Archives for category: Race to the Top

This is a terrific article by civil rights attorney Wendy Lecker about the madness of our nation’s obsession with standardized testing.

 

She writes:

 

Last year, President Barack Obama committed hundreds of millions of dollars to brain research, stressing the importance of discovering how people think, learn and remember. Given the priority President Obama places on the brain in scientific research, it is sadly ironic that his education policies ignore what science says is good for children’s brains.

It is well known that play is vital in the early grades. Through play, kindergarteners develop their executive function and deepen their understanding of language. These are the cornerstones of successful reading and learning later on.

At-risk children often arrive at school having heard fewer words than more advantaged children. This deficit puts at-risk children behind others in learning to read. Scientists at Northwestern have recently shown that music training in the early years helps the brain improve speech processing in at-risk children.

Scientists at the University of Illinois have demonstrated that physical activity, coupled with downtime, improves children’s cognitive functions.

Scientists have also shown that diversity makes people more innovative. Being exposed to different disciplines broadens a student’s perspective. More importantly, working with a people from different backgrounds increases creativity and critical thinking.

These proven paths to healthy brain development are blocked by Obama’s education policies, the most pernicious of which is the overemphasis on standardized tests.

Despite paying lip service to the perils of over-testing, our leaders have imposed educational policies ensuring that standardized tests dominate schooling. Though standardized tests are invalid to measure teacher performance, the Obama administration insists that students’ standardized test scores be part of teacher evaluation systems. Both under NCLB and the NCLB waivers, schools are rated by standardized test scores. Often, a high school diploma depends at least in part on these tests. When so much rides on a standardized test scores, tests will drive what is taught and learned.

Just last month, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared that yearly standardized testing is essential to monitor children’s progress. Setting aside the fact the new Common Core tests have not been proven to show what children learn, data shows that a child who passes a standardized test one year is overwhelmingly likely to pass the next year. Therefore, yearly standardized testing is unnecessary.

 

She adds:

 

The result? More than 10 years of high-stakes test-based education policy under NCLB and the waivers has narrowed curricula. Schools de-emphasize any subject other than language arts and math. In kindergarten, play has all but been eliminated in favor of direct instruction, and social studies, art, music, science, physical education and other subjects are disappearing. School districts at all grade levels are forced to reduce or eliminate these subjects to pay for implementation of the Common Core and its testing regime. Lansing Michigan last year eliminated art, music and physical education from elementary schools and the state of Ohio is considering the same. Recess has disappeared from many schools. The Obama administration promotes policies that increase school segregation yet have questionable educational value, like school choice. Consequently, school segregation continues to rise.

 

If we don’t end our obsession with picking the right bubble, marking the right box, we will ruin the education of a generation of children.

 

 

Lloyd Lofthouse, a regular commentator on this blog, has written a succinct history of public education, bullet points that show the good and the bad, as well as the recent efforts by billionaires to destroy public education.

Now that we have endured more than a dozen long years of No Child Left Behind and five fruitless, punitive years of Race to the Top, it is clear that they both failed. They relied on carrots and sticks and ignored intrinsic motivation. They crushed children’s curiosity instead of cultivating it.* They demoralized schools. They disrupted schools and communities without improving children’s education.

We did not leave no child behind. The same children who were left behind in 2001-02 are still left behind. Similarly, Race to the Top is a flop. The Common Core tests are failing most students, and we are nowhere near whatever the “Top” is. If a teacher gave a test, and 70% of the students failed, we would say she was not competent, tested what was not taught, didn’t know her students. The Race turns out to be NCLB with a mask. NCLB on steroids. NCLB 2.0.

Whatever you call it, RTTT has hurt children, demoralized teachers, closed community schools, fragmented communities, increased privatization, and doubled down on testing.

