Archives for the month of: September, 2012

Julie Cavanaugh is a special education teacher at PS 15 in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

She was one of the makers of the documentary “The Inconvenient Truth Behind ‘Waiting for Superman'”

She now reviews “Won’t Back Down” and explains what is really necessary to reform schools today.

The review in the New York Times of the anti-union film makes an important point: when people loudly insist that “it’s all about the kids,” you can be sure that it’s not.

As A.O. Scott puts it, “A movie that insists, repeatedly and at high volume, that ‘it’s all about the kids’ might just cause you to wonder what else it is about, and this one is not shy about showing its ideological hand.”

Surely, you have noticed how often the corporate reformers use terms like “children first,” “students first,” “children come first,” when they have something else in mind.

For one thing, they want to persuade the public that teachers are not interested in the well-being of their students. Only the corporations and the mayor really care about your children, not their teachers.

They have very deliberately claimed brand ownership of the word “reform,” even when they are peddling GOP dogma that’s forty years old.

More standardized testing=reform.

More shuttered schools=reform

Lower standards for teachers=reform

More private management=reform.

For-profit schools=reform.

What do they really want?

I try not to mix into partisan politics, but sometimes it is unavoidable. I support public education, and I oppose those trying to privatize it for fun and/or profit.

For example, Tony Bennett in Indiana should be defeated, as should Tom Luna in Idaho. These two state superintendents are favored by corporate reformers and can be counted on to continue welcoming for-profit enterprises to take over public schools and children.

In Idaho, a solid red state, there is an educator running against Luna. The Luna forces typically paint Clayton Trehal as a tool of the “union bosses,” but neglect to acknowledge that Idaho is a right to work state where the teachers’ union is weak.

Luna is a favorite of corporations and vendors, but that’s ok.

Trehal is an online teacher who opposes for-profit management of online instruction. He says that what students remember best about his classes are the essays he assigned, not the tests they took.

As a Democrat running in Idaho, he knows he is in an uphill battle. But his goal is to educate the public. He is a teacher. That’s what teachers do.

In response to an earlier post, a teacher in Connecticut writes:

My wife’s school here in CT has developed an international program in which they take on and board a large number of Chinese students, whose parents definitely think it is worthwhile to get them out of Chinese schools. One disturbing thing that the teachers have noticed is how bereft of critical thinking skills they are. When asked higher order thinking questions in class, they freeze up and ask “what do you want me to say?”

Kevin Welner is director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

If you open the link to this article, you can find Welner’s links to research and contrary views on the issue.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2012 8:09 PM

Teacher evaluation and Seamus
By Kevin Welner
Since it’s campaign season, I figured it might be fun to respond to this question using an extended metaphor, with teacher evaluation policy playing the role of Gov. Romney’s Irish Setter, Seamus, and policy makers (including Pres. Obama’s EdSec Arne Duncan) playing the role of Gov. Romney.
In reading on, please remember that I’m trapped here in a “swing state,” subjected to a barrage of distorted photos of candidates overlaid with announcers’ voices portending our collective doom should we vote for the other guy. So bear with me for a bit; hopefully this will resonate even with the non-brain-addled in the non-swing states.
The Seamus story is well-known, at least to regular readers of Gail Collins’ column in the New York Times. The Romneys went on a family vacation, which included a 12-hour drive to Canada (Lake Huron). Seamus, the family dog, was put in his crate and strapped to the roof of the station wagon. The trip was carefully planned, down to specified rest stops. But Seamus fouled up the plans a bit when he expressed his displeasure in liquid fecal form, thus soiling himself and his surroundings. So Mitt Romney had to stop and hose down the dog, crate and car. They all then continued on their way. Seamus survived and, according to Gov. Romney, he “loves fresh air” and continued to like car rides, even up there in his crate.
In writing this, I can’t help but note that this all took place in the summer of 1983—the same year as “A Nation at Risk.” Coincidence?? (I’ve really got to get away from these campaign commercials…)
So how is teacher evaluation akin to Seamus? Just as the Romney family and Seamus needed to get to Canada one way or the other, we can all agree that we need good systems of teacher evaluation. The question is how we get there. Our “reformer” friends have come up with an efficient plan: use statistical growth models based on students’ test scores. Let’s strap teacher evaluation to the kids’ tests! What could go wrong?
Plenty, it turns out. This option comes with many serious weaknesses and unintended consequences. The research tells us that “lawmakers should be wary of approaches based in large part on test scores: the error in the measurements is large—which results in many teachers being incorrectly labeled as effective or ineffective; relevant test scores are not available for the students taught by most teachers, given that only certain grade levels and subject areas are tested; and the incentives created by high-stakes use of test scores drive undesirable teaching practices such as curriculum narrowing and teaching to the test.”
But since nobody can come up with an alternative that is as efficient in generating concrete numerical rankings, we stumble (or drive) forward. Even when the brown muck starts to drip down the windows, we merely perform a quick clean-up and continue on our way.
Gov. Romney’s car trip was well-planned and was executed with an unyielding emphasis on efficiency. And at the end of the day, he and his family made their way to Lake Huron. But, notwithstanding Gov. Romney’s protestations to the contrary, it seems unlikely that Seamus or any other dog in that situation would come back wanting more. Yes, the careful planning and efficiency of the trip were remarkable, but there are less stressful and unpleasant ways for a dog to make that 12-hour trip—ways that aren’t as likely to lead to undesirable, unintended consequences.
This, lord help me, is what I’m thinking about when I consider the current push for more effective teacher evaluation systems. My conclusion is we should indeed go on that trip. But let’s invite our teachers and their evaluation systems inside the station wagon, and let’s plan the trip with a complete understanding of how best to get from Point A to Point B.
Last week, the NEPC published a 3-page brief explaining the importance of balanced evaluation approaches that include all stakeholders in decision-making about evaluation systems. Not easy. Maybe not even efficient. But we won’t have to stop mid-way through to get out the hose.

