Archives for category: No Child Left Behind

The Los Angeles Times tells us what we should already know: The higher the stakes on exams, the more bad consequences will follow.

In India, there are crucial exams, and cheating is a persistent problem. Ingenious students us their ingenuity not to answer the questions, but to find ways to get the right answer, either electronically by remote device or by sneaking in old-fashioned crib sheets.

In the United States, we have seen numerous examples of cheating by administrators and teachers, as in El Paso, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. We have also seen narrowing of the curriculum to make time for more test preparation and loss of the arts, libraries, physical education, and even recess. We have seen teaching to the test, a practice once considered unprofessional. We have seen states game the system, dropping the pass score to artificially boost the passing rate.

The story in the L.A. Times describes a business that sells electronic devices to text exam questions to someone outside who responds with the correct answer. Officials are aware of the problem:

“At a test center in northern India’s Bareilly district, state-appointed inspectors making a surprise visit last month found school staff members writing answers to a Hindi exam on the blackboard. When the inspectors arrived, the staff members tried to throw the evidence out the window.

“Sometimes the stories are horrifying. A 10th-grader in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, accused his principal last month of allowing students to cheat if they each paid about $100. The student’s impoverished family could barely manage half the bribe. Distraught, he doused himself with kerosene and set himself on fire in the family kitchen. He died the next day.

“At the well-regarded Balmohan Vidyamandir school in central Mumbai, 10th-grade teacher Shubhada Nigudkar didn’t notice the math formulas written on the wall in the back of the classroom in a neat, tiny script until days after the exams concluded.
“There is nothing we can do at that point,” the matronly, bespectacled English teacher said. “I can’t prove anything. So we move on.”

“The problems have prompted education officials to take preventive measures that at first blush might seem worthy of a minimum-security prison. Some schools installed closed-circuit cameras to monitor testing rooms. Others posted armed police officers at entrances or employed jamming devices to block the use of cellphones to trade answers.”

The problem is high-stakes testing. Our own officials in the United States can’t get enough.

The best antidote would be to require them to take the exams they mandate. If they can’t pass them, they should resign.

Someday, in the not distant future, when the history of this era is recorded, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top will be recalled among the biggest policy failures of our times. They will be remembered as policies that undermined the quality of education, demoralized educators, promoted the privatization of schools, and destroyed children’s love of learning.,0,165573.htmlstory#ixzz2z3whGNKt

Jeff Bryant of the Education Opportunity Network writes in Salon that voters are increasingly disenchanted with the bipartisan Bush-Obama education policies of high-stakes testing, Common Core, and privatization.

He points out that the attacks on public education are not playing well at all in the political arena. The overwhelming majority of parents are very happy with their local public schools and respect their teachers. The public is beginning to see through the lies they have been told about their schools. So much of the rhetoric of the “reformers” sounds appealing and benign, if not downright inspirational, but it ends up as nonstop testing, the closing of local public schools, merit pay, union-busting, the enrichment of multinational corporations, and standardization.

Bryant predicts that Democrats will suffer at the polls for their slavish espousal of hard-right GOP doctrine.

He writes:

“The only overriding constants? People generally like their local schools, trust their children’s teachers and think public school and teachers should get more money. Wonder when a politician will back that!

“Many observers, including journalists at The Wall Street Journal, have accurately surmised that the American public is currently deeply divided on education policy. But that analysis barely scratches the surface.

“Go much deeper and you find that the “new liberal consensus” that Adam Serwer wrote about in Mother Jones, which propelled Obama into a second term, believes in funding the nation’s public schools but has little to no allegiance to Obama’s education reform policies.

“Outside of the elite circles of the Beltway and the very rich, who continue to be the main proponents of these education policies, it is getting harder and harder to discern who exactly is the constituency being served by the reform agenda.

“Most Americans do not see any evidence that punitive measures aimed at their local schools are in any way beneficial to their children and grandchildren. In fact, there’s some reasonable doubt whether the president himself understands it.

