Archives for category: Accountability

Which education policy or policymaker would you vote for as “turkey of the year”?

 

Julian Vasquez Heilig is running a poll on his much-celebrated blog Cloaking Inequity.

 

Here is your chance to cast your vote!

It now turns out that the lead applicant for the new Rochester, NewYork, charter school has no degrees, or none that can be verified. He did not graduate from Rochester’s School Without Walls. He did not obtain a bachelor’s degree from online Western Governors University. He did not obtain a master’s or a doctorate from Concordia University.

But the charter school will open anyway. The head of the Board of Regents disclaims any responsibility. The review is conducted by the State Education Department, she says. Who runs the SED? Dr. Tisch selected the State Education Commissioner, Dr. John King, her classmate at Teachers College. Maybe he is responsible? But who is accountable? Anyone?

Dr. King is fast to hold teachers and principals accountable. Will anyone be held accountable for granting a charter and a guaranteed stream of public money to a young man with no experience or education credentials.

The Greater Works Charter School will open in September. As Dr. Tisch says, board members come and go. So do charter schools. No problem. The demolition of public education continues.

According to Politico.com, the U.S. Department of Education will cut federal funding to education schools whose graduates have students who get low scores. This could incentivize education schools to direct their students away from urban districts with high poverty, or from teaching children with disabilities and English-language learners. Researchers have repeatedly warned about the danger of over reliance on test scores for high-stakes decisions. It is always wise to think about unintended consequences.

 

TEACHER PREP IS – FINALLY – HERE: The long-delayed rules, released by the Education Department on Tuesday, would punish low-performing programs by cutting students’ access to federal TEACH grants they could use to pay for school. And it would compel every state to collect more information and evaluate their programs by several key metrics, including how many graduates lock in jobs, how many stay in the profession and whether teachers are boosting student learning. The timeline for the proposed rule [http://politico.pro/1zrLW2e ] extends to 2021 and it would cost states and providers about $42 million over 10 years or less. I have the story here: http://politico.pro/11T4OwC

- Democrats for Education Reform Policy Director Charles Barone said the rule is a crucial first step for overhauling the way teachers are prepared and raising the bar for the teaching profession. “The U.S. Department of Education is stepping in here because unlike other fields, education has repeatedly abdicated its responsibility to set and enforce its own high standards for the teaching profession,” he said. “Once states set benchmarks that draw on newly available data we should give schools appropriate time to meet them. But instead of condoning wasteful practices indefinitely, as in the past, those responsible for overseeing federal funds must issue an ultimatum: shape up or lose subsidies.”

In a shocking decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the state has no legal responsibility to provide a quality education to every child. The case centered on the Highland Park school district, where achievement was lagging; the state turned the entire district over to a for-profit charter operator that had no track record of improving low-performng schools. The American Civil Liberties Union had filed the suit.

 

In a blow to schoolchildren statewide, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled on Nov. 7 the State of Michigan has no legal obligation to provide a quality public education to students in the struggling Highland Park School District.
A 2-1 decision reversed an earlier circuit court ruling that there is a “broad compelling state interest in the provision of an education to all children.” The appellate court said the state has no constitutional requirement to ensure schoolchildren actually learn fundamental skills such as reading — but rather is obligated only to establish and finance a public education system, regardless of quality. Waving off decades of historic judicial impact on educational reform, the majority opinion also contends that “judges are not equipped to decide educational policy.”

 

“This ruling should outrage anyone who cares about our public education system,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties of Michigan. “The court washes its hands and absolves the state of any responsibility in a district that has failed and continues to fail its children.”

 

The decision dismisses an unprecedented “right-to-read” lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Michigan in July 2012 on behalf of eight students of nearly 1,000 children attending K-12 public schools in Highland Park, Mich. The suit, which named as defendants the State of Michigan, its agencies charged with overseeing public education and the Highland Park School District, maintained that the state failed to take effective steps to ensure that students are reading at grade level.

 

“Let’s remember it was the state that turned the entire district over to a for-profit charter management company with no track record of success with low performing schools,” said Moss. “It is the state that has not enforced the law that requires literacy intervention to children not reading at grade level. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure and maintain a system of education that serves all children.”

