Archives for category: Race to the Top

Peter Greene has been following the conversation at EducationPost, the blog funded by Broad, Walton, Bloomberg et al for $12 million, he says that the new spin from reformsters is that education is too politicized. He agrees but asks how it got that way. Who took the decision making power away from educators and gave it to legislatures, governors, the President, and Comgress? Not educators.

Peter Greene knows who did it:

“As it turns out, I think I have an answer for this one. Asking why the Common Core are wrapped up in politics is like asking why human beings are so involved with blood.

“The Common Core were birthed in politics. They were weaned on politics. And every time they have looked tired and in trouble, they have been revived with a fresh transfusion of politics.

“When David Coleman and Gene Wilhoit decided they wanted to standardize American education, they did not come up with a plan to sell such a program on its education merits. They called on Bill Gates to use his money and power to convince state governments to legislate systemic changes to education.

“The states signed on to a Memo of Understanding (a political tool for out-politicking politics) and many of them did it before there were even any standards to look at. This was a political move, using the political power of legislatures and governors’ offices to impose rules on educational systems– in many cases, before educators in particular states even knew that such a systemic overhaul was being considered.

“Common Core’s Pappy, No Child Left Behind, was a creature of politics, right down to its spin-ready title. It was created to put a glossy shine on bipartisan action for the kids. Educators (and other people with rudimentary math skills) pointed out early on that the NCLB end game of 100% above average was ridiculously improbable, but the political shininess plus the political notion that future politicians would find a political solution drowned out good sense. Because, politics.”

He concludes:

“At no point in all this reformy baloney have we seen the spectacle of bottom-up reform, a reform movement driven by teachers and other educators saying, “Hey, we have some ideas that are so revolutionary and so great that they are spreading like wildfire strictly on their educational merits!”

“No– Common Core and its attendant test-driven high stakes data-glomming VAMboozling baloney have come from the top down, by politicians using political power to impose educational solutions through the political tools applied to the political structure of government. Why do people get the idea that all these reformy ideas are linked? Because they all come from the same place– the linkage is the political power that imposed them all on the American public education system.

“Look. We live in the real world and politics play a part in many things. But for some reformsters to offer wide eyes and shocked dismay and clutched pearls as they cry, “Oh, but why does it have to be so political!” is the height of hypocrisy. It’s political because you folks made it political, every step of the way, and it’s not humanly possible for you to be too dumb to know that (particularly at a site like Education Post that is larded with career political operatives). So if you want to have a serious conversation about any of this, Step One is top stop lying, badly, directly to our faces. I can’t hear you when my bullshit detector alarm is screaming in my ear.”

Superintendent Mark Cross joins the honor roll for his willingness to stand up and be counted on the side of students.

Cross sent a letter home to parents in which he criticized high-stakes testing and Common Core. He spoke critically of federal and state initiatives whose purpose is to rank students rather than educate them. Many educators are fearful of saying what Mark Cross said because they are supposed to be docile and keep their professional ethics to themselves. A test score is like stepping on a bathroom scale, he said. It tells you something but not everything you need to know about your wellness. So, he told parents, we won’t be talking much about PARCC or Common Core. We will continue to focus on helping them become well-rounded people, with time to develop their creativity.

Read his letter. He makes clear that he and his staff take their responsibility to the children and the local community very seriously, and they will continue to do so.

If every school board, principal, and superintendent were equally willing to speak their convictions, there would be a genuine conversation about education, rather than the current top-down authoritarianism that typifies relationships between the federal government and everyone else.

The original letter can be seen here.

August 20th 2014

Dear Parents,

Today is the first day of the 2014-15 school year and I wanted to take the opportunity to share some personal thoughts regarding the current state of education at the national, state and, most importantly, local levels. I am very fortunate to serve as the superintendent of this great district and we are all very proud of the incredible progress we have made in recent years, building on previous years of excellence. At the end of the day, our kids and their safety and educational growth are all that matters to us. We work hard to keep anything from distracting us from these priorities.

Unfortunately, there are many federal and state education initiatives that can very much be a distraction from what matters most These initiatives are based on good intentions and are cloaked in the concept of accountability, but unfortunately most do little to actually improve teaching and teaming. Most are designed to assess, measure, rank and otherwise place some largely meaningless number on a child or a school or a teacher or a district. That is not to say that student growth data is not important, It is very critical, and it is exactly why we have our own local assessment system in place. It is what our principals and teachers use to help guide instruction and meet the needs of your kids on a daily basis. In other words, it is meaningful data to help us teach your child.

