Archives for category: Education Reform

Toni Jackson, a teacher in Memphis, wrote a powerful article about what “reform” is doing to her city, and especially what it is doing to black and brown children.

 

She writes:

 

There is a stench in the air in Memphis and it’s a smell that is permeating throughout black school districts. One can get a whiff of it in Newark, N.J., Philadelphia, New Orleans and most urban areas that received Race To The Top federal dollars for education. This awful stench derived from education reform and it’s been perpetrated on minorities with lower incomes and those who live under a lower socio economic status.

 

This stench has led corporations and politicians to the belief that they can control the education of African American and minority children (black and brown students) simply because they were granted millions of dollars by the government. They want to buy our children and they believe the federal government has given them the power to do so with the money allotted to improve student achievement.

 

So these Nashville politicians have neatly packaged the Shelby County School District, which is 85 percent African American, in a box where students are behind, teachers are ineffective, teaching jobs are tied to test scores, and student scores are tied to whether a school is slated for takeover or is closed altogether.

 

These politicians have aligned themselves with rich corporate types and they have passed laws that will give themselves total and complete power over urban schools, urban teachers, urban children, and young black and brown minds from K-12 grades in Memphis, which will lead to generational control. We have seen this before, Memphis. We have fought this fight before and now 50 years later, we are facing the same thing our grandparents faced when they went against a power structure designed to have access and control over the minds of our children. It was called the civil rights era and the legal case was Brown vs. Board of Education. That is where the state would like to take us, but we’re not going back there.

The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education commissioned a study comparing MCAS, the 20-year-old state assessment system, and PARCC, the federally funded Common Core test. It concluded that PARCC is superior to MCAS in preparing students to be workforce and college ready.

This is a surprising conclusion, since MCAS has been in use for two decades and PARCC is not only untried but very controversial. When Arne Duncan handed out $360 million to create two consortia to develop tests for the Common Core, PARCC enlisted 24 states and DC. Now, only 10 states and DC are sticking with PARCC.

Even more surprising are the reports about a lack of well-prepared workers. Massachusetts is by far the most successful state in the nation, as judged by NAEP test scores. Maybe test scores don’t translate into the skills, behaviors, and habits that employers seek. But how do these business people know that PARCC will be better?

Arthur Camins, Director, Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education, Stevens Institute of Technology, critiques here the now-popular idea that the best way to end poverty is by improving education. While both parties continue to talk about race and poverty, they have given up on integration as a strategy. What they propose, he says, is that education is the best anti-poverty program. Unfortunately, this claim has neither evidence nor  logic to support it.

 

He writes:

 

Integration has largely evaporated as a key driver in the struggle for equity. It has been replaced by the idea that education is the most effective anti-poverty program. The argument is framed by the following ideas:

 

“A high-quality education offers the best path out of poverty and into to the middle class. The new and improved, common-core aligned, standardized tests will accurately reflect the differential levels of student learning in areas that matter for their own future and that of the nation. Students who perform poorly on these assessments are unlikely be very successful in their post-secondary college and career endeavors. As a result, they are headed for low paying jobs or unemployment. Therefore, if we can increase their performance on these tests they will be more likely to succeed and escape poverty.”

 

This argument, while simplistic, sounds reasonable and appealing. However, close examination reveals that it is not evidence-based, nor is it logical.

 

Camins adds:

 

The logic about escape from poverty only works on the individual level. While individuals are certainly better off with the best possible education, there is no evidence that attaining a significantly increased percentage of high achieving students would eliminate the need for people to clean our offices, homes and hospitals, stock our store and warehouse shelves or serve us in fast food restaurants. There is no evidence that employers will suddenly agree to pay such better-educated workers a living wage that would enable them to provide adequate food, clothing and shelter so that poverty would cease to exist.

 

Maybe, more effective teaching will increase the size, diversity and creativity of the nation’s knowledge workforce, who will subsequently spur innovation and new kinds of well-paying employment for others. Maybe, our superior innovation capacity will offset the competitive advantage of lower wage countries. These would be good outcomes, but they will not end poverty. Unless, we commit to real high-quality universal health care, food and housing security, and full employment at fair living wages for all (through, for example public investment in infrastructure improvement), it is illogical to believe that universally high-quality education will significantly reduce, much less end poverty. Imagining that it will do so represents magical, not evidence-based logical thinking….

