Archives for category: U.S. Department of Education

Award-winning high school principal Carol Burris reports here on Arne Duncan’s latest foray into New York, where he highly praised the state’s controversial Commissioner of Education John King, disparaged disgruntled educators and parents as a mere distraction, and urged the state to “stay the course.”

Burris, a leader in the effort to expose and reverse some of the worst aspects of Race to the Top, explains why it is important not to stay the course, when the course is leading in the wrong direction.

She writes:

” There is no empirical evidence that rigorous state or national standards will result in higher student achievement or greater college readiness.

“Those who created the Common Core assumed that if we established rigorous standards, student achievement and economic competitiveness would increase. Duncan said, in his remarks at New York University, that it is common sense. Prior to the 15th century, common sense said the world was flat, but that did not make it true.”

She cites research to demonstrate that rigorous standards and high-stakes tests o not produce better education:

“This is not an argument for low standards or no standards—it is an argument that standards reform is not an effective driver of school improvement. Keep in mind that all state standards had high-stakes state tests associated with them. The more rigorous the standards, the more difficult the tests are. As high-stakes tests become more difficult, the curriculum becomes narrower and narrower. The tests soon drive teaching and learning.

“When I hear “I am for the Common Core standards, I am just not for the tests”, I cringe. While thoughtful educators look at the standards through their prism of good practice, test makers look at the standards as the basis for creating “items” that discriminate the learning of one child from another. In the end, the test maker calls the shots. It is no coincidence that the Common Core Standards, PARCC and Smarter Balanced were all born at the same time. In his remarks, Duncan referred to PARCC and Smarter Balanced as the “national tests.”

“The destination of school reform—ensuring that all students have the skills, content and habits needed for college and career success—is the right destination. The challenge is choosing the pathway that gets us there. Good intentions are not enough. If we continue to put our tax dollars and our efforts into “standards reform” because Mr. Duncan and his followers believe it is common sense, we will waste time and treasure.”

Bottom line: Race to the Top is no better than No Child Left Behind. It has no research to support its premises and will come to an ignominious end like its predecessor. Burris hopes that Duncan will change course but his bad ideas seem impervious to evidence.

Laura H. Chapman left the following comment. The word “desperate” to describe this quest for a scientific, data-based means of judging teachers is mine. Something about it smacks of anti-intellectualism, the kind of busywork exercise that an engineer would design, especially if he had never taught K-12. This is the sort of made-up activity that steals time from teaching and ultimately consumes a lot of time with minimal rewards.

Chapman writes:

Please give at least equal attention to the 70% of teachers who have job assignments without VAMs (no state-wide tests). For this majority, USDE promotes Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) or Student Growth Objectives (SGOs), a version of 1950s management-by-objectives on steroids.

Teachers who have job-alike assignments fill in a template to describe an extended unit or course they will teach. A trained evaluator rates the SLO/SGO (e.g. “high quality” to “unacceptable” or “incomplete”).

The template requires the teacher to meet about 25 criteria, including a prediction of the pre-test to post-test gains in test scores of their students on an approved district-wide test. Districts may specify a minimum threshold for these gains.

Teachers use the same template to enter the pre-and post-test scores. An algorithm determines if the gain meets the district threshold for expectations, then stack ranks teachers as average, above or below average, or exceeding expectations.

1. The Denver SLO/SGO template is used in many states. This example is for art teachers—-Denver Public Schools. (2013). Welcome to student growth objectives: New rubrics with ratings.
2. One of the first attempts to justify the use of SLOs/SGOs for RttT—-Southwest Comprehensive Center at WestEd (n.d.). Measuring student growth in non-tested grades and subjects: A primer. Phoenix, AZ: Author.

3. This USDE review shows that SLOs/SGOs have no solid research to support their use—-Gill, B., Bruch, J., & Booker, K. (2013). Using alternative student growth measures for evaluating teacher performance: What the literature says. (REL 2013–002). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.

4. The USDE marketing program on behalf of SLOs/SGOs—-Reform Support Network. (2012, December). A quality control toolkit for student learning objectives.

5. The USDE marketing campaign for RttT teacher evaluation and need for district “communication SWAT teams” (p. 9) —- Reform Support Network. (2012, December). Engaging educators, Toward a New grammar and framework for educator engagement. Author.

6. Current uses of SLOs/SGOs by state—-Lacireno-Paquet, N., Morgan, C., & Mello, D. (2014). How states use student learning objectives in teacher evaluation systems: a review of state websites. Washington, DC: US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences.

