Archives for category: Honor Roll

This statement appeared on the blog of the Ohio Equity and Adequacy Coalition. I gladly add Tom Dunn to the honor roll for speaking out when the state is going in the wrong direction.

Another superintendent distressed by Ohio’s testing rage

Tom Dunn’s column in the February 22 The Troy Daily News should be requires reading for state officials.

How much of a bad thing is a good thing?

by Tom Dunn
Contributing Columnist

I have long contended that there hasn’t been an intelligent discussion held about public education in the Ohio legislature in years, and I have written more than fifty articles highlighting the many indefensible mandates lawmakers have enacted proving that to be true.

The recent hearings held by the Senate Education Committee on whether or not schools are testing their students too much (we are) and what to do about it is a perfect illustration of just how worthless political dialogue is. If their discussions weren’t so tragic they would be comical.

Before I go any further, let me say that there is no debating that properly used student assessments, otherwise known as tests, are a staple in an excellent classroom. Assessments, particularly those implemented in a way that provides immediate feedback, can help drive instruction, because the results can clearly show the teacher what his or her students know and don’t know. That teacher can then use this information to develop follow-up lessons to address those weaknesses … and kids actually learn what they didn’t know before.

There is also no debating that there are too many state-mandated tests, that the results from these tests are constantly used inappropriately, that the results, even if meaningful, are so long in coming back to schools that they lose their worth, and that this inappropriate use is dictated by lawmakers who apparently don’t know the first thing about how students are educated or how to use test data appropriately. Worse, they apparently don’t want to learn given the fact that there is plenty of scientific research that refutes their claim that student test results should be used to evaluate teachers, schools, and districts.

But something interesting has happened over the last few weeks that has given some lawmakers reason to reconsider their position on the testing epidemic, and I suspect it was the growing outcry they were hearing from parents who have finally had enough of their children being treated like human guinea pigs to satisfy political agendas. As a result of this push-back against excessive testing, State Superintendent Richard Ross was charged with researching if, indeed, we are testing students too much. Dr. Ross, after hours and hours of research, discovered what he should have known without doing any research at all; that being that, by golly, we are testing students too much. Nowhere in his report does he even so much as acknowledge the misuse of test data, which should be the crux of the discussion. But, true to their superficial view on education, politicians were focused on testing time, not testing effectiveness. So, instead of trying to engage them in meaningful dialogue, that is exactly what Dr. Ross gave them. God forbid he would try to engage them in meaningful dialogue about teaching and learning.

His stunning discovery resulted in legislative hearings where the folks who have created this mess listened with furrowed brows as superintendents from around the state trekked to Columbus to provide input on just how this dastardly problem could be properly addressed. And, this is where it gets really good.

Instead of focusing on something meaningful like the hours and hours of instructional time lost to testing, the unnecessary stress these tests place upon students, the fact that performance on a single test does not necessarily equate to future success or lack thereof, the narrow view of education these tests provide, and the rampant misuse of the data gathered from them, lawmakers focused on how we can reduce the time we spend assessing students and how much is too much.

In other words, they apparently feel that spending less time doing a bad thing rather than eliminating the bad thing altogether is real progress. As a result of this superficial view of life, they ignore the real issues that need addressed.

Isn’t it amazing that in the eyes of our policy makers that doing something that is wrong less often than we did it before is the blueprint for excellence? Do we need any more proof that they must be removed from all discussions on education if we ever hope to have meaningful conversations about what is best for our children?

Tom Dunn is the superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

Rocky Killion is an amazing superintendent in West Lafayette, Indiana. To begin with, he produced a wonderful documentary about the assault on public education, called “Rise Above the Mark.” You can go to the website to find out how to order a copy to show in your community (it is also for sale on amazon.com). He is very critical of the testing-gone-wild culture that has been foisted on public schools in Indiana and across the nation. He is very sensitive to the damage done to education, to children, and to teachers. His colleagues named him Indiana’s Superintendent of the Year for 2015.

 

Now he is furious because the computers that give the state test–the ISTEP–froze during a practice run. That was just too much.

 

“It’s inhumane what we are doing to the kids, what we are doing to the educational environment, we lost so much instructional time today, it’s ridiculous,” Killion told WTHR-TV in Indianapolis on Feb. 12, after computers froze during a dry run for ISTEP last week.

 

The Superintendent of the Year for 2015, as named by the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, followed it with this: “I would prefer all of my students’ parents withdraw and become home-schooled during ISTEP, and then we can re-enroll them…..

