Reader Jennifer Horowitz writes about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to base 50% of teachers’ evaluation on state test scores (as opposed to the current 20%):

 

 

Here’s what’s INEFFECTIVE about the plan to me:
It doesn’t matter if you have 15 kids or 35.
It doesn’t matter if your students had any books read to them before Kindergarten.
It doesn’t matter if their parents have them do homework or ensure a good night’s sleep.
It doesn’t matter if assessment cut scores are so high that no nation has ever achieved excellent results with expectations that high.
It doesn’t matter if the district provides high quality professional development for the faculty.
It doesn’t matter if the classroom has enough books, not to mention desks, for all the students.
It doesn’t matter how many students learn to be kind, helpful, attentive, resilient or respectful.
It doesn’t matter how many phenomenal pieces of literature or symphonies or theories the teacher has shared with the class.
It doesn’t matter how many children learned the values of voting and debate.
It doesn’t matter if the child or parents value education and care about classroom success.
It doesn’t matter if the state cuts school district budgets so much that dozens or hundreds of faculty members have been let go and programs have been cut to the bare bones.
Teachers should be rated based on how students perform on a test for a few days each year.
What intelligent person would start a career in a profession like that?
Who will be the teachers of tomorrow?

 

 

In the discussion draft for the revision of No Child Left Behind, Senator Lamar Alexander posed two options for testing: 1) grade span testing (once in elementary school, once in middle school, once in high school); 2) the status quo, that is, annual testing in grades 3-8. Politico reports this morning that there is some interest in a third option for federally-mandated testing: Let states and districts give assessments of their own choosing and their own timing.

 

A THIRD TESTING OPTION? Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been considering a pair options for how to approach testing in No Child Left Behind – but additional language in Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander’s NCLB discussion draft raises the possibility of another option, by opening the door for districts to develop their own set of assessments. Alexander’s language gives them the option to go that route, if they meet a set of requirements, whether Congress keeps NCLB mandates intact or gives states more flexibility on testing. Districts technically have the same option now, but it never caught on. Might it catch on in today’s climate, given the public backlash against standardized testing? Depends on whom you ask. Anne Hyslop, a senior policy analyst at Bellwether Education Partners, wrote recently [http://bit.ly/1ByO4rh] that it could become ‘an irresistible option’ for many districts. But Gary Phillips, vice president at the American Institutes for Research, said ‘this is one of those concepts that’s theoretically desirable, but practically impossible.’ It’s just too difficult, and too pricey, for districts to develop their own assessments, he said.

 

 

Here is a fourth option: Let state and districts make the choice to allow teachers to write their own tests and to supplement them by sampling, like NAEP testing. Those who believe so passionately in “school choice” should support the right of states and districts to “choose” when and how to test, including the option of letting teachers test what they have taught.

 

 

A reader who goes by the name “Old Teacher” offered this update on events in Nevada:

 

 

Here in Nevada our governor has proposed a tax hike, not to support our existing schools, but rather, to support charter schools, vouchers, and best of all, a new statewide achievement district. The proposed achievement district comes with all the latest reformy goodness; freedom from collective bargaining, the ability to fully utilize TFA instead of fully trained teachers, and, the highest paid administrator in the state, a man rejected by two districts, who by law can not evaluate any educator or administrator, Pedro Martinez. Because such goodness is brought to us by near one percent millionaires of Hispanic descent, Messrs Sandoval and Martinez surely have the best interests of minorities at heart. The fact that Mr. Martinez is an accountant and has been trained by the Broad academy guarantees the success of this venture. The only saving grace of this proposed fiasco is that Nevada’s nut wing legislature will not likely approve taxes for anything, even their own brand of graft. The schools will continue to suffer here, but the vultures won’t get to start early either. They will have to wait until our slow agonizing death ends.

Leon Wieseltier is one of our most brilliant intellectuals. He was the literary editor of “The Néw Republic” for many years, where he wrote essays on culture, politics, and foreign affairs. He quit recently as part of a mass exodus by the magazine’s staff in response to changes made by the new publisher, who was one of the founders of Facebook. This essay is a protest against the changes wrought by disruption. He begins by lamenting the disappearance of small bookstores and record stores and goes from there to a broader critique of technology and culture.

He opens thus:

“Amid the bacchanal of disruption, let us pause to honor the disrupted. The streets of American cities are haunted by the ghosts of bookstores and record stores, which have been destroyed by the greatest thugs in the history of the culture industry. Writers hover between a decent poverty and an indecent one; they are expected to render the fruits of their labors for little and even for nothing, and all the miracles of electronic dissemination somehow do not suffice for compensation, either of the fiscal or the spiritual kind. Everybody talks frantically about media, a second-order subject if ever there was one, as content disappears into “content.” What does the understanding of media contribute to the understanding of life? Journalistic institutions slowly transform themselves into silent sweatshops in which words cannot wait for thoughts, and first responses are promoted into best responses, and patience is a professional liability. As the frequency of expression grows, the force of expression diminishes: Digital expectations of alacrity and terseness confer the highest prestige upon the twittering cacophony of one-liners and promotional announcements. It was always the case that all things must pass, but this is ridiculous.