7. Flaws in the concepts of “grade-level expectation” and “a year’s worth of growth” —-Ligon, G. D. (2009). The optimal reference guide: Performing on grade level and making a year’s growth: Muddled definitions and expectations, growth model series, Part III. Austin, TX: ESP Solutions

Dear Friends,

Today this blog reached the unbelievable number of eleven million page views!

I had no idea this would happen when I wrote the first post on April 26, 2012.

Thank you for reading. More than that, thank you for participating.

Many of you contribute regularly to what must be the liveliest discussion about education on the Internet. I read your comments and pick out some that are the most interesting, the most thoughtful, the most informative, and the most provocative and post them. It may be the same day or weeks later. The important thing is that I have tried to make this blog a place where the voices of parents, students, teachers, principals, and superintendents are heard, unedited.

The rules of the blog are limited and simple. Be civil. Avoid certain four-letter words which I will not print. Do not insult your host. There are plenty of other forums for all of the above. Just not here.

As you know, the blog has a point of view, because I have a point of view. I care passionately about improving the education of all children. I care passionately about showing respect for the dedicated men and women who work hard every day to educate children and help them grow to be healthy, happy human beings with good character and a love of learning. I care passionately about restoring real education and rescuing it from those who have dumbed it down into preparation for the next standardized test. I care passionately about restoring to all children their right to engage in the arts, to play, to dream, to create, to have a childhood and a youth unburdened by fear of tests. I care passionately about protecting the public schools from those who seek to monetize them and use them as a source of profit and power.

I am in my end game. I will fight to the last to defend children, teachers, principals, and public education from the billionaires and politicians who have made a hobby of what is deceptively called “reform.” What is now called “reform,” as the readers of this blog know, is a calculated plan to turn public schools over to amateurs and entrepreneurs, while de imaging the teaching profession to cut costs.

The people who promote the privatization and standardization of public education are the StatusQuo. They include the U.S. Department of Education, the nation’s wealthiest hedge fund managers, and the nation’s largest foundations. They include ALEC, Democrats for Education Reform, Stand on Children, ConnCAN, and a bevy of other organizations eager to transfer public dollars to private organizations. Their stale and failed ideas are the Status Quo. Their ideas have been ascendant for a dozen years. They have failed and failed again, but their money and political power keep them insulated from news of the damage they do to Other People’s Children.

We will defeat them. We will outlast them. Who are we? We are the Resistance. We are parents and grandparents, teachers, and principals, school board members, and scholars. We will not go away. They can buy politicians, but they can’t buy us. They can buy “think tanks,” but they can’t buy us. Public schools are not for sale. Nor are our children. Nor are we.

As is well known, the U. S. Department of Education zealously believes–like Michelle Rhee–that low test scores are caused by “bad” teachers. The way to find these ineffective teachers, the theory goes, is to see whose students get higher scores and whose don’t. That’s known as value-added measurement (VAM), and the DOE used Race to the Top to persuade or bribe most states to use it to discover who should be terminated.

As we also know, things have not worked out too well, as some Teachers of the Year were fired; some got a bonus one year, then got fired the next year. In many states, teachers are rated by the scores of students they never taught. The overall effect of VAM has been demoralization, even among those with high scores because they know the ratings are arbitrary.

For some reason, teachers don’t like to “win ” at the expense of their colleagues and they can spot a phony deal a mile away.

But the U.S. DOE won’t give up, so they released a research brief attempting to show that VAM does work!

But Audrey Amrein Beardsley deconstructs the brief and shows that it is a mix of ho-hum, old-hat and wrong-headed assumptions.

It’s true (but not new) that disadvantaged students have less access to the best teachers (e.g., NBCT, advanced degrees, expertise in content areas (although as Beardsley says, the brief doesn’t suggest such things matter).

It is true, that “Students’ access to effective teaching varies across districts. There is indeed a lot of variation in terms of teacher quality across districts, thanks largely to local (and historical) educational policies (e.g., district and school zoning, charter and magnet schools, open enrollment, vouchers and other choice policies promoting public school privatization), all of which continue to perpetuate these problems.”

She writes:

“What is most relevant here, though, and in particular for readers of this blog, is that the authors of this brief used misinformed approaches when writing this brief and advancing their findings. That is, they used VAMs to examine the extent to which disadvantaged students receive “less effective teaching” by defining “less effective teaching” using only VAM estimates as the indicators of effectiveness, and as relatively compared to other teachers across the schools and districts in which they found that such grave disparities exist. All the while, not once did they mention how these disparities very likely biased the relative estimates on which they based their main findings.