So is Arne Duncan making education policy on his own? Or is the policy agenda of the Obama administration indistinguishable from that of rightwing Republicans like Bobby Jindal, Rick Scott, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Mike Pence, and Tom Corbett?

Anthony Cody makes clear how teaching has been redefined and degraded by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

March is the month when teaching ends and test prep begins.

Federal education policy is a disaster.

The Bush-Obama agenda has de skilled teachers and made testing the most important aspect of US education.

Cody quotes teachers at length. One says:

“I wish you could hear my colleagues telling me “they don’t mind this” as it gets kids “ready” or solves them having to plan actual learning. They’ve been so de-skilled they don’t even feel the connection to instructional leadership. To them the school is a rote drill factory.

“The teaching profession has been redefined. A teacher is now the manager of a workbook drill. No projects, no model making, no literature, no research, no discovery. The planning you do is taking prefab programs and administering them. Sort of as if you were giving a test like the state test ALL the TIME. Room empty, pencils out, bubble. All things arranged around test prep. No themes, no critical thinking. Really! Not to get Biblical but it really fits – they know not what they do. Because they don’t, we are talking about folks that are responding to what their perception is – they perceive this to be what’s required.”

This is not education.

Jan Resseger writes of her delight in discovering that Mike Rose has released a revised edition of “Why School?”

Resseger writes:

“In the 2014 edition, Rose has revised, updated, and expanded Why School? It now addresses the impact of President Obama’s Race to the Top program and other federal programs that have emerged since 2009—including problems with the waivers now being granted to address the lingering effects of the the No Child Left Behind Act, long over-due for reauthorization.

“A much expanded chapter on standards and accountability now explores the goals of the Common Core Standards as well as Rose’s worries about the Common Core testing and implementation.

“Three new chapters speak to issues that have emerged since the first edition of Rose’s book. “Being Careful About Character” examines books like Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed with their thesis that schools can help overcome poverty with programs to strengthen character. “My worry is that we will embrace these essentially individual and technocratic fixes—mental conditioning for the poor—and abandon broader social policy aimed at poverty itself.”

” Another new chapter examines the wave of MOOCs and other on-line education, exploring the learning assumptions we rarely discuss and raising serious questions we ought to be asking before we thoughtlessly adopt these technologies.

“From my point of view the most important new chapter is “The Inner Life of the Poor.” “The poor,” writes Rose, “are pretty much absent from public and political discourse, except as an abstraction—an income category low on the socioeconomic status index—or as a generalization: people dependent on the government, the ‘takers,’ a problem.” “More than a few of Barack Obama’s speeches are delivered from community colleges, but the discussion of them is always in economic and functional terms… I have yet to find in political speech or policy documents any significant discussion of what benefit—other than economic—the community college might bring… To have a prayer of achieving a society that realizes the potential of all its citizens, we will need institutions that affirm the full humanity, the wide sweep of desire and ability of the people walking through the door.”

Peter Greene has a ball with the U.S. Department of Education’s latest fantasy plan: Every child has a civil right to a “highly qualified teacher.”

Who is a “highly qualified teacher”? Any teacher who can raise test scores or anyone who belongs to Teach for America and leaves before the third year of test scores are reported.

It is all super but here is the laugh-out-loud deconstruction of Duncan-style logic:

“Discussion of teaching as a civil right often circles back around to the assertion that poor students have more lousy teachers than non-poor students. This assertion rests primarily on a model of circular reasoning. Follow along.

“A) Teachers are judged low-performing because their students score poorly on tests.

“B) Students low test scores are explained by the fact that they have low-performing teachers.

“Or, framed another way, this argument defines a low-quality teacher as any teacher whose students don’t do well on standardized tests. The assumption is that teachers are the only single solitary explanation for student standardized test scores. Nothing else affects those scores. Only teacher behavior explains the low scores. That’s it.

“Ergo, the best runners are runners who run down hills. Runners who are running uphill are slow runners, and must be replaced by those good runners– the ones we find running downhill. Or, the wettest dogs are the ones who are out in the rain, while the driest ones are the ones indoors. So if we take the indoor dogs outside, we will have drier dogs in the yard. While it rains.