 

Killion wasn’t backing away this week.

He repeated the same advice Monday during a visit to West Side schools from Glenda Ritz, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction. (Ritz didn’t jump on board, instead calling on parents get their kids ready for ISTEP days.)

And on Tuesday, Killion clarified the statement, saying he wasn’t necessarily advocating the withdraw/home-school/re-enroll plan.

“Since there’s no legislative mechanism, that’s the only opt-out workaround that I know to tell parents,” Killion said. “Typically, when I’m asked a question, I try to come up with the correct answer, and that’s what’s happened in this case.”

 

The journalist writing the column is critical of Killion and so is this legislator:

 

State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, wasn’t pleased to hear a superintendent “encouraging people to willfully thwart (the) system.”

 

“It’s just the latest episode in his series of irresponsible and provocative comments that bear little to no relevance to the school system he’s supposed to be leading,” Hershman said Tuesday, a day when the Senate was dealing with a bill that would strip some of Ritz’s authority and a resolution to shorten ISTEP that had doubled in length since last year.

 

“I think we test too much, and the ISTEP is not perfect, but testing is required under federal and state law,” Hershman said. “His comments represent a flawed example of leadership in education policy.”

 

Killion’s answer: “The only thing I’ve said is what I said in the interview when a reporter asked me how can parents opt out of ISTEP. That’s the only thing I’ve done.”

 

Martin Luther King, Jr., said: “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” 

 

Welcome to the honor roll, Rocky Killion!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Neal, superintendent of the Tri-Valley Local Schools in Ohio, wrote a sharply worded statement about parents’ right to opt their child out of testing.

 

When parents asked if they had the right to opt out, he responded with this advice:

 

While I am not (and never have been) an advocate of the PARCC Testing, Ohio got into this testing debacle with little to no input from local school officials. Therefore, I feel no responsibility to stick my neck out for the Department of Education by defending their decisions. What’s happening now, in my opinion, is that parents have figured out what is being forced upon their children, and the proverbial rubber… is beginning to meet the road. However, it is not our goal to discourage nor undermine the laws of our governing body.

 

Therefore, our position as a school district is that we do not discourage nor encourage a parent’s decision to opt out their child. We must respect parental rights at all costs. This is the very reason I advocate for local control. Our own Tri-Valley Board of Education is in a much better position to make sound decisions for the families of our school district, than are the bureaucrats in Columbus and Washington. I say that with no disrespect toward our own legislators, whom have worked diligently behind the scenes to address the over-testing issue. The unfortunate reality is that the parents who have contacted the school district up to this point, are the parents of high achieving students who undoubtedly would do well on these assessments. We will effectively be rating school districts and individual teachers based on test scores that do not include many of their highest achieving students….

 

I am quite confident that reason will ultimately prevail. In the meantime, we will respect the rights of our parents to make the best decisions for their children while simultaneously following the laws and policies of the Ohio Department of Education.

 

For defending common sense and speaking plainly to his community, I place Mark Neal on the honor roll of the blog as a champion of American public education.

Roseanne Woods was a high school principal in Florida for 32 years. She is now a protester and a blogger. She is outraged by Florida’s punitive testing and accountability regime. In this post, she describes a state that cares more about testing than teaching.

For her steadfast dedication to real education, I place Roseanne Woods on the blog’s honor roll.

She writes:

“Children are stressed out and parents are m ad enough to want their children to “Opt-Out” of all high-stakes testing. Frustrated teachers are leaving the profession and superintendents are demanding real change. Lawmakers: how about some real relief?

 

“Florida schools are about to hit the big testing/school grades accountability iceberg this spring. Why? This year, instead of FCAT, all 3rd-11th grade students will be taking brand new tests on the extremely challenging Florida Standards Assessment (FSA), aka, Common Core Standards. Third graders who don’t score well on reading will be retained and high school students who don’t pass will not graduate. Schools will receive A-F school grades based on these scores.

 

“Not to worry—districts have been assured by DOE that the scores will be “normed” (manipulated) to match last year’s scores. Somehow, that gives little comfort

 

“Here’s a sample 3rd grade math problem— ‘A bakery uses 48 pounds of flour each day. It orders flour every 28 days. Create an equation that shows how many pounds of flour the bakery
needs to order every 28 days.’

 

“Any wonder many parents are having trouble helping their children with homework?