“Meanwhile the discussion of culture is being steadily absorbed into the discussion of business. There are “metrics” for phenomena that cannot be metrically measured. Numerical values are assigned to things that cannot be captured by numbers. Economic concepts go rampaging through noneconomic realms: Economists are our experts on happiness! Where wisdom once was, quantification will now be. Quantification is the most overwhelming influence upon the contemporary American understanding of, well, everything. It is enabled by the idolatry of data, which has itself been enabled by the almost unimaginable data-generating capabilities of the new technology. The distinction between knowledge and information is a thing of the past, and there is no greater disgrace than to be a thing of the past. Beyond its impact upon culture, the new technology penetrates even deeper levels of identity and experience, to cognition and to consciousness. Such transformations embolden certain high priests in the church of tech to espouse the doctrine of “transhumanism” and to suggest, without any recollection of the bankruptcy of utopia, without any consideration of the cost to human dignity, that our computational ability will carry us magnificently beyond our humanity and “allow us to transcend these limitations of our biological bodies and brains. . . . There will be no distinction, post-Singularity, between human and machine.” (The author of that updated mechanistic nonsense is a director of engineering at Google.)”

Joshua Starr, superintendent of schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, may not get a new contract from his board. The reasons are unclear. The Washington Post wrote about Starr’s possible ouster yesterday.

Starr won national attention by his outspoken opposition to evaluating teachers by test scores; Montgomery County has a successful teacher evaluation system called Peer Assistance and Review.

Starr called for a three-year moratorium on high-stakes standardized testing.

At present, a majority of the board is not willing to renew his contract.

I am not a data-driven person. I am driven by ideas, reflection, hopes, worries, idealism, passion, and, yes, rage at injustice, especially when the powerful crush the weak.

 

But I am informed by data, as we all should be. I want to know my weight, my temperature, my blood pressure, my social security number, and gazillion passwords. What I do with my data is my business, not anyone else’s.

 

Today, the datum that just got me excited was that this blog has had 17 million page views since its inception on April 26, 2012.

 

That doesn’t mean the blog has 17 million readers. It means that on that many occasions, someone read something posted on the blog.

 

The blog has turned into something far more time-demanding than what I originally intended. It is my chief preoccupation. But I love doing it because I learn so much every day from readers’ comments, and I love to share what I know. More than that, I have heard from many readers that the blog is their most important source of information about education. More than that, I use the posts on the blog to help build a movement against the warped policies of our day: high-stakes testing and school privatization. Both political parties have bought into the zombie notion that children must be subjected every year to hours and hours of standardized testing. Do they ever ask why? On this blog, we ask why daily. We ask why students in most private schools seldom encounter a standardized test except when they enter and when they leave. We ask why the children of Finland do very well on international tests without ever taking a standardized test in school. We ask why our state and federal leaders are ignoring the rampant fraud and corruption in the deregulated, unsupervised charter sector. We ask why politicians continue to push vouchers even though there is no evidence that voucher schools offer better education nor do they “save” children from “failing” public schools.

 

I will take this opportunity first, to thank readers who so graciously permit me to turn their comments into posts as well as readers who send me links to stories in their own home city or state. And second, I will restate the rules of the blog: one, do not insult the host (me), it’s my blog and I will show you the door if you insult me in my living room; two, no cuss words other than hell and damn; third, no wacky conspiracy theories about 9/11 or Sandy Hook (there are websites for those speculations, this is not one of them).

 

 

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee is conservative; he believes in state and local control of education. He doesn’t think that Washington knows best. He favors legislation to encourage states but not to compel them to do what Washington wants. In this article, he expressed his strong opposition to Arne Duncan’s favorite initiative, evaluating teachers by test scores and offering waivers only to states that agree to do it. Let me be clear that I disagree with his praise for the Teacher Incentive Fund (merit pay), because merit pay has never worked anywhere. The TIF was a waste of $1 billion, and now more money will be thrown at a failed policy. I have no doubt that I won’t like whatever is in the final bill to support privatization and profiteering, but I like Alexander’s clear dismissal of federally mandated teacher evaluation, which is a poison pill invented by Duncan and opposed by every major scholarly organization (the American Statistical Association, the American Education Research Association, the National Academy of Education). Leaving it (teacher and principal evaluation) to the states raises the possibility that some states will be even more heavy-handed and punitive than Duncan, but it’s hard to imagine how.