 

In a dissenting opinion, appellate court judge Douglas Shapiro accused the court of “abandonment of our essential judicial roles, that of enforcement of the rule of law even where the defendants are governmental entities, and of protecting the rights of all who live within Michigan’s borders, particularly those, like children, who do not have a voice in the political process.”

 

MEAP test results from 2012 painted a bleak picture for Highland Park students and parents. In the 2013-14 year, no fewer than 78.9 percent of current fourth graders and 73 percent of current seventh graders will require the special intervention mandated by statute. By contrast, 65 percent of then-fourth graders and 75 percent of then-seventh graders required statutory intervention entering the 2012-13 school year.

 

At the time the state of Michigan decided to privatize the Highland Park schools and turn them over to the Leona Group, some saw it as a last-ditch effort to save the district from its debt. 

 

The Wall Street Journal wrote in 2012:

 

Phoenix-based Leona will receive $7,110 per pupil in state funding, plus an as-yet-undetermined amount of federal funds for low-income and special education students. In addition, the Highland Park district will pay Leona a $780,000 annual management fee.

 

Unions have been sidelined after the district’s entire professional staff was laid off, as allowed by the state emergency law, but teachers can apply for jobs with Leona. Leona has budgeted about $36,000 a year for Highland Park teachers on average, the company said—compared with almost $65,000 a year the teachers received in the 2010-11 school year.

 

In a typical school it takes over, Leona has hired back about 70% of the teachers, the company said. Leona also will lease the Highland Park district’s buildings.

 

Under the five-year contract with Leona, the new city charter board will monitor the company’s progress in improving student performance.

 

Leona runs 54 schools in five states. Students in almost half of them fail state academic benchmarks. But of its 22 Michigan schools, 19 meet the mark, Leona officials said.

 

Leona Chief Executive William Coats said the company had no incentive to cut corners in Highland Park. “As we build equity, we give that back to the schools,” he said during Wednesday’s meeting when an audience member raised doubts about the for-profit approach. “We’re trying to manage this so you [the district] stay in business.”

 

Highland Park is where Henry Ford opened his first assembly line and Chrysler Corp. built its original headquarters. It has suffered the same ills as Detroit, its larger neighbor: an exodus of auto jobs, depressed housing stock and a surge in crime.

 

The city, which spreads across three square miles, lost nearly 30% of its population from 2000 to 2010, according to the latest U.S. Census. Nearly half of the 11,776 residents live below the poverty line.

 

Students and parents complain of dirty classrooms, exposed wiring in the schools, rationed textbook and swimming pools—once used by powerhouse swim teams—that now sit drained of water.

 

John Holloway, the school board president, said the problems became a “runaway train that we could not stop.”

 

As the situation worsened, the state gave the district a $4 million loan in July 2011 and advanced it $450,000 more earlier this year just to meet its payroll.

 

A union-backed initiative that could go to voters statewide in November seeks to repeal the emergency-manager law under which Ms. Parker was appointed to run the district. The law had been strengthened in 2011 by the governor.

 

Glenda McDonald, a Highland Park resident and laid-off teacher, said that the problem was not entirely the fault of the community. “The disinvestment in our communities led to the disinvestment in our schools, and that’s why people left,” she said. “We had nothing to offer them.”

 

After Leona took over, things did not go well. Enrollment dropped sharply. The company closed the district’s high school. It agreed to waive its fee for one year because of a lingering deficit.

 

 

Andrea Gabor, who is the Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College, is an expert on the life and philosophy of W. Edwards Deming. Deming has been widely credited with reviving the Japanese economy, as well as major American corporations who listened to him.

 

In this fascinating post, she draws lessons from the work of Deming and shows how they apply to education reform. The “reformers” want the schools to learn from business, but they are pushing the wrong lessons, she says. “Top-down, punitive solutions” don’t work. They demoralize employees. Deming believed in a work environment of collaboration and trust, not fear and blame. When things were not going well, he believed it was wrong to blame the front-line workers. While today’s “reformers” want to find and fire “bad teachers,” Deming insisted: “The responsibility for quality rests with senior management.” He was a dedicated foe of performance pay, as he concluded that it sowed dissension and unhealthy competition among workers who should be working as a team.

