Archives for the month of: April, 2013

Anytime you are tempted to think that informed citizens can’t stop the corporate reform machine, think of TAMSA.

Their organization, persistence, and intelligence has brought down the testing movement in Texas.

They are the Angry Moms of Texas.

TAMSA stands for Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment. But many in the media think of them as Moms Against Drunk Testing.

They did it. They brought down the machine.

Both Republicans and Democrats are listening to the Angry Moms of Texas.

So can you. Learn from them.

Imagine it: The Angry Moms of Indiana, of Michigan, of Florida, of Tennessee, of North Carolina, of Idaho, of Washington, of California, of Ohio, of Virginia, of Nevada, of every state.

Yes, you can.

Several readers asked me to comment on the New York Times editorial endorsing the Common Core.

I held off because there didn’t seem to be anything to say other than that the Times’ editorial board is repeating what they were told by promoters of the Common Core. The Common Core has serious problems, and there is no evidence that the Times gave any thought to those problems.

It really does matter that no one knows how these standards will work in practice.

No one knows if they will narrow or widen the achievement gaps. Given Sean Reardon’s article in the same newspaper a week later, it is clear that the kids at the bottom suffer–not because of low standards–but because of a large and growing opportunity gap. Higher standards will not suffice to close that gap.

Early childhood educators are very concerned about the developmentally inappropriate nature of the early grades, but the Times doesn’t take those concerns into account.

There is no mechanism for fixing the standards, adjusting the inevitable errors that crop up in any new standards. It is simply assumed by the Times and others that they emerged perfect from the head of Zeus, with no need for changes.

There will be big problems for kids who now are far behind. No one has explained why harder standards and tests will make them smarter. If a child can’t clear a 4′ bar, how does it help if you raise the bar to 6′?

In short, I thought the editorial was as shallow as the full-page ads that corporations are paying for to push the Common Core.

For some reason, lots of important and powerful people want the nation to suspend all critical thought and simply go along with received opinion. If you stop and ask questions, you annoy them.

Go ahead. Ask questions. Ask why. Ask about unintended consequences.

Don’t be a lemming.

Think for yourself. Demand evidence.

Teachers’ salaries in Indiana will be based on state test scores, but the administration of the computer-based tests came to a stop today because the computer servers stopped serving.

There was a time long ago when teachers were trusted to write their own tests and grade them. But that was when states assumed that teachers were professionals. Now the states trust out-of-state corporations and computers.

In a terrific opinion piece that was prominently featured in the Sunday New York Times, Sean Reardon of Stanford University wrote that the gap between the children of the rich and the children of the poor has grown by 40% in the past 30 years.

Reardon puts to rest virtually every reformer myth: schools don’t cause inequality; schools don’t cure inequality: the achievement gap(s) begin before the first day of school. Stop blaming schools for conditions beyond their control. Poverty matters.

Reardon writes : “We are still talking about this despite decades of clucking about the crisis in American education and wave after wave of school reform.Whatever we’ve been doing in our schools, it hasn’t reduced educational inequality between children from upper- and lower-income families.”

What have we been doing for the past 30 years? Relying on standards and testing to close the gaps. It hasn’t worked.

Are schools to blame for the growing gap? Reardon says no: “It may seem counterintuitive, but schools don’t seem to produce much of the disparity in test scores between high- and low-income students. We know this because children from rich and poor families score very differently on school readiness tests when they enter kindergarten, and this gap grows by less than 10 percent between kindergarten and high school.”

If the schools are not to blame, what is: Reardon says that growing income inequality is an important cause of the growing education gap.

But that’s not all. Rich families invest heir income in cognitively enriching activities: “It’s not clear what we should do about all this. Partly that’s because much of our public conversation about education is focused on the wrong culprits: we blame failing schools and the behavior of the poor for trends that are really the result of deepening income inequality and the behavior of the rich.”

What can we do? Reardon says, parent education, early intervention, support for children before the GPS grow wide: “The more we do to ensure that all children have similar cognitively stimulating early childhood experiences, the less we will have to worry about failing schools. This in turn will enable us to let our schools focus on teaching the skills — how to solve complex problems, how to think critically and how to collaborate — essential to a growing economy and a lively democracy.”

Ever tried to understand value-added modeling but found the jargon incomprehensible?

You are not alone.

Most people have had that experience.

Here is the clearest explanation I have seen.

It makes perfect sense.

I don’t understand this story.

It says that “civil rights groups” demand that Arne Duncan turn down a request for a waiver from a group of districts in California.

Since high-stakes testing invariably ends up with poor and minority kids at the bottom of the bell curve, it is hard for me to understand why civil rights groups would demand more of it.

Since accountability typically means that schools enrolling the neediest kids get closed, why would civil rights groups want more of it?

Since high stakes accountability invariably means that those who teach the most vulnerable children are likely to be fired, why would civil rights groups want more of it?

One possible answer to the puzzle is that Democrats for Education Reform is listed as a “civil rights group.” DFER is an organization created by Wall Street hedge fund managers to promote more charter schools and more testing (but not necessarily for those who teach in charter schools). Just recently, the California Democratic Party singled out DFER and StudentsFirst as fronts for Republicans and corporations.

Maybe this letter to Duncan is DFER’s revenge on California. (DFER recommended Duncan to Obama for his job as Secretary of Education.)

John Merrow recently offered advice to those considering joining Teach for America, and retired teacher and active blogger G.F. Brandenburg decided to offer his own advice.

Brandenburg links to Merrow’s post.

Brandenburg’s advice can be summarized in a word: Don’t.

Remember when charter advocates said they could do a better job of educating kids with less money? You probably don’t remember, it was years ago.

The charters have forgotten it too. In Florida, the charter lobby