Most importantly, they blindly agreed to a largely unchecked and largely false assumption that the teachers caused the relatively low growth in scores rather than the low growth being caused by the bias inherent in the VAMs being used to estimate the relative levels of “effective teaching” across teachers. This is the bias that across VAMs is still, it seems weekly, becoming more apparent and of increasing concern.”

VAM in the real world is Junque Science.

This teacher thought she was doing a swell job. But then
ratings came out and she discovered she is the worst
cher in the state! In the past, she has won many
awards, and she loves teaching. In addition: I initiated
and continue to run the chess and drama clubs with no
remuneration. I do get a small stipend for being the
academic games coordinator, running the Mathletes team and spelling
bee for the school, along with keeping the staff and students
informed of enrichment opportunities like academic
competitions. I organize the field trips for my grade
level and a trip for 4th and
5th graders to spend three days at an
oceanographic institute in the Florida Keys.

My own 5th grade
gifted students will end this year with a full understanding of
three Shakespearean plays, as class sets of these and other texts
were secured through my Donors Choose
requests. Saturday, I’ll be the designated
representative picking up free materials for my
school. I write the full year’s lesson plans over the
summer (then tweaking as I go).
She is the victim of the ceiling
effect. Her students got such high scores last year that they can’t
get higher scores this year.
She explains:
Last year, many of my students had had the
highest scores on the state tests possible the year prior—a 5 out
of 5. That’s how they get in to my class of gifted and
high achieving students. Except, last year, they
raised the bar so that the same
5th graders who scored 5s in
4th grade were much less likely to earn
5s in math and reading in
5th grade. Some still DID
score 5s in math AND reading, yet were still deemed not to have
made sufficient progress because they did not score as high within
the 5 category as they had the year before.

It’s like expecting the members of an Olympic
pole vaulting team to all individually earn gold medals every time
the Olympics come around, regardless of any other factors affecting
their lives, with the bar raised another five inches each go
around. In a state where 40% of students pass the
5th grade science test, 100% of my
students passed; but no one (at the state level) cares about
science scores.
Therefore, I suck.
How nutty is this? Why does the
U.S. Department of Education insist that states must adopt flawed
measures? Does anyone at the U.S. Department of Education consider
the consequences of their policies? Do they know anything about
research or evidence? Do they care how many people lives or
reputations they carelessly ruin with their dumb ideas?
Just wondering.

This is a wide-ranging interview with Salon that started as a discussion of the Network for Public Education, then went on to discuss budget cuts, high-stakes testing, Common Core, Race to the Top, privatization, and much more.

Jere Hochman, superintendent of the Bedford Central School District in Westchester County, New York, points out the single biggest failure of the federal government: Congress mandated special-education services but has never paid the costs of its mandate.

Consequently, it is the children who are neediest who are most often neglected and left behind.

He writes:

“The word “education” does not appear in the Constitution.

“Where education is and does belong in the Federal Government is federal law: PL 94-142 now knows as IDEA. That, and civil rights issues, ARE the stuff of federal law and jurisdiction.

“The irony is that while Mr. Duncan et al pay attention to everything else except IDEA and civil rights, the children with the greatest needs are the most unserved.

“The irony is that while Mr. Duncan et al PROMOTE charter schools, vouchers, privatization, and testing every student regardless of disability; they do nothing about those same schools and procedures as they deny and dishearten children with disabilities.

“The irony is that while Mr. Obama et al wants us all to Race to the Top after Mr. Bush et all wanted No Child Left Behind, IDEA is grossly UNDERFUNDED from the 40% “full funding” promised to states at decade ago.

“And, then there’s the Federal Catch-22 – NCLB/RTTT requires annual testing of students in grades 3-8 and HS in English, reading, mathematics, etc. And, they exempt 1% (?) of the students with disabilities from the test while the rest sit in front of exams there is on chance of them having success or feeling good about their learning.

“We’ve always had standards, testing, and data storage issues yet for some reason this has everyone riled up unnecessarily (sorry but this is all fixable) while the real problems go unaddressed. The real problems? Underfunding of IDEA. Subjecting students with disabilities and limited English to standardized tests and double standardized testing. Segregated charter schools.

“Common core standards can be fixed. It’s the federal double standards that need work. And -that’s not news – that’s since 2002 with little outcry.”

Erin Osborne warns in this powerful article at that the profiteers are invading the classroom. They aren’t just selling pencils and textbooks. They are creating business ventures to make millions from controlling and directing the curriculum and testing, supplying the software and hardware that the new curriculum and testing requires.