“As long as we define low-quality teachers as those who teach low-achieving students (who we know will mostly be the children of poor folk), low-achieving students will always be taught by low-quality teachers. It’s the perfect education crisis, one that can never, ever be solved.”

Most educators and even most legislators seem to recognize that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have failed to “reform” American education. After 13 years of test-based evaluation and school closings, no one claims success. We need what: More of the same! Congress doesn’t know what to do to change a failed status quo. Feckless Arne Duncan, having failed in Chicago, now looks for scapegoats for the failure of the Bush-Obame bipartisan consensus.

Duncan has one sure ally: Tom Friedman of the Néw York Times

They are certain that American schools are terrible, even though test scores and graduation rates are at a historic high. They want us to be just like South Korea, where exams determine one’s life (see Mercedes Schneider on examination hell in Korea).

They blame parents. They blame teachers. They blame students. They blame schools.

They blame everyone but the obvious perpetrators: failed federal policies that undermine the autonomy of teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, and states; budget cuts that have increased class sizes and narrowed curricula, closed libraries and eliminated social workers, nurses, psychologists, and guidance counselors; the highest child poverty rate of any advanced nation; the largest inequality gap in a century; rising levels of segregation; a popular culture that celebrates instant success, not the earnest hard work required for academic success; the ubiquity of distracting electronic toys: the intrusion of philanthropic behemoths like Gates, with its own failed solutions; a media indifferent to a rapacious privatization movement that cares more about budget-cutting and profiteering than education.

They are looking for blame in all the wrong places.

G.F. Brandenburg, as you would expect, has a pithy and wise commentary about the PISA scores.

Here are his first three observations:

“1. There is a lot of evidence that being a good test-taker does not necessarily overlap with other desirable properties, either on the individual level or on the local or national or international level.

2. A lot of silly things are read into comparing how many questions they get right in one country versus another.

3. The United States has now TEN FULL YEARS in which it has based essentially ALL educational decisions on test scores, with a small but well-funded and powerful group claiming that it would produce miracles in raising American students’ test scores on every level that they can be measured.”

And here is his most brilliant, unforgettable, unassailable point:

“Arne Duncan and his ilk say that the fact that the same approach has failed for 10 straight years, means we need to keep doing it harder. Sensible people would say no, let’s forget about measuring with stupid standardized tests. Let the kids learn, remember that humans LOVE to learn stuff — it’s what we do as a species. And precisely nobody knows what knowledge of today is going to be the most useful or fun tomorrow. So let’s get rid of the idiotic focus on standardized tests and Big Data, and stop wasting so much money and time and energy on them. We’ve got all sorts of art and sports and drama and dance and music and technology and building stuff and real science and history and psychology to learn and to perform.”

A reader sent this tweet from Arne Duncan:

Arne Duncan ‏@arneduncan 17h
The bad news from #OECDPISA: US is running in place while other countries lap us. Good news: We’re laying the right foundation to improve.

This is very sad. If PISA shows anything, it is that the policies of the Bush-Obama administrations have not reached their one singular goal: higher test scores.

NCLB was signed into law on January 8, 2002. Since that time, every public school in the nation has followed the same federally-mandated prescription. It doesn’t work.

A reporter asked me last night whether the US performance over the past half century shows that no reforms work. I disagreed strongly. There was never any nationwide school reform that affected every school and every district until NCLB. Only since 2002 have we had a single federal policy. Before we had different districts adopting different programs and reforms, as they chose. PISA shows that the past decade of annual testing of basic skills in grades 3-8 failed. No other country in the world tests every child every year. No other country places as much value on test scores as we do. No other country fires principals and teachers and closes schools based on test scores.

Arne’s tweet is like a basketball coach who tells his team to use the same game plan again and again and again. It fails every time. Yet he says we must stick to his game plan anyway.