But no more than a number from a bathroom scale can give you a full assessment of your personal wetness, a test score cannot fully assess a student’s academic growth. Does stepping on the scale tell you something? Of course. But does it tell you everything? Absolutely not.

As one specific example, Peru Elementary District 124 puts great value on the fine arts. We believe that music and art enhances cognitive growth, creativity and problem solving. In fact we know this, and this is exactly why your children have access to an outstanding fine arts program with five music and art teachers from PreK through 8th grade. The state does not assess music or art or science or social studies for that matter. Only language arts and mathematics are assessed with the state’s new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment.

This is why I wanted to let you know that we will not be talking to you that much about the PARCC assessment or Common Core or other initiatives that have some importance, but they are not what matters most to us. YOUR CHILDREN are what matter most and we believe that kids should be well-rounded, with an emphasis on a solid foundation for learning across all subjects by the time they get to high school and later college. We believe that kids need to be creative and learn to solve problems. We believe that exposure to music and art science and social studies, physical education and technology and a wide variety of curricular and extracurricular activities will serve them very well as they grow into young adults.

We further believe that there is no replacement for high expectations, and we must expect our students to achieve to the best of their individual ability. We believe that all children can learn, but not all at the same pace or in the same way. We believe that reading and literacy are the foundations of learning. We believe that children are each unique and have a wide variety of talents and skills, very few of which can be measured on a state assessment

The state and federal government have failed epically in their misguided attempts at ‘reforming’ public education. Public education does not need reformed. It may need intervention in school districts that are not meeting the needs of students on a grand scale, but it needs to be accountable to and controlled by our citizens at the local level. And in Peru Schools, this will continue to be very much the case.

So, I wanted to let you know that we will not let these other things serve as a distraction from educating your children in Peru Schools. When appropriate, we will use these opportunities as a chance to improve but we will not let political nonsense distract us from our true mission, which is to keep your kids safe and to provide them with a world class education. One of my favorite quotes is,

*Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least’

And the ‘things- which matter most here are your kids and their education. Nothing you read or hear about will distract us from that effort.

Thank you for your support of our children and our schools and as always, please let me know if you have any questions or concerns at all as we start the new school year!

Sincerely,

Mark R. Cross Superintendent

In case you missed, here is my interview with Tavis Smiley from September 8. It is about 12 minutes. Tavis asked about the Vergara decision and teacher tenure, about the attacks on teachers and public education, about the goals of the current “reform” movement, Common Core, and my judgment of Race to the Top.

All in 12 minutes!

By the way, if you wonder why I was holding my head in last minutes of show, I should explain that I didn’t have a toothache. My earpiece with the audio feed was falling out, and I was holding it in my ear.

I was interviewed by Tavis Smiley a few minutes ago for a show that is airing tonight. Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy follows me. I whack the Vergara decision, he praises it.

Tavis and I talked about Vergara, Race to the Top, the “reform” movement, and why there is so much blaming of teachers for all the ills of society. I gave it my all. It was my first media gig since my knee accident last spring. Working on the blog, listening to readers from across the nation keeps me in tip-top shape, mentally if not physically

I enjoy talking to Tavis Smiley. He asks good questions, and he is very simpatico.

Check your local PBS station.

As someone who has responded many times to Democratic Party fund-raising appeals on the Internet, I now get daily requests to give more. For the past few weeks, I have been responding that I will not give another penny until President Obama renounces Race to the Top and replaces Arne Duncan with someone who supports public schools. I thought I was the only one doing that, but then I got this letter from John Ogozalek, who teaches in upstate New York.

He wrote, in response to a similar appeal:

” Hancock, New York 13783
August 18, 2014

“Dear People Sitting in Fancy Offices In Charge of the Democratic Party,

“Why, why on Earth would I send a donation to politicians who seem intent on harming my family and our kids’ school?

“What a HUGE error the Democratic Party brass has made attacking public schools and teachers. What a bunch of dummies kissing off the support of millions of MIDDLE CLASS voters. (Does the corporate cash mean that much to you??)

“Tell Barack Obama and Arne Duncan that they have FAILED the Democratic Party….they’ve FAILED our children.

“Race to the Top? Farce to the Top!

“Governor Andrew Cuomo is a sellout, too. I’ve voting for Zephyr Teachout September 9 in the New York State Democratic Primary and will strongly encourage every Democratic I know to do the same

“When Democratic leaders are ready to stop sucking up to big corporate money….when Democratic leaders are ready to stand up for families and their schools…..let me know.