 

Sadly, too many policy makers seem more committed to enabling profiteering from the results of poverty than ending it. The testing industry is an excellent example. Education policies sanction and encourage multi-billion dollar testing and test preparation corporations that enable destructive punishment and rewards for educators, gaming the system and sorting of students for competitive access to an increasingly unaffordable post secondary system that perpetuates inequity. State and federal education policies support costly, overly stressful and time consuming high-stakes testing in order to verify and detect small differences within the very large socio-economic disparities we already know exist.

 

Well-designed large-scale assessments can contribute evidence for institutional and program level judgments about quality. However, we do not need to test every student every year for this purpose. Less costly sampling can accomplish this goal. I am not opposed to qualifying exams- if they validly and reliably measure qualities that are directly applicable to their purpose without bias. However, imagine if we shifted the balance of our assessment attention from the summative to the formative. Then we could focus more on becoming better at interpreting daily data from regular class work and use that evidence to help students move their own learning forward. Imagine what else we could accomplish if we spent a significant percentage of our current K-12 and college admission testing expenditures on actually mediating poverty instead of measuring its inevitable effect. Imagine the educational and economic benefit if we invested in putting people to work rebuilding our cities, roads, bridges, schools and parks. Imagine if we put people to work building affordable housing instead of luxury high rises. Imagine the boost to personal spending and the related savings in social service spending if a living wage and full employment prevailed. Imagine the learning benefit to children if their families did not have to worry about health, food and shelter. Imagine if our tax policies favored the common good over wealth accumulation for the 1%ers.

 

Such investments are far more logical than the current over-investment in testing and compliance regimes. Education, race and poverty are inextricably intertwined. Let’s do everything we can to improve teaching and learning. More students learning to use evidence to support arguments would be terrific. But, if we want to do something about poverty we need to ensure good jobs at fair wages for the parents of our students. That is where evidence and logical thinking lead.

 

At least since the adoption of No Child Left Behind legislation education reform has been promoted as an anti-poverty program and a way to narrow the racial achievement gap. Maybe that appeal is a good sign about the conscience of US citizens. Apparently, many people still believe that the connection between educational achievement, race and socio-economic status is unfair. However, no policy makers have been forthright enough to reveal or admit to themselves their real underlying logic: We have given up on ending or seriously mediating poverty. The best we can do is to give some kids who are willing and able to work hard a better chance to make good. That is why we support school choice. No one will say this out loud because it sounds so pessimistic and cynical.

 

Maybe it is time to hold policy makers accountable in their own behavior for what they demand of students: At least be clear about your hypothesis, experimental design and collect appropriate evidence. That would allow the public to participate in deciding whether escape from poverty for a few more students is a worthy goal that represents our values as a nation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mercedes Schneider, Louisiana high school teacher with a Ph.D. in research methods and statistics, has a dogged dedication to setting the record straight. She knows that New Orleans is not a miracle district. She has pointed this out time after time, yet the media continue to spout the same claims from the advocates of privatization: wipe out public education, fire all the teachers, welcome privately managed charters, staff the schools with Teach for America, and–Voila!–everyone succeeds, no child left behind, an excellent education for all children! The actions are true: the public schools were closed, the teachers were fired, the charters sprouted in every part of New Orleans. But the results didn’t happen. New Orleans is today one of the lowest performing districts in the state. We leave it to students of mass psychology and the media to explain why the national media falls for the narrative repeatedly. Maybe because it is a good story, even if it is not true. Maybe they want to believe in miracles.

 

When Mercedes Schneider read that Nathan Deal, the Governor of Georgia, was coming to New Orleans to see the miracle with his own eyes, she wrote this post. Very likely, he and his delegation will be taken to the schools with selective admissions. They are the Potemkin villages of New Orleans. It is always best to verify before you trust (Ronald Reagan said, “Trust but verify”). In this post, Schneider shows that most of the graduates of the New Orleans’ Recovery School District have scores so low on the ACT that they are ineligible to receive state scholarships for two-year community colleges. This is sad. The suppression of the facts is also sad. Spreading a failed model is sadder still. The most successful nations in the world have strong public school systems, not vouchers or charters.