 

She writes:

 

Deming’s approach to organizational improvement transformed entire industries in post-war Japan and, later, in the U.S. In the years leading up to his death, in 1993, he began turning his interest to education. He believed that the same principles he advocated for companies—systems thinking, collaborative improvement, understanding statistical variation, creating organizational cultures free of fear and conducive to creative problem-solving—could also transform schools.

 

Simply put, Deming would be appalled by much of what passes for education reform today…..

 

Deming’s work has important implications for education: First, it is based on management (everyone from principals to education bureaucrats) recognizing its responsibility for creating a climate conducive to meaningful improvement, including building trust and collaboration, and providing the necessary training; this involves hard work, Deming admonished, not quick-fix gimmicks, incentives or threats.

 

Second, for many teacher advocates, it means dropping the defensive—education-is-good-enough—posture and embracing a mindset of continuous improvement; it also may mean adopting union contracts that mirror the professional practices of many teachers and are based on more flexible work rules. (Though not the unsustainable sweat-shop hours that are common at many charters.)

 

Third, by ending the finger-pointing and building a more collaborative approach to improvement, schools and districts could create cultures that are far more rewarding and productive for both children and educators….

 

Deming invoked the power of statistical theory: If management is doing its job correctly in terms of hiring, developing employees and keeping the system stable, most people will do their best. Of course, there will always be fluctuations—human beings, after all, aren’t automatons. Deming understood that an employee with a sick child, a toothache or some other “special cause” problem may not function at peak performance all the time. However, in a well-designed system, most employees will perform around a mean.

 

There will also be outliers who perform above or below the mean—though well-run organizations will have the fewest outliers because they’re hiring and training practices will guarantee a consistent level of performance. The work of high performers, Deming believed, should be studied; their work can serve as a model for improving the system.

 

Low performers, Deming believed, represent a failure of management to perform one of its key functions. Deming believed that hiring represents a moral and contractual obligation. Once hired, it is management’s responsibility to help every employee succeed whether via training or relocation. While it might occasionally be necessary to fire a poor performer, Deming believed this option should be a last resort…..

 

The lessons for education are clear: Quality improvement must begin with senior management (principals and education bureaucrats) establishing the conditions for collaboration and iterative problem-solving. It requires flexibility and professionalism from both teachers and education leaders. Finally, a climate of fear and finger-pointing will do nothing to improve schools; indeed, it is likely to set back the effort for years to come.

 

There is much we can learn from Deming. This important post is a must-read.

 

 

 

 

Horace Meister is a young untenured scholar who writes for this blog.

 

 

He writes:

 

 

Competing narratives underlie the disputes on how to best improve education for all students. On the one hand we have narratives of testing, accountability, and the free market. On the other hand we have narratives of collaboration, social capital, and public goods. Data are often cited in these debates to support one narrative or the other. But there is a dark art to the use of data, an art at which the powerful forces of corporate reform and school districts operating under their paradigm excel.

Let’s take a look at how reformer think tanks and “research” organizations manipulate data and how school districts mimic those strategies. The New York Times editorial page recently gushed over “Michael Bloomberg, who improved graduation rates and college acceptances in poor neighborhoods by shutting down schools that were essentially dropout factories and starting afresh with smaller schools, new teachers and new leadership [1].” The editorial board does not realize or acknowledge that in New York City “student outcomes have not improved compared to similar districts, which did not implement the market-based reforms [2].” The editorial board also does not realize or acknowledge that the MDRC papers, the “research” often cited as supporting the shuttering of community schools and their replacement with small schools of choice, are deeply biased and flawed [3].

Additional flaws and biases with the MDRC “research” can be added to the top 10 list in the piece cited in endnote #3. MDRC seems to have deliberately biased their sample so as to come to conclusions that support the corporate reform approach [4]. MDRC only looked at high schools– ignoring elementary and middle schools that were also subjected to closure and re-opening (and, in some cases, re-closure and re-re-opening). The data show that the new middle schools that opened under Bloomberg performed worse than the older middle schools, when controlling for student need [5]. The data also show that of “154 public elementary and middle schools that have opened since Mayor Bloomberg took office, nearly 60% had passing rates that were lower than older schools with similar poverty rates [6].”