Tellingly, she titles her article: “Keep Fox News Out of the Classroom! Rupert Murdoch, Common Core, and the Dangerous Rise of For-Profit Public Education.”

Arne Duncan spins a narrative that the Common Core standards mark a brilliant new direction for American education, in which achievement gaps will disappear as every child learns the exact same lessons in the same sequence in every state and school district.

But Osborne sees something else:

America’s most recent education reform, the Common Core State Standards, has divided teachers and parents across the United States. Whether or not the standards mark a step in the right direction for the education system, one thing is for sure. For the first time in American history, businesses are able to freely tap into the K-12 market on a large scale, and they aren’t waiting.

Make no mistake, she writes, the Common Core standards were designed to create a national market for goods and services (Joanne Weiss, tapped by Secretary Duncan to run Race to the Top, said that this was the purpose of national standards). Now, entrepreneurs are devising plans to get rich from taxpayer dollars:

How have the authors proposed we track the success of this reform? Testing, and lots of it. Along with the Common Core come two new major testing consortiums called SmarterBalanced and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Forget your No. 2 pencil; these aren’t the bubble tests you remember from school but adaptive computer testing that is required two to three times a year for every student in every grade. From the SmarterBalanced website, “The full suite of summative, interim, and formative assessments is estimated to cost $27.30 per student … These costs are estimates because a sizable portion of the cost is for test administration and scoring services that will not be provided by Smarter Balanced; states will either provide these services directly or procure them from vendors in the private sector.”

Big business in education isn’t new. Pearson and McGraw-Hill have dominated the textbook market while the College Board, makers of the SAT and Advanced Placement courses, are the veritable gatekeepers to higher education. The entire U.S. education system has been valued at nearly $1.5 trillion, second only to the healthcare industry. As media mogul Rupert Murdoch said after acquiring education company Amplify (previously known as Wireless Generations), “When it comes to K-12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching.”

Until the creation of Common Core, businesses have found breaking into the K-12 market very difficult. States have historically written their own curriculums and standards, buying suitable materials and textbooks as they saw fit. Creating content that was accessible to multiple states was difficult and being able to approach the districts within their tiny budget window was nearly impossible. The nuanced field of state, local and federal funding and regulations that companies are forced to navigate takes years to master and states were the ones controlling the checkbook.

From a business point of view, why go to them when you can make them come to you? Many of the people who financially aided the creation of Common Core have investments in place in companies that would do quite well with the standards implementation. By using financial clout and political connections, billionaires, not teachers, were able to influence the landscape of our education system. If states wanted a chunk of the RttT money, they had to adopt Common Core. If they adopt Common Core, they have to pay for the assessments and proprietary materials that come with it. Products that are “Common Core Aligned” have flung the door to K-12 wide open. Still not convinced Common Core is more about money than education? Check out the American Girl back-to-school accessory set children can buy, complete with a mini Common Core-aligned Pearson textbook.

Osborne notes the number of start-ups that have jumped into the education business, seeing this lucrative market, and she also notes that most start-ups don’t survive:

Given the growing emphasis on technology in the classroom plus Silicon Valley’s affinity for gadgets, there are dozens of start-ups trying to cash in on the new market. Rupert Murdoch’s company Amplify has created its own tablet and Common Core-aligned games. According to CNBC, the amount of venture capital invested in education start-ups quadrupled, from $154 million in 2003 to $630 million in 2012.

Mick Hewitt, co-founder and CEO of education start-up MasteryConnect, said earlier this year, “I would be wrong if I said the Common Core and the dollars around it haven’t driven a lot of the activity for us.” MasteryConnect raised more than $5.2 million in investments, $1.1 million of which came from the NewSchools Venture Fund, which in turn has received more than $16 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation since 2010. Hewitt does not have an education background.

Note the investment in this particular start-up by the NewSchools Venture Fund. NSVF is the epicenter of the for-profit approach to education. Its CEO Ted Mitchell was nominated by the Obama administration to become Undersecretary of Education, the second most powerful job in the Department. NSVF is not known as a friend of public education, but as a source of funding and strategy for charter chains, charter schools, and for-profit ventures.

It should not be surprising, really, that Secretary Duncan picked the head of NSVF to become #2 at the Department of Education. In 2009, he asked Joanne Weiss, who was then the CEO of NSVF to run Race to the Top. Once the Race to the Top competition was completed, Weiss then became Duncan’s chief of staff. Weiss memorably described the rationale for the Common Core this way in a blog for the Harvard Business Review:

The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

This was certainly the first time in history that the U.S. Department of Education created a program whose purpose was to stimulate new markets for entrepreneurs and investment.