For a decade now, we have been told again and again by the national media that New Orleans is a “miracle” district. City after city, state after state, wants to be like New Orleans. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder created the Educational Achievement Authority, which has been plagued with mismanagement and has shown no progress for the students in Detroit. Governor Snyder appointed an emergency manager for financially strapped, low-performing Muskegon Heights, and the emergency manager turned the students and schools over to a for-profit charter chain; after two years, the chain decamped when it was clear there would be no profit. Tennessee created the Achievement School District, where the state’s low-performing public schools were gathered, turned over to charter operators, and are supposed to be in the state’s top 20% by performance within five years; the clock is ticking, and there is no reason to believe that the five-year deadline will be met. The public schools of York City, Pennsylvania, have been promised to a for-profit charter chain.

 

And now Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal has an idea. He wants Georgia to have a Recovery School District, just like New Orleans. Here is the formula: wipe out public education and replace it with privately managed charters; eliminate any teachers’ unions; fire veteran teachers and replace them with Teach for America. What could go wrong? Note in the linked article that the enrollment in New Orleans public schools fell from 65,000 before Hurricane Katrina to 25,000 or so today. This makes comparisons pre- and post- tricky to say the least.

 

No matter. The boosters are still claiming dramatic success.

 

But along comes Mercedes Schneider, who managed to get the full set of ACT scores for the state of Louisiana. For some reason, the State Department of Education was not eager to release those scores. You will see why.

 

Mercedes wrote more than one post. They are collected here. The details are in the individual posts.

 

She begins the second post like this:

 

 

It is February, and at my high school, that means scheduling students for the next school year. During two of my classes today, our counselors were in my room explaining to students the Louisiana Board of Regents minimum requirements for first-time college freshmen who wish to attend a four-year college or university in Louisiana. These requirement are the result of legislation passed in 2010 and phased in over four years, the Grad Act.

 

One requirement is a minimum score of 18 on the ACT in English and a minimum score of 19 on the ACT in math.

 

Even though Regents also has an ACT composite requirement, one can readily substitute a high GPA in place of a lacking composite.

 

However, that 18 in English and 19 in math is virtually non-negotiable. An institution might be able to conditionally admit some students in the name of “research”; however, there is not too much of this allowed, for Regents states that the two ACT subscores are the most widely acceptable, readily available evidence that a student would not require remedial college coursework in English or math– a rule effective for all Louisiana four-year institutions of higher education effective Fall 2014.

 

Thus, the first graduating class affected by this Regents rule is the high school graduating class of 2014.

 

Remember those numbers: 18 in English and 19 in math.

 

Schneider continues:

 

Some highlights from this data:

 

Of the 16 active New Orleans RSD high schools, five graduated not one student meeting the Regents 18-English-19-math ACT requirement. That’s no qualifying students out of 215 test takers.

 

Another six RSD high schools each graduated less than one percent meeting the requirement, or 16 students out of 274 (5.8 percent).

 

Out of a total of 1151 RSD New Orleans class of 2014 ACT test takers, only 141 students (12.3 percent) met the Regents requirement. Eighty-nine of these 141 attended a single high school (OP Walker, ACT site code 192113).

 

By far, OP Walker had the highest number of Regents 18-English-19-math-ACT-subscore-qualifying class of 2014 test takers (89 out of 311, or 28.6 percent).

 

If the OP Walker were removed from RSD-NO, then RSD-NO would be left with 52 qualifying students out of 840, or 6.2 percent.

 

Sobering.

 

Notice also that the average ACT composite scores of those meeting the Regents 18-19 requirement (column G) are all above the 18 that LDOE focuses on as a minimum mark of success.

 

Clearly the theory of “raise the bar and achievement will rise” is not playing out in the New Orleans RSD when it comes to meeting the Regents minimum requirement of an 18 in English and 19 in math on the ACT.

 

No miracle here. Only more data that Louisiana Superintendent John White wishes he could hide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Members of the Newark Student Union are staying in Cami Anderson’s office for a second night. They are demanding her resignation.

 

See here and here.

Robert Pondiscio hit a hornet’s nest when he wrote in defense of the Common Core standards for kindergarten. In this post, which was released by DEY (Defending the Early Years), its director Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, responds to Pondiscio.

