Archives for category: Students

Peter Greene read a post that Checker Finn wrote for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s blog, in which Checker warned parents to be ready for the unpleasant news they would learn about their children’s failure when the Common Core tests results are reported. Peter did not agree with Checker because he thinks the tests are dumb, not the kids. Peter can’t understand why a “conservative” would want the federal government to take control of what all students in the nation ought to learn. He writes: Aren’t Fordham guys like Finn supposed to be conservatives? When did conservatives start saying, “The government should decide what a person is supposed to be like, telling people when they aren’t measuring up to government standards, and using government pressure to try to make them be the way the government says they should be.”


I am sort of in a tough spot here because Checker was my closest friend for many years. We worked together at the Educational Excellence Network, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (now Institute), the Koret Foundation at the Hoover Institution, and we shared many family events. However, when I turned against testing, choice, accountability, charters, and vouchers, our friendship did not survive. I am still fond of Checker, his wife Renu, and his children, but we don’t agree anymore about things we both care about, and we both understand that. I lost a very close friend when I changed my world views, and I am sad about that. But, I had no choice. Knowing Checker, he would do the same. But he didn’t.


I know that Checker has a low opinion of American students and teachers. He went to Exeter and Harvard, and very few meet his high expectations. When he was chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB), which oversees NAEP, he led the creation of the achievement levels so the American public would see just how ill-educated their children were. The established NAEP scale was a proficiency scale from 0-500. Checker thought that the public did not derive a sufficient sense of urgency because they did not understand what it meant to be 350 or 425 on a scale of 500. What they would understand, he thought (correctly), was proficiency levels: basic, proficient, advanced (and, of course, the worst, below basic). He wanted the public to be duly alarmed at the sad state of education. Congress recognized that there is an arbitrary quality to proficiency levels; they still considered them to be “trials.” Experts disagree about how to set them and what they mean. Ultimately, the NAEP levels are set by panels of people from different walks of life who make judgment calls about what they think students in fourth grade and eighth grade ought to know. This is not science, this is human judgment.


Unfortunately, the public didn’t listen to the periodic alarums from NAEP and NAGB. The reports came out, and they didn’t get much attention. But after the passage of No Child Left Behind, the nation went into full-blown crisis mode about the state of education, and a hungry industry grew up to tutor, remediate, and school the students who didn’t pass their state tests. Then the charter industry emerged, and the henny-penny-sky-is-falling movement saw that the way to create a demand for charters and vouchers was to generate a steady narrative of “our schools in crisis.” Suddenly the regular NAEP reports were headline news. Suddenly the public became aware of the number of students who were “not proficient,” even though proficient was a very high bar indeed.


Now we have Common Core, more rigorous than any of the other standards, and Common Core tests, designed to find 70% of American kids falling short of the standards.


This is where Checker comes in again, to warn parents that their children will surely fail. Imagine this: the most powerful nation in the world, with the most advanced technology, the most influential culture, the biggest economy, yet somehow the schools that educated 90% of Americans are terrible. How can this be?


Peter Greene steps in now to take Checker on.


Read the whole thing, but here is the windup:


Finn’s basic complaint is that parents aren’t being forced to understand the Hard Truth that BS Tests prove that their children are dopes, and that said parents should be alarmed and upset. The Hard Truth that Finn doesn’t face is that the PARCC and SBA provide little-to-no useful information, and that parents are far more likely to turn to trusted teachers and their own intimate knowledge of their own children than to what seems to be an unfair, irrational, untested, unvalidated system.


Yes, some parents have trouble facing some truths about their own children. There can’t be a classroom teacher in the country that hasn’t seen that in action, and it can be sad. I’m not so sure that it’s sadder, however, than a parent who believes that his child is a stupid, useless loser. Finn seems really invested in making that parents hear bad news about their kids; I’m genuinely curious about what he envisions happening next. A parent pulls the small child up into a warm embrace to say, “You know, you’re not that great.” A parent makes use of a rare peaceful evening at home with a teenager to say, “I wish your test results didn’t suck so badly. Would you please suck less?” What exactly is the end game of this enforced parental eye opening?