“And, no, I will not use my own first-class stamp on your pre-addressed, money grovelling campaign contribution envelope to “help us save much-needed funds”. How many times do I need to tell you that?

John Ogozalek”

Alan Singer compares Arne Duncan’s recent denunciation of over-testing–that is, his own policy in Race to the Top–to George W. Bush’s infamous victory speech in Iraq under a banner saying “Mission Accomplished.”

He notes that Duncan offers a one-year delay in using test scores to evaluate teachers, while the other leading voice in American education proposed a two-year moratorium. Wouldn’t you think a simple phone call between Arne and Bill could have settled the matter? You know, it’s not like states or local districts have anything to say about how or when teachers should be evaluated. This decision belongs to Arne and Bill.

Mike Klonsky knows who is sucking the oxygen out of classrooms and killing the joy of learning: Arne Duncan.

Don’t take Mike’s word for it. Arne confessed. He said he would give schools a one-year reprieve from his testing mandates. One year to breathe deep and suck in some real oxygen. Then he returns to take your oxygen away again. Makes sense, no? No.

In the New York Times, Motoko Rich reported Arne Duncan’s scathing criticism of Arne Duncan’s policy of test-based evaluation for teachers. The story shows that Duncan dreamed up this policy, that he promoted it in Race to the Top, and in the waivers he offered states to avoid the onerous conditions of No Child Left Behind. Rich points out that Duncan borrowed the rhetoric of his most scathing critics in offering states a delay. The story includes an excellent quote from Anthony Cody, recommending that the federal government butt out and leave decisions about teacher evaluation to states and districts.

Kevin Huffman said that Tennessee will continue with Duncan’s policy, even though Duncan has denounced it. “In Vermont, by contrast, the state board of education recently adopted a resolution saying formulas based on test scores would not be included in teacher evaluations.”

It is a good story about the politics of the issue.

The only point missing from the story is that the policy has failed to make a difference wherever it has been tried, that teachers in states like Florida are rated on the performance of students they never taught, and that the American Statistical Association warned that teachers affect only 1-14% of test score variance. In short, the policy doesn’t work. It demoralizes teachers to be judged by a false metric. It has failed. But its advocates can’t bring themselves to admit failure.

I apologize to you, dear readers, in advance, but I must ask you to read the latest balderdash written by someone who works for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. From my days working in the U.S. Department of Education in 1991-93, I know full well that Cabinet Secretaries have several writers and don’t actually write anything themselves. Okay, so this latest statement from Duncan says that there is too much emphasis on testing. Testing is taking the joy out of teaching. It is sucking the oxygen out of the nation’s classrooms. Nowhere does he acknowledge that his very own Race to the Top demanded more high-stakes testing, demanded that teachers’ evaluations depend on the test scores of their students. Nowhere does he acknowledge his cheerleading for VAM–value-added measurement–or his hearty congratulations to the Los Angeles Times when it published the ratings of teachers based on the test scores of their students. Over the past five years, we have learned that what Arne says bears little relation to what he does. In the same breath, as this statement shows, he is both for and against testing. He seems not to see the connection between toxic testing and the policies he has put in place.

Fortunately, two of our best thinkers have written excellent responses to the new Duncan line on testing.

Anthony Cody says that Duncan is responding to the call of Gates for a moratorium (the point is illustrated by an old advertisement for a phonograph that said “his master’s voice”). He also believes the new tack is Duncan’s response to polls that show a decline in support for the Common Core. Cody points out that the most onerous demands for high-stakes testing were initiated by Arne Duncan. What is Duncan really offering, asks Cody: a one-year moratorium on the punishments attached to testing.

Cody writes:

“But a one year deferral does not do much to fundamentally alter the systemic change that is under way. The new Common Core tests are still being rolled out and will be given this coming spring. This only amounts to a one year delay to the time when those scores will be used for evaluative purposes.

“Duncan makes it clear that the purpose of this delay is to allow for a successful transition to the new standards, testing and evaluation systems. There is actually no real change in any of the substance of any of these programs, and he reiterates the Department’s commitment to the new tests.

“If Duncan is serious in his concern about tests are “sucking the oxygen” out of schools, he should begin to listen to teachers when they tell him to stop using these tests for their evaluations and to close schools. Until then, test scores will continue to rob children of the vital learning environments they need, and teachers will continue to object.”

Peter Greene also has a withering analysis of Duncan’s new line on testing.