 

“There are now 154 of the 180 days on the Florida State Testing Calendar devoted to a variety of required state assessments in grades K-12 that effect schools’ grades. Any wonder that schools are spending more and more time prepping and practicing for these tests?…

 

“To make matters worse, schools also have to implement Florida Statute 1012.34– requiring 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on “rigorous” tests for every subject/course taught. So, at great expense, school districts have been scrambling to create over 1200 tests on courses not covered by the required Florida Standards Assessments, FSA. These district assessments must cover quite the spectrum including art, physical ed., drama and guidance counselors. By law, elementary students must take 6-7 end-of-course tests to prove their teachers did a good enough job to be eligible for a performance bonus.”

 

Florida is a very sick state. Please, someone, invite the Governor and the State Board of Education to visit Finland! All that time and money for testing is wasted.

Thomas Ralston, superintendent of the Avonworth School District in western Pennsylvania, was thrilled to be invited to the White House with other superintendents, where they met President Obama and Secretary Duncan and mutually pledged to be “future-ready.” He was pleased when Secretary Duncan declared that testing was sucking the oxygen out of classrooms.

 

Thus, he was stunned and disappointed when Duncan endorsed the status quo of annual testing in the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. How could he?

 

Ralston knows that standardized testing is an artifact of the past, not the wave of the future.

 

 

He writes:

 

“The age of standardized testing has de-emphasized creativity and innovation by overly relying on test performance as a criterion of school and student success. This emphasis has resulted in limiting school curricula, robbing students of experience with the arts and other non-tested subjects….

 

“Standardized tests do not acknowledge the developmental differences in children. When we endorse them we subscribe to the belief that all children learn the same way and at the same rate.

 

“Likewise, standardized tests fail to measure the skills that employers have identified as essential for success now and in the future: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity….

 

“With the overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on the horizon, education in America is at a critical crossroads. Rather than continue with an iteration of the act that brought us No Child Left Behind in 2000, I hope it is reauthorized in a way that captures the essence of the Future Ready Pledge.

 

“It is time for our government officials to display courage and do what is best for children. The rest of us must make sure our voices are heard as we demand that all children receive creative and engaging learning experiences that will best prepare them for the opportunities of the future.”

 

I am happy to name Superintendent Thomas Ralston to the honor roll for speaking with courage and clarity on behalf of children to those in power.

Jeff Nichols is a leader of the Opt Out movement in New York City. He and his wife Anne Stone have opted their children out of state tests, organized other parents, written articles, testified before officials, and raised their voices whenever and wherever possible. Both are professors of music, and they understand how little a standardized test can measure of a child’s talent and potential.

Jeff Nichols and Anne Stone are hereby added to the blog’s honor roll for their fearless advocacy for American children.

Jeff Nichols wrote the following letter to Senator Alexander, who is chair of the Senate committee that intends to rewrite No Child Left Behind:

Dear Senator Alexander,

Your committee stands charged with drawing to a close an episode of national insanity that unfortunately has considerable precedent. As in the 1950s, when fear of the Soviet Union induced an assault on our fundamental rights of free speech and freedom of association during Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunts, so in the past few years fear of the rising economic might of China and of global competition generally has led to another equally violent assault on a basic democratic principle: the right of the American people to determine for themselves the methods and policies that govern how they educate their own children.

In the name of saving those children from economic ruin at the hands of supposedly better-prepared rivals in newly developed nations, we are destroying the educational foundation of our greatness. Throughout the twentieth century, American public education was characterized by diversity and local control. Fifty state systems loosely oversaw thousands of local districts that possessed great authority to determine curriculum, assessment, hiring practices and many other basic functions of running schools. That is to speak only of the public schools; added to that picture of diversity were innumerable private and parochial schools.

The result was the rise of a free, wealthy, powerful and culturally vibrant nation virtually without parallel in the history of the world.

This is not a coincidence. Our pluralistic, decentralized, diverse education system is a primary reason science, business and the arts have been able to produce an unending stream of great discoveries and innovations that have benefited all humanity.

Yet our federal education leaders want to change all that, and they have used the instrument of high-stakes testing to force the change they want on the nation. Arne Duncan regularly sings the praises of China’s test-driven system and predicts dire consequences if we do not match their achievement. Through the Common Core and associated federal testing mandates, he is well on his way to achieving his goal.

Senator Alexander, have you read the writings of Yong Zhao, the great Chinese-American education scholar who has written definitive rebuttals of Mr. Duncan’s claims? I cite only one fact I learned from Professor Zhao’s latest book, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.