Okay, I can guess, given the proclivities of the market-based reformster crowd. What happens next is that the parents express shock that Pat is so far off the college and career ready trail and quickly pulls Pat out of that sucky public school to attend a great charter school with super-duper test scores. The market-driven reform crowd wants to see an open education market driven by pure data– not the fuzzy warm love-addled parental data that come from a lifetime of knowing and loving their flesh and blood intimately, and not even the kind of chirpy happy-talk data that come from teachers who have invested a year in working with that child, but in the cold, hard deeply true data that can come from an efficient, number-generating standardized test. That’s what should drive the market.


Alas, no such data exists. No test can measure everything, or even anything, that matters in a child and in the child’s education. No test can measure the deep and wide constellation of capabilities that we barely cover under headings like “character” or “critical thinking.”


Folks like Finn try hard to believe that such magical data-finding tests can exist. They are reluctant to face the Hard Truth that they are looking for centaur-operated unicorn farms. The unfortunate truth is that they have dragged the rest of the country on this fruitless hunt with them.

A parent in New Jersey heard the news that Governor Chris Christie had decided to abandon Common Core. Apparently that is good politics today. Governor Christie is against the Common Core. But he favors keeping the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests. Is that good politics? Does it even make sense? This parent doesn’t think so.




He wrote the following letter to legislators:


Dear Senate Education Committee:


Last night I attended a friend’s absurd annual party where we sit around drinking, laughing, and betting on the National Spelling Bee (which this year came to an incredible draw). I ended up down about $10. In this age of spellcheck, I (somewhat facetiously) can’t think of any more useless talent than knowing how to spell, but that did not stop me from lovingly asking my 12-year-old daughter this morning why she can’t be as smart as those kids (she is, even though her spelling is atrocious).


Last weekend in Livingston during the Youth Appreciation Week activities, the student members of the Livingston High School Robotics Club presented ingenious working 3D Printers that they designed and built.


I don’t know whether those kids are ready for college or career. I pray that they never find out until they get there.


The prior Monday, at the Senate Education Committee hearing, we finally heard from some people (all parents of children at North Star Academy [a charter school]) who felt that they had benefited from PARCC. There was a heavier-set gentleman who worked in the community, a father and son, two women who were unable to read aloud the words that were prepared on their behalf on the papers before them, and one lively woman who spoke of being $100,000 in school debt and of the pride and sense of accomplishment that her son felt when he prepared for, focused on, and took the PARCC Exam.


The problem is that the suburban parents of the students who set the standards on standardized tests… they largely do not believe that pursuit of those standards is a worthy goal. I cannot imagine what it is like to live in a community that has been wracked by socio-economic malaise for generations. If the PARCC Exam served that community by demonstrating the rewards that come with focus and goals, then PARCC may have had a sliver of value as one tool in the infinite quiver. However, that sense of focus and accomplishment… that can be learned in music, in arts, in the scientific method of exploration, in language, in mathematics, in athletics, in making history come alive, in studying the dictionary, or in designing and building your own 3D printer. The Pursuit of Happiness and The Pursuit of Excellence are intertwined as both individual and team pursuits. To force anyone year over year over year to reach for the subjective levels of “excellence” set by others seems as silly as it is inhumane (especially when the students of Newark have as of late so boldly set new standards of excellence for public advocacy).


We should thank the Governor for his strong leadership in abandoning the Common Core. It is silly to impose a common set of standards on students across the board because to do so distracts us from actually addressing the needs of each community and each child as an individual. A common set of standards subverts the tried and true simple method of Observation. Profit motives probably got in the way. If we are going to impose standards, they should be actionable standards… standards for facilities… standards for staffing… standards for programming (how about every fourth grader in the South visits the Liberty Bell and every fifth grader in the North visits the Statue of Liberty?). The standard is, “Nothing worse than we would want for our own children.” Every school should be teaching coding and have a robotics club. Every school should have a school library brimming with new books (and yes, even dictionaries). Every school should serve the needs of the Community. These are actionable standards. They are investments that we can ill-afford NOT to make.