I have an idea for a new accountability system that relies on different metrics. We begin by dropping standardized test scores as measures of quality or effectiveness. We stop labeling, ranking, and rating children, teachers, snd schools. We use tests only when needed for diagnostic purposes, not for comparing children to their peers, not to find winners and losers. We rely on teachers to test their students, not corporations.

The new accountability system would be called No Child Left Out. The measures would be these:

How many children had the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument?

How many children had the chance to play in the school band or orchestra?

How many children participated in singing, either individually or in the chorus or a glee club or other group?

How many public performances did the school offer?

How many children participated in dramatics?

How many children produced documentaries or videos?

How many children engaged in science experiments? How many started a project in science and completed it?

How many children learned robotics?

How many children wrote stories of more than five pages, whether fiction or nonfiction?

How often did children have the chance to draw, paint, make videos, or sculpt?

How many children wrote poetry? Short stories? Novels? History research papers?

How many children performed service in their community to help others?

How many children were encouraged to design an invention or to redesign a common item?

How many students wrote research papers on historical topics?

Can you imagine an accountability system whose purpose is to encourage and recognize creativity, imagination, originality, and innovation? Isn’t this what we need more of?

Well, you can make up your own metrics, but you get the idea. Setting expectations in the arts, in literature, in science, in history, and in civics can change the nature of schooling. It would require far more work and self-discipline than test prep for a test that is soon forgotten.

My paradigm would dramatically change schools from Gradgrind academies to halls of joy and inspiration, where creativity, self-discipline, and inspiration are nurtured, honored, and valued.

This is only a start. Add your own ideas. The sky is the limit. Surely we can do better than this era of soul-crushing standardized testing.

*Kudos to Southold Elementary School in Long Island, where these ideas were hatched as I watched the children’s band playing a piece they had practiced.

The Ratliff family in Texas are heroes of public education, they are moderate Republicans, and they been steadfast advocates for public schools.

They recently co-wrote an article that explains why vouchers are the wrong path for Texas.

“Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant is a former state senator and lieutenant governor of Texas; Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant represents District 9 on the State Board of Education; state Rep. Bennett Ratliff of Coppell represents District 115 in the Texas House.”

Franchesca Warren is outraged by “the deadening silence of teachers.” Teachers are afraid to say what they know and believe for fear of being fired.

She writes:

“As a pretty opinionated teacher, I am always full of ideas and speak out regularly against practices that are unjust or not beneficial to students. However, time and time again I have been “scolded” by more veteran teachers who warn me that being vocal would quickly get me “blackballed” in the district. This fact was even more evident when I was invited to a private screening of a new documentary entitled “Scapegoats.” The film uses teacher interviews to examine how teachers have historically been made to be the scapegoats with anything bad that occurs in education. While I was in total agreement with what was being said in the document, I was dismayed that more than half of the teachers interviewed opted to have their face (and voices) distorted so their administration would not retaliate against them.

“As I listened to teachers recall the atrocities that occur in public education, it was evident that these educational “pundits” and politicians have made it nearly impossible for teachers to exercise their first amendment rights. Teachers are terrified of voicing their opinions because many times it not only makes them a target but could possibly make them not get their contract renewed for the following year!

“Instead of forgetting my feelings and just chalking the film up to that how things are, I got angry.”

She adds:

“The truth is hidden while the public is made to believe that lies are the truth. Truth be told, the majority of teachers loathe the increased standardized testing in schools. Truth be told, the people who make policies about education don’t even have their kids enrolled in public schools. Truth be told, the people who run the school districts are usually not equipped with the pedagogy or experience to actually lead a classroom in 2013. Truth be told, federal programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are just programs to further destroy public education and allow private entities to take our tax dollars.”

And more:

“Despite the deafening silence, there are many educators who are getting angry and speaking up with no regard to the possible consequences. You have district administrators like John Kuhn who say “enough is enough” and write eloquent pieces like “Exhaustion of the American Teacher.”

“You have teachers who decided to make the film “The Inconvenient Truths Behind Waiting for Superman” and expose the policies that hurt our students.

