Archives for category: Duncan, Arne

G.F. Brandenburg asks what the differences were between the cheating scandal in Atlanta under Beverly Hall and the cheating scandal in D.C. under Michelle Rhee.

He can’t find any other than the powerful protection extended to Rhee by the Obama administration. She was the poster child for Race to the Top. They couldn’t let her fail. Arne Duncan even campaigned with her on behalf of Mayor Fenty, a most unusual act for a member of the Cabinet. Fenty lost, and Rhee left D.C. to form StudentsFirst and raise campaign funds for mostly rightwing Republicans who were pro-voucher, pro-charter, and anti-union.

He writes:

“But why is it that only in Atlanta were teachers and administrators indicted and convicted, but nowhere else?

“What difference was there in their actual behavior?

“To me, the answer is simple: in DC, officials at every level, from the Mayor’s office up to the President of the US and the Secretary of Education, were determined to make sure that Michelle Rhee’s lying and suborning of perjury and lies would never be revealed, no matter what.”

 

International test scores have been used by reformers like Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, Joel Klein, and Michelle Rhee as a fear tactic. During the 2016 presidential campaign, you will surely hear much wailing and gnashing of the teeth about how our scores on international tests are undermining our global competitiveness and economic growth.

 

Horsefeathers!

 

Here is a post that I wrote in 2013; I updated it. It explains why those international test scores don’t matter, except to tell us that if we really wanted to raise them, we would reduce poverty. Let me say that again: if we reduced poverty, we would have higher scores on international tests.

 

“The news reports say that the test scores of American students on the latest PISA test are “stagnant,” “lagging,” “flat,” etc.

 

The U.S. Department of Education would have us believe–yet again–that we are in an unprecedented crisis and that we must double down on the test-and-punish strategies of the past dozen years.

 

The myth persists that once our nation led the world on international tests, but we have fallen from that exalted position in recent years.

 

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

 

Here is the background history that you need to know to interpret the PISA score release, as well as Secretary Duncan’s calculated effort to whip up national hysteria about our standing in the international league tables.

 

The U.S. has NEVER been first in the world, nor even near the top, on international tests.

 

Over the past half century, our students have typically scored at or near the median, or even in the bottom quartile. And yet during this same period, we grew to be one of the most powerful economies in the world. How could that be?

 

International testing began in the mid-1960s with a test of mathematics. The First International Mathematics Study tested 13-year-olds and high-school seniors in 12 nations. American 13-year-olds scored significantly lower than students in nine other countries and ahead of students in only one. On a test given only to students currently enrolled in a math class, the U.S. students scored last, behind those in the 11 other nations. On a test given to seniors not currently enrolled in a math class, the U.S. students again scored last.

 

The First International Science Study was given in the late 1960s and early 1970s to 10-year-olds, 14-year-olds, and seniors. The 10-year-olds did well, scoring behind only the Japanese; the 14-year-olds were about average. Among students in the senior year of high school, Americans scored last of eleven school systems.

 

In the Second International Mathematics Study (1981-82), students in 15 systems were tested. The students were 13-year-olds and seniors. The younger group of U.S. students placed at or near the median on most tests. The American seniors placed at or near the bottom on almost every test. The “average Japanese students achieved higher than the top 5% of the U.S. students in college preparatory mathematics” and “the algebra achievement of our most able students (the top 1%) was lower than that of the top 1% of any other country.” (The quote is from Curtis C. McKnight and others, The Underachieving Curriculum: Assessing U.S. Mathematics from an International Perspective, pp. 17, 26-27). I summarized the international assessments from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s in a book called National Standards in American Education: A Citizen’s Guide (Brookings, 1995).

 

The point worth noting here is that U.S. students have never been top performers on the international tests. We are doing about the same now on PISA as we have done for the past half century.

 

Does it matter?

 

In my last book, Reign of Error, I quote extensively from a brilliant article by Keith Baker, called “Are International Tests Worth Anything?,” which was published by Phi Delta Kappan in October 2007. Baker, who worked for many years as a researcher at the U.S. Department of Education, had the ingenious idea to investigate what happened to the 12 nations that took the First International Mathematics test in 1964. He looked at the per capita gross domestic product of those nations and found that “the higher a nation’s test score 40 years ago, the worse its economic performance on this measure of national wealth–the opposite of what the Chicken Littles raising the alarm over the poor test scores of U.S. children claimed would happen.” He found no relationship between a nation’s economic productivity and its test scores. Nor did the test scores bear any relationship to quality of life or democratic institutions. And when it came to creativity, the U.S. “clobbered the world,” with more patents per million people than any other nation.

