Archives for category: Race to the Top

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

In a truly wonderful article in Sunday’s New York Times, David Kirp of the University of California at Berkeley lays waste the underpinnings of the current “education reform” movement. Kirp not only shows what doesn’t work, he gives numerous examples of what does work to help students.

Kirp explains in plain language why teaching can never be replaced by a machine. Although the article just appeared, I have already heard about angry grumbling from reformers, because their ultimate goal (which they prefer to hide) is to replace teachers with low-cost machines. Imagine a “classroom” with 100 students sitting in front of a monitor, overseen by a low-wage aide. Think of the savings. Think of the advantages that a machine has over a human being: they can be easily programmed; they don’t get a salary or a pension; they don’t complain when they are abused; and when a better, cheaper model comes along, the old one can be tossed into the garbage.

David Kirp dashes cold water on the reformy dream. Today’s reformers devoutly believe that schools can be transformed by market mechanisms, either by competition or technology. Kirp, author of “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools,” says that the tools for the improvement are not out of reach and do not depend on either the market or technology. His common-sense formulation of what is needed is within our reach, does not require mass firings or mass school closings, privatization, or a multi-billion dollar investment in technology.

But Kirp writes:

“It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.”

Reformers have made test scores “the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line.” The teacher whose students get high scores get a bonus, while those whose students get low scores get fired, just like business, where low-performers are laid-off. And, just like business, where low-profit stores are closed, and new ones are opened “in more promising territory, failing schools are closed and so-called turnaround model schools, with new teachers and administrators, take their place.”

Kirp says bluntly:

“This approach might sound plausible in a think tank, but in practice it has been a flop. Firing teachers, rather than giving them the coaching they need, undermines morale. In some cases it may well discourage undergraduates from pursuing careers in teaching, and with a looming teacher shortage as baby boomers retire, that’s a recipe for disaster. Merit pay invites rivalries among teachers, when what’s needed is collaboration. Closing schools treats everyone there as guilty of causing low test scores, ignoring the difficult lives of the children in these schools — “no excuses,” say the reformers, as if poverty were an excuse.”

Kirp throws cold water on the reformers’ favorite remedy: “Charter schools,” he writes, “have been promoted as improving education by creating competition. But charter students do about the same, over all, as their public school counterparts, and the worst charters, like the online K-12 schools that have proliferated in several states, don’t deserve to be called schools. Vouchers are also supposed to increase competition by giving parents direct say over the schools their children attend, but the students haven’t benefited.”

As we have frequently noted, Milwaukee should be the poster child for both voucher schools and charter schools, which have operated there for nearly 25 years. Yet Milwaukee is one of the nation’s lowest performing cities in the nation on the federal NAEP tests. Milwaukee has had plenty of competition but no success.

What’s the alternative? It is obvious: “talented teachers, engaged students and a challenging curriculum.”

Kirp points to the management ideas of W. Edwards Deming, who believed in the importance of creating successful systems in which workers were chosen carefully, supported, encouraged, and enabled to succeed by the organization’s culture. The best organizations flourish by supporting their employees, not by threatening them.

Kirp identifies a number of models in education that have succeeded by “strengthening personal bonds by building strong systems of support in the schools.” He refers to preschools, to a reading and math program called Success for All model, to another called Diplomas Now, which “love-bombs middle school students who are prime candidates for dropping out. They receive one-on-one mentoring, while those who have deeper problems are matched with professionals.”

Kirp cites “An extensive study of Chicago’s public schools, Organizing Schools for Improvement, identified 100 elementary schools that had substantially improved and 100 that had not. The presence or absence of social trust among students, teachers, parents and school leaders was a key explanation.”

Similarly, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, “has had a substantial impact on millions of adolescents. The explanation isn’t what adolescents and their “big sibling” mentors do together, whether it’s mountaineering or museum-going. What counts, the research shows, is the forging of a relationship based on mutual respect and caring.