Zhao quotes from the 2013 book The Pathology of Chinese Education by Peking University professor Zheng Yefu, who wrote:

No one, after 12 years of Chinese education, has any chance to receive a Nobel prize, even if he or she went to Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge for college…. Out of the one billion people who have been educated in Mainland China since 1949, there has been no Nobel prize winner…. This forcefully testifies to the power of education in destroying creativity on behalf of Chinese society.

Zhao, who lived under the Chinese system in his early years, points out what anyone should realize after half a moment’s reflection: China’s education system is designed to systematically suppress original, independent thought. That’s the primary task of education systems in ALL authoritarian societies.

Bill Gates, one of the chief forces behind the current drive to shape American education in the image of China’s through relentless high-stakes testing, has decried the uncontrolled diversity of American education. He has called the myriad state standards and associated diversity of educational approaches that prevailed before the Common Core “cacophonous.”

Well, I say this to Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg — some of the members of the “billionaire’s boys club” that Diane Ravtich has accused of mounting a coup in American education:

When everyone has a voice, it gets noisy. You may call that cacophony. I call it democracy. Get used to it. You and the politicians you back may have exploited the recent Great Recession to scare states into trading their sovereign authority over education for money, but the people of those states are rising up. We are going to retake control over the education of our children. Ordinary parents and teachers will reinstate democratic governance of public schools in this nation, asserting the same rights already enjoyed by the elite (including our president) who opt out of unconstitutional federal mandates by sending their children to private schools — schools where the meaning of accountability has not been perverted beyond recognition, schools where teachers and parents are accountable only to each other as they strive, according only to their best understanding, to do what’s best for the children they are jointly raising.

Public school parents and teachers will claim the same right, with or without the help of the U.S. Congress. If necessary we will do so through civil disobedience. My wife and I will submit our two children to no state-mandated standardized tests; we have joined tens of thousands of parents in our state of New York, defying both the federal government and the state authorities who caved to federal pressure, betraying our children to serve the interests of politicians and their corporate backers.

As in the McCarthy era, there is no middle ground here, Senator Alexander. You and your colleagues in Congress will either stop scapegoating teachers for the effects of poverty, and restore to parents, teachers and local communities their rightful control over public education, or you will go down in history as enablers of one of the most destructive series of laws and policies of our time: “No Child Left Behind” and its equally flawed sequel “Race to the Top.”

I call on you to work tirelessly to remove all federal efforts to control curriculum, assessment and teaching methods in our public schools. Leave it to us citizens, who are uniting across the political spectrum to defy illegitimate federal education dictates, and who you can rest assured will not only see to it that our children are “college and career ready,” but also fully prepared to know and assert their inalienable rights in a democratic society.

Sincerely,

Jeff Nichols

Steve Cohen, superintendent of schools in Shoreham-Wading River (NY), wrote a column in Ling Island newspapers criticizing the state’s heavy-handed method of mandating change.

For his courage in speaking truth to power, I add Superintendent Steve Cohen to the blig’s honor roll.

Cohen points to a letter from Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Néw York State Board of Regents, to Governor Cuomo’s representative, outlining her goals.

He writes:

“What’s striking in Ms. Tisch’s recommendations to the governor is the unstated proposition that there is a big difference between public education and state education, and that state education is far superior. From the chancellor’s point of view, public education hasn’t just failed poor, black and Hispanic children the most, but has somehow even failed kids in Great Neck, Jericho, Scarsdale and Garden City — even though many of them go on to the best universities in the nation.

“The remedy? State education.

“Public education is an old and very familiar institution. To be sure, school districts get their authority from New York State. But despite state guidance, school boards, and the administrators and teachers who work for these boards, have broad latitude to define curriculum and instruction.

“These boards and the superintendents they hire have authority over hiring and evaluating teachers and principals. The boards have a duty to propose a spending plan every year to district voters. Public education, in short, means “local control.”

“Public education is democracy in action. It has all the virtues and vices of our form of self-government. This democratic system has worked well in many districts, especially in those whose residents are relatively wealthy and thus able to afford the resources commonly found in thriving schools.

“But in poorer districts, and especially in large cities, democratic “local” control of education has not worked as well as we would all wish. The state Legislature has wrestled with this problem for generations and, in fact, is now under a Court of Appeals order to address fiscal inequities among districts.

“Public education is a complex, immense, difficult institution. Poverty and wealth more than anything tend to determine the outcome of its efforts.

“But it’s also among our most democratic institutions.

“Ms. Tisch, most of her non-elected colleagues and our current governor, however, seem to have arrived at the conclusion that local control of education does not, and cannot, work.”

