Archives for category: Education Reform

In an astute article at Salon.com, Gabriel Arana explains in Salon how the Common Core standards united both left and right in opposition.

 

Arne Duncan has tried his best to portray critics as wing nuts from the fringes of American politics whose views should be ignored or as whiny “white suburban moms” who mistakenly thought their child was brilliant, but it hasn’t worked. Most of those who speak out for Common Core are either paid to do so, or work for organizations funded by the Gates Foundation, which paid out between $200 million and $2 billion to write and promote the Common Core.

 

“There’s been a convergence on the left and right on Common Core,” says Pedro Noguera, an education professor at New York University. “A lot of the right-wing opposition is about Obama. … On the left, it’s about standardized testing and how high-stakes tests are going to be used to hold schools accountable.”

 

While defenders of the Common Core repeat the false claim that the standards were written by the nation’s governors (imagine that!) or by teachers, Arana notes that few teachers were involved in the writing of them and that there is no way to fix what’s wrong about them. They were written by a committee in which the testing industry was well represented but early childhood educators and teachers were not.

 

The standards were implemented with little forethought or preparation. Seventh graders were assumed to know everything that was in the standards in the previous six grades, for example. Teachers had minimal preparation.

 

This is a good article. Show it to your friends.

 

The implementation has been a disaster. For starters, the 27-member committee that wrote the standards had few actual teachers on it, but plenty of representatives from the testing industry. Because it is illegal for the U.S. Department of Education to exert influence over state curriculums, the Bill Gates foundation stepped in and funded most of the effort. Even worse, the committee that wrote the standards no longer exists, and there are no formal procedures for amending them.

That task has been left to the states. Some, like New York, adopted the standards and started testing students on them without bothering to train teachers — teachers there got a printout of students’ scores that don’t even tell them the areas where they performed well or poorly. “If you simply raise the bar and a whole host of schools were failing when the bar was lower, how is that going to be effective?” says Noguera, who supports national education standards….

 

Under ideal circumstances, national education standards would ensure students across the country are getting the instruction they need to prepare them for college, and help bring some uniformity to widely varying state curricula. But the effort has floundered for a familiar reason: Americans’ enduring distrust of the federal government. With the Department of Education unable to take a strong lead, Common Core has been hijacked by the for-profit school-reform movement. Whether Common Core ends up doing any good largely depends on what each state decides to do with the benchmarks, which sort of undermines the whole point of having national standards in the first place.

 

To make any sense at all, national education standards must be aspirational, saying this is what should happen under the best of circumstances. They must recognize that children are not widgets, and that they differ in rates of development and in other dimensions. They should come with the resources to make them possible. They should be phased in slowly. There should be a central organization that can make adjustments to the standards and fix errors. They should be written by experienced teachers and educators of established reputations, not by testing companies, consultants, and inside-the-Beltway bureaucrats.

 

We really must think more rationally about the value and purpose of standards. Common standards will not cause everyone to become proficient, nor will tests linked to the standards. If that were true, everyone in Massachusetts–not just 50% of students–would be proficient on NAEP. If we have “high” standards, “rigorous” standards, “challenging” standards, a large proportion of students will not pass.

 

Of course, we should constantly strive to make schools better. All children should have a full and varied curriculum taught by well-prepared teachers. Experience should be respected and valued. All schools should have principals who are experienced teachers. All districts should have superintendents who are experienced teachers and administrators. Schools should have nurses, psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors, and librarians. Teachers should have reasonable class sizes, especially in the elementary years and especially for the neediest children. Most tests should be written by teachers; standardized tests should be used solely for diagnostic purposes, to help children, not to rank them. If we were serious about wanting higher achievement, we would reduce poverty. Standards and tests don’t cure poverty, and if we don’t reduce poverty, there will be no change in educational outcomes.

 

It is good to have standards, but not to think of them as “one-size-fits-all.” Think about running. For many years, the idea of running a four-minute was held up as the highest possible standard. Wikipedia says that the four-minute mile is “the standard” for all male middle-distance runners.