The Purpose of Education is to create active and engaged citizens… citizens who may pull from their vast experiences across the liberal arts to address and solve today’s problems while being prepared for tomorrow’s concerns. There is no reason why The People of The Garden State cannot lead the country in those efforts. It will take months of hard work to overcome years of misfeasance and malfeasance. We should all be thankful that we get to start together on Monday. We have unlimited potential for Growth.


Thank you to the Senate Education Committee for its leadership.


Have a great weekend.


Justin Escher Alpert
Livingston, New Jersey


P.S. Perhaps we ought to welcome each of those North Star parents back in front of the Senate Education Committee to testify in the safe space… in their own words… about their real struggles and needs. Perhaps PARCC had only scratched the surface. Government is instituted for the protection, security, and benefit of The People, and they have the right at all times to alter or reform the same, whenever the Public Good may require it. Let us commit to each other that that time is NOW.

We have all heard that students should learn to think critically and to take charge of their learning. Here is a story of a student who did.

Reader Linda Jones left this comment on the blog:

Many years ago, when standardized testing was just entering the mainstream of education, I had the privilege of talking to a junior in high school who refused to take the test.

Now this was in the 70s, so I really mean a long – time – ago — long before accountability became fashionable. The principal was having a meltdown because this 1 student just said, “no” to taking the annual achievement test! Frantic, in the face of such defiance, he ordered me to find out what was going on and “make that student take the test!” I was not sure how one would extract reliable results for any assessment if the participant was not willing to divulge information. It seemed to me that even physical, emotional or social coercion could only produce questionable validity. I complied with the request to find out what was going on. I asked the student why they dared challenge the status quo by not submitting the contents of their mind as required.

The student answered, “I will not take the test because they will use the information from those tests to make decisions about my education and life that they do not have the right to make. (Civil rights?) They do not know me as a person, I am more than numbers on a scale. You can make me sit in a room and place a test in front of me but you can not force me to take a test”.

I have never forgotten the weight of the profound truth spoken that day. Why should anyone submit to such an invasion of their person. Decisions about the educational experience of a any child should be based on the deepest possible understanding of the whole child as the result of a trusting relationship. Not a score on a scale ment to sort and label children for recycling.

Accountability, judgement, sorting, labels – are we talking about human children or sheet metal specs? So much of the brain research points to the power of relationship and joy for optimal learning. If you truly understand relationship, you know that accountability results in destroyed relationship. What if your best friend made you accountable for all of your activity? Once you are asked to account, all assumption of trust evaporates.

You can hear the word “accountability” echo across the land as trust and relationship drain away. Hold the child accountable! No, hold the parent accountable! No, hold the teacher, the principal, the BOE, the state, the congress, the president, the world accountable! Holding another accountable, removes their need to be accountable. It removes the responsibility for their behavior one step away from where it should be. I am accountable, I am responsible, I am empowered to address that with which I have been intrusted.

Thinking and decision making are human behaviors. Human behaviors are learned. The very humanity of teaching and learning is based on trust and the willing exchange between learner and teacher. Stop pointing fingers, stop placing blame! We need to stop acting like we are programed to act involuntarily, helpless, and imprisoned. If you want accountability, look in the mirror because that is where it starts. The child is the least powerful – empower him/her with wisdom. Fear is not a substitute for love. Tests are not gods to whom we must kneel in blind obedience.

I am proud to have known that 70s opt-outer. No test was taken that day or any other day. Teaching and learning ruled the day!