It makes no sense. We need a game changer. We need reduced class sizes for the students who struggle. We need bilingual teachers for English learners. We need experienced teachers but we are losing them. We need medical care for the students who never get a check-up. We need pre-K to help kids get a good start. We need after school programs and summer programs. We need healthy communities and healthy families and healthy children.

We need a national commitment to the well-being of all our children. Our children are our society’s future. We must treat them as our own.

AFT President Weingarten on PISA 2012 International Results

AFT’s Weingarten: “The crucial question we face now is whether we have the political will to move away from the failed policies and embrace what works in high-performing countries so that we can reclaim the promise of public education.”

WASHINGTON—Statement by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 results:

“Today’s PISA results drive home what has become abundantly clear: While the intentions may have been good, a decade of top-down, test-based schooling created by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top—focused on hyper-testing students, sanctioning teachers and closing schools—has failed to improve the quality of American public education. Sadly, our nation has ignored the lessons from the high-performing nations. These countries deeply respect public education, work to ensure that teachers are well-prepared and well-supported, and provide students not just with standards but with tools to meet them—such as ensuring a robust curriculum, addressing equity issues so children with the most needs get the most resources, and increasing parental involvement. None of the top-tier countries, nor any of those that have made great leaps in student performance, like Poland and Germany, has a fixation on testing like the United States does.

“The crucial question we face now is whether we have the political will to move away from the failed policies and embrace what works in high-performing countries so that we can reclaim the promise of public education.”

After the 2009 PISA report, Weingarten visited the top-performing nations of Japan, China, Singapore, Finland, Canada and Brazil to talk with teachers, principals, students and government officials about what makes their systems work for students, teachers and parents. Many of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s recommendations informed the AFT’s Quality Education Agenda and its Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education principles.


The next President should select John Kuhn, superintendent of schools in the little Perrin-Whitt District in Texas as Secretary of Education.


Because John Kuhn has the heart, the vision, the love of children, the courage, the honesty, and the integrity that the position requires. The Department is the kind of bureaucracy that runs itself, no matter who is the Secretary. Like any big organization, it lacks a heart and soul. That’s what the leader should provide. Kuhn has plenty of both.

He first burst onto the national scene with a stunning speech at the Save Our Schools March in Washington, D.C., in 2011. Who was this man, we wondered, this man who embraced all children and wanted to do the best for every single one of them?

This is the way his speech started:

Let me speak for all public school educators when I say unequivocally: We will. We say send us your poor, send us your homeless, the children of your afflicted and addicted. Send us your kids who don’t speak English. Send us your special-needs children, we will not turn them away.

But I tell you today, public school teacher, you will fail to take the shattered children of poverty and turn them into the polished products of the private schools. You will be unacceptable, public school teacher. And I say that is your badge of honor. I stand before you today bearing proudly the label of unacceptable because I educate the children they will not educate.

Day after day I take children broken by the poverty our leaders are afraid to confront and I glue their pieces back together. And at the end of my life you can say those children were better for passing through my sphere of influence. I am unacceptable and proud of it.

The poorest Americans need equity, but our nation offers them accountability instead. They need bread, but we give them a stone. We address the soft bigotry of low expectations so that we may ignore the hard racism of inequity. Standardized tests are a poor substitute for justice.

Read the whole speech and watch it here.

John Kuhn doesn’t want to make kids compete for the highest test scores. He doesn’t want to pick winners and losers. He wants to educate all children.

Kuhn recent wrote a book about how the accountability madness started in Texas. I invited Jason Stanford, a fine journalist in Austin, to review Kuhn’s Test and Punish. I hope you will read the review and read the book and learn about a man with a vision that would transform American education.

Jason Stanford writes:

John Kuhn, the superintendent of a small school district northwest of Fort Worth, Texas, could have written several books. He could have written the story about how he became the Howard Beale of school administrators, giving fiery speeches demanding to see the Adequate Yearly Progress of politicians. He could have cast himself as the hero of the anti-testing rebellion, a modern-day William Travis defending the schoolhouse like the Alamo. Instead, Kuhn wrote a sneakily subversive book about the bait & switch that screwed a generation of American students so Texas politicians didn’t have to raise taxes.