 

In the sport of athletics, the four-minute mile is the act of completing the mile run (1,760 yards, or 1,609.344 metres) in less than four minutes. It was first achieved in 1954 by Roger Bannister in 3:59.4.[1] The “four-minute barrier” has since been broken by many male athletes, and is now the standard of all male professional middle distance runners.

 

Does that mean that all male middle-distance runners should aspire to running a four-minute mile? Yes. Does it mean that everyone, no matter what their personal health or ability or interest, should be judged by their success in running a four-minute mile? That’s absurd.

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?

 

 

It gets harder and harder to keep up with the news about testing, because the popular sentiment is changing against standardized testing in general and Common Core testing in particular with great rapidity. Even this list is slightly dated. As I reported earlier today, some of the Atlanta educators convicted of racketeering were given stiff prison sentences.

 

It is an extraordinary coincidence that the Senate revision of NCLB is occurring at the same time as the biggest test refusal in American history. The parents who are opting out are sending a message to Congress at the same time that Congress plans to renew annual testing for another seven years. Will Congress hear the message? Or will the opt out movement grow even stronger next year? And will there be more Teachers of Conscience who refuse to give the tests?

 

Fairtest reports in its weekly update on testing resistance and reform:

 

Today is huge for assessment reform with the U.S. Senate education committee starting markup of legislation to overhaul “No Child Left Behind,” tens of thousands of students planning to opt-out of the first day of standardized exams in New York State, and sentencing scheduled in the Atlanta cheating case that has focused attention on damage from the fixation on test scores.

 

 

Here’s a sampling of just one week’s news from across the nation. Please continue sending us your clips and let us know if FairTest can help your local campaigns in any way

 

U.S. Senate Rewrite of “No Child Left Behind” Does Not Go Far Enough
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/10/why-the-senates-proposed-no-child-left-behind-rewrite-doesnt-go-far-enough/

 

Congress Many Years Behind in Move to Overhaul NCLB
http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2015/04/13/398804901/senators-try-to-revise-no-child-left-behind-a-few-years-behind

 

Is It a “Civil Right” to Take Federally Mandated Tests?
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/is-it-a-students-civil-right-to-take-a-federally-mandated-standardized-test/2015/04/10/7f1b731c-d3e4-11e4-a62f-ee745911a4ff_story.html

 

California Parents Can Choose to Opt Out of Common Core Tests
http://www.kionrightnow.com/news/local-news/some-parents-choose-to-opt-out-of-states-common-core-testing/32242858

 

Colorado Senate Overwhelmingly Approves Opt-Out Bill
http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_27867251/colorado-testing-opt-out-bill-wins-final-senate

 

Colorado Moms Take Frustration About Standardized Testing to State Capital
http://kdvr.com/2015/04/09/moms-students-take-frustration-over-standardized-testing-to-capitol/

 

Connecticut Opt Out Policies Vary Among Districts
http://www.courant.com/education/hc-for-students-who-opt-out-of-sbac-some-allowed-to-leave-testing-area-others-not-20150407-story.html

 

Florida Legislature Sends Governor Bill to Scale Back Testing
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/os-florida-house-passes-testing-bill-post.html

 

Florida Congresswoman Calls on State to Ignore Results of This Year’s Tests
http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/us-rep-wilson-urges-florida-lawmakers-to-disregard-test-results/2224816

 

Georgia Debates “Fair’ Punishment for Atlanta Educators in Testing Scandal
http://www.myajc.com/news/news/crime-law/whats-fair-punishment-for-aps-cheaters-depends-on-/nkqsR/#6ba5566b.149964.735700

 

Atlanta Cheating Scandal Exposes Everything Wrong with Test-Driven Education
http://www.alternet.org/education/latest-big-city-school-testing-scandal-exposes-everything-thats-wrong-standardized

 