Don’t say, oh, but you don’t understand. I do understand, I got into education because I knew at a very personal level that the system was in great need of improvement. 1966-present. I have never been satisfied with the system, never! I have worked at many different levels, I am still working. I still see passionate, bright, child centered professionals working against the flood of cynical, so called, “accountability” measures. You do not have to have a microscope to see these bright creatures of the profession. However in your effort to eradicate the few “pests”, you may destroy all life and love of learning.

A group of 40 district superintendents in Néw York banded together to denounce Cuomo’s teacher evaluation system. They said that the law should be suspended as it would be bad for education.

Every superintendent should speak up. Cuomo’s plan is not research-based. It is harmful to teachers and harmful to students as well.

A teacher in suburban New York sent the following poem, which she wrote after proctoring the ELA test for her 6th graders:

Empathy on ELA Day

I cringe
As I sharpen
A pencil
The whine and grind
Of the sharpener
Shaving curls of wood
Punctures the thoughts
Of my students
As they write furiously
Filling the booklet
With the whisper-scratch
Of penciled thoughts.

I can taste
The tension
And anxiety.
Faces fixed
With frowns
Instead of the smiles
I usually see.
Hands popping up
In my perfectly
Arranged rows–
A bathroom break
A pencil blunted
A question
I am forbidden
To answer.
All I can say is,
“I cannot answer that.”
I shut off
That nurturing drive
Thinking about how
I usually answer
Hundreds of questions
every day
As a sixth grade teacher.

I announce
“You have ten more
minutes to complete
the test.”
Startled and panicked
Many dig in harder
And write faster
Rushing the clock.
Don’t worry–
Our torture

Janie Fitzgerald

~ April 3, 2014

Peter Greene writes that student protests in Newark have exposed the lie about corporate reform defending civil rights. Thousands of students in Newark, mostly African American, went into the streets to oppose the corporate reform policies of the superintendent Cami Anderson. She was given an assignment by Governor Chris Christie to privatize the public schools of Newark.

The students demand to be heard but no one will listen.

Greene writes:

“As always, the students’ actions were thoughtful, measured and positive. Their message was vocal and clear. Accountability for superintendent Cami Anderson (skewered in one sign as “$cami”). A return to local control. And end to charter takeover of schools that have no need of takeover.

“Imagine you are someone thinking, “I believe that equitable education is the civil rights issue of our era. I believe that students who are not wealthy and not white are not represented and their needs are not respected. I am concerned that without test results, these students will become invisible.”

“Could you possibly have stood in Newark and said, “Boy, I just wish there were some way to find out what black families and students want, or what they think about the direction of education in Newark….

“Reformsters repeatedly claim that they are most concerned about American students like the students of Newark. The students of Newark have given them a chance to put their money where their mouths are, and reformsters have stayed silent. Cami Anderson remains unwilling to so much as talk to the students of Newark, and no leading “reform” voice has stepped up to call her out.

“Newark is a clear and vivid demonstration that reformster talk about civil rights and the importance of hearing and responding to the voices of students and families– it’s all a lie. In walking out, the students of Newark have stood up, not just for their own community and schools, but for students and communities all across the country.”

Thousands of teachers marched in Seattle to demand better funding for the schools.

In Newark, hundreds of students marched and blocked traffic to protest the destruction of their public schools

As historian-teacher John Thompson explains, reform spokesmen were really outraged by John Oliver’s brilliant send-up and put down of our nation’s obsession with standardized testing and its primary beneficiary: Pearson.

Some used the typical manipulation of test data to claim big gains in 1999 allegedly caused by NCLB, signed into law in 2002.

Others must have been embarrassed by scenes of children chanting pro-testing propaganda, like happy robots.

The fear and trembling by reformers showed that Oliver hit exactly the right spots.

Thompson writes:

“Its hard to say which is more awful – the way that stressed out children vomit on their test booklets or schools trying to root inner-directedness out of children. On the other hand, even reformers should celebrate the way that students and families are fighting back, demanding schools that respect children as individuals. Even opponents of the Opt Out movement should respect the way it embodies the creative insubordination that public schools should nourish. …,

“Reformers need to understand two things. First, their obsession with the punitive is showing. The more they condemn others for not understanding that George Bush was right and “accountability must have consequences,” the more they convince the general public that their devotion to reward and punish is bad for children.

