a department led by another Peterson student, Jay Greene. Peterson and Wolf have written a number of articles together about school choice. On his website, Wolf says that he has received $20 million in grants and contracts for his research studies.

 

Peterson’s latest piece, written with Martin West, another of his former graduate students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, says that the public doesn’t believe that unions should be able to collect dues from people who don’t want to belong to the union but enjoy the benefits that the union negotiates for them. If the public doesn’t believe in unions, then presumably the courts should be willing to strip them of the revenues that enable them to represent workers and to exert influence to protect workers.

 

Do workers need unions? Growing up as I did in the 1940s and 1950s, unions were seen as a force for progressive change, as the defender of workers, as builders of the middle class. I have never belonged to a union but I continue to believe that without unions, workers will be exploited, treated as chattel, paid below the minimum wage, expected to work long hours in poor conditions, and fired with or without cause. The New York Times recently reported on protests by farm workers, some of whom work nearly 70 hours a week, seven days a week, in substandard conditions. One said that he would be grateful to have one day off a week.

 

I can’t help but think of a recent tweet by teacher Steven Singer: #Unions are the only reason we have weekends, vacations, overtime pay, 8-hour work day, sick leave, etc.

 

As unions disappear in the private sector, we see vast numbers of workers who work long hours, do not receive minimum wage or sick days. We see workers who are exploited by corporations that do not have a human face and discard people like trash. To be anti-union is to be anti-worker and anti-middle-class. Unions have their flaws, but their fundamental role is to create better lives for their members. To lose them will exacerbate the growing divide between the 1% and the poor and will hasten the shrinkage of the middle class. That’s bad for America. It’s bad for families and communities. It’s bad for children. It is shameful.

 

 

Laurie Gabriel, a teacher with nearly three decades experience, decided that she had to do something to fight back against the absurd attacks on teachers.

 

The first thing she did was to create a documentary to explore the critical issues of the day. It is called “Heal Our Schools,” and it offers practical advice that most teachers would vigorously agree with. In her video, she interviews teachers, students, and a few outsiders (like me). The people she spoke to talked about what matters most in teaching and learning, which she would say is to encourage students to find their passions and pursue them. Her first recommendation, by the way, is to reduce class size so children can get individual attention when they need it.

 

The high point of the film, in my estimation, was when she spoke to some vocal critics of teachers. She invited them to teach a list of vocabulary words to ten students, and they accepted her offer. The scenes were priceless. The students were restless; one put his head on the desk. Announcements on the public speaker interrupted the lessons. When one of the “teachers” reprimanded a student and told him that when he was in the Army, he would have gotten 50 push-ups for his behavior, another student piped up and said, “We’re not in the Army.” After their students took their tests, Laurie gave them feedback about their performance. They were less enthusiastic about grading teachers by their students’ test scores and even seemed to be more respectful of the skill that it takes to teach middle schoolers.

 

The second thing she did was to take her documentary on the road, showing it to interested audiences. Her current schedule starts tonight in Wyandotte, Michigan. You can see her other stops listed below. If you live in one of these cities or towns, please show up and bring some friends.

 

July 21 WYANDOTTE MI (Detroit area)- 7:00 at Biddle Hall, 3239 Biddle Ave.
July 22 CLEVELAND – 7:00 at the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church
July 23 PHILADELPHIA – 7:00 at the Ethical Humanist Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Square
July 24 WASHINGTON DC – 8:00 at the Holiday Inn Washington Capitol, 550 C Street SW
July 26 – JERSEY CITY – 7:00 pm at the Jersey City Union Building, 1600 W. Kennedy
July 28 NEW YORK CITY – 2:30 pm at the Actors Theatre Workshop, 145 W. 28th Street, 3rd floor
July 29 RAYNHAM MASS. 6:00 pm at the Massachusetts Teachers Regional Office, 656 Orchard Street 3rd floor
July 30 PORTSMOUTH NH, 7:00 pm at the Women’s City Club, 375 Middle Street
August 3 – GRAND BLANC, MI – 6:00 at the Grand Blanc Mcfarlen Public Library.
August 9 DENVER – 1:00 pm at the Highlands Ranch Public Library, 9292 Ridgeline Blvd in Highlands Ranch

 

If you don’t live in one of those locales and want to see “Heal Our Schools,” contact Laurie at aspenquartet@hotmail.com

 

Perhaps you could arrange a showing in your community.

