Anyone who criticizes the current regime of test-based accountability is inevitably asked: What would you replace it with? Test-based accountability fails because it is based on a lack of trust in professionals. It fails because it confuses measurement with instruction. No doctor ever said to a sick patient, “Go home, take your temperature hourly, and call me in a month.” Measurement is not a treatment or a cure. It is measurement. It doesn’t close gaps: it measures them.

Here is a sound alternative approach to accountability, written by a group of teachers whose collective experience is 275 years in the classroom. Over 900 teachers contributed ideas to the plan. It is a new vision that holds all actors responsible for the full development and education of children, acknowledging that every child is a unique individual.

Its key features:

1. Shared responsibility, not blame

2. Educate the whole child

3. Full and adequate funding for all schools, with less emphasis on standardized testing

4. Teacher autonomy and professionalism

5. A shift from evaluation to support

6. Recognition that in education one size does not fit all

Jim Malatras, the director of state operations for Governor Cuomo in New York, recently sent a letter to Merryl Tisch, the chair of the state Board of Regents, and to the outgoing Commissioner of Education John King.

 

The letter asks a series of questions about the future direction of education in New York. It does not mention resources, because the Governor believes that New York spends enough or too much already. It does not mention resource equity, which is unfortunate, since New York has a highly inequitable funding structure. Nor does the letter mention poverty or segregation, which are known to be highly correlated with low test scores. Every standardized test shows a gap between haves and have-nots, but Mr. Malatras does not mention any action that might improve the life chances of children and families living in poverty. A recent report from the UCLA Civil Rights Project said that New York state has the most racially segregated schools in the nation, but that is not mentioned in this letter.

 

Please read the letter and feel welcome to offer your answers to the questions posed in it.

 

 

Sarah Blaine, a lawyer and parent, writes a terrific blog about education. In this one, she describes how her 10-year-old daughter Elizabeth testified at a school board meeting in Montclair, New Jersey, about what’s wrong with the Common Core PARCC test.

Watch the video.

Elizabeth wrote her own remarks and delivered them with poise. She begins by saying, “I love to read, I love to write, I love to do math. But I don’t love the PARCC. It stinks.” When she finished, she received an ovation from the audience.

And a litttle child shall lead them.

This is a wonderful interview in which EduShyster asks great questions of Karen Lewis. Karen responds candidly and knocks every one of them out of the park, as is her way. She speaks about race, politics, and her health.

 

EduShyster begins by asking Karen about the wave of protests that followed the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Karen responded:

 

We don’t really like to talk about race and class, but they underpin both of these issues. I’m 61 years old, which means I went through the original Civil Rights Movement—it’s not just history to me. But I also know from history that the extra-judicial killing of Black men is nothing new in our society. The difference is that we have social media, we have recordings, and so you have a movement of people demanding accountability. What’s been really interesting to me is that you see the same concepts emerging whether we’re talking about policing or education: compliance, obedience and a loss of dignity. I’m going to tell you what to do and if you don’t do it, I’ll just take your life. The same with schools: if you don’t do what I tell you to do, I’ll just take your school. To me, this is a very interesting co-mingling of what justice really looks like and it’s very different for different people.

 

EduShyster says that today’s “reform” movement starts from the assumption that nothing can be done about poverty. She asks Karen for her view, and Karen answers:

 

You have to reframe the question to ask *why not?* Some of these people act as though poverty and wealth inequality just occur naturally, and that we just need to sit back and wait for the invisible hand to work its magic. Well, you look around Chicago and you see that hand isn’t invisible, in fact it’s perfectly visible, and it’s slapping people left and right. This, by the way, is why I think the fight for $15 an hour for low-wage workers is so important, and why I believe that teachers have to get involved in organizations that work for social and economic justice. Even Mayor Emanuel has capitulated on the wage issue. Funny how a re-election campaign can do that.

 

EduShyster notes that many media types refer to Lewis as “confrontational,” but in fact she emphasizes coalition-building. She asks Karen to talk about her style of leadership:

 

I was elected because I started talking about things that no one ever talks about. Typically during teacher union campaign season, what you hear is *I can get you a better raise than the last person.* I’ve been in the system for 25 years—26 now actually—and that’s the way it’s always been. What I kept saying was that *we need to build alliances with our natural allies, who are the parents.* Once we start building alliances with parents, then we stop blaming each other. Right now the system has us blaming them for not doing their jobs and not preparing their kids for school, and has them blaming us for being lazy or not doing what we need to do. Building alliances makes a difference because you’re stronger, because people can’t just pick you off. I’ve always talked about trying to recreate the strength of the union by sharing it with other folks who lack power. Now there are people who still don’t believe in that vision. They’re convinced that if we just enforced the contract, all of our woes would end. Well, that’s crazy. It’s not just enforcing the contract, it’s about building a political force. That’s how we change the laws that govern what happens in our classrooms.

 

 

There is much, much more. Read the interview and enjoy the conversation with a wonderful, brilliant woman who caused a political earthquake in Chicago and far beyond.

 

The board of the Southold, Néw York, school district on the North Fork of Long Island voted not to participate in field testing for state tests as a protest against over testing.

Superintendent David Gamberg–a man of gentle demeanor–is a leader in the struggle to rescue genuine education from the mandates and data-driven decision-making. He is proud of his schools’ arts and music, as well as the garden where children grow produce for lunch.