“Second, we live in the United States of America, not some sort of command and control system imposed by social engineers. Public education is supposed to prepare students to think and express themselves as individuals. Schools aren’t a farm club for the corporate world. They shouldn’t socialize children into being Organization Men and Women, conforming to dictates from above. Reformers may believe that they know the one right answer, but they should be ashamed of that their policies seek to produce only square pegs for square holes.”

Marissa Smock wrote her final college paper on May 5. She died of an asthma attack two days later. Friends asked if I would post it. Of course.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

This I Believe

Marisa Smock
5 May, 2015
Final Exam
Dr. Shutkin

This I Believe

We are a nation that prides ourselves in coming in first place, from the Olympics to our economy. Yet, if we take a step back and look at how successful this nation really is… we’re actually failing; we’re failing our students in the world of education. According to Person’s article called, “Cognitive Skills and Education Attainment, the United States is ranked number fourteen in the world for our education system. So what is our response to such a ranking?

Yep, that’s right, we create more rules and regulations that apply all schools are capable of coming out with the same results and success rates. Wrong. America is ignorant of the fact that we should follow another nation’s education system (for example, ranking #2 in the world, Finland), and/or ask the students what they would like to change. And if you’d ask me, I’d say our high school curriculum (that’s supposed to prepare us for college), is our nation’s Achilles heel.

I will never forget the feeling of disappointment when I would sign up for classes to take in high school. So many rules on what I could and could not take, required to have five main core classes only leaving one or two spots open in my schedule to finally add a class that I’d like to take. High school should be a place that preps you for the next level of education, not a place where you have no say in what you want to learn and how you want to learn it. According to the National Governors Association, nearly 60 percent of the jobs in the labor market, require post-secondary education, and that number is expected to continue to increase. Our education system is all tangled up in testing and “getting the grade” that we don’t focus on the individual needs and wants of each student. If a student could pick what he/she wanted to learn then drop-out rates would lower, more students would be motivated to go to college, and our educational ranking would possibly get us up to the top in the world. For example, my high required a minimum of two years of a foreign language and although that doesn’t sound like a big deal, it is because the students that were in the class just to take it in order to graduate didn’t try as hard and held back the class from advancing. And not to mention, teachers would actually be motivated to teach because they will finally have students that want to take their class. This system would be similar to that of a four year college which will significantly prepare one for the next level.

If the standard high school curriculum of core classes, placement testing, standardized testing, exit exams, etc., were to be eliminated, not only would the success rate of the school and a student’s personal performance increase but their health will increase. We are or have been a student before and we’ve all had stress over test taking, project finishing, and “busy-work” homework preventing us from activities such as exercise, social gatherings, and sleep. If teachers gave less homework in class and less tests to stress about then students would have the time to balance out their lives with positive outlets and relieve stress. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), American 15-year-olds spent an average of six hours a week on homework in 2012, yet teens from countries like Korea and Finland spent less than three hours a week on after-school work, and when you look at the world ranking of Korea and Finland, they place first and second with the best education system. In my honest opinion there is no way the average American teen spends only six hours a week on homework and performs well. If students were spending only six hours a week on homework then why are there so many sleep studies on teenagers not getting the recommended seven plus hours of sleep a night? Yes, cell phones and social media play a role but we all know it’s the busy work teachers give us that are preventing us from sleeping and relieving our stress. Other than inducing stress and anxiety on students because of excessive amounts of studying and homework, more and more teens are (according to the NSF poll), were likely to say they worried about things too much (58%) and/or felt stressed out/anxious (56%), and many of the teenagers surveyed also reported feeling hopeless about the future, or feeling unhappy, sad or depressed. Depression can lead to suicide which is not something we should brush off our shoulders like it’s nothing.
I believe that our education system is corrupt into thinking that students are just a number and that scores matter over the cognitive and mature development of a teenager (high school student), into a young adult college student. High school needs to allow students discover what they’re interests are by allowing them to select the courses they want to take. Also, testing should be spread out and not determine how smart a student is or how well a teacher can teach for a number on a piece of paper does not represent a student’s full potential.

