Archives for category: Education Industry

A comment on the blog:


I attended a forum at Scarsdale HS last night (4/30) w panelists Regent Judith Johnson, Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, and Scarsdale Schools Superintendent Hagerman.


Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Regent Rosa attended but did not participate.


All panelists spoke to the problems with the state tests and there was general consensus that the tests have no value as a measure of students’ abilities or teacher competencies, that they are a burden to students because test prep takes time away from project-based and other learning and are unnecessarily stressful for children, and are a financial burden to districts.


One of the most interesting comments from Judith Johnson was in response to questions from members of the audience who expressed frustration at not being heard by Albany.


Ms Johnson firmly insisted that parents and opponents to current testing and CC ARE being heard.


HOWEVER, she said that what hasn’t been put forward – what hasn’t be heard – are clear, unified demands and requests for specific changes.


Can you lead us forward in that?


What specific requests should individuals and groups demand of the the Regents, state DOE, Cuomo, and federal government?


Ms Johnson also expressed serious concerns that the State Regents do not having sufficient support staff-experiencing this already and only thirty days into the position. One can certainly see how that could limit her activities and scope of influence. Any thoughts?


There’s much more that I’m leaving out. The event will air on Scarsdale public access TV in next few days.


I’m curious to hear your thoughts.




Mira Karabin
Hartsdale, NY


Dear Mira,


Thanks for writing. Your first question is whether the people in Albany are aware of your concerns. The answer is yes and no. They definitely notice when the parents of nearly 200,000 children refused to take the state test.


Governor Cuomo heard you. He pronounced that you shouldn’t be worried because the tests are “meaningless” and won’t count against your children; they will be meaningful only for teachers, who will be punished if the scores don’t go up by whatever metric the state chooses.


Merryl Tisch heard you. She offered to delay the stakes attached to the testing for a year for some districts, on a case-by-case basis, or to exempt high-performing districts like yours.


But they didn’t actually hear you because they didn’t hear what parents were saying when they opted out. They are not offering to disconnect the scores from teacher evaluations. They are not agreeing to reduce the stakes attached to the tests. They are not offering to review the validity or reliability of the tests. They are not offering any substantive change at all, at best just a delay.


They don’t understand that pressuring teachers to get higher scores–or else–changes what happens in the classroom. It shifts the emphasis from inquiry to drill. It makes test-taking skills more important than thinking skills. It narrows the curriculum only to what is tested. It is contrary to good education, which is why private schools don’t follow the state’s lead. I think it is accurate to say that the leaders and decision-makers in Albany, including the Governor, his staff, most of the Regents, and those at the top of the State Education Department are wedded to an agenda that confuses test scores with education. Tests are a measure not the goal of education. There is also, at the highest level, an inexplicable contempt for the work of teachers and principals. And your children suffer for their ill-conceived policies.


Yes, there are specific, clear demands, voiced by New York State Allies for Public Education. Among other things, they demand “a dramatic reduction of testing in grades 3rd – 8th,” and a call to Congress to shift from annual testing to grade span testing. They also demand an independent review of the state’s standards and a “public and transparent process” for selecting the new state commissioner of education. They say, do not release any personally identifiable data about any student to any third party without parental consent. Check out their list of demands.


I would add a few more.


Reduce the time required for state testing (currently 7-10 hours) to not more than 2 hours, one for reading, one for math.


Convene a task force of independent and qualified testing experts to review the validity and reliability of the state tests.


Release the state tests after they are administered so that parents, teachers, and researchers can learn from them.


Provide teachers with information specific to each child so they will know how to help them do better in the future.


These are clear and specific demands. I think they fairly represent the views of those who refused the tests. If the Governor, the Legislature, and the Regents refuses to change their agenda, more parents will opt out next time. Ideally, there will come a day when no one takes these tests, which have not been reviewed for their validity and reliability and which are kept secret from teachers and parents. How many pineapples might be hidden in the questions? Why shouldn’t teachers learn what students got right or wrong?