Erin Osborne is an active member of the Education Bloggers Network, a group of bloggers who support public education. These were her first reflections on the recent conference of the Network for Public Education.

Peter Greene has a ball with the U.S. Department of Education’s latest fantasy plan: Every child has a civil right to a “highly qualified teacher.”

Who is a “highly qualified teacher”? Any teacher who can raise test scores or anyone who belongs to Teach for America and leaves before the third year of test scores are reported.

It is all super but here is the laugh-out-loud deconstruction of Duncan-style logic:

“Discussion of teaching as a civil right often circles back around to the assertion that poor students have more lousy teachers than non-poor students. This assertion rests primarily on a model of circular reasoning. Follow along.

“A) Teachers are judged low-performing because their students score poorly on tests.

“B) Students low test scores are explained by the fact that they have low-performing teachers.

“Or, framed another way, this argument defines a low-quality teacher as any teacher whose students don’t do well on standardized tests. The assumption is that teachers are the only single solitary explanation for student standardized test scores. Nothing else affects those scores. Only teacher behavior explains the low scores. That’s it.

“Ergo, the best runners are runners who run down hills. Runners who are running uphill are slow runners, and must be replaced by those good runners– the ones we find running downhill. Or, the wettest dogs are the ones who are out in the rain, while the driest ones are the ones indoors. So if we take the indoor dogs outside, we will have drier dogs in the yard. While it rains.

“As long as we define low-quality teachers as those who teach low-achieving students (who we know will mostly be the children of poor folk), low-achieving students will always be taught by low-quality teachers. It’s the perfect education crisis, one that can never, ever be solved.”

This article by Michael Brenner, a professor of international relations at the University of Pittsburgh, is a trenchant summary of the relentless attack on public education launched by the Obama administration and backed by billions of federal and private dollars.

Brenner begins:

“A feature of the Obama presidency has been his campaign against the American public school system, eating way at the foundations of elementary education. That means the erosion of an institution that has been one of the keystones of the Republic. The project to remake it as a mixed public/private hybrid is inspired by a discredited dogma that charter schools perform better. This article of faith serves an alliance of interests — ideological and commercial — for whom the White House has been point man. A President whose tenure in office is best known for indecision, temporizing and vacillation has been relentless since day one in using the powers of his office to advance the cause. Such conviction and sustained dedication is observable in only one other area of public policy: the project to expand the powers and scope of the intelligence agencies that spy on, and monitor the behavior of persons and organizations at home as well as abroad.

“The audacity of the project is matched by the passive deference that it is accorded. There is no organized opposition — in civil society or politics. Only a few outgunned elements fight a rearguard action against a juggernaut that includes Republicans and Democrats, reactionaries and liberals — from Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York to the nativist Christian Right of the Bible Belt. All of this without the national “conversation” otherwise so dear to the hearts of the Obama people, without corroboration of its key premises, without serious review of its consequences, without focused media attention.

“This past week, as the deadline approached for states to make their submissions to Arne Duncan’s Department of Education requesting monies appropriated under the Race to the Top initiative, we were reminded that the DOE has decreed that no proposal will be considered where the state government has put a cap on charter schools. In other words, the federal government has put its thumb heavily on the scales of local deliberations as to what approach toward charter schools best serves their communities’ interests. Penalties are being imposed on those who choose to limit, in any quantitative way, the charter school movement.

“This heavy-handed use of federal leverage by the Obama administration should not come as a surprise. After all, Obama himself has been a consistent, highly vocal advocate of “privatization.” He has travelled the country from coast to coast, like Johnny Appleseed, sowing distrust of public schools and – especially – public school teachers. They have been blamed for what ails America – the young unprepared for the 21st century globalized economy; the shortage of engineers; high drop-out rates; school districts’ financial woes, whatever.*”

Please read the entire article, and you will hear loud echoes of the many voices who have posted here: the demoralized teachers, the frustrated parents, the outraged students. We are the outgunned rearguard. And we will not be silent. Our voices will grow louder and louder as we demand an end to policies that destroy public education and demonize teachers and stigmatize students.

Join us at the first annual conference of the Network for Public Education on March 1-2 in Austin, Texas, where we will strengthen our resolve to stop the juggernaut of privatization.

Margaret Mead said it: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.


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