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.

This discussion between MaryEllen Elia, then superintendent of the Hillsborough County school system, and Vicky Phillips, the president of the Gates Foundation in Seattle, took place a year ago. Robert Trigaux, business writer for  the Tampa Bay Times, sat down with the two to check on the progress of the Gates Foundation’s investment of $100 million in the Hillsborough County schools.


Trigaux writes:


The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation may not view our country’s stressed public schools as full of Neanderthal teachers trying to bash knowledge into bored, thick-skulled students. Yet the foundation’s leaders do consider most U.S. schools terribly outdated, technologically deficient and bureaucratic morale-suckers in need of overhaul.


That’s why the foundation decided to try to help.


Just a quarter of U.S. public high school graduates possess the skills needed to succeed academically in college. That statistic should terrify this country, given the aggressive rise of economic competition and rapidly improving education elsewhere in the world. Left unchecked, we are slipping in the global race to sustain a quality workforce.


So, as Brian Williams once memorably said on the NBC program “Education Nation,” “Bill Gates is  paying for this program, and we are using his facts.” (Slight paraphrase.)


We know what the Gates Foundation wants: It wants a workforce that is prepared to compete with workers in other nations. Leave aside for the moment whether we are losing jobs because of better-educated competitors or because American workers expect to be paid more than workers in China and Bangladesh; businesses outsource where the costs are lowest. And leave aside as unproven the claim that only a “quarter of U.S. public high school graduates possess the skills needed to succeed academically in college.” Some, like President Obama, say that American workers are the most productive in the world. But leave that aside too. Ask yourself how the United States got to be the most powerful nation in the world if our citizenry is as hapless and poorly educated as Bill Gates assumes.


Here is the stated goal of the Gates’ $100 million: “The goal: to improve student achievement by rethinking how best to support and motivate teachers to elevate their game during the adoption of the Common Core curriculum and beyond.” Summarize as: Raise test scores and implement the Common Core.


Elia has lasted in her job longer than most superintendents, nine years when the interview was taped in 2014 (ten years when she was fired in 2015):


Nine years running the same school system is commendable. Especially in Florida where public schools rarely receive adequate attention or funding. Florida spends roughly half per pupil compared to New York or Connecticut. And Florida teachers remain among the poorest paid in the nation.


Let’s repeat that line: Florida teachers remain among the poorest paid in the nation. That includes Hillsborough County.


What has the Gates grant done? It has changed the way the district evaluates and compensates teachers (presumably with merit pay for higher test scores, though it is not clear in this interview).


And this is a new Gates-funded feature:


A cadre of mentors, one for every 15 teachers, has slowed the turnover of young teachers leaving the profession. And Hillsborough is ahead of many districts in making teacher evaluations more meaningful. Principals observe teachers and give more concrete feedback. And teachers get peer reviews, which can be sticky at times but is considered quality input. All of that means Hillsborough has not had to follow the state’s own strict evaluation guidelines. The foundation also wants to sharply improve the role technology plays in the classroom by providing more easily accessible curriculum support to teachers and better ways to keep students engaged in their work.


So the strategy is to train and evaluate teachers, to give bonuses to some, but not to mess with the fact that teachers are “among the poorest  paid in the nation.” Not our problem.


What are the results so far? Not clear but there is always the future.


Bottom line? Both Elia and Phillips admit it has been a struggle at times but seem satisfied with progress that has outpaced other large Florida school districts.


The trick is most of what has occurred so far is procedural, putting systems in place to improve teaching and, in turn, future student achievement. Measuring that achievement in a meaningful way has yet to happen. Hillsborough hopes it can deliver improved results soon.


Another tough challenge is education’s biggest oxymoron: teacher respect. “One thing we are dismayed about is how we have made teachers feel over the last 15 years,” Phillips said. “We shamed and blamed them. It was unconscionable. We do not want them to feel that way.”


Phillips says celebrating good teachers is part of the recovery plan. So is listening to them.


The Gates Foundation listening to teachers? Now that is an innovative idea!


Apparently the other two districts–Memphis and Pittsburgh–have not made much progress. That seems to be the implication of this exchange:


Elia and Phillips insist big strides are still to come in the remaining three years of the partnership. And even when the seven years are up, Phillips says the foundation and Hillsborough will stay in close touch. There will still be much to learn.


For the Gates Foundation, it has invested heavily in Hillsborough schools. It certainly is hopeful of a return on those funds, one measured by a successful outcome of better student achievement that it can show off to other U.S. school systems.


Similar Gates Foundation grant commitments to school districts in Memphis and Pittsburgh have suffered slower progress, which may make Hillsborough a beacon of best practices.


Hillsborough County has two years left to go in its seven-year grant. Superintendent Elia has been fired but landed the prestigious job as state education commissioner in New York. What ideas will she bring with her from Florida?











Bob Schaeffer of Fairtest writes:


More victories for the assessment reform movement this week as activists move into the policy and electoral arenas: the PARCC consortium votes to reduce testing time; Florida suspends high-stakes for end-of-course exams; Colorado’s governor signs compromise legislation, Wisconsin blocks test-based teacher assessment, and New Yorkers elect many allies to school boards.