MDRC only studies new small high schools that opened up by 2008, the very years during which the new small high schools were allowed to exclude special education students and English Language Learners. By now they could have added to their sample additional student cohorts, but they have not. Due to threats of a lawsuit since 2008 new small schools are no longer officially permitted to exclude students [7]. Does MDRC know that without this “competitive advantage” the new small school data wouldn’t look so good? When a purportedly objective “research” organization manages to exclude entire categories of schools and when including the excluded schools would lead to a more objective and less positive evaluation of a policy, we are witnessing the dark art of data manipulation.

MDRC did not consider alternative hypotheses, a basic requirement of the scientific method as taught by every science teacher. So let’s consider an alternative hypothesis for the editorial board of the New York Times. Here is the hypothesis: “Large community high schools and large high schools of choice have better student outcomes than other high schools serving similar students.” Indeed the data support this hypothesis [8]. The New York City Department of Education produces report cards that evaluate schools on their “peer percent of range.” According to this data the largest high schools in New York City, those serving over 2,000 students, outperform peers by +14.7% on weighted graduation rate (a metric that takes into account the quality of the diploma such as whether or not it is Regents-endorsed or an advanced Regents diploma) and by +20.1% on college readiness [9].

Rather than favoring certain types of schools over others and forcing schools to compete with one another, as Bloomberg did and the New York Times editorial board wants to continue, let’s have schools collaborate and work together in an equitable policy environment [10]. This approach to creating great schools is supported by the (non-manipulated) data [11].

Unfortunately, school districts operating under the corporate reform paradigm do not want to follow such an approach. Instead they manipulate data in ways that are biased towards their ideological agenda. As we just saw, large high schools in New York City do a great job on college and career readiness metrics. This must have put Bloomberg’s Department of Education in a bind. They had all the data showing that the large high schools were outperforming their peers in college and career readiness, an important part of what high schools are all about. But they couldn’t allow the new small high schools created under Bloomberg to look bad. So when including college and career readiness metrics in the school report cards they only allowed them to count as 10% of the total school grade (and not 20% or 25% or 30%– percentages that would seem more important given the importance of college and career readiness). This minimized the negative effect that these metrics would have on the grades of schools created under Bloomberg [12].

This sort of manipulation is not uncommon. Corporate reform school districts believe in privatization and charter schools. So they do not address how creaming and the sky-high attrition rates at many charter schools explains their “results [13].” They believe in accountability and evaluating schools. So they grade schools using metrics that are deeply flawed and penalize schools that serve the neediest students [14]. They believe in accountability and testing. So they pretend not to manipulate cut-scores on exams for political ends [15].

Next time you see data cited, even it is from your own school district, question it.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/01/opinion/when-to-shut-down-failingōschools.html

[2] http://dianeravitch.net/2013/12/20/tweed-insider-where-the-bloomberg-administration-went-wrong-on-education/

[3] http://dianeravitch.net/2014/10/23/are-small-high-schools-the-magic-bullet/

[4] The following criticisms are aimed solely at the MDRC claim that the portfolio strategy as employed by the Bloomberg administration was a success. Small schools, if implemented fairly in an equitable policy environment, may provide a level of personalization and support that is valuable for many students. Large schools can also offer personalization and support through smaller structures such as academies or advisories. But this is a topic distinct from the specific one discussed here.

[5] http://www.edwize.org/new-middle-schools-same-old-challenges

[6] http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bloomberg-new-schools-failed-thousands-city-students-article-1.1119406#ixzz21NV9BDG3

[7] http://www.advocatesforchildren.org/Empty%20Promises%20Report%20%206-16-09.pdf?pt=1

[8] http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/7E390ED1-1689-4381-BF70-E228840E5589/0/2012_2013_HS_PR_Results_2014_01_16.xlsx

[9] The high schools with over 2,000 students run the full gamut, from community high schools that serve all local students to selective high schools where admission is based on exams to comprehensive high schools serving students who choice-in from across the city. The Bloomberg administration tried to close some of these schools. The peer percent of range metric is designed to compare each school only to other schools serving students of comparable incoming performance and demographics.