Gamberg is so trusted by locals that when the superintendent retired in the neighboring district of Greenport, Gamberg was invited to lead both districts. The Greenport board is likely to pass a resolution not to give the field tests.

For their courage and integrity and their love of children, I add David Gamberg and the Southold school board to the honor roll as champions of American education.

Parents at the Julian Nava Academy in South Los Angeles loved their middle school. They worried about their children moving on to a high school where they might get less attention, where the education would not be as good as it had been at Nava Academy. So the parents organized, met with the principal, met with the district administrator, and won permission to open a new high school, called Nava College Preparatory Academy.

 

The school opened this fall, and the parents remain engaged with it. Its first class has 300 students, and it will eventually grow to 1100 students. Note there was no parent trigger, no confrontation between parents and educators. The parents loved the school they had, they wanted more of it, they made their case, and they won.

Peter Greene makes a stab at explaining what Andrew Cuomo doesn’t understand about accountability.

First point is that you keep your promises after the election is over. Cuomo promised to delay high stakes attached to test scores in teacher ratings. After the election, he changed his mind.

The second is that you use tests to learn what’s happening, not to confirm what you believe. Cuomo thinks lots of teachers are failing, and he won’t believe any measurement unless it confirms his prior conclusions.

What Peter doesn’t explain is why presumably intelligent people like Cuomo think that teachers alone are responsible for student test scores. What if the student never does his homework or pay attention in class? What if the student doesn’t speak English? What if her mother has a fatal illness? There are so many variables over which the teacher has no control. Experience has shown that the various teacher evaluation models are fraught with instability and error.

In a shockingly rare move, Néw York’s Board of Regents refused to approve a batch of charters recommended for renewal by Néw York City.

Regents’ chair Merryl Tisch has expressed her desire to expand the charter sector. But each of the schools delayed or denied had serious problems, either with low test scores or an unusually harsh disciplinary policy.

The flap last month over an Albany charter proposal may have made the Regents willing to exercise oversight.

On his blog, Julian Vasquez Heilig reports that the California Charter Schools Association is shocked! shocked! to learn that some charters require parents to volunteer time or pay not to volunteer their time. He discusses a survey conducted by a civil rights group called Public Advocates, which reached this conclusion.

 

 

Apparently the California Charter School Association hasn’t heard of such a thing happening in practice or charter school policy, even though Public Advocates delivered the evidence to the public via parent whistleblowers and publicly available policy documents. Public Advocates’ report documented its year-long investigation into an inequitable and illegal practice by some of California’s charter schools, and calls for charter schools to end requiring payment in lieu of volunteer hours. Public Advocates is demanding that the state take immediate action to stop the practice and increase its oversight of charter schools more generally.

 

Heilig quotes the story in the San Francisco Chronicle:

 

At least 170 California charter schools are violating the state Constitution by requiring parents to volunteer up to 100 hours a year if they want their kids to participate in field trips and other activities or remain enrolled in the school, according to civil rights lawyers in a report released Thursday.

 

A survey of 555 California charter schools — about half of all charters in the state — found that nearly a third impose family volunteer time, with some allowing parents to pay $5 to $25 per hour to buy their way out of the commitment.

 

“One of the reasons it’s so alarming to us is it’s punishing a kid for something that’s not the kid’s fault,” said Hilary Hammel, attorney at the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates and lead author on the report.

 

Hammel cited an Oakland parent who found on the first day of seventh grade that her son was not enrolled at his charter school because she had not completed the required volunteer hours the previous year. She was told she could either pay $300 on the spot or go buy three large boxes of paper.

 

She went and bought $80 worth of paper and returned to enroll her son.

 

Does that happen in public schools too?

 

 

 

 

Marian Wang of ProPublica writes that Néw York’s First Deputy Comptroller, Pete Grannis, can’t understand why charter school regulators in the state are uninterested in charter school accountability for public funds.

Grannis has contacted state and city officials about his concerns and received no response.

“Pete Grannis, New York State’s First Deputy Comptroller, contacted ProPublica after reading our story last week about how some charter schools have turned over nearly all their public funds and significant control to private, often for-profit firms that handle their day-to-day operations. The arrangements can limit the ability of auditors and charter-school regulators to follow how public money is spent – especially when the firms refuse to divulge financial details when asked.

“Such setups are a real problem, Grannis said. And the way he sees it, there’s a very simple solution. As a condition for agreeing to approve a new charter school or renew an existing one, charter regulators could require schools and their management companies to agree to provide any and all financial records related to the school.

“Clearly, the need for fiscal oversight of charter schools has intensified,” he wrote in a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last week. “Put schools on notice that relevant financial records cannot be shielded from oversight bodies of state and local governmental entities.”

“It’s a plea that Grannis has made before. Last year, he sent a similar letter to the state’s major charter-school regulators – New York City’s Department of Education, the New York State Education Department, and the State University of New York.

“He never heard back from any of them. “No response whatsoever,” Grannis said. Not even, he added, a “‘Thank you for your letter, we’ll look into it.’ That would have been the normal bureaucratic response….”

“To Grannis, though, his efforts aren’t about politics. His office is “agnostic on charters,” as he put it. His office also audits the finances of traditional public-school districts, he pointed out.

“We’re the fiscal monitors. We watch over the use or misuse of public funds,” Grannis said. “This isn’t meant to be anti-charter. Our job is not to be pro or anti.”

His job is to monitor the use of public funds, wherever it goes. Apparently no one else cares.

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