This post contains a valuable interview with Noam Chomsky.

 

Chomsky is a philosopher, not a statistician or an economist. He looks behind the facade of data to ask “why are we doing this?” “What are the consequences?” “What is the value of collecting the data?” “Why?”

 

Statisticians and economists (fortunately, not all of them) tend to think that when they have collected enough data, they will reach conclusions about the data. They think the data is as solid as “how many cars of this model sold? what was the profit margin? how should we price next year’s model to maximize profit?” or “how high will corn grow with this amount of fertilizer? how many acres should be planted with this seed?”

 

The starry-eyed data-mongers believe that children can be measured like any agricultural or mechanical product.

 

But teachers know that children are not corn; they are not electrical appliances; they are not engineered; they are all different.

 

We need to listen to philosophers. We need to think about what we are doing to children and to teachers by treating them as products of a process that can be tightly controlled.

 

Chomsky says:

 

In recent years there’s a strong tendency to require assessment of children and teachers, so that you have to teach to the tests, and the test determines what happens to the child and what happens to the teacher. That’s guaranteed to destroy any meaningful educational process.

 

It means a teacher cannot be creative, imaginative, pay attention to individual students’ needs. The students can’t pursue things that – maybe some kid is interested in something, but you can’t do it because you need to memorize something for this test tomorrow. The teacher’s future depends on it as well as the student’s.

 

The people sitting in offices, the bureaucrats designing this, they’re not evil people, but they are working within a system of ideology and doctrines, which turns what they are doing into something extremely harmful.

 

By treating children and teachers as widgets, we destroy the meaning of education. The rankings derived from data, Chomsky says, are meaningless because the tests are artificial social constructs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Typically, schools with low test scores enrolled large numbers of students who are impoverished, are English language learners, and have significant handicaps. Such schools need extra staff and resources. But the vogue today is to threaten them with punishments, to fire the staff, and to hand them over to charter operators.

New York’s new state Commissioner MaryEllen Elia announced that, pursuant to the legislation that Governor Andrew Cuomo tucked into the state’s budget, she will take action against 144 struggling schools.

Cuomo’s “program creates carrots and sticks and sets out the possibility that the poorest performers could in a year’s time end up under outside receivership, that is, they could be taken over by an independent entity, such as a college or even a charter school operator.

There are 144 struggline schools statewide including 20 that are ”persistently struggling.”

For the persistently struggling schools, which includes Albany’s Hackett middle school, Burgard High in Buffalo and a slew in New York City as well as Rochester, an inside receiver, which is mostly likely the superintendent, will take charge this year. That person then has a year to show improvement or accept the outside receiver. The struggling schools have a year to improve or else they then go under the superintendent’s control, with outside takeover the year after that if there is no improvement.

The stick includes some potentially harsh measures, although it’s unclear how they will play out. In persistently struggling schools, for example, a superintendent acting as the local or in district receiver could conceivably fire teachers and administrators regardless of tenure. The superintendent also can change curriculum and institute a longer school day and school year.”

Blogger Perdidostreetschool notes that one of the struggling school was already being closed. He predicts that there will be many more sticks than carrots.

Perdido writes:

The goal of education reform is to slowly but surely privatize the school system, fire the unionized teachers, and replace schools with non-union charters.

That’s what Cuomo devised here with the budget legislation that allows for state receivership of so-called “failing” schools, but as is usual with the incompetents at NYSED, they screw stuff up and threaten to close a school that’s already closing.