[10] http://dianeravitch.net/2014/05/02/a-triumphant-return-to-professionalism-in-new-york-city/

[11] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/opinion/sunday/the-secret-to-fixing-bad-schools.html?pagewanted=all

[12] Note that this strategy of developing metrics in such a way that they favor specific school types and policies is distinct from the outright corruption of Tony Bennett, the former Indiana education commissioner, who changed the grades of individual schools. https://will.illinois.edu/news/story/former-indiana-superintendent-feels-heat-of-grading-scandal

[13] http://dianeravitch.net/2014/08/28/beware-the-charter-attrition-game/

[14] http://withabrooklynaccent.blogspot.com/2014/01/corporate-reform-versus-child-centered.html

[15] http://withabrooklynaccent.blogspot.com/2014/03/on-misuse-of-statistics-in-testing-by.html

Tim Slekar, dean of education at Edgewood College in Wisconsin, has been a relentless fighter against high-stakes testing and privatization for years. Here he explains what the recent election meant for children and public schools in Wisconsin, what might be called politely a fist in the face or a hard blow to the gut.

 

There can be no doubt that re-elected Scott Walker will push for more vouchers, more charters, more high-stakes testing and call himself a “reformer.”

 

The Assembly speaker said that it was time for a new accountability bill, despite decades of failed accountability demands from Washington, D.C. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting better results is the definition of insanity, isn’t it?

 

Some local school boards plan to “hunker down” and wait for the next election.

 

Tim shouts “NO!” as loud as he can:

 

“Hunkering down” has to be one of the most damaging strategies for anybody or any organization that has the democratic and constitutional responsibility to do what is best for children. Just the idea that the new found power elite are proposing educational “accountability” after 30 years of failed accountability should motivate all that care about children and public schools to regroup, organize, strategize, and then counter attack.

 

Winning an election does not give permission to anti-intellectual, political hacks to prescribe abusive accountability schemes that only hurt children, teachers, and communities and funnel tax dollars to political donors.

 

Hunker down? No! My daughter and son don’t need spineless adults unwilling to protect the only chance they have at a critical and powerful democratic education. My children deserve (and so do all Wisconsin children) advocacy and action! Vos and all the other accountability hawks hellbent on killing childhood are the ones that need to be held accountable. For 30 years they have defunded and redirected precious resources to an accountability scam designed to enrich test and data companies and dismantle OUR public schools. NO MORE! Test and punish accountability has been a disaster!

 

It’s time for an accountability system that holds legislators accountable for making sure all children come to school well fed, well clothed, warm, healthy, and protected from the trauma of living in a state of perpetual uncertainty—poverty. If this new set of power pawns fail to pry our most vulnerable from the trappings of generational racism and destroy the economic system that only rewards their campaign funders then they must be the ones held accountable, judged “legislatively inadequate” and stripped of all legislative power. We must get rid of “failing” legislators.

 

 

Carol Burris, high school principal in Long Island, New York, writes here about the sudden shift in tone of the high-stakes testing cheerleaders.

 

Arne Duncan throws his support to the Beltway groups that say that there is too much testing and there should be less. Don’t believe it, writes Burris.

 

Of course, they hope to pacify and quiet the growing movement against high-stakes testing.

 

She writes:

 

Education Secretary Arne Duncan must believe that those “suburban moms” he talked about back in 2013 are an awfully gullible bunch. In response to continued pushback on testing, Duncan and the Council of Chief State School Officers are now saying that they, by golly, are against excessive standardized testing, too.

Duncan recently wrote an op-ed published in The Washington Post in which he expressed support for a statement issued by the Council of Chief State School Officers along with the Council of Great City Schools saying that it was time to rethink standardized testing.

Readers may recall how Duncan characterized pushback on the Common Core as coming from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were” when he addressed the State Chiefs last year. His disdainful dismissal of the genuine concern of parents fueled the already growing anti-testing movement.