Louisiana Teachers Should Be Inspiring Students, Not Just Preparing Them for Tests
http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/opinion/11990159-123/letter-teachers-should-be-inspiring

 

Maine Students Opt Out of New Standardized Test
http://www.penbaypilot.com/article/camden-hills-parents-overwhelmingly-say-no-new-assessment-test/50881

 

Michigan PTA Calls for Suspension of New State Assessment
http://www.theoaklandpress.com/general-news/20150409/parent-leaders-ask-state-to-put-m-step-assessments-on-hold-for-this-year

 

Michigan Parents Pulling Kids Out of State Tests
http://www.minbcnews.com/news/story.aspx?id=1190733#.VSxM40ZLUZw

 

Nebraska Presses Own Model in “No Child” Overhaul Debate
http://journalstar.com/news/local/education/finally-some-movement-on-nclb-with-nebraska-in-the-discussion/article_3aaf1141-5a12-5f87-b85b-6d0b354e8ce5.html

 

New Hampshire SmarterBalanced Testing Is Unethical, Invalid
http://www.fosters.com/article/20150407/NEWS/150409532/-1/ROCNEWS

 

New Jersey PARCC Is Part of State’s Education Problems, Not a Solution
http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/15/04/07/opinion-parcc-is-part-of-the-problem-not-part-of-the-answer-for-nj-schools/

 

New Mexico School Counselors Speak Out Against School Testing Overkill
http://www.taosnews.com/news/article_ece6d7a8-def0-11e4-997b-d70a26278f16.html

 

New Mexico Opt-Out Numbers Grow
http://www.koat.com/news/parcc-opt-out-numbers-for-aps-announced/32345118

 

New York Opt Out Movement Grows Rapidly
http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2015/04/opt-out_movement_grows_across_state_thousands_of_students_expected_to_refuse_tes.html

 

Western New York District Opt-Out Rate Tops 56%
http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2015/04/10/fairport-opt-cala/25575961/

 

New York Teacher Licensing Test on Trial for Racial Bias, Lack of Relationship to Job
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/nyregion/questions-of-bias-are-raised-about-a-teachers-exam-in-new-york.html?ref=education

 

North Carolina Test-Based School Grades Get an “F”
http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article18438515.html

 

North Dakota Legislatures Can’t Reach Agreement on Opt-Out Bill as Grassroots Movement Grows
http://bismarcktribune.com/news/local/bismarck/testing-opt-out-bill-dies-in-house/article_d74b3f4d-de9c-503c-b56c-0c02cc9fe41e.html

 

Ohio Governor Signs Bill Protecting Students From Negative Consequences of New PARCC Test Scores
http://www.timesreporter.com/article/20150409/OPINION/150409376/2011/OPINION

 

Ohio Educators Give Law Marks to Rollout of New State Tests
http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2015/04/ohio_educators_give_bad_marks.html

 

Oregon Students Lead Movement Against New Tests
http://portlandtribune.com/lor/48-news/256291-126869-students-board-square-off-over-smarter-balanced-assessment-tests

 

Oregon Opt-Out Gains Steam, Especially in Portland
http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2015/04/portland_common_core_testing_o.html

 

Pennsylvania Suburbs See Twenty-Fold Increase in Opt-Out Requests
http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/homepage-feature/item/80602-main-line-district-sits-for-pssas-with-20x-increase-in-opt-outs

 

Pennsylvania Should Not Waste Time With Keystone Exams
http://www.delcotimes.com/opinion/20150408/letter-to-the-editor-dont-waste-time-with-the-keystone-exam

 

Tennessee Dueling Test Standards Put Squeeze on Teachers and Students
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/04/09/dueling-tests-standards-put-squeeze-on-tennessee.html

 

Texas Concedes New Math Test Scores Will Not Count in School, District Ratings
http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local-education/math-staar-tests-for-grades-3-8-wont-count-in-camp/nkp2j/

 