 

Baker wrote that a certain level of educational achievement may be “a platform for launching national success, but once that platform is reached, other factors become more important than further gains in test scores. Indeed, once the platform is reached, it may be bad policy to pursue further gains in test scores because focusing on the scores diverts attention, effort, and resources away from other factors that are more important determinants of national success.” What has mattered most for the economic, cultural, and technological success of the U.S., he says, is a certain “spirit,” which he defines as “ambition, inquisitiveness, independence, and perhaps most important, the absence of a fixation on testing and test scores.”

 

Baker’s conclusion was that “standings in the league tables of international tests are worthless.”

 

I agree with Baker. The more we focus on tests, the more we kill creativity, ingenuity, and the ability to think differently. Students who think differently get lower scores. The more we focus on tests, the more we reward conformity and compliance, getting the right answer.

 

Thirty-two years ago, a federal report called “A Nation at Risk” warned that we were in desperate trouble because of the poor academic performance of our students. The report was written by a distinguished commission, appointed by the Secretary of Education. The commission pointed to those dreadful international test scores and complained that “on 19 academic tests American students were never first or second and, in comparison with other industrialized nations, were last seven times.” With such terrible outcomes, the commission said, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” Yet we are still here, apparently the world’s most dominant economy. We still are a “Nation and a people.” What were they thinking? Go figure.

 

Despite having been proved wrong for the past half century, the Bad News Industry is in full cry, armed with the PISA scores, expressing alarm, fright, fear, and warnings of imminent economic decline and collapse.

 

Never do they explain how it was possible for the U.S. to score so poorly on international tests again and again over the past half century and yet still emerge as the world’s leading economy, with the world’s most vibrant culture, and a highly productive workforce.

 

From my vantage point as a historian, here is my takeaway from the PISA scores:

 

Lesson 1: If they mean anything at all, the PISA scores show the failure of the past thirteen years of public policy in the United States. The billions invested in testing, test prep, and accountability have not raised test scores or our nation’s relative standing on the league tables. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are manifest failures at accomplishing their singular goal of higher test scores.

 

Lesson 2: The PISA scores burst the bubble of the alleged “Florida miracle” touted by Jeb Bush. Florida was one of three states–Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida–that participated in the PISA testing. Massachusetts did very well, typically scoring above the OECD average and the US average, as you might expect of the nation’s highest performing state on NAEP. Connecticut also did well. But Florida did not do well at all. It turns out that the highly touted “Florida model” of testing, accountability, and choice was not competitive, if you are inclined to take the scores seriously. In math, Florida performed below the OECD average and below the U.S. average. In science, Florida performed below the OECD average and at the U.S. average. In reading, Massachusetts and Connecticut performed above both the OECD and U.S. average, but Florida performed at average for both.

 

Lesson 3: Improving the quality of life for the nearly one-quarter of students who live in poverty–and the 51% who live in low-income families– would improve their academic performance. If we had less poverty, we would have higher test scores.

 

Lesson 4: We measure only what can be measured. We measure whether students can pick the right answer to a test question. But what we cannot measure matters more. The scores tell us nothing about students’ imagination, their drive, their ability to ask good questions, their insight, their inventiveness, their creativity. If we continue the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations in education, we will not only NOT get higher scores (the Asian nations are so much better at this than we are), but we will crush the very qualities that have given our nation its edge as a cultivator of new talent and new ideas for many years.

 

The fact is that during the past 13 years of high-stakes testing, American scores on the PISA exam have not budged at all. If anything, they have slipped a few points. Test and punish failed! No Child Left Behind failed! Race to the Top failed! Who shall we hold accountable? George W. Bush? His advisor Sandy Kress? Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings? Barack Obama? Arne Duncan? Congress? They forced states and districts to spend billions of dollars on testing, and all of this testing didn’t move the needle on the PISA tests. What if those billions had been spent instead to reduce class sizes? To provide health clinics for schools in poor communities? To create jobs? We need a new approach, and sadly, our policymakers continue to push the same failed ideas. The fact is that we have intolerably high levels of child poverty, and children who are poor register the lowest test scores. There is a simple but obvious formula: Reducing poverty will lift test scores.

