Archives for category: Race to the Top

Since 2009, when Race to the Top was launched, Arne Duncan has been an avid proponent of evaluating teachers by test scores. Some states evaluate teachers by the scores of students they never taught or subjects they don’t teach. To be eligible for Race to the Top money, states had to agree to evaluate teachers by test scores. To get a waiver from impossible mandates on NCLB, states had to agree to do it.

When Duncan testified, Congresswoman DeLauro asked if he was willing to rethink VAM. He responded that the federal government doesn’t require VAM. Duncan said that while the Feds don’t require VAM, they require evidence of growth in learning.

Sounds like VAM. Can anyone make sense of this?

*I had several spelling errors in the original post, due to composing it on my cellphone in a bumpy car-ride. I fixed them.

Chris Hayes interviewed Arne Duncan and Peter Greene reports on what happened.

You can imagine Arne artfully dodging and weaving when Chris asked straightforward questions. Arne insists that Common Core is confused with the unpopular tests (that Arne funded). Arne suggests that politicians are upset by Common Core but Real Parents welcome it.

“Hayes: I want to talk about Common Core for a second. (And he smiles a little smile, like “let’s do this silly thing, I’m going to ask a question, you’re going to sling baloney, it’ll be fun”). Are you surprised by how controversial Common Core (which he characterizes as “kind of an obscure issue in certain ways”) has become?

“Duncan: “It’s actually very simple. The goal’s to have high standards.” So, kids, the whole national consistency issue, the whole being able to compare kids in Idaho and Maine, the whole keeping everyone on the same page so mobile students will never get lost– that’s no longer the point.

“Duncan goes on to display how much he doesn’t understand about how this works. He talks about how, under NCLB, too many states dummied down standards. He says this was “to make politicians look good.” I’d be more inclined to say “to avoid punitive consequences for their schools.” If Arne had reached my conclusion (and really, given that he was in charge of a large school district at the time, it’s kind of amazing that he didn’t reach my conclusion) then perhaps he wouldn’t have figured that the solution was to make the consequences of high stakes testing even more punitive than before.

“Insert story here of how schools lied to students about how ready they were for college. So brave governors decided to stop lying to children. “Let’s have true college and career ready standards for every single child.” As always I wonder why reaching that conclusion leads to a next step where one says, “Let’s hire a couple of guys who have no real education experience, either pedagogical or developmental, and have them whip something up.”

As Greene shows, this is vintage Arne. Adroitly changing the subject, mouthing high-minded platitudes, never accepting that parents have valid reasons to be upset by the administration’s unvarnished support for high-stakes testing, closing schools, and inviting entrepreneurs to cash in on the educationmarket. NCLB went wrong, he admits, but he never acknowledges that Race to the Top was no different philosophically from NCLB and far worse in actuality when judged by the whipping it has given to schools and educators.

Arnold Dodge, who lives on Long Island, has been a teacher, principal, and superintendent and is now a professor of education. In this post, he exited the metaphor of Race to the Top.”

What were they thinking?

“Race to the Top? C’mon.

“The phenomena of racing and reaching the top couldn’t possibly have been the goals set for children’s education. Anyone who knows anything about the fragile, unpredictable, erratic, self-conscious development of a youngster couldn’t possibly have come up with such a name.

“But, let’s pause to reconsider the possibilities. Maybe critics of the feds should take a minute to do a close read of the name and give the planners a break. Maybe they had something else in mind. Let’s try a thought experiment.

“What if the federal education bureaucrats were dog whistling to the rich folks to get them on board with the initiative?

“Maybe it’s Chase to the Top for the bankers and billionaires who are in thrall with destroying public schools and privatizing education. The unrelenting attacks on teacher unions, the proliferation of charter schools, the imposition of frustrating and impossibly difficult tests (then selling products to help with testing) may seem entirely appropriate to those who reap the rewards from the market approach to schooling. Teachers bashed, children anxious, parents confused. Sounds like a plan.

“Maybe it’s White Race to the Top. Sounds plausible since the RTTT mandates and the NCLB policies have done little to change the intractable achievement gaps, and even less to address segregated school systems, perhaps the greatest obstacle to school success. At a recent New York State legislative meeting, a meeting to coronate Governor Cuomo as the king of the New York State educational system, a courageous legislator got it right: “High need/low wealth districts get shafted every time.” (1) This includes impoverished white communities as well.