 

 

She writes:

 

 

 

Last week, Senior Fellow and Vice President for External Affairs at the conservative Fordham Institute, Robert Pondiscio published a critique of our recent report Reading Instruction in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose. His essay “Is Common Core too hard for kindergarten?” was published in the Common Core Watch blog at the Fordham Institute. After reading his essay, a few things are quite clear.

 

First, it is not surprising that the critique comes from this corner – the Fordham Institute has been a key player promoting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In fact, the Gates-funded Fordham Institute, which has been rating education standards for years, has been pushing the CCSS even in places where they have rated the existing state standards higher than they have rated the CCSS.

 

Second, it is surprising how our paper and our position have been completely misunderstood by Pondiscio. Not only does he dismiss early childhood expertise out of hand, he misrepresents our arguments. This is even after participating in an hour-long panel discussion on KQED’s Forum with one of the report authors, Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Ed.D. Pondiscio further debases the intellectual competence of early childhood educators when he describes our researched-based advocacy report as “complaints”.

 

Pondiscio writes that our report “complains” that “expecting kindergarteners to read is ‘developmentally inappropriate’”. In fact, we agree that many kindergarteners do learn to read. It is precisely something that we expect. Our deep concern is over the CCSS expectation that ALL children learn to read in kindergarten. As we state in the report, “Many children are not developmentally ready to read in kindergarten, yet the Common Core State Standards require them to do just that. This is leading to inappropriate classroom practices.”

 

Pondiscio describes our position as simply stating the “Common Core is too hard for kindergarten”. He uses this reductive phrase “too hard” repeatedly throughout his essay. In fact, our argument is much more nuanced than that. We do state, “When children have educational experiences that are not geared to their developmental level or in tune with their learning needs and cultures, it can cause them great harm, including feelings of inadequacy and confusion.”

 

To bolster his critique, Pondiscio offers a link to a chapter in a book published by Scholastic (no author given) that references a study by researchers Hanson and Farrell (1995). We were able to find this study, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in Chicago, though it is not clear if this research was published in a peer-reviewed journal. We shared the research with a trusted education researcher who responded that it is difficult to evaluate this “poor and old piece of evidence,” as some important technical information is missing – such as the standard deviations – making it hard to estimate the size of the claimed effects.

 

Pondiscio writes that “If teachers are turning their kindergarten classrooms into joyless grinding mills and claiming they are forced to do so under Common Core (as the report’s authors allege), something clearly has gone wrong.” Here, Pondiscio contributes to the on-going national narrative of teacher-bashing. The onus here is on the teachers, he claims, not on the misguided CCSS or the pressure from school administrators, district superintendents and state departments of education to produce high-scoring test results.

 

It is insulting for Pondiscio to imply our intended message is “children should not be reading by the end of kindergarten, or that they will read when they are good and ready.” We clearly state that there is a normal range for learning to read. We know that many children learn to read at five, four or even three-years-old. Many will learn to read in kindergarten. That is not a problem. We also understand quite fully that learning to read is highly individualized and that it is part of the craft of good teaching to know your students well and to understand why, how and when specific supports are needed. The CCSS one-size-fits-all, lock-step expectations do not allow for teacher judgment. We know that the CCSS has led to a shift in reading assessments that have been around for a long time. For example, reading experts Fountas and Pinnell used to suggest that ending kindergarten in the A-C of books range was okay. Now, with the CCSS-informed shift, if a student has not progressed past level B by the beginning of first grade, he is designated as requiring “Intensive Intervention.”

 

There is much more to refute in Pondiscio’s essay, though we have given him enough of our attention. To read more on the issue, we suggest Susan Ochshorn’s response to Pondiscio here.

 

Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin, Director

Defending the Early Years (DEY)

David Sirota, crack investigative journalist, sent out a notice that he is a character on a sitcom that debuts tomorrow night:

 

 

Friends:

 

Some fun news – Wednesday night, 2/18, the awkward teenage sitcom version of me will make his debut on ABC’s primetime sitcom, “The Goldbergs.” That’s right, the recurring character is named David Sirota and is a mostly-true-to-life replica of me as an early teenager. Apparently, tomorrow show will also feature (hugely embarrassing!) real-life clips of me as a teenager, to show just how accurately rendered the sitcom character is. Check local listings for when the show airs in your area, set your DVRs – or find it on Hulu.