 

Higher test scores should not be our national goal. Healthy, imaginative, curious children should be. Rather than focusing on test scores, I prefer to bet on the creative, can-do spirit of the American people, on its character, persistence, ambition, hard work, and big dreams, none of which are ever measured or can be measured by standardized tests like PISA.

This wonderful photo is making the rounds on Twitter. The quote was taken from Monroe County ICPE (Indiana Coalition for Public Education) chairperson Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer’s speech at the Indiana State House last month. When I hear about “college and career ready standards” for elementary school and middle school children, I am reminded of the famous words of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who once famously said:

 

“We should be able to look every second grader in the eye and say, ‘You’re on track, you’re going to be able to go to a good college, or you’re not,’ ” he said. “Right now, in too many states, quite frankly, we lie to children. We lie to them and we lie to their families.”

 

When I look at my young grandchildren, ages 8 and not quite 2, this is the same thought that occurs to me, as I feel sure it does to most parents and grandparents:

 

 

collegeready

Chicago’s superintendent of schools Barbara Byrd-Bennett wanted to delay PARCC testing. She knew the students and teachers were not ready. She proposed testing only 10% of students. The state of Illinois said it would lose $1.1 billion in federal funding if Chicago failed to participate.

Last week, Secretary Duncan was in Chicago. When asked why he threatened to cut off federal funding, he denied it.

When he arrived at a school, his driver took a wrong turn, and Duncan got out of the car and was swarmed by angry parents protesting the testing.

“Once safely inside the school, Duncan was asked about the protest outside.

“Why is his U.S. Department of Education forcing a controversial standardized test — one many parents don’t want and that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has argued is “not ready” for prime time — down the throats Chicago Public Schools?

“I’m not,” Duncan said. “The state works it out without Chicago. . . . That’s the state’s decision.”

“But isn’t the mandate being dictated by the federal government? Isn’t that what’s behind the threat to withhold $1 billion in funding that forced Chicago’s hand?

“No. You’re wrong. . . . You’re making stuff up. You don’t have your facts straight,” Duncan said.

“The secretary was asked about the parental animosity stemming from the PARCC test and the resulting protest that forced him to go through the gantlet of protesters to get into Ariel Community Academy, 1119 E. 46th Street.

““I welcome the conversation. It’s good. . . . It’s a healthy conversation to have,” he said.

“But he said, “It’s important to assess kids annually. . . . Millions of kids around the country are taking the test. We’re fine.”

“With that, a press aide to Duncan stepped in and ended the interview.”

Reader Cheryll Brounsteun posed this concern:

“I have followed the evolution of “school reform”. I believed naively that once Obama recognized that the reform movement was a scam to make money by selling tests, technology, curriculum, privatizing education and breaking unions that Democrats would take steps to protect public education.

“Sadly, Obama’s public support for TFA, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and Rahm Emmanuel clearly underscore that public education has been traded or sold and is being dismantled in stages. The destruction of public education is as great a travesty as the devastation of the environment and the corruption of our judicial system that ignores the crimes of the 1%. Yet, most citizens lack an awareness that the basis of a viable democracy is disappearing.”

Laura H. Chapman, arts educator, has taught from pre-school through college. In this comment, she responds to the pressure on little children to be “college-and-career-ready.”

 

 

 

Arizona has a checklist for this purpose. It is offered up as graphic and “balloon questions” that should be answered as if proof that the kindergartner is on track for college AND a career. (Meanwhile Congress wants to reframe NCLB as “Every Child Ready for College OR Career).”

 

Arizona’s State Department of Education offers a graphic that also functions as a checklist for college and career readiness. There in no picture of a train on a track, just comic-like bubbles filled with text, organized around a car. The car is facing left (a visual convention that has long been used to imply “go west)”

 

You can see this graphic and some grade by grade versions of the college/career questions here http://www.azed.gov/azccrs/files/2013/10/k-12collegeandcareerchecklist.pdf

 

This kind of checklist is migrating to other states via the promoters of “personalized learning” and on-line programs where dashboard versions update information and post “recommendations” for specific colleges or for career certificates that match up with student interests, family budgets, and so on. Some of these programs are designed to by-pass the need for face-to-face guidance from middle and high school guidance counselors.