“Poor people please understand. There’s just so much room at the top; privileged white communities occupy the space, and there’s no sign they will sub-divide. The notion that the federal and state education plans’ foremost objective is to help the inner city schools and the disenfranchised is a convenient lie. Politicians are fond of citing miraculous stories of schools in poor communities improving. But these are outliers, examples of schools with unique circumstances and/or infusions of grant money. These are outliers. The politicians are just plain liars.”

Read the rest. It is funny and it has links.

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 following comment was written by a young man just returned from teaching in the Peace Corps. Responding to a request from the Network for Public Education, he wrote a letter to Congress about NCLB:

 

Diane-

 

I would like to share the letter I wrote (at the urging of NPE) to my congressional Representative concerning H.R. 5:

 

This time last year I was a recently returned Peace Corps Volunteer, coming home from service as an English teacher in a Cameroonian public school. Shortly before I left Cameroon I attended a disciplinary hearing convened for the purpose of meting out punishment. I sat with other teachers in a ring at the edge of the principal’s office while students were shuffled in by grade level, given the chance to explain their infractions, then made to lie on their stomachs on the dusty floor while an administrator whipped them. It was against the law, but they did it anyway. This policy was intended to regulate student behavior, and it was shamefully successful. They followed an ideology of control and never have I seen such a passive group of students. My colleagues and the administrators managing us weren’t bad people–or even bad educators. I still marvel at their drive to impart knowledge, but their instructional model followed a paradigm that mirrored their discipline: students are, to lean upon a cliche, vessels to be filled, objects to be acted upon.

 

It may be hard for us to see, but their ideology is our ideology. By conventional standards I was a good student; in me the systems of reward and punishment accomplished their goals. My success, however, was bounded by its context. The social psychology research that claims traditional classroom practices limit student interest, reduce depth of thought, and discourage a challenge-seeking orientation resonate with my experience. When I reflect on my education I feel the deep tragedy of my untapped potential. Here was the refrain of the times: “Why would I put more effort into this? I already have an A.” I was lucky because many other students repeated its more destructive corollary: “Why would I put any effort in to this? I’m just going to get an F.” No matter what a student’s place on this artificial spectrum, reducing performance to an externally imposed measurement of a pseudo-objective standard constitutes control. When, later in my academic career, I did fail one class, I imagine the emotional pain I felt was a close cousin to the physical pain of my future Cameroonian students.

 

Whether or not there are legitimate uses for standards in today’s world, the current political environment has paired standards with a toxic accountability. There’s an or else. Pay teachers following our formula or we won’t send federal money your way. Raise your students’ scores to the level we say or we’ll give your school a failing grade. Do better or we’ll close it entirely. As a country our greatest shames have been perpetrated under contingency and duress. This is no different. My educational history has been filled with motivated teachers who didn’t require bribes or threats to seek self-improvement, who didn’t need standardized tests to gauge student proficiency.

 

If we want our students to learn to function in a democracy, why are our classrooms structured like dictatorships? Why are we pursuing a path that further alienates students from content by adding additional separation between teachers and curriculum? Why, if we expect students to learn independence, are we stripping it from educators?

 

Best Regards,

 

Jakob Gowell

 

B.A. English, Grinnell College 2011
RPCV Cameroon 2012-2014
Education Volunteer (TEFL)

This is a video of a spoken word poem by student Ryan Lotocki. It is genius. In fact, the poem is titled “This Is Genius,” and it shows all the different ways that students excel. Not just on a standardized test, but in living good lives that engage their interests and passions.

 

Can we show this to a joint meeting of Congress, or at least to the committees now rewriting No Child Left Behind? Or how about our state legislatures, who assume the power to decide that teachers by the test scores of their students?

 

Students have power. They are the primary victims of the disruption and distorted values that NCLB and Race to the Top and uninformed politicians have made of our education system.

Paul Karrer teaches fifth grade in California. He writes frequently about education.

 

 

Don’t Let Hillary Do An Obama On Public Education

 

I write to the leaders of our many education organizations. The time has come for educators collectively to push back.

 

If you are honest, you must admit we have not fared well politically. In fact it would be fair to say we have been vilified, punished, and demoralized. Teachers must face the ugly fact that President Obama has done the institution of public education and educators irreparable, long-term damage with his shocking warm embrace of “Ed Reform Inc.”

 

In the previous election the many arms of education threw their weight, money, and support behind President Obama far too early. Hillary Clinton was one of the few candidates to come out against No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind was the seminal poisonous blueprint for the destruction and financial demolition of our democratic public schooling institutions.