National Keep Grassroots Pressure on U.S. Senate to Roll Back Testing Overkill


Federal Opt-Out Bill Filed in Congress


Alaska Seeks Educators for Test Review


California Governor Calls for “Balanced” Approach to Testing, Accountability


Colorado Governor Signs Bill That Modestly Reduces Testing Time


Connecticut Most Teachers Say New Test is a Waste of Time


Delaware Legislators Oppose Governor’s Emphasis on Testing


Florida State Testing Turmoil Continues as High Stakes Suspended for End-of-Course Math Exams


Florida Testing Failures: Let Us Count the Ways


Illinois Should Let Parents Call the Shots on PARCC Test Opt Outs


Maine One Student Testing Battle Won, But the War Continues


Maryland Students Will Take Fewer Tests Next Year


Massachusetts Teachers Have No Voice in Testing, So Why Should They Support It?


New Hampshire Seeks More Testing Flexibility for School Districts


New Jersey Victory for Testing Reformers Over Testing Time


New Jersey Should Not Count PARCC Scores While Fixes Unfold


New Mexico Teachers Burn Test-Based Evaluations


New York Opt-Out Becomes Statewide Rallying Cry


New York May Back Down on Exam Field Tests After Boycott Spreads


New York Test Refusers Win Many School Board Seats


Ohio Teacher to Lawmakers: How Testing Fixation Sucks Life Out of School Day


Ohio Advice for Legislature: Testing is Not Teaching


Oklahoma Extends Exemptions to Third-Grade Reading Promotion Test


Pennsylvania Teacher Stands Tall in Refusing to Administer State Test




Texas STAAR Tests Were Blocking Graduation for 10% of Students


Virginia Computerized Exams Interrupted Three Times by Pearson Testing System Problems


Wisconsin Governor Signs Bill Ensuring This Year’s Test Scores Are Not Used Against Teachers or Schools


Global Policy Report: Reduce Emphasis on Testing to Promote Student Success


Radar Shows Blowback Against Test-Heavy School Policies


Q & A With Sir Ken Robinson: “If I had a kid in school right now, I think I would be opting out, too.”


Accountability From Above Never Works


Poverty, Family Stress Are Thwarting Student Success, Top Teachers Say


Allegheny College Joins 850+ Other Schools in Dropping ACT/SAT Testing Requirements



Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director
FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing
office- (239) 395-6773 fax- (239) 395-6779
mobile- (239) 699-0468
web- http://www.fairtest.org

Testing expert Fred Smith sends out a warning to parents in Néw York City: Pearson field tests begin Monday.

But keep it a secret. No one knows. The scores don’t count because the tests are testing the questions, not the teachers.

Should parents be told? Shouldn’t they give consent? Should Pearson pay the students?


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

Last weekend I attended a joyous family wedding and thus was preoccupied and failed to notice one of the seminal moments in reformer history. This was Michael Barber’s speech on “Joy and Data.” Barber is the chief education adviser to Pearson, and he gave this speech in Australia, hoping to debunk the claim that an undue emphasis on data takes away the joy of learning. Barber’s goal was to demonstrate that joy and data go together like a horse and carriage.

Valerie Strauss wrote about Barber’s speech here, and Peter Greene did his usual sharp vivisection of Barber’s ideology here. Strauss collects some of the witty Twitter responses to Barber’s speech; Greene contrasts it with Pearson’s activities and Barber’s publications.

Strauss summarizes:

“In his speech, Barber argues that the pursuit of data has wrongly been accused of sucking the creativity out of learning but that in his world view, data and joy are the two elements that will together improve learning systems around the world in the 21st Century.”

Greene says that Barber’s speech was a celebration of Oxymoron Day. He summarizes Barber’s Big Speech:

“The future of education will be more joyful with the embrace of data. Also, don’t get things wrong– the data does not undermine creativity and inspiration, nor does it tell us what to do, nor does it replace professional judgment. And I don’t even know how to link to all the places where Pearson has contradicted all of this. I would be further ahead to find links to Jeb Bush condemning charter schools and Common Core….

“If we lump all of Pearson’s visionary writing together, the picture that emerges is a Brave New World in which every single student’s action is tagged, collected, and run through a computer program that spits out an exact picture of the student’s intellectual, emotional and social development as well as specific instructions on exactly what the teacher (and, in this Brave New World, we’re using that term pretty loosely) should do next with/for/to the student to achieve the results desired by our data overlords.”

Greene is struck by the scary thought that Barber actually believes what he is saying; arguing with him would be like debating a religious fanatic.

As I read this contemplation of joy and data, I found myself wondering whether Mike Barber might be a cyborg. So I started reading about cyborgs and became persuaded that thos is not the right term to describe a man who confuses quantification with emotion. The right word seems to be android.

After writing the previous post about the unimpressive results of the Tennessee Achievement School District, Gary Rubinstein decided to take a closer look at the one school in the ASD that seemed to be making striking test score gains: Brick Church College Prep. He calls his post “Follow the Yellow Brick Load.”