 

He said, in part:

 

Given all of the great progress that states and local school districts have made on standards, accountability, tests, and teacher evaluation over the last 30 years—you’ll get a lot more progress with a lot less opposition if you leave those decisions there.

 

I think we should return to states and local school districts decisions for measuring the progress of our schools and for evaluating and measuring the effectiveness of teachers.

 

I know it is tempting to try to improve teachers from Washington. I also hear from governors and school superintendents who say that if “Washington doesn’t make us do it, the teachers unions and opponents from the right will make it impossible to have good evaluation systems and better teachers.”

 

And I understand what they’re saying. After I left office, the NEA watered down Tennessee’s Master Teacher program.

 

Nevertheless, the Chairman’s Staff Discussion draft eliminates the Highly Qualified Teacher requirements and definition, and allows states to decide the licenses and credentials that they are going to require their teachers to have.

 

And despite my personal support for teacher evaluation, the draft doesn’t mandate teacher and principal evaluations.

 

Rather, it enables States to use the more than $2.5 billion under Title II to develop, implement, or improve these evaluation systems.

 

In a state like Tennessee, that would mean $39 million potentially available for continuing the work Tennessee has well underway for evaluating teachers, including linking performance and student achievement.

 

In addition, it would expand one of the provisions in No Child Left behind – the Teacher Incentive Fund that Secretary Spellings recommended putting into law and that Secretary Duncan said, in testimony before the HELP Committee in January 2009, was “One of the best things I think Secretary Spellings’ has done…the more we can reward excellence, the more we can incentivize excellence, the more we can get our best teachers to work in those hard-to-staff schools and communities, the better our students are going to do.”

 

And third, it would emphasize the idea of a Secretary’s report card—calling considerable attention to the bully pulpit a secretary or president has to call attention to states that are succeeding or failing.

 

For example, I remember President Reagan visited Farragut High School in Knoxville in 1984 to call attention to our Master Teacher program. It caused the Democratic speaker of our House of Representatives to say, “This is the American way,” and come up with an amendment to my proposal that was critical to its passage. President Reagan didn’t order every other state to do what Tennessee was doing, but the president’s bully pulpit made a real difference.

 

Thomas Friedman recently told a group of senators that one of his two rules of life is that he’s never met anyone who washed a rented car.

 

In other words, people take care of what they own.

 

My experience is that finding a way to fairly reward better teaching is the holy grail of K-12 education—but Washington will get the best long-term result by creating an environment in which states and communities are encouraged, not ordered, to evaluate teachers.

 

Let’s not mandate it from Washington if we want them to own it and make it work.

 

 

Anthony Cody will speak on February 4 at 5:15 pm at the University of Georgia Chapel.

Cody is an experienced educator, a fearless blogger, co-founder of the Network for Public Education, and author of the recently published “The Educator and the Oligarch,” about his public debate with the Gates Foundation.

I was invited to write an article for the New York Daily News reviewing Governor Cuomo’s recently announced “opportunity agenda” for education.

 

Here is what I wrote.

 

The Daily News published other articles praising the Governor’s plans for toughening teacher evaluations, adding more charters, and introducing voucher legislation. Given the limitation of 800 words, I was unable to write about the noxious effects of vouchers, which have succeeded nowhere.

 

It is an agenda that will subject the state’s children to more testing, more test prep, and less of everything that they enjoy about school.

 

It is an agenda that will ignores expert opinion about the harmful effects of judging teachers by the test scores of their students.

 

It is an agenda that is innately hostile to public education.

 

 

Peter Greene read an article in Forbes about the “nine things you need to know about school choice,” and he uses it to critique the current narrative about the wonders of choice.

 

Yes, there are more charters than ever before. No, charters do not have higher test scores than public schools. Yes, there are more students using vouchers than ever before, but they account for only 100,000 students out of 50 million, a tiny percentage. Eight states don’t allow charters (though there are efforts in some of the eight to authorize charters).

 

He sees the article as evidence of the “long game” of choice proponents:

 

Just keep insisting something is true long enough (public schools are failing, vaccines are dangerous, fluoride makes you communist, The Bachelor is a show about finding true love, charter schools are popular and successful) and eventually it enters Conventional Wisdom as, at a minimum, a “valid alternative view.” It’s not necessary for the things to be true, or even supported by facts– just keep repeating them uncritically and without argument, and eventually, they stick.

 

I beg to differ. Lies don’t stick over the long term if critics like Peter continue to expose them as lies. Over the long term, facts prevail. The Big Lie technique ultimately is revealed, and people recognize it as such. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t keep this blog going day after day.

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