Texas Lawmaker Takes Aim at STAAR Testing
http://www.houstonchronicle.com/neighborhood/katy/schools/article/Fort-Bend-lawmaker-takes-aim-at-STAAR-testing-6184831.php

 

Washington State NAACP Joins Critics of New Tests
http://kuow.org/post/naacp-joins-fight-against-new-standardized-test

 

Washington High School Students Boycotting Smarter Balanced Test
http://www.thestranger.com/blogs/slog/2015/04/10/22029704/why-roughly-220-garfield-high-school-students-are-boycotting-a-standardized-test-in-their-own-words

 

Congratulations, Pearson Offered Me a Test-Scoring Position
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/14/congratulations-to-me-i-have-been-offered-a-position-as-a-professional-scorer-by-pearson/

 

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office- (239) 395-6773 fax- (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468
web- http://www.fairtest.org

Parents are told that their children should take the new online Common Core tests because doing so will help their children.

 

The president of the State University of Néw York said students should not opt out:

 

“When it comes to whether students should opt out of standardized testing, no one is actually talking about what’s best for our kids. Standardized tests have become a pawn in political debates about teacher evaluations and we have lost sight of what they are: a way to measure what students know so we can help them improve,” President Nancy Zimpher wrote.”

 

Advocates and defenders of the tests assert that parents and teachers will learn about how the children are progressing, and teachers will be able to use this information to tailor instruction to meet the needs of individual children.

 

None of this is true. The information provided by the tests is worthless. It is a score. It offers no information about how to help students improve. It gives a score and a ranking compared to others in the state.

 

There is nothing individual in each student’s report. The teacher can’t see what the student got right or wrong. The teacher and parent learn nothing except the student’s score.

 

A test is valuable to the extent it is diagnostic. If a test is diagnostic, it identifies strengths and weaknesses so the teacher can help children do better. This report is not diagnostic. It says nothing of importance.

 

This is akin to going to a doctor with a painful stomach ache. He gives you tests, then says he will get back to you in four months. When you see him again in four months, he tells you a score, and he compares you to other patients with similar symptoms, but he has no prescription, no advice about how to feel better. Why would you want to know that you are better or worse than others with similar symptoms? Wouldn’t you prefer to have treatment?

 

Knowing that the test consume a large part of the school year, knowing that they are designed to fail most kids because of their absurdly high passing mark, knowing that the tests have no diagnostic value, the best decision for parents is to opt out of the testing. Send a message to the state capitol and to D.C.

The Badass Teachers Association wrote a letter congratulating Hillary Clinton on her announced candidacy for the Presidency. They remind her of many strong statements she has made in support of public education. And they pose a list of issues that are very important to them and to teachers and parents across the nation.

 

This is an excerpt from the BATs letter to Hillary:

 

We have been reviewing the history of your educational platform with interest in anticipation of your announcement.

 

In 2000 you said:

 

“I’ve been involved with schools now for 17 years, working on behalf of education reform. And I think we know what works. We know that getting classroom size down works. That’s why I’m for adding 100,000 teachers to the classroom. We know that modernizing and better equipping our schools works. And we know that high standards works. But what’s important is to stay committed to the public school system.”

 

As an organization we could NOT agree more. We believe that when you add REAL educators to the table when discussing education policy, you do so because educators know what works.

 

In 2007 at the NYSUT Convention in NY you said,

 

“Public education must be defended, yes it has to be modernized but never doubt for a minute if we turned our back on public education we would be turning our back on America. I will not let that happen.”

 

We are pleased to hear those amazing words of support for public education. In your long history of public service, you have proven you can be a friend to education. You pushed for universal pre-kindergarten, arts education, after-school tutoring, smaller class sizes and the rights of families. As a college student in the 1960s, you even volunteered to teach reading to children in poor Boston neighborhoods. You fought to ensure voting access for African Americans and even worked at an alternative newspaper in the black community.
In 2007, you said of testing:

 

NCLB stifles originality and forces teachers to focus on preparing students for tests. You criticized the program as underfunded and overly restrictive.
You asked delegates at the NEA of New Hampshire, “While the children are getting good at filling in all those little bubbles, what exactly are they really learning?”
You continued, “How much creativity are we losing? How much of our children’s passion is being killed?”