Greene writes:

“Duncan is shocked– shocked!!– that anyone would think it’s a good idea to make a high stakes test the measure of student achievement or teacher effectiveness. “Growth is what matters. No teacher or school should be judged on any one test, or tests alone –” And here comes the vertiginous woozies (dibs on this as a band name) again, because that would be a heartening quote if it did not come from the very same office which decreed that by order of the federal government high stakes tests must be used as a measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Duncan is talking about this test-based evaluation of students and teachers as if it just spontaneously occurred, like some sort of weird virus suddenly passed around at state ed department sleepover camp, and not a rule that Duncan’s office demanded everyone follow. Has Duncan forgotten that he just made the entire state of Washington declare itself a Failing School Disaster Zone precisely because they refused to use high stakes tests as a measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness?”

And Greene adds:

“As far as Duncan’s other concerns go– a year will not matter. Much of what he decries is the direct result of making the stakes of these tests extremely high. Student success, teacher careers, school existence all ride on The Test. As long as they do, it is absurd to imagine that The Test will not dominate the school landscape. And that domination is only made worse by the many VAMtastic faux formulas in circulation.

[Says Duncan: Too much testing can rob school buildings of joy, and cause unnecessary stress. This issue is a priority for us, and we’ll continue to work throughout the fall on efforts to cut back on over-testing.]

Oh, the woozies. Duncan’s office needs to do one thing, and one thing only– remove the huge stakes from The Test. Don’t use it to judge students, don’t use it to judge teachers, don’t use it to judge schools and districts. It’s that attachment of huge stakes– not any innate qualities of The Test itself– that has created the test-drive joy-sucking school-deadening culture that Duncan both creates and criticizes. If the department doesn’t address tat, it will not matter whether we wait one year or ten– the results will be the same.

Give it up, reformers. The scores on the ACT are flat from 2010-2014, despite the billions wasted on testing, test-based teacher evaluation, and merit pay. Your reforms have reformed nothing. They have failed. Pay attention.

Improve the lives of children and families. Improve working conditions in the school. Demand equitable resources for schools. Reduce class sizes for needy children. Do what works. Throw your punishments and sanctions into the ash-heap of history. It will happen sooner or later.

Start now to build the structures that work for students and teachers.

FairTest_______________________
National Center for Fair & Open Testing
for further information:
Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773
cell (239) 699-0468
for use with annual ACT scores on or after Wednesday, August 20, 2014

STAGNANT ACT SCORES SHOW TEST-DRIVEN U.S. SCHOOL POLICIES
HAVE NOT IMPROVED COLLEGE READINESS,
EVEN WHEN MEASURED BY OTHER TESTS

Another year of flat scores on the ACT, the nation’s most widely administered college admissions exam, provides further evidence that a decade of test-driven public school policies has not improved educational quality.
Reacting to ACT scores released today, 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,’ ‘waivers,’ and similar state-level programs promised that focusing on testing would boost college readiness while narrowing score gaps between racial 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 stubbornness, not meaningful school improvement.” (see http://fairtest.org/common-core-assessments-factsheet)

Stagnant scores and racial gaps have also been reported on the federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the SAT college admissions test.

Schaeffer continued, “The lack of progress toward excellence and equity will provide further ammunition for the country’s growing testing resistance and reform movement. Ending the counter-productive fixation on standardized exams is necessary to create the space for better assessments that actually enhance learning and teaching.” FairTest actively supported this past spring’s opt-out campaigns and other protests that focused attention on testing overuse and misuse.

FairTest is also a national leader for test-optional higher education admissions. More than 830 accredited, bachelor-degree granting colleges and universities now do not require all or many applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores (see http://fairtest.org/university/optional). Eight more schools – Wesleyan University, Old Dominion University, Hofstra University, Temple University, Montclair State University, Beloit College, Bryn Mawr College and Emmanuel College — dropped test-score requirements already this summer. In addition, Hampshire College, which long was test-optional, is now “test-blind.”
– – 3 0 – -

2014 COLLEGE-BOUND SENIORS AVERAGE ACT SCORES
1,845,787 million test takers

COMPOSITE SCORE FIVE-YEAR SCORE TREND
(2010 – 2014)
ALL TEST-TAKERS 21.0 0.0

African-American 17.0 + 0.1
American Indian 18.0 – 1.0
Asian 23.5 + 0.1
Hispanic 18.8 + 0.2
White 22.3 0.0

Source: ACT, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2014

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