I hope this is helpful.





Peter Greene read Marc Tucker’s critique of America’s academic standards and found some things to like, others to sharply disagree with.

Tucker’s essay is titled “Why American Education Standards Collapsed.” He speculates that standards have fallen over the past 40-45 years. Greene reviews Tucker’s economic analysis of the same period, with economic pressure on the middle class and pressure to push everyone to go to college.

It is a good read, and I highly recommend it.

Greene concludes:

Tucker has some points. Accountability has pretty much been a disaster for everybody (except disaster profiteers), and the economic shift in our country has been very, very hard on many of our citizens, making it harder for our children to get the best advantages in life, including education.

And we could certainly use leaders who were better, particularly when we consider that much of disruption of the last forty-five years, from the industrial crash of the seventies to the economic disasters of the 2000s, has been human-created. Here’s the thing– I don’t think the leaders of the car and steel industries, nor the banksters of the Great Recession, would have avoided all that mess if they had had better SAT scores or a better GPA in college.

Tucker reminds me of a person who sits fearfully in his house, hears a gurgle from the kitchen sink drain, and worries that it means that a burglar is coming in the second floor window. Or a chicken who gets hit with an acorn and fears the sky is falling. It’s not that there aren’t real and serious issues, problems that need to be addressed. But he is seeing connections between these issues and other factors that have nothing to do with them. The danger with Tucker is that his core belief, stated through much of his work, is that we need to control everything so that we can make all come out as it should. Any time you find somebody who thinks that kind of control is a good thing and that he totally knows how to manage it, you have found somebody who is dangerous. When you find somebody who believes he can control the entire machine but doesn’t really know how the parts fit together, you have found somebody who could make a serious mess. I’m really glad that Marc Tucker is in the world, but I’m even more glad that he’s not in charge.

Valerie Strauss posted an article about the lobbying activities of the giant testing corporations. They spend many millions of dollars to ensure that Congress and the states understand the importance of buying their services. It would be awful for them if any state decided to let teachers write their own tests and test what they taught.


The four corporations that dominate the U.S. standardized testing market spend millions of dollars lobbying state and federal officials — as well as sometimes hiring them — to persuade them to favor policies that include mandated student assessments, helping to fuel a nearly $2 billion annual testing business, a new analysis shows.


The analysis, done by the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit liberal watchdog and advocacy agency based in Wisconsin that tracks corporate influence on public policy, says that four companies — Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill— collectively spent more than $20 million lobbying in states and on Capitol Hill from 2009 to 2014.


When I visited Texas a few years ago, I wondered why Texas paid nearly $500 million to Pearson for five years of testing, but New York paid only $32 million to Pearson for the same five years. I assumed it must be a testament to the high quality lobbyists that Pearson hired in Texas, starting with Sandy Kress, who was one of the architects of No Child Left Behind and very well connected to the state’s power structure.

This is quite a remarkable admission. Nicholas Kristof writes today in the New York Times that the “reform” efforts have “peaked.” I read that and the rest of the column to mean that they have failed to make a difference. Think of it: Bill Gates, the Walton family, Eli Broad, Wendy Kopp, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, Florida Governor Rick Scott, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama, Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, and a host of other luminaries have been singing the same song for the past 15 years: Our schools are broken, and we can fix them with charters, vouchers, high-stakes testing, merit pay, elimination of unions, elimination of tenure, and rigorous efforts to remove teachers who can’t produce ever-rising test scores.

Despite the billions of dollars that the federal government, the states, and philanthropies have poured into this formula, it hasn’t worked, says Kristof. It is time to admit it and to focus instead on the early years from birth to kindergarten.

He writes:

For the last dozen years, waves of idealistic Americans have campaigned to reform and improve K-12 education.

Armies of college graduates joined Teach for America. Zillionaires invested in charter schools. Liberals and conservatives, holding their noses and agreeing on nothing else, cooperated to proclaim education the civil rights issue of our time.