“Now comes the chancellor’s suggestions that locally elected school boards should no longer have control over determining whether teachers and principals do a good job and that all teachers and principals who do not meet the state’s standard of successful teaching or supervising two years in a row must lose their jobs.

“Chancellor Tisch suggests that the content all children must learn and the methods teachers must use to teach that content will be determined by the state, not local residents in accord with professional educators, acting through democratically elected school board members. She suggests that charter schools, over which local residents have little if any control, would be completely free to flourish (or not!) and to replace democratically run local schools….

“So the non-elected chancellor and the current governor believe local control of education has failed. The great experiment is dead. What will take its place is a technocratic process so complex that it is almost impossible for parents, residents and educators to understand — much less embrace.”

Beth Dimino, an eighth grade science teacher in the Comsewogue district on Long Island in Néw York, will not administer the Common Core tests this spring. Her superintendent, Dr. Joseph Rella, supports her. For their act of courage, I name both to the honor roll.

The Long Island Press reports:

“More than 20,000 LI school children refused to take the state tests last April. No teacher, however, has gone so far as Dimino to publicly voice his/her intention to refuse to even proctor the exams. She tells the Press her unprecedented decision is simply a matter of conscience, and spelled out as much in a recent letter to Comsewogue Superintendent Dr. Joe Rella, who’s also gone on record as a staunch Common Core dissident.

“I find myself at a point in the progress of education reform in which clear acts of conscience will be necessary to preserve the integrity of public education,” she writes. “I can no longer implement policies that seek to transform the broad promises of public education into a narrow obsession with the ranking and sorting of children.

“I will not distort curriculum in order to encourage students to comply with bubble test thinking,” continues her letter. “I can no longer, in good conscience, push aside months of instruction to compete in a state-wide ritual of meaningless and academically bankrupt test preparation. I have seen clearly how these reforms undermine teachers’ love for their profession and undermine students’ intrinsic love of learning.”

The board of the Southold, Néw York, school district on the North Fork of Long Island voted not to participate in field testing for state tests as a protest against over testing.

Superintendent David Gamberg–a man of gentle demeanor–is a leader in the struggle to rescue genuine education from the mandates and data-driven decision-making. He is proud of his schools’ arts and music, as well as the garden where children grow produce for lunch.

Gamberg is so trusted by locals that when the superintendent retired in the neighboring district of Greenport, Gamberg was invited to lead both districts. The Greenport board is likely to pass a resolution not to give the field tests.

For their courage and integrity and their love of children, I add David Gamberg and the Southold school board to the honor roll as champions of American education.

Two Tulsa teachers risked their jobs by refusing to administer state tests to their first grade students, reports John Thompson.

Karen Hendren and Nikki Jones hereby join the blog’s honor roll as heroes if American children, defending the rights and childhood of their students.

He writes:

“These first grade teachers, Miss Karen Hendren and Mrs. Nikki Jones were featured in a front page Tulsa World and the United Opt Out web site. They wrote an open letter to parents documenting the damage being done by testing and the new value-added evaluation system being implemented by the Tulsa schools under the guidance of the Gates Foundation.

“Miss Hendren and Mrs. Jones explain how this obsession with testing “has robbed us of our ethics. They are robbing children of their educational liberties.” Our poorest kids are falling further behind because they are being robbed of reading instruction. By Hendren’s and Jones’ estimate, their students lose 288 hours or 72 days of school to testing!

“They inventory the logistics of administering five sets of first grade tests, as classes are prepared for high-stakes third grade reading tests. More importantly, they described the brutality of the process.

“Miss Hendren and Mrs. Jones recount the strengths of four students who are victims of the testing mania. One pulls his hair, two cry, one throws his chair, and the fourth, who could be categorized as gifted and talented, is dismayed that his scores are low, despite his mastery of so many subjects. Particularly interesting was the way that “adaptive” testing, which is supposed to be a more constructive, individualized assessment, inevitably results in students reaching their failure level, often prompting discouragement or, even, despair….”

Their superintendent Keith Ballard is no fan of high-stakes testing. But he has a problem: he accepted Gates money:

“Tulsa has an otherwise excellent superintendent, Keith Ballard, who has opposed state level testing abuses. He has invested in high-quality early education and full-service community schools. Ballard also deserves credit for investing in the socio-emotional. I doubt he would be perpetuating this bubble-in outrage if he had a choice. But Tulsa accepted the Gates Foundation’s grant money. So, Ballard is threatening the teachers’ jobs.”

Will Superintendent Ballard listen to his professional ethics or to the Gates Foundation?

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