 

We are hoping that statements like this follow you into the White House!

 

In 2007 you said of public education:

 

“The majority of children are educated in the public education system. So we have to support the public education system whether or not our children are in it or whether or not we have children. The public education system is a critical investment for the well-being of all of us.”

 

We could not agree with you more. We feel , like you, that an investment in strong public education is the best investment this country can make!

 

We were most happy to hear this statement that you made in 2007, “I do not support vouchers. And the reason I don’t is because I don’t think we can afford to siphon dollars away from our underfunded public schools.”

 

Many educators are skeptical of promises because they feel betrayed by President Obama and Arne Duncan, whose program differs not at all from NCLB (except that it is ever more punitive and has set off a national fetish for measuring teachers by student test scores, a practice unknown in any of the world’s high-performing nations). Teachers, principals, and the millions who work in public schools and support public schools are looking for a genuine commitment to strengthen our nation’s public education system and to stop expanding privatization.

 

Will Hillary Clinton win the support of educators? She has her work cut out for her to win their hearts and minds after the last seven years of test-and-punish-and-privatize. In 2000, before the charter industry evolved into a competitive and boastful sector, embraced by the Walton family and rightwing governors; before the federal government mandated high-stakes testing every year for every child from grades 3-8; before the U.S. Department of Education became the cheerleader for profit making enterprises, charter schools, the Common Core, and the testing industry; before Teach for America lost its idealism and turned into a richly funded temp agency; before the onslaught against collective bargaining and teachers’ due process rights; Hillary’s commitment to public education would not have been doubted. But Arne Duncan has managed to demoralize educators and turn the federal department of education into a source of unfunded mandates and bad, top-down ideas. Hillary Clinton will have to prove herself to educators and parents to win their support. They were fooled once.

The local chapter of the NAACP in Seattle voted to encourage parents to opt out of state testing.

 

On Tuesday, April 7, 2015 Gerald Hankerson, the President of the Seattle/King County NAACP and Rita Green, the Education Chair of the Seattle/King County NAACP, began our press conference with a powerful idea and a call for action that holds the potential to help produce a tremendous social transformation. Together their opening remarks at the press conference—a gathering of parents, teachers, and community leaders that I helped to organize in opposition to the Common Core “Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium” (SBAC) tests—represent a clarion call to both education advocates and social justice activists across the country. Their simple, yet mighty, proposition is that the movement to oppose high-stakes standardized testing and the Black Lives Matter movement (and other struggles against oppression) should and can unite in a great uprising in service of transforming our schools into an environment designed to nurture our children, in body and intellect, rather than to rank, sort, and reproduce institutional racism.
Seattle NAACP President Hankerson (font left) and Education Chair Rita Green (front right) with supporters outside of the press conference.
Hankerson, kicking off the event, referenced the “long and ugly history” of using standardized tests in an effort to establish white supremacy. This is a history that the corporate “testocracy” is desperate to insure remains hidden from the public, as the uncovering of this history would bury their attempts to claim that standardizing testing is the key to closing  “achievement gap.”

When Governor Cuomo’s budget was passed by the Néw York State Senate, it included mandates for test-score based evaluation of teachers and other provisions that teachers found insulting. Here is the State Senate’s Wall of Shame and Wall of Fame, identifying those who voted for and against this anti-teacher legislation. I previously posted a similar chart for the New York Assembly. Save this list for the next election if you live in New York.

 

 

 

 

IMG_7076

Arne Duncan hailed the Senate bill produced by Senators Alexander and Murray as a good bipartisan effort.