 

A bit of background if you happen to be interested: Adam Goldberg, the creator of the show and the central character, is one of my closest friends since middle school. We grew up together in the suburbs outside Philadelphia, where the show takes place. Apparently, you will see my spazziness and my insane obsession with the Philadelphia 76ers on full display in the show.

 

For laughs, I’ve attached a photo I took during a recent visit to the set – it shows me and the actor who plays me. It’s surreal to watch myself become a sitcom character – especially on a 1980s show after I recently wrote a book about the 1980s. But I can echo what Adam has told reporters about the sitcom rendering of his own family: as ridiculous and embarrassing as the sitcom version of me is, the character you’ll see on the show is probably a LESS ridiculous and embarrassing version of the actual teenage me. Hard to believe, I know – but it’s true.

 

I hope you will tune in – it’s a really funny sitcom, and a good ride back to a bygone era.

 

D

Peter Greene discovered a bold new policy plan in Milwaukee. It turns the war on poverty into a war on the poor.

He writes;

“On Wednesday, Senator Alberta Darling and Representative Dale Kooyenga released “New Opportunities for Milwaukee.” It’stunning. It’s a blueprint, a plan, a carefully-crafted rhetorical stance that turns the war on poverty into a war on the poor. Does it present new opportunities? It surely does– but they are opportunities for more privateers to use the language of civil rights to mask the same old profiteering game.

“Make sure your seat belts and safety harnesses are locked in place, because we are about to travel to a place where up is down and forward is backward. The first chunk is directly related to education; the rest is not, but I’m going to go the distance anyway because it helps lay out a particular point of view that is driving some reformsters. The full report is twenty-five pages; I’ve read them so that you don’t have to, but you may still want to. Forewarned is forearmed.”

The report begins with this claim;

“2014 marked the 50-year anniversary of the war on poverty. Since 1964, taxpayers spent over $22 trillion to combat poverty. Little, if any, progress has been achieved.”

“”Two-thirds of the incarcerated African-American men come from six zip codes in Milwaukee and it is no coincidence that those zip codes are also home to the greatest density of failing schools and the highest unemployment in the state.” Boy, and that’s true. It’s also no coincidence that every time I see a building on fire, there’s a fire truck right nearby, or that every time find water dripping off my car, there’s rain. Say it with me, boys and girls– correlation is not causation.”

The plan not only declares the war on poverty a failure (no point throwing money at poverty, even though lack of money defines poverty) but declares the civil rights movement a success, therefore matters like segregation are unworthy of our attention.

Peter, in his inimitable style, dissects the recommendations for ending poverty without spending money. It starts with charter schools…

Earlier today I posted a commentary by Roseanne Woods, a retired principal in Florida, about the harm done to students and schools by high-stakes testing. Roseanne has just begun to fight. If every retired educator stepped up and defended children, like her, we could protect our children and our future.

She wrote:

“Thank you Diane Ravitch. Being on your “blog’s honor roll” means a lot to me. There is much more to say about what’s going on in Florida, and I will do my best to speak truth to power. I can only do this because after 36 years as a teacher and principal in the Florida public schools, I am retired; others are afraid to speak out.

“In Florida, all education policy streams from Jeb Bush. His mouthpiece is his “Foundation for Excellence”, and all education policy for the last 15 years has flowed from this source. Because I live in Tallahassee, I often give my input to the Republican controlled Legislature. Every time I speak, people in the audience whisper their agreement to me, but they dare not speak it aloud.

“Unfortunately, many states have followed his model of school grades, which I refer to as the “Shame and Blame Grade Game”. Never before have so many good schools, teachers and children had to wear the scarlet letter of FAILURE. Kindergartners now get A-F grades. (How cruel is that?) Teachers are told that they must adhere to pacing guides with everyone on the same page every day. ((How stupid is that?) Across our state, schools are suspending their curriculum to get students ready for the upcoming high-stakes test. Third graders who don’t pass will be retained. I’ll be writing more about this soon.

“It is criminal what has happened to our schools. As someone said, it used to be considered unethical to teach-to-the test; now it’s the norm.

“Again, thank you Diane for making Florida part of this conversation.”

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