 

 

And more:

 

So now Mr. Duncan and the Chief State School Officers need to convince parents that they are listening, too. Their strategy is to say that “we are only for good tests, not the bad tests, and we will make all the bad tests go away.” It is disturbing that they believe that parents would not see through the ruse.

Parents are not protesting weekly spelling quizzes. The tests they do not like are the very tests that Duncan and the Chiefs want to save. In his recent op-ed, Duncan refers to “high-quality tests” as ones for which, “the Education Department has provided $360 million dollars.” The money went to two multi-state consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, designing new tests to align to the Common Core State Standards. All the while, both Duncan and the Chiefs were careful not to mention the Common Core in their statements. The Common Core is now their Voldermort–“he who cannot be named.” Instead they declare themselves the warriors of the bubble test, as though answering multiple-choice questions with a mouse is a game changer.

Perhaps the most bizarre declaration in favor of annual testing came from Louisiana’s Chief John White who said that it is “an absolutely essential element of assuring the civil rights of children in America.” Meanwhile, 40 of the 70 districts in White’s state are still under desegregation orders, having not achieved unitary status after more than 40 years. When the U.S. Justice Department sued Louisiana to block 2014-15 vouchers for students in schools under federal desegregation orders, John White characterized the order as “a little ridiculous.”. The heck with Brown v Board of Education—as long as kids have the civil right to be tested each year, social justice is served.

 

Imagine that! Kids don’t need desegregation, but testing is a “civil right”? Yes, he really said that.

 

Burris concludes that Duncan and the cheerleading Chiefs don’t believe in democratic control of schools. That’s why they love standardized testing. Teachers and principals can’t be trusted to do what is right for children.

 

And that really sums up the thinking of Duncan and his cheerleading Chiefs. Their distrust of public schools and the democratic control of schooling run deep. It colors every solution that they propose. They have no idea how to effect school improvement other than by making tests harder and making sticks bigger. When punishing the school did not work, it morphed into punish the teacher through evaluations based on test scores. The reality that no country has ever improved student learning using test and punish strategies is lost on those who refuse to address the greater social issues that we who do the work confront every day.
When one argues that testing 8-year-olds for nine hours is the way to give a child his civil rights, then moral authority is surely gone. The public knows it. Moms, of all colors and neighborhoods, are a heck of a lot smarter than Mr. Duncan and his reform supporters believe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthony Cody recognizes that “reformers” are back-pedaling from test-test-test because 1) the results have been disappointing; and 2) the anti-testing backlash is turning into a mighty roar.

So, of course, they need a new paradigm that redefines accountability. In this post, Cody reviews the latest effort to make accountability palatable and concludes that any paradigm that preserves high-stakes testing will preserve the flaws and misguided incentives of the current system.

He writes that every effort to shift to a new paradigm is trapped in the stale thinking of the old paradigm:

“We are stuck in a model that says learning must be measured to be managed, and management is the overriding systemic imperative. This necessitates top-down systems, even as those systems are incapable of delivering the sort of change advocates insist upon….

“A truly new paradigm would invest confidence in students and teachers, rather than constantly require them to demonstrate their adherence to standards and predetermined curricula and assessments. A new paradigm would refocus our schools on the needs of local communities, and require educators to work closely with parents and community leaders to set goals and share evidence of student progress. Accountability invested in centralized authority is inherently top-down. New paradigm? Not there yet.”

Count on Arne Duncan to speak out against testing while he mandates more and more of it. If you are a teacher and your students’ scores don’t go up, you will be fired. That’s federal policy. That makes standardized testing the measure of a teachers’ worth, not a reflection of the demographics in the classroom. If the teacher teaches students with special needs, the scores may not go up as much as they do for teachers in affluent suburbs. Teachers of English language learners are at a disadvantage. All of this has been proven again and again by researchers. But the news has never reached Arne Duncan.

 

In this post, Peter Greene says that when Arne Duncan joins the chorus of voices who are criticizing standardized testing, he is just blowing smoke. As usual. Watch what he does, not what he says. Just remember: he was for it before he was against it, and he was against it before he was for it. And the only reason children with disabilities get low scores is because their teachers have low expectations and they don’t take hard enough tests. And the goal of all education is for every student to take and pass Advanced Placement examinations.