 

The permitted “vocational interest” classifications in these assessments typically match up with 16 “career clusters” and occupational pathways linked to O’Net, an online resource designed for job-seekers. The O’Net system in turn, is connected to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that offers projections of labor markets by industry and occupations, the most recent from 2012 to 2022. These projections are updated every 2 years.

 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics labor projections show the fastest growing occupations, those with a rise or drop in average salary, those with educational requirements such as on the job training, high school diploma, and more.

 

You will not find Achieve, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the promoters of the Common Core, STEM, and technical education publicizing many of these projections. Why not?

 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projections take into account outsourcing, the shifting of professional work to paraprofessionals and automated technologies, the expansion of services for the aging baby-boomers, and so on. The jobs and trend lines show that many jobs are not destined to be “drivers of the global economy.” Neither will many produce a fast turn-around in the U.S. economy. The job projections do not match much of the career hype.

 

Almost all of the business and economic reasoning from the late 1990s—prompting talk about a nation at risk from global competition, higher standards as a panacea, and implied promises of unbridled growth in high tech careers—persists, along with claims that every student must have post-secondary education, preferably college. No doubt college helps on life-long income, but that has been true for a long time.

 

The career promoters who want to reach into kindergarten with assessments and year to year tracking are doing the equivalent of killing the seed corn. The seed corn is PLAY…unleashed from any clear purpose, unencumbered by what it is good for, untethered to CEO expectations for a 21st workforce.

 

It is as if…nothing changed after 9/11—just go shopping and get your little ones prepared for that and making marketable goodies.

 

It is as if…the world economy did not tank in 2007-2008, or if so, it was the fault of low standards, not enough testing, lazy teachers, too much play in school, especially Kindergarten.

 

It is as if…it is perfectly OK that 51 percent of K-12 students today live in poverty.

 

It is as if…it is perfectly OK that 30 states provide less funding per student in 2014-15 than they did before the 2008 recession.

 

It is as if…it is perfectly OK that the price tag of K-12 education has increased since 2008, due to rising costs of supplies and tests—more tests from an unregulated industry, and and dubious investments in technology for tests and data-mining.

 

It is as if…all of those teacher salaries were outrageous. Fact check: Between 1999 and 2013 the average salary decreased by 1.3 percent (adjusted dollars), National Center for Education Statistics.

 

I hope that the teachers and parents of Kindergarten children in Arizona will download and shred this ugly graphic filled with questions about careers.

 

It is time for some civil disobedience to stop careerism, especially in Kindergarten and the early grades. This must become as important as stopping the endless testing…for the sake of children who need to experience childhood for the joy of that and as the greatest way to learn stuff that matters to them. That “stuff” may, by a circuitous path, matter more to the future of a great nation than all of the rigors and angst created by today’s strictly academic regime.”

Rick Hess has a fresh idea about Arne Duncan’s perspective on the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind: he likes things just the way they are. For him, the best of all possible outcomes is the status quo. When the Obama administration controlled both houses of Congress, there was no interest in revising NCLB, even though it was due to be reauthorized in 2007.

Duncan has used federal waivers to rewrite the law to suit his wishes. Congress did not object when he twisted states’ arms (sorry for that bad metaphor; states don’t have arms) to adopt the Common Core, to evaluate teachers by test scores, and to whatever else struck his fancy. Why should he want Congress to pass a law that might restrict his power to the National Czar of schools?

Hess reprints an imaginary interview he wrote in 2011 with a Republican Secretary of Education who uses her vast powers to impose vouchers, a moment of silence, require abstinence education, require states to allow for-profit charters, and restrict collective bargaining. She is, of course, immensely grateful to Arne Duncan for showing how the Secretary can rewrite the law without turning to Congress.

Peter Greene read Arne Duncan’s speech carefully on the future of NCLB and boils down his vision of the federal role in education to one word: testing.

“First, Duncan positions assessment in the center of his education universe. He starts out by describing a large vision of education, one that is filled with innovation, meets the needs of every child, promotes equity, provides opportunity, values all subject areas, and provides every school with sufficient support and resources. And somehow considering all those aspects of a grand vision of education leads him to a Big Standardized Test. That’s it.