“You have the teachers in Chicago and Oregon that courageously decided to strike to ensure that their voices would be heard.

“Times are changing, and I for one am glad. The truth is no longer being hidden by our deafening silence. There are more teacher in the world than people who might want to silence us. So speak, act, march, discuss and demand to be heard. Apparently, we might have the 14th Amendment on our side.”

Jonathan Lovell, a teacher educator in California, received many messages after the election urging him to “keep your chin up ,” “don’t be discouraged,” that he decided to reply to one of them, the one that came from President Obama.

Here is his message to the President, followed by the President’s message to him.

Dear Mr President,

Thanks very much for this email. It has given me a lift during a period in which I’ll admit to experiencing “post mid-term blues.”

As a teacher educator who has spent the last 35 years visiting middle and high school English classrooms — about 2500 of them — helping beginning teachers reflect on their teaching practices, I cannot say that I am a supporter of the present RTTT-inspired direction of the USDOE.
I am, however, a strong supporter of your presidency and the overall direction, educational policy excepted, in which you have helped to steer our nation over the past six years.

I hope these next two years will provide you an opportunity to review and eventually approve an overhaul and eventual reauthorization of the ESEA.

As you know better than most, this piece of legislation has had unintended but easily anticipated consequences. Right now, it is leaving most children, and virtually all teachers, not only “behind,” but demoralized and frustrated.

I hope your next two years will give you a chance to publicly celebrate the public school teaching profession for the great contributions it has made to the strength and promise of our unique democracy.

And in the spirit of Bob Herbert’s magnificent new book Losing Our Way, I hope these next two years will also provide you with opportunities to celebrate the true mission of American public education, and to clarify for the nation, as well as to personally and politically confront, those powerful forces that threaten to undermine its fundamental importance.

My best,

Jonathan Lovell
Professor of English and Director of the San Jose Area Writing Project
San Jose State University

On Nov 7, 2014, at 2:00 PM, Barack Obama wrote:

Jonathan, the hardest thing in politics is changing the status quo. The easiest thing is to get cynical.

The Republicans had a good night on Tuesday, Jonathan — but believe me when I tell you that our results were better because you stepped up, talked to your family and friends, and cast your ballot.

I want you to remember that we’re making progress. There are workers who have jobs today who didn’t have them before. There are millions of families who have health insurance today who didn’t have it before. There are kids going to college today who didn’t have the opportunity to go to college before.

So don’t get cynical, Jonathan. Cynicism didn’t put a man on the moon. Cynicism has never won a war, or cured a disease, or built a business, or fed a young mind. Cynicism is a choice. And hope will always be a better choice.

I have hope for the next few years, and I have hope for what we’re going to accomplish together.

Thank you so much, Jonathan.

Barack Obama

Paid for by the Democratic National Committee, 430 South Capitol Street SE, Washington DC 20003 and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Dear Diane,

I’ve been receiving so many “keep your chin up” emails over the past few days, primarily from democratic organizations and individuals to whom I’d sent donations during the past several months, that I decided to respond to one of them: the President’s.

What I wrote is below, with the President’s email below that.

Ever fondly,
Jonathan Lovell

On Nov 7, 2014, at 3:21 PM, Jonathan Lovell wrote:

Dear Mr President,

Thanks very much for this email. It has given me a lift during a period in which I’ll admit to experiencing “post mid-term blues.”

As a teacher educator who has spent the last 35 years visiting middle and high school English classrooms — about 2500 of them — helping beginning teachers reflect on their teaching practices, I cannot say that I am a supporter of the present RTTT-inspired direction of the USDOE.

I am, however, a strong supporter of your presidency and the overall direction, educational policy excepted, in which you have helped to steer our nation over the past six years.

I hope these next two years will provide you an opportunity to review and eventually approve an overhaul and eventual reauthorization of the ESEA.