The brilliance of Kuhn’s Test-and-Punish: How the Texas Educational Model Gave America Accountability without Equity is the choice to tell the story about how we got into this mess in the first place. And to do that, you have to look at the promise that Texas made to its citizens in its state constitution that, admittedly, is given cursory respect by the local judiciary.

Article 7, Section 1 states:

A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.

A logical conclusion by a layman would be that the legislature had a duty to adequately fund public (“make suitable provision for the support and maintenance”) schools, and as Kuhn elegantly recounts, for a while the poor folks were winning in the courts. The problem is that Texas politicians didn’t want to raise taxes to help poor minorities. Gov. Ann Richards, working under a court order, tried to spread the wealth under a “Robin Hood” plan and lost re-election to George W. Bush who preached the false gospel of accountability.

Wait, what? How did we go from trying to get more money into underfunded public schools in poor neighborhoods to judging poor students by their test scores and calling it “accountability”?

This being Texas, it was a two-step process, and kudos for Kuhn for putting these pieces together.

First, Kuhn followed the money and found John Cornyn, then a lesser light on the Texas Supreme Court and now our senior senator. Cornyn represented the privileged business class on the court and did not agree that adequately funding would yield better schools. Instead—and this was clever—Cornyn ignored the requirement that the legislature “make suitable provision” and focused instead on the word “efficiency.”

This, Kuhn writes, changed everything:

The way Cornyn saw it, the constitutional demand for efficiency required the legislature to establish appropriate educational results, not merely evenhanded fiscal inputs (Farr and Trachtenberg 1999, 33). Cornyn implied that funding in and of itself did not directly equate to educational quality, that other factors were in play, and that the legislature must have some means of measuring basic educational quality in order to ensure efficiency.

This doctrine, originally appearing as a dissent but soon becoming a majority opinion on the court, explains how “accountability would eclipse as the primary consideration for policymakers and education thinkers in the state,” Kuhn writes.

One of those thinkers was a Democratic lawyer whose political ambitions found no purchase in Dallas. He tried running for congress and chaired the county party for a bit.

He found more luck as an advocate for education reform in Dallas, which has traditionally meant the white business elite in North Dallas worrying about what to do about the schools in South Dallas where the black and Hispanic students went. Backed by the business community, Sandy Kress headed up a working group that devised a plan that is “nearly identical to the guiding principles baked into the federal government’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act,” writes Kuhn.

Except there was one important difference early on, and I’m still miffed at Kuhn for finding it because I was hoping to be the first one to write about it.

The Kress committee’s proposal in Dallas ISD different from much of modern educational accountability in one significant way: it called for adjustments to be made in the performance expectations for children coming from impoverished backgrounds. For a Dallas school to be considered successful, its poorest students wouldn’t be required to achieve the same scores as higher-income pupils. This kindler, gentler approach to holding schools accountable for student performance wouldn’t last long.

Given the opening by Cornyn on the Supreme Court, Bush took Kress to Dallas as governor and implemented a plan to use test scores to measure efficiency in education. Only this time, they judged everyone by the same standard, poor and rich, Hispanic, black and white. No excuses.

You know the rest of the story: After two decades, poor kids get worse scores than rich kids. By relieving ourselves of responsibility to improve inputs, we focus exclusively on outputs and wonder why we’re not getting better results. Switching funding equity for efficiency and then making tests the sole measure of accountability combined to give Texas schools “spankings instead of supports,” writes Kuhn. “It was tough love, only without the love.”

Thank goodness Kuhn wrote the book he did. He’s still the William Travis of the Texas testing rebellion, but the research and analysis he invested in Test-and-Punish has given me a broader perspective on the failed ideology that has infected our public schools. Kuhn was one of the people who drew my attention to over-testing in the first place, and now my thinking on the subject owes a new debt to his book.


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