The theory of the ASD was that it would take over the state’s lowest performing schools (in the bottom 5%), shake up (or fire the staff), and raise those schools into the top 5% in the state. Without examining the evidence, several states want to copy the ASD.


Rubinstein looked more closely at state data. He made a discovery. Brick Church College Prep was taking in higher-performing fifth-graders. The new students at Brick Church were not the same students who had enrolled in the past. They entered with higher test scores. This is called “gaming the system.”


Gary concludes:


Besides a hard rectangular prism used to build houses, the word ‘Brick’ generally has negative connotations. In basketball it’s when a ball bounces hard off the front rim. A ‘brick’ of cocaine is something you never want to be found in your trunk when you’re pulled over for a traffic violation. And as more and more accurate data about the kinds of lying that reformers do to keep their jobs get uncovered, surely they will start ‘pooping’ bricks.

Gary Rubinstein knows reformers better than most people. He started his career in Teach for America in Houston in the early 1990s and eventually became a career math teacher in New York City. He is one of the most perceptive critics of reform, having started in the early days of the movement.

In this post, he deconstructs the boasts of Kevin Huffman about the Achievement School District in Tennessee. Huffman is now trying to export this model to other states, despite its failure thus far to achieve its goals. Rubinsteinreviews the record of the ASD and finds it mixed at best:

“Just by the numbers, the results are truly mixed. Of the original 6 ASD schools that are currently in their third year under the ASD, two schools have improved, two have stayed about the same, and two have gotten worse.” Some success.

“ASD tries to put all the positive spin they can on their results, but the thing that they try not to mention is that in this past year the ASD got the lowest possible score on their ‘growth’ metric, a 1 out of 5. In Tennessee they take their ‘growth’ scores very seriously. They have been experimenting with this kind of metric for over twenty years and they base school closing decisions on it and also teacher evaluations. So it is hypocritical, though not surprising, that Huffman fails to mention that the ASD, on average, got the lowest possible score on this last year, and instead they focus on the two schools that have shown test score improvements.”

Rubinstein writes:

“There is absolutely no reason why Kevin Huffman should be given the opportunity to pitch his ideas to the Pennsylvania senate or in the media over there. It is like a state trying to improve their economy and asking for guidance from a man who got rich by winning the lottery. Huffman is a person who knows very little about education, but who has been very lucky to get to where he is. He taught first grade for two years, spent a bunch of years working for Teach For America, got appointed as Tennessee education commissioner mainly because of his famous ex-wife, and only managed to keep his job for three years before basically getting run out of town. He has gotten credit for the 4th and 8th grade NAEP gains between 2011 and 2013, but has taken none of the blame for the lack of progress for 12 graders or for the recent drops in the Tennessee State reading test scores. This is a new kind of phenomenon, the edu-celebrity who rises to power, leaves after a few years having accomplished very little, and then making a living as a consultant. Some gig.”

Kevin Huffman, former state education leader in Tennessee, came to Pennslvania to sell the glories of corporate reform as practiced in Tennessee. Peter Greene recounts his claims here.

Huffman wanted particularly to sell the virtues of the Tennessee Achievement School District, which gathers the state’s lowest performing schools into a group, eliminates local control, and converts them to privately managed charters.

As Greene shows, the ASD in Tennessee has been a bust so far.

“So first, strip local school boards and voters of authority over their own schools. Second, allow a mixture of innovation and stripping teachers of job security and pay. The stated plan in Tennessee was that the bottom 5% of schools would move into the top 25% within five years. Doesn’t that all sound great? But hey– how is it working out in Tennessee?

“That depends (surprise) on who is crunching which numbers, but even the state’s own numbers gave the Tennessee ASD the lowest possible score for growth.

“In fact, Huffman forgot to mention the newest “technique” proposed to make ASD schools successful– allow them to recruit students from outside the school’s geographical home base. This is the only turnaround model that really has been successful across the nation– in order to turn a school around, you need to fill it with different students.”

Greene read Huffman’s op-Ed with advice to Pennsylvania

Huffman wrote:

“When I spoke with Pennsylvania state senators last week about school turnaround work, one senator asked me directly, “When you created the Achievement School District, were you worried that it was too risky?” I responded, “The greatest risk would be to do nothing.”

Greene comments:

“Pretending that any senator actually answered that question, the answer is still dumb. Your child is lying on the sidewalk, bleeding and broken after being struck by a car. A guy in a t-shirt runs up with an axe and makes like he’s about to try to lop off your child’s legs. “What the hell are you doing?” you holler, and t-shirt guy replies, “Well, the greatest risk would be to do nothing.”

“Doing Nothing is rarely as great a risk as Doing Something Stupid.

“Achievement School Districts are dumb ideas that offer no educational benefits and run contrary to the foundational principles of democracy in this country. They are literally taxation without representation. Huffman should move on along to his next gig and leave Pennsylvania alone.”

News from Chicago about what happens when the Feds start digging and turn over rocks.

Michael Klonsky tells the story here

The cast of characters: Rahm EMANUEL, Paul Vallas, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, and more.

Business as usual in Chicago? Crony capitalism? A city with a big deficit, so big it closed 50 schools. .


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