Minutes ago, a bipartisan majority of the Senate approved the Every Child Achieves Act, which is the bill forged by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) and Patty Murray (D-WA). This is the long-overdue reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, the legislation passed by Congress in 2001 and signed into law on January 8, 2002. The underlying legislation is the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, whose purpose was to authorize federal aid to education targeted to schools that enrolled significant numbers of children living in poverty. The original bill was about equity, not testing and accountability.

 

The Senate bill retains annual testing, but removes federal sanctions attached to test results. Any rewards or sanctions attached to test scores will be left to states. The Senate rejected private school vouchers; nine Republican Senators joined with Democrats to defeat the voucher proposal. The bill also strengthens current prohibitions against the Secretary of Education dictating specific curriculum, standards, and tests to states, as well as barring the Secretary from tying test scores to teacher evaluations. The bill repudiates the punitive measures of of NCLB and RTTT.

 

The House of Representatives has already passed its own bill, called the Student Success Act. A conference committee representing both houses will meet to iron out their differences and craft a bill that will then be presented for a vote in both houses.

 

As I get additional details, I will post them.

 

Speaking for the Network for Public Education, I will say that we are pleased to see a decisive rejection of federal micromanagement of curriculum, standards, and assessments, as well as the prohibition of federal imposition of particular modes of evaluating teachers. We oppose annual student testing; no high-performing nation in the world administers annual tests, and there is no good reason for us to do so. We reject the claim that children who are not subjected to annual standardized tests suffer harm or will be neglected. We believe that the standardized tests are shallow and have a disparate impact on children who are Black and Brown, children with disabilities, and children who are English language learners. We believe such tests degrade the quality of education and unfairly stigmatize children as “failures.” We also regret this bill’s financial support for charter schools, which on average do not perform as well as public schools, and in many jurisdictions, perform far worse than public schools. We would have preferred a bill that outlawed the allocation of federal funds to for-profit K-12 schools and that abandoned time-wasting annual testing.

 

Nonetheless, we support the Senate bill because it draws a close to the punitive methods of NCLB and RTTT. It is an important step forward for children, teachers, and public education. The battle over “reform” now shifts to the states, but we welcome an era in which the voices of parents, educators, and students can mobilize to influence policies in their communities and states. We believe that grassroots groups have a better chance of being heard locally than in Washington, D.C., where Beltway insiders think they speak for the public. We will continue to organize and carry our fight for better education to every state.

Emma Brown reports in The Washington Post that the Senate turned down an amendment that would have allowed parents to opt out of federally mandated tests without penalty.

 

The lead author of the Senate bill said that this decision should be left to states.

 

The chamber voted 64 to 32 against the amendment, proposed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) amid a backlash against mandated standardized tests. “Parents, not politicians or bureaucrats, will have the final say over whether individual children take tests,” he said.

 

But Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) — the Republican co-sponsor of the carefully crafted bipartisan bill — spoke forcefully against the proposal, saying it would strip states of the right to decide whether to allow parents to opt out.

 

“I say to my Republican friends, do we only agree with local control when we agree with the local policy?” said Alexander, who has framed the bill as an effort to transfer power over education from the federal government to the states.

 

I have great respect for Senator Alexander but his argument is not logical. The federal government mandates the tests, but it leaves to states the power to decide whether parents have the right to opt out. Why is the federal government mandating any tests? Why is this not a state responsibility? If he were being consistent, he would leave the testing and the right to opt out to the states. I would just remind the Congress that the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 was a resource equity act, not a testing and accountability act. It was meant to send money to schools and districts that enrolled students who lived in poverty. It was No Child Left Behind that turned the ESEA into a testing and accountability act in 2001-02. And it was the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994 that first proposed that states create their own standards and assessments.

 

No matter what the Congress does, no matter what the states do, parents can opt their children out of testing if they believe the tests are neither valid nor reliable.

 

If anyone has a list of Senators who voted for or against the amendment, please send it.

 

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