As you know better than most, this piece of legislation has had unintended but easily anticipated consequences. Right now, it is leaving most children, and virtually all teachers, not only “behind,” but demoralized and frustrated.

I hope your next two years will give you a chance to publicly celebrate the public school teaching profession for the great contributions it has made to the strength and promise of our unique democracy.

And in the spirit of Bob Herbert’s magnificent new book Losing Our Way, I hope these next two years will also provide you with opportunities to celebrate the true mission of American public education, and to clarify for the nation, as well as to personally and politically confront, those powerful forces that threaten to undermine its fundamental importance.

My best,
Jonathan Lovell
Professor of English and Director of the San Jose Area Writing Project
San Jose State University

On Nov 7, 2014, at 2:00 PM, Barack Obama wrote:

Jonathan, the hardest thing in politics is changing the status quo. The easiest thing is to get cynical.

The Republicans had a good night on Tuesday, Jonathan — but believe me when I tell you that our results were better because you stepped up, talked to your family and friends, and cast your ballot.

I want you to remember that we’re making progress. There are workers who have jobs today who didn’t have them before. There are millions of families who have health insurance today who didn’t have it before. There are kids going to college today who didn’t have the opportunity to go to college before.

So don’t get cynical, Jonathan. Cynicism didn’t put a man on the moon. Cynicism has never won a war, or cured a disease, or built a business, or fed a young mind. Cynicism is a choice. And hope will always be a better choice.

I have hope for the next few years, and I have hope for what we’re going to accomplish together.

Thank you so much, Jonathan.

Barack Obama

Paid for by the Democratic National Committee, 430 South Capitol Street SE, Washington DC 20003 and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Chris in Florida, who teaches young children, writes:

“My district has become program driven. We have a program to teach reading but there are now 3 reading blocks in our day since we are a D school. The state mandates a program for Tier II intervention and another program for extra reading instruction. There is no correlation between the fragmented programs. We have a program for math and another for math intervention. We have a science program but no social studies program and both are given a meager 20 minutes a day. Several programs are online only and kids hate them and say they are boring and too hard.

“We are no longer allowed to teach with good books or to have classrooms humming with excitement over a praying mantis or a bag of apples. That is not in the programs. We are threatened with discipline if we are caught doing things the old way during random walk throughs using the nefarious Danielson rubric.

“I sneak what I can as far as read alouds and living things in when I can but our discipline problems are skyrocketing and the kids are bored and overwhelmed much of the day with recess no longer allowed either.

“This is the result of Jeb Bush, NCLB, RTTT, CCSS, and all the reformist mess.”

Mark NAISON writes on the damage done to communities by closing neighborhood schools.

The one-two punch of No Child Left Behind and its ugly twin Race to theTop have led to the closure of thousands of neighborhood school, typically in black and brown communities.

He writes:

“Thousands of schools which have served neighborhoods for generations have been closed in cities all over the US, leading to mass firings of teachers and staff who grew up in or lived in those communities and disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands of families. In some cities, the result has been exposing young people to greater risk of violence; in others, the process has promoted gentrification. But the disruptive consequences of this policy have been enormous and totally ignored by policy makers who have ironically claimed this strategy is promoting education equity.

“I will say this. Destroying neighborhood institutions and the historic memory invested in them is a form of psychic violence that should not be underestimated. School closings, and displacement of the people who worked in them are wreaking havoc with the lives of people who need stability, continuity and support more than continuous upheaval.”

Every once in a while, I post an article that I missed when it first appeared because it offers fresh insight. This article by Bruce A. Dixon appeared in Black Agenda Report. Dixon says that Race to the Top has been the leading, sharp edge of privatization. It is directly responsible for closing thousands of public schools in urban districts and turning over the keys and children to private management.