 

We received no return on our support for President Obama. Incredibly just the opposite occurred. He made Arnie Duncan his hatchet man and Arnie started chopping. President Obama became wedded to Wall Street, hedge funders, school privatizers, technocrats, and initiated the cannibalism of our educational system. Who would have conceived that the greatest educational betrayal in contemporary history would be by a Democrat and a minority member to boot? His Race To The Top, leveraged with more charter schools, was the ugly stepchild of NCLB. Strategically we thought we had to support Obama. He could only be better than any Republican we chanted. Sadly, in retrospect this is no longer a certainty.

 

We find ourselves in a similar juncture in the political road. Hillary seems to be our candidate BUT…she has said some very disturbing things of late. Things which make many of us a little questioning of her new leanings. I say this as an ardent Hillary supporter. She claims that the most important book she has ever read was the bible. No problem with that except she’s never mentioned this previously. Also, she’s made a very sharp right turn regarding Syria and probably Iran. She is now a big proponent of invasion – to show she’s tough. Both of these moves reek of pandering to polls. And they indicate a throwing out of previous values. Scary question is…will she throw public education and teachers under the bus for votes too?

 

We need Hillary, if she is to be our candidate, to be supportive of us in deeds not platitudes. Not just because of our power, and strength but also because we are the good guys. We believe in public service. That is why we teach.

 

Hillary needs to understand she does not automatically have our support and resources unless she guarantees the death of NCLB, teachers evaluated on testing, and the end of excessive testing. We need a presidential candidate who restarts a public schooling system based on what is good for children – not what is good for: politicians, hedge funders, Pearson, or charter school corporations.

 

So you our education leaders at the top of the food chain need to have a little sit-down with Hillary. She can’t do An Obama on us. An Obama is where he meets with a few teachers, tells them how great they are. Parades them on T.V. and blathers how society needs great teachers. And adds that we shouldn’t test too much.

 

And then he promotes industries many harmful reforms. That’s An Obama.

 

Don’t let Hillary do a Hillary on us.

 

 

Paul Karrer
5th grade teacher

Castroville Elementary School
2009 North Monterey LULAC Teacher of The Year
Monterey, California
93940

The Néw York Times says Hillary Clinton will be forced to choose between the Wall Street big donors and the teachers’ unions.

The real choice is between Wall Street money on one hand and millions of parents and teachers who are fed up with high-stakes testing and privatization of public schools, on the other.

Then it refers to the Democrats for Education Reform as a “left of center group,” even though its program is indistinguishable from that of Republican governors and it was denounced by the California Democratic Party as a front for corporate interests.

Arthur Camins, director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., warns that bipartisan agreement on the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind may be bad news.

 

Just as parents are expressing their disgust with annual testing, Congress is close to mandating annual testing for yet another seven years (or maybe another 12 years if past experience is any guide).

 

 

He writes:

 

Bipartisan agreement makes for strange bedfellows as seeming opponents engage in an uncomfortable collective embrace of federal mandates of yearly, high stakes assessment. In the absence of obvious political alternatives some civil rights groups fear that without the harsh light of disaggregated data poor performance will be ignored. Those whose ideology bends their policy choices toward privatization see inevitable failure in the face unreasonable demands as a means to undermine faith in public education. Some are in the campaign contribution thrall of testing companies that stand to gain or loose billions from publically funded testing expenditures. Still others have an abiding faith in the power of rewards and punishments to compel behavior.

 

The continued focus of high-stakes assessment is the education equivalent of building inspectors requiring pipe wrenches to be used by all plumbers, framers, electricians, roofers and tile-setters, while bypassing the advice and needs of contractors and workers. For education, the sure losers are deep sustainable learning and equity.

 

Like building a home, creating an education system is a complex endeavor. As anyone who has undertaken it knows, significant remodeling may be even more challenging. When building or remodeling a complex system, it’s best to have a large, varied set of tools. Choosing the right tool for the right purpose is an obvious but often ignored principle- not least in education assessment policy. Pipe wrenches are great for large plumbing valves, but wreak havoc on smaller nuts. They have nasty teeth that rip and apply too much torque. Selection from a full set of open-ended wrenches would be a far better choice. Needle nose pliers are just the right tool for bending wires for electrical connections, but far too imprecise for removing the accidental building-related splinter. So it is with large scale standardized testing in education. The right tool can get the job done. The wrong tool fails and often causes damage….

 

Let’s start with the big picture. Education has three equally important purposes: Preparation for students for life, work and citizenship.