Works Cited

Ourtimes. “OECD Education Rankings – 2013 Update.” Signs of Our Times. N.p., 10 Apr. 2008. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.

Conklin, Kristen D., Bridget K. Curran, and Matthew Gandal. “An Action Agenda for Improving America’s High Schools.” National Governors Association, 2005. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

“Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment.” Index Ranking. Pearson, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2015.

“Teens and Sleep.” Sleep for Teenagers 4. National Sleep Foundation, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.

Marisa Smock at 4:11 PM

Vicki Cobb, a prolific writer of science books for children, is offended by the simplistic idea that education practices can be “scaled up,” just like manufacturing processes. Standardized testing is the quintessence of “one size fits all.”

She writes:

“Let me explain why. The very nature of “standardized” testing runs counter to the work of educators and to the notion of America as a haven for the individual worth of each human being.

“There are certain professions that are considered “high touch.” Nursing, for example, is about patient care and “care” is the operative word. Nurses deliver human kindness to people who are not at the top of their game. A patient may want a glass of water, but getting it from a robot is not the same as interacting with another human being. Teaching is another “high touch” profession. Children learn because of the relationship established between them and their teacher. They see each other every day. They come to know each other intimately. A good teacher reveals herself to her students — her passions, her standards, her caring for her students. Students at first do their lessons to please their teacher.

“A good teacher ultimately teaches students to do the hard work of learning to please themselves. This is how good students are made.

“Think about it. If you remember the teacher who had the most influence on you, I’ll wager you remember nothing of substance that you learned from him. You remember how he made you feel about yourself and about the learning process. You remember how you worked and how you achieved.

“Independent schools know this and value it. Each student is hand-crafted. There is no mass production and they don’t take the standardized tests. These schools pride themselves on turning out individuals who are “college and career ready.” They know there are no short-cuts, no efficiencies, no one-size fits all.

“In other words, you can’t “scale up” education. Learning is hard work that must be done by each individual. Fortunately, children are born to learn. Just watch what they accomplish the first two years of life. The mass-production of education to take the standardized tests puts the fear of failure into students and teachers. Make no mistake, learning doesn’t happen without failure. When you embark on learning a new skill, you’re not going to be very good at it when you start. Yet the emphasis from the culture created by the standardized test is that only correct answers are acceptable. This is insane! Schools should not foster a fear of failure; schools need to be a safe place to fail.

“Finally, I want to challenge the assumption made by the corporate reformsters that there is a bell-shaped curve of teacher effectiveness. They can’t believe how such a high-percentage of teachers can be evaluated as effective. So they need some kind of process that will produce a bell-shaped curve. Why not use student grades on the standardized tests to evaluate the teachers? How could they possibly think this will separate the wheat from the chaff? Is it because they come from a culture where an external motivator — money and all that goes with it — shapes the behavior of its participants?

“Teaching is a profession that is self-selective. Most people don’t have the patience or interest to spend every day with 25 eight-year-olds. Only a certain kind of person has the talent and drive to develop the myriad interpersonal skills needed to shape the development of these children so they become fourth graders. A great teacher is not motivated by money, assuming she is paid a living wage. Her reward is the light she sees in the eyes of her students. It is pay-back for her revealed humanity, sacrifice and hard work.

“Such workers are to be cherished and supported and yet, (can you feel how hard I’m pounding these keys as I write?) these absolutely wrong-headed politicians are doing the exact opposite by imposing strict rubrics and punishments that are demoralizing teachers, destroying a generation of students and indelibly scarring the ones (both students and teachers) who manage to hang onto their souls as they barely survive.”


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