 

Greene writes:

 

 

As soon as CCSSO and CGCS announced their non-plan to provide PR coverage for the high stakes test-and-punish status quo, Arne Duncan was there to throw his tooter on the bandwagon. On top of an official word salad on the subject, Arne popped up yesterday in the Washington Post.

 

There was a time when Duncan could be counted on to at least say the right thing before he went ahead and did the wrong thing. And I cannot fault his opening for the WaPo piece.

 

“As a parent, I want to know how my children are progressing in school each year. The more I know, the more I can help them build upon their strengths and interests and work on their weaknesses. The more I know, the better I can reinforce at home each night the hard work of their teachers during the school day.”

 

He’s absolutely correct here. It’s just that his words have nothing to do with the policies pursued by his Department of Education.

 
Duncan welcomes the stated intention “to examine their assessment systems, ensure that assessments are high-quality and cut back testing that doesn’t meet that bar or is redundant.”Duncan does not welcome an examination of the way in which standardized testing is driving actual education out of classrooms across America.

 

He makes his case for standardized testing here:

 

“Parents have a right to know how much their children are learning; teachers, schools and districts need to know how students are progressing; and policymakers must know where students are excelling, improving and struggling.”

 

As a case for standardized testing, this is wrong on all three points.

 

1) Parents do have a right to know how much their children are learning. And standardized tests are by far the least effective instruments for informing them. They are minute snapshots, providing little or no description of how students are growing and changing. Standardized tests measure one thing– how well students do on standardized tests.

 

2) Teachers, schools and districts need to know how students are doing. And if a teacher needs a standardized test to tell her how her students are doing, that teacher is a dope, and needs to get out of teaching immediately. I measure my students dozens of times every single week, collecting wide and varied “data” that informs my view of how each student is doing. A standardized test will tell me one thing– how that student does with a standardized test. If the school or district does not know whether they can trust my word or not about how the student is doing, the school and district are a dope. Standardized tests offer no useful information for this picture.

 

3) Explain, please, exactly why policymakers need to know how my third period class is doing on paragraph construction? Why do the bureaucrats in state and federal capitols need to know where students are “excelling, improving and struggling”? Is Congress planning to pass the “Clearer Lesson Plans About the Rise of American Critical Realism Act”? Are you suggesting that there are aides in the DOE standing by to help me write curriculum? Because I cannot for the life of me figure out why the policymakers (nice term, that, since it includes both the legislators who pass policy and the unelected suits who write it for them) need to have standardized results on every single kid in htis country.

 

Duncan follows this up with a reference to another of his pet theories– that students with learning disabilities just needed to be tested harder in order to fix their difficulties.

 

Duncan goes on to admit that “in some places” testing is eating up calendars and stressing students.

 

Policymakers at every level bear responsibility here — and that includes me and my department. We will support state and district leaders in taking on this issue and provide technical assistance to those who seek it.

 

In one sense, Duncan is correct. Policymakers at the state and local level bear responsibility for not telling the federal government to take its testing mandates and shove them where the NCLB-based money threats don’t shine. Duncan’s Department of Education bears responsibility for everything else.

 

This is the worst kind of weasel wording. This is the kid who sets fire to the neighbors house and then says to the kids who just tried to talk him out of it, “So, we’re all in this together, right?”

 

It was the Duncan/Obama Education Department that twisted every state’s arm up behind its ear and said, “If you want your Get Out Of NCLB Free Card, you will make testing the cornerstone of your education system.” Duncan does not get to pretend that this testing mania, this out of control testing monster, somehow just fell from the sky. “Gosh,” Duncan says and shrugs. “I guess there was just something in the water that year that made everybody just suddenly go crazypants on the testing thing. Guess we’ll all have to try harder, boys.”

 

No. No no no no. Testing mania is the direct mandated result of NCLB and its ugly stepsister RttT. It didn’t just happen. The federal government required it. And if Duncan really though this was an actual problem and not just a PR problem, he is the one guy who could wave his magic waiver wand and say, “My bad. Your waiver no longer requires you to test everything that moves and use the test results as the basis for all educational system judgments.”

 

 

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