Mike Fair, a Republican legislator in South Carolina, worries about the cost and complexity of the new standards and tests.

When you read about the heavy spending that lies ahead, in a time when school budgets are being slashed and teachers laid off, you can see why the Common Core national standards/national tests movement is warmly endorsed by the technology industry.

This is an excerpt:

School districts will need enough computers to allow almost every student to take multiple annual exams. These computers must be suitable for the “innovative” test items and must be maintained and upgraded. Add to this the cost of increased IT staffing, and you begin to realize the problems of buying a Porsche test on a Ford budget.

A recent study projects that states will collectively spend $2.8 billion and $6.9 billion over seven years on technology alone for Common Core. And the authors cautioned that they were accepting the consortiums’ cost estimates at face value; analyst Ze’ev Wurman has predicted that South Carolina’s annual testing costs may skyrocket to $100 per student, compared with $12 per student today.

School districts that can’t afford substantial new technology will have to rotate students through the computer labs; Smarter Balanced recommends a 12-week testing window. But that creates significant security problems — how to keep the earlier-tested students from talking to the later-tested ones? — as well as inequity in results. The students tested late in the window will have almost three more months of instruction than those first out of the gate. Might this give an unfair advantage? And might teachers, whose evaluations depend on these test scores, resent having their students put at the front of the testing window?

These problems will have to be worked out, assuming the whole concept of nationalized standards, tests and curricula doesn’t collapse under its own weight. When that collapse or implosion happens, I hope it is before too much damage is done to our budgets, our schools and our children.

CNN contributor Steve Perry is an ardent critic of unions and everyone else who is not supportive of the corporate reform movement.

Bruce Adams of Buffalo took the time to review Dr. Perry’s recent book.

In response to a post about standards for pre-schoolers, this reader wrote:

As far as I am concerned, with all the variety of disabilities under special education, English language learners, 504, medical plans, modifications and accommodations, full inclusion, differentiation, and now the new term: responsive teaching and any other new fad coming our way…this is an impossible feat and the Common Core State Standards will just widen the achievement gap even more.

But, maybe that is the purpose and then they can close down even more schools and further segregate the children into other categories and sub-categories….I guess the levels within the American caste system are yet to be determined.

We have larger class sizes, less supports, more children with a wider range of abilities in the same classrooms with limited supplies…..even the superman or woman we are all waiting for would fly away ASAP. They do not understand what we deal with everyday, so they have no idea what they are asking us to do. This is a recipe for failure.

Parents and teachers know that high-stakes testing has negative consequences on students and the quality of their education. It causes narrowing of the curriculum, so students have less instruction in history, civics, the arts, and even physical education. Some schools have eliminated recess to make more time for test prep.

Anthony Cody published a guest column by Rog Lucido, an experienced teachers who is co-founder of Educators and Parents Against Testing Abuse (EPATA). In this excellent article, he describes the mental abuse of children. He writes: What is happening to many students is often not immediately apparent to them or their parents/guardians. It is insidious. Students are being seduced into believing they are just ‘going to school’, when in fact their hopes, dreams and aspirations are being taken from them by the systemic focus on high-stakes testing.

Jay Matthews has written about education for many years in the Washington Post, where he blogs regularly. A few years ago, he wrote a laudatory book about KIPP.

It is always interesting when Jay steps outside the reform agenda and criticizes it. For example, he shouted “whitewash” when the D.C. Inspector General swept the Rhee cheating scandal under the rug a few months ago (Jay’s wife headed the investigation of the scandal at USA Today).

Now, he writes that we should we wary about trying to model our schools after those in Asia. He cites a survey of Asian students in the U.S. who described their nation’s schools and contrasted them to the American schools they now attend. The Asian schools are completely test-focused, and there is little time for questioning or stepping outside the “right answer” approach.

One of these days, I expect that Jay will become a critic of today’s determined detractors of American education. He is too smart not to.