“It’s like someone who describes the awesome heights and sensations of a gourmet dinner, teasing you with visions of tastes and textures, savory combinations and a palate immersed in gustatorial ecstasy and then, after all that description and anticipation, at the moment of the Big Reveal, draws back the curtain on— a can opener.

“Testing is Chef Duncan’s can opener.”

Despite the universal failure of Duncan’s test-based teacher evaluation, despite its debunking by the Anerican Statistical Association, Duncan stubbornly clings to it. He is certain that parents want to know how their child compares to children in other states. I don’t understand that. I always had many questions about how my children were doing in school but I never wondered how they compared to children their age in other states. I wanted to know if they worked well with others, if they were respectful to their teachers, if they were good citizens, if they completed their school work in time. I counted on their teachers to bring any problems to my attention, and they did.

 

Greene writes:

 

“Parents are morons

 

“It wouldn’t be a Duncan speech about testing without the presumption that schools are liars and parents are dopes.

 

“Will we work together to ensure every parent’s right to know every year how much progress her child is making in school?

 

“Because only with the intervention and oversight of the federal government can parents have a clue about how their children are doing in school. And only a federally-mandated BS Test can give them a picture of their child’s education.

 

“Irony overload

 

“Later in the speech, Duncan suggests that “maybe our only hope is absolute honesty and transparency.” It is a great line, and one that I absolutely agree with.

 

“And yet, like most of Duncan’s prettiest rhetoric, it’s not reflected in any policy that he actually pursues. Doubling down on testing without considering its damaging effects and its utter failure to measure anything it claims to measure– this is not honest or transparent. The continued investing of BS Tests with powers they don’t have and effects they cannot achieve is neither honest nor transparent. The absolute refusal to hear opposing viewpoints is neither honest nor transparent.

 

“Duncan makes much noise about the need to supply quality education to the poor, to minorities, to students anywhere in the country who are not getting the full benefit of public education. He hears the cries for education and equity and justice and having heard them, he is sending… standardized tests (well, and charter schools, for some of those students, anyway).

 

“Regardless of your diagnosis of US educational ills, I don’t know how you arrive at the prescription, “We need more Big Standardized Tests driving all major decisions from the federal level.” Particularly after we’ve had a few years to see just how poorly how that actually works. Duncan’s speech includes an impassioned plea not to turn back the clock, not to return to a failed past. What he either can’t or won’t see is that his devotion to a failed test-based education policy is just such a retrograde response to education concerns.

 

“The Big Standardized Test can now takes its place in the gallery of failed educational policies of the past. If Duncan really wanted to move forward, he would leave BS Testing in the past where it belongs.”

Does the Onion have secret sources inside the U.S. Department of Education? its stories are typically a week ahead of the real news. Some things are impossible to satirize.

“WASHINGTON—Citing the need to measure student achievement as its top priority, the U.S. Department of Education launched a new initiative Thursday to replace the nation’s entire K-12 curriculum with a single standardized test.

“According to government officials, the four-hour-long Universal Education Assessment will be used in every public school across the country, will contain identical questions for every student based on material appropriate for kindergarten through 12th grade, and will permanently take the place of more traditional methods such as classroom instruction and homework assignments.”

Mark Naison wrote the following post:

 

 

In Newark and Buffalo, attempts to promote charter schools over public schools, and suppress the voices of educators and community residents have stripped the “Civil Rights” rationale from School Reform in the most naked way. In each city, an authoritarian white leader- in Newark Cami Anderson, in Buffalo, Carl Palladino- have attempted to stifle community input into education policy while seeking to intimidate some of their city’s most respected Black educators. In each instance, officials of the Obama Administration and the US Department of Education, who constantly claim that replacing public schools with charter schools advances the interests of children of color, have been conspicuously silent.

 

Let us be perfectly clear- what Cami Anderson and Carl Palladino are proposing mirrors what the Obama Administration is recommending for schools in the nation’s cities, yet large portions of the Black and Latino communities in Newark and Buffalo are up in arms about what is being done to them, and how their voices and opinions have been rendered irrelevant or viciously attacked.

 

Rather than facing that contradiction, and standing up for democratic governance of public schools, officials of the Obama Administration remain silent.

 

At its best, this is opportunism. At its worst, it is a short sighted and hypocritical failure to recognize that their policies are not only flawed, but may be undermining the very objectives they claim to promote.

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