 

Duncan was generally positive about the Alexander-Murray bill but said the Obama administration wants a final law to expand early childhood education and to place stronger demands on states to improve their worst-performing schools, among other things.

 

For example, “turning around schools” by closing them, firing teachers and principals.

Vicki Cobb is a prolific writer of science books for children. She has written more than 85 nonfiction books. As a child, she attended the celebrated Little Red Schoolhouse in Greenwich Village, where experiential learning was valued. Today, she dedicates herself to educating children about science and the joy of learning. Imagine her surprise when she conducted a workshop and discovered that the children did not share her enthusiasm for school.

 

Here is her assessment of the legacy of today’s school reforms.

 

The other day I was doing a program for a group of 4th-6th graders at a local public library. I introduced myself to them by telling them how I had LOVED school so much when I was a kid that I basically recreate it for myself everyday as I write my books. The kids’ reaction to my confession was a unanimous, vociferous, vocal expression of how much they disliked school. I was startled. After all, I’ve told this to children many times before at school visits. Was this because the venue was not in school and they felt freer to express themselves? Or has something changed to make school more onerous? These were privileged kids from an affluent public school district. Could it be because they had just finished a month of standardized testing? What’s going on here?

 

This is just the latest piece of evidence that something is rotten in American education. It seems that many people in a position of power believe that education is too important to allow professional educators do their jobs because they have failed to produce a consistently excellent product of people who are college and career ready after twelve years of schooling. They believe the way to excellence is to first write a law decreeing “No Child Left Behind” or “All Children College and Career Ready” to set a policy, without consulting anyone who actually teaches children. And then to test, test, test, to see if these impossible standards have been met. Meanwhile, they are creating a population of quietly submissive students and teachers who narrow the curriculum to what they hope will be on the test while administrators are cutting art, music, physical education programs and librarians to pour more of their limited financial resources into test prep and test grading….

 

Let me take this opportunity to remind us that human beings, from the moment they appear on this earth, are born to learn. A baby is as smart as s/he will ever be. Through infancy every day is filled with wonder and discovery. And although there are hard lessons along the way, as learning progresses, so does mastery. We know from research that there are many different learning styles but eventually we all learn to walk and talk and think . As we get older, if we’re lucky, we discover a passion that drives us to master more skills and contribute to society. But the skill of high performance on a test, is not an essential skill. There are many other metrics for success — the number of patents held by Americans, for example. The current “reformers” for education are simply imposing ill-conceived laws of the state and federal governments on schools as if we were a dictatorship not a democracy.

 

Deep in my bones I know that I would not be creating science books for children if I had grown up in one of today’s repressive schools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Colorado legislature, as noted in a post earlier today, is debating whether to cut back on standardized testing and whether to permit parents to opt their children out of tests.

A Republican state senator who is a sponsor of the opt-out bill said that he and his wife had opted their own children out of the tests.

State Senator Michael Johnston, author of the infamous law that makes test scores count for 50% of teachers’ evaluations, defended high-stakes testing.

Johnston likened the bill to a ban on school coaches running their athletes through sprints, and said that the bill threatened to cut off $360 million in federal funding if the participation rate drops below federal requirements.

He also stressed that the students who skip the tests tend to come from lower-income and minority groups.

“Has it been a lot of upper middle class white folks,” Johnston said. “No.”

Easing the ability to opt-out, he argued, will prevent the state from helping to measure and serve those who struggle.

Likening a mandate to take tests whose reliability and validity have not been established to banning athletes from sprinting is illogical. It actually makes no sense. Coaches don’t need a law to have their athletes run sprints.

And like others who are desperately fearful of the Opt Out movement, he makes the spurious claim that testing is exactly what is needed to help struggling students. But tests don’t teach. Teachers teach. They teach even better in an atmosphere of respect and collegiality.

The other curious thing about his statement is that it is opposite what other reformers are saying; they claim that only whites are opting out. Johnston claims the opt outs “tend to come from lower-income and minority groups.” The reformers have different songbooks.

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