Yet I wonder if the education reform movement hasn’t peaked.

The zillionaires are bruised. The idealists are dispirited. The number of young people applying for Teach for America, after 15 years of growth, has droppedfor the last two years. The Common Core curriculum is now an orphan, with politicians vigorously denying paternity.

K-12 education is an exhausted, bloodsoaked battlefield. It’s Agincourt, the day after. So a suggestion: Refocus some reformist passions on early childhood.

Wow! That is exactly what I wrote in “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools,” along with recommendations for reduced class sizes, a full curriculum, a de-emphasis on high-stakes testing, a revival of public policies to reduce poverty and segregation, and a recommitment to the importance of public education.

When I look at the Tea Party legislature in North Carolina or the hard-right politicians in the Midwest or the new for-profit education industry, I don’t think of them as idealistic but as ideologues. Aside from that, I think that Kristof gives hope to all those parents and teachers who have been working for years to stop these ideologues from destroying public education. Yes, it should be improved, it must be improved. There should be a good public school in every neighborhood, regardless of zip code. But that won’t happen unless our leaders dedicate themselves to changing the conditions in which families and children live so that all may have equal opportunity in education and in life.

This is a one-hour video of a great panel discussion at Fairfield University in Connecticut. The panelists are Wendy Lecker, Yohuru Willians, Jonathan Pelto, and Tom Scarice. You have read their writing on this blog.

It is a Sunday. Kick back and enjoy!

Andrea Gabor asks the million-dollar question: Why did Massachusetts, the most successful state in the nation on the National Assessment of Progress, drop its own finely honed standards and replace them with the untested Common Core standards? On one level, the answer is obvious: It wanted the money that come from Race to the Top. But at another level, this decision is not only puzzling but downright distressing. With the outstanding record of the students and teachers of Massachusetts, why in the world would policymakers take a chance on changing its successful system of standards and assessments? Of course, the $250 million that the state won is impressive, but no doubt the mandates that accompanied Race to the Top money very likely cost more than $250 million. From afar, it looks irresponsible. Even stranger is that the business community continues to complain about student performance when the performance of the public schools in Massachusetts is not only first in the nation but near the top of world rankings. What gives?


Is this just disruption for the sake of disruption?


Gabor writes:


Now the Massachusetts reforms are once again under assault by Common-Core enthusiasts. Strangely, many of those attacking the reforms are its erstwhile defenders. In February, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, a leading advocacy group for the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act, issued the first of several reports that found, or are expected to find, the Bay State standards and an accompanying high-stakes test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System or MCAS, wanting when compared to the still-untested “Common-Core aligned” PARCC tests (PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.)


“The current MCAS high school tests do not identify students who are college- and career-ready, and they do not contain the right content to measure college- and career-readiness,” concludes the MBAE study.


By contrast, the MBAE cautiously endorses the PARCC test: “As we are preparing this report in early 2015, the PARCC tests hold the promise of being a good indicator of college- and career-readiness.” (Emphasis added.)


In response, researchers from the Pioneer Institute, a market-oriented Massachusetts think thank, argue that money, once again, is playing an outsized role in the latest anti-MCAS research. The turncoats, according to Pioneer, include MBAE, which was cofounded by the aforementioned Paul Reville, as well as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Achieve Inc., both national Common-Core advocates. What these organizations all have in common is that they have receive funding– lots of it—from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also invested over $200 million in developing the Common Core.


The most recent Massachusetts skirmish over the Common Core is no coincidence. This year, Massachusetts elementary and middle schools had the choice of taking the PARCC test or the MCAS. In the fall, Massachusetts will make a final decision about whether to ditch the MCAS entirely in favor of PARCC, at a time when half the states that initially agreed to adopt the Common-Core aligned test have since backed out.