 

The values principle of equity implies that the design of our education system should accommodate and address the diverse needs of all students. To be clear, equity as used here has two meanings: opportunity equity and lived equity. The former refers to what is often called a fair shot to move up the socioeconomic ladder. The latter refers to a shorter ladder, in which position on the lower rungs does not preclude access to a decent secure life, with adequate food, clothing, housing and health care– what we have come to expect of a middle class life. The United States has neither kinds of equity and needs both.

 

The precision principle suggests the need to develop and select a variety of tools to assess progress and success with respect to all of the purposes and components of an effective education system. To assess education’s how are we doing questions, we need subsystem precision, lest we make the education-equivalent mistake of using meter sticks when micrometers are needed….

 

 

Equitable resources are essential, but they do not ensure equitable outcomes. While constitutionally, much of education decision-making authority in U.S. is delegated to the states, the interconnectedness of the nation clearly indicates that local outcomes are a national concern. Ineffective or poorly funded education in one state impacts another. The periodic National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) serves to monitor outcomes across the states. The NAEP is not given to every student at every grade in every year. Instead, it is administered at the end of grade bands and uses the well-known statistical strategy of sampling. Politicians know this technique well. They rely upon it extensively when they do polling to gauge potential policy positions because querying every citizen is impractical and not needed to get the information they need. As a tool for fair state or large city level big-picture achievement monitoring, NAEP does the trick, but different non-comparable state-designed tests do not….

 

 

ESEA reauthorization should not:

 

Mandate consequential state testing;
Include requirements for student assessment-based teacher evaluation.

 

ESEA reauthorization should:

 

Ensure funds to provide for and measure the attainment of equitable resources;

 
Provide funds to locales to increase educator expertise in the use formative assessment strategies to improve daily learning.

 
It is past time for all supporters of equitable education for life, work and citizenship to call out No Child Left Behind with its high-stakes testing centerpiece as a failed Faustian bargain. Choosing the right tools for the right purposes is a common sense starting point.

 

 

High-stakes testing has reached down into kindergarten, where it is developmentally inappropriate. Kindergarten is supposed to be the children’s garden. It is supposed to be a time for learning to socialize with others, to work and play with others, to engage in imaginative activities, to plan with building blocks and games. It is a time when little children learn letters and numbers as part of their activities. They listen as the teacher reads stories, and they want to learn to read.

 

But in the era of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, kindergarten has changed. Little children must be tested. The great data monster needs data. How can their teachers be evaluated if there are no standardized tests and no data?

 

This frightening article in Slate by Alexandria Neason describes how high-stakes testing now permeates kindergarten.

 

The author describes the kindergarten classroom of Molly Mansel in Néw Orleans.

 

“Mansel’s students started taking tests just three weeks into the 2014–15 school year. They began with a state-required early childhood exam in August, which covered everything from basic math to letter identification. Mansel estimates that it took between four and five weeks for the teachers to test all 58 kindergarten students—and that was with the help of the prekindergarten team. The test requires an adult to sit individually with each student, reading questions and asking them to perform various tasks. The test is 11 pages long and “it’s very time-consuming,” according to Mansel, who is 24 and in her third year of teaching (her first in kindergarten).

 

The rest of the demanding testing schedule involves repeated administrations of two different school-mandated tests. The first, Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, is used to measure how students are doing compared with their peers nationally—and to evaluate teachers’ performance. The students take the test in both reading and math three times a year. They have about an hour to complete the test, and slower test takers are pulled from class to finish.

 

The second test, called Strategic Teaching and Evaluation of Progress, or STEP, is a literacy assessment that measures and ranks children’s progress as they learn letters, words, sentences, and, eventually, how to read. Mansel gives the test individually to students four times throughout the year. It takes several days to administer as Mansel progresses through a series of tasks: asking the students to write their names, to point to uppercase and lowercase versions of letters, and to identify words that rhyme, for example.

 

Although more informal, the students also take about four quizzes per week in writing, English, math, science, and social studies. The school’s other kindergarten teacher designs most of the quizzes, which might ask students to draw a picture describing what they learned, or write about it in a journal.

 

“By the end of the school year, Mansel estimates that she’ll have lost about 95 hours of class time to test administration—a number inconceivable to her when she reflects on her own kindergarten experience. She doesn’t remember taking any tests at all until she was in at least second grade. And she’s probably right.”

 

Whoever made this happen should be arrested for child abuse and theft of childhood.

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