Dixon writes:

“The national wave of school closings not national news because our nation’s elite, from Wall Street and the hedge fund guys to the chambers of commerce and the business establishment, from corporate media and all the elite politicians of both parties from the president down to local mayors and state legislators are working diligently to privatize public education as quickly as possible. They’re not stupid. They’ve done the polling and the focus groups. They know with dead certainty that the p-word is massively unpopular, and that parents, teachers, students and communities aren’t clamoring to hand schools over to greedy profiteers.

“On every level, the advocates of educational privatization strive to avoid using the p-word. They deliberately mislabel charter schools, just as unaccountable as every other private business in the land as “public charter schools,” because after all, they use public money. So do Boeing, Lockheed, General Dynamics, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, but nobody calls these “public aerospace companies,” “public military contractors,” or “public banks.” For the same reason, corporate media refuse to cover the extent of the school closing epidemic, or local opposition to it, for fear of feeding the development of a popular movement against privatization, and Race To The Top, the Obama administration’s signature public education initiative, and the sharp edge of the privatizers, literally driving the wave of school closings, teacher firings, and the adoption of “run-the-school-like-a-business” methods everywhere.

“The privatizers know the clock is ticking. They know that no white Republican or Democrat could have successfully closed thousands of schools, mainly in the inner city and low-income neighborhoods without a tidal wave of noisy opposition. No white Republican or Democrat could have fired or replaced tens of thousands of experienced, mostly black qualified, experienced classroom teachers with younger, whiter, cheaper “graduates” of 5 week “teacher training” programs like Teach For America.”

Gentrification follows in the wake of school closings. As Kristen Buras writes in her book about New Orleans, privatization clears the way for land transfers.

Meanwhile, Congress sits idly by, watching Arne Duncan close and privatize thousands of public schools, which pushes out veteran black teachers, busts unions, and creates jobs for TFA. And Congress looks the other way as Duncan ignores the legal prohibition on controlling, influencing, or directing curriculum and instruction by imposing Common Core and Common Core testing on most of the nation’s children. Duncan is doing what Obama wants him to do. But why? Does anyone really believe that mass school closings and privatization improve education. Or is it not a declaration of utter educational failure on the part of this administration, which does not have a single idea about how to improve schools that need help?

FairTest
National Center for Fair & Open Testing

Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773
cell (239) 699-0468

SAT SCORE TREND REMAINS FLAT;

TEST-FIXATED SCHOOL POLICIES HAVE NOT IMPROVED COLLEGE READINESS

EVEN AS MEASURED BY OTHER STANDARDIZED EXAMS

SAT scores for the nation’s high school seniors continue to stagnate according to data being released on Tuesday by the test’s sponsor, the College Board. Overall SAT averages have dropped by 21 points since 2006 when the test was last revised. Gaps between racial groups increased, often significantly over that period.

Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), said, “Proponents of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ ‘Race to the Top,’ and similar state-level programs promised the testing focus would boost college readiness while narrowing score gaps between groups. The data show a total failure according to their own measures. Doubling down on unsuccessful policies with more high-stakes K-12 testing, as Common Core exam proponents propose, is an exercise in futility, not meaningful school improvement. Nor will revising the SAT, as currently planned, address the nation’s underlying educational issues.”

Schaeffer continued, “At the same time, the number of schools dropping SAT and ACT admissions exams requirements has soared. This year at least 14 more colleges and universities have adopted test-optional policies for all or many applicants.” A list of more than 840 such bachelor-degree granting institutions is posted at http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional

2014 COLLEGE-BOUND SENIORS SAT SCORES — with score changes from 2006*

READING MATH WRITING TOTAL
ALL TEST-TAKERS 497 (- 6) 513 (- 5) 487 (-10) 1497 (-21)

* High school graduates in the class of 2006 were the first to take the SAT “Writing” Test. The “No Child Left Behind” mandate to test every child in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school went into effect in the 2005-2006 academic year.

More details on 2014 SAT score trends and an extended analysis will be posted at fairtest.org after the College Board’s public release of the results

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