Despite the success of programs cited by Kirp, which are built on personal relationships, “public schools have been spending billions of dollars on technology which they envision as the wave of the future. Despite the hyped claims, the results have been disappointing.”

Kirp concludes that “technology can be put to good use by talented teachers,” but it is the teachers who “must take the lead. The process of teaching and learning is an intimate act that neither computers nor markets can hope to replicate. Small wonder, then, that the business model hasn’t worked in reforming the schools — there is simply no substitute for the personal element.”

David L. Kirp is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools.”

Gary Rubinstein, former TFA but now veteran high school math teacher wrote this article in Education Week about the failure of Race to the Top. I wish I didn’t have to delete any part of it but Internet or copyright protocols require me to. Subscribe to Edweek so you can read it all. And be sure to follow Gary’s blog.

“Years from now, I hope we will look back at Race To The Top as the time we allowed the rich and powerful to conduct reckless experimentation on our nation’s schoolchildren. And they would have gotten away with it too — to paraphrase every Scooby Doo villain ever — if it wasn’t for those meddling educators. Race To The Top is an example of how reform in any field will fail if it is based on an invalid premise. That premise, in this case, is that teachers cannot be trusted.

“We need the Common Core, the argument goes, because when teachers set what they consider to be an appropriate level of ‘rigor’ in their classes, they will usually choose to make it too easy. They do this because either because they are lazy or because they simply believe that students are not capable of challenging work or, most likely, both.

“Teachers are so devious, it must be, that they have figured out ways to get satisfactory evaluations from their supervisors despite all their ‘inputs’ going in one ear of their students and out the other. Administrators are also either incompetent for thinking they are witnessing learning, or they are giving positive evaluations to ineffective teachers for other reasons that only they could know….

“When teachers complain that they don’t want to have this inaccurate component as 50% or 40% or 35%, depending on what state they’re in, they are reassured that ‘multiple measures’ are being used so that, on average, it should all work out. Couldn’t this ‘multiple measures’ argument be used to justify having shoe size as a component of the evaluation score?

“By starting with a bad premise, the ‘reformers’ have been given the power to start destroying public education in this country. Fortunately the momentum is slowing down on Race To The Top since if it were permitted to continue to grow the result would be a massive teacher shortage as the only people dumb enough to become teachers would also be too dumb to do the difficult job of teaching. Without teachers willing to teach, ‘reformers’ would learn that it truly is lonely at The Top.”

Among the conservatives who comment on education, Rick Hess is consistently the most thoughtful. I often disagree with him, for example, about choice and for-profit schooling. But I am often impressed by his thoughtfulness and pleasantly surprised by his willingness to question “reform” dogma.

Here is a column that is a great example of Rick’s insight. In it, he essentially concludes that Race to the Top failed because it told the states what to do instead of asking for their best ideas. He is not the first conservative to question this strategy. States are good at promising to comply with mandates but if their hearts are not in it, don’t expect much.

Rick wisely points out that Race to the Top imposed the Common Core standards and by doing so, fomented the eventual pushback and controversy. Because of Arne Duncan’s eagerness to boast of fast results, he created problems that he could not control. Rick says the same thing about teacher evaluation. Race to the Top forced all states eager for federal funds to adopt a new teacher evaluation program without knowing how to do it. Early returns show that 95% or more of teachers are rated “effective” or higher, so what was the point of the hundreds of millions spent to create those systems.

One might say much the same about Duncan’s beloved turnarounds. They have not produced much in the way of lasting, positive results.

Rick’s conclusion about the $4.35 billion spent on Race to the Top?

“The result: the sugar high that Race to the Top used to fuel reform in 2009 is likely to be undone, and then some, by the legacy of half-baked, federal compulsion.

“What President Obama termed “the most meaningful education reform in a generation” has proven, for my money, to be more a cautionary tale than a model.”

This has been a period of unprecedented turmoil in American schooling. Unless you are in love with the idea of disruption, as many reformers are, there is not much to celebrate.

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