In their OpEd, Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass, detail the tangled web of relationships that tie the critics of the Massachusetts reforms to the Gates foundation, the PARCC tests and the Common Core. The OpEd is particularly scathing about the role of the MBAE:


“The Mass. Business Alliance study’s credibility was further compromised by the fact that its author is an adviser to PARCC. An earlier report from the Alliance — written by the senior education adviser to the giant testing company Pearson, which is near the top of a long list of entities that stand to gain from the switch to Common Core — was so bereft of intellectual integrity that it lifted an entire purported “case study” from The Boston Globe without attribution.”


However, the winner of the “conflict-of-interest derby,” according to Chieppo and Gass, is Teach Plus, a Boston-based national education-reform organization, which published a pro-PARCC report, “Massachusetts Teachers Examine PARCC“, in March:


The group recently released a study in which 23 of its fellows conclude that the commonwealth should ditch MCAS for PARCC. Teach Plus has received over $17 million from the Gates Foundation, including stipends for each of those 23 fellows.


The question now is whether Massachusetts will stick with its own test, MCAS, or whether it will switch to PARCC.


After each administration of MCAS, the questions and answers are released for public review. This is not the case with PARCC.


PARCC, by contrast, is a locked box, entirely controlled by Pearson, the testing giant that is developing the PARCC tests. It isn’t designed to be improved by educators over time, nor to help educators use the test to improve what or how they teach.


For now, at least in Massachusetts, the war over the Common Core will continue for at least a few months. Fordham Institute is expected to produce a study this summer examining the MCAS’s alignment to the Common Core; if its earlier support for the PARCC test is any indication, it too is likely to find against MCAS.


In Massachusetts, a final decision will be made by Mitchell Chester, the current education commissioner. Chester, it must be noted, also chairs PARCC’s governing board.


There you have it, folks. Conflicts of interest abound. Lots of money riding on the decision. And the person who will make the final decision as to which test will be used just happens to be the chair of the PARCC governing board. What do you think will happen?



A reader left this comment:


Insofar as the PARCC exam is concerned, as a reader, I’ve found the following to be true:


1. Many of the passages are insanely difficult, and most students are not psychologically mature enough to handle them, nor do they have enough background information to handle the passages and tasks.
2. Many from PARCC and Pearson HATE glossing. Trust me, I argued about several passages with them, and they refused to do so. I think it depends on the team you get, though. Other people at various meetings said they glossed a bit more than my team was allowed.
3. The test is bloody difficult, and there are a few answers choices for many of the passages that could be justified; however, according to Pearson, they were not the “best” answers… Whatever that means.
Insanity, power, and money are in cahoots to destroy public education.

Yes, you read that right. The vendor of the Smarter Balanced Assessment was not prepared for the number of tests that the server had to deliver, and the system broke down in three states.


According to the Nevada Department of Education, a spike in students taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC) this morning in Nevada, Montana and North Dakota exceeded the data capacity of Measured Progress, a third-party vendor contracted by the states to provide the test.


All testing in the three states has been stopped until Measured Progress can increase its data capacity, according to an email sent to state superintendents today by state deputy superintendent Steve Canavero.


Students who were taking the test at the time of the problem were able to finish their test, but teachers could not start new tests. About 13,000 tests were completed this morning before the errors started occurring, according to the department.


Think about it. The vendor didn’t know that so many students would be taking tests at the same time. What were they thinking?


Nothing to add to the headline. Send me links if you find them.

Mercedes Schneider has been reading the Senate bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as No Child Left Behind). She has been reading it line by line. This is the fourth of five installments.


Mercedes finds that the statutory language is extremely supportive of “public” charter schools, which are public when they want the money but not “public” when it is time for an audit or accountability. The bill makes a few suggestions of reform, but none is strong enough to rein in the scandals that clutter the charter industry. If anything, the embrace of privately managed charters by Democrats shows the party’s abandonment of public education. We expect Republicans to advocate for school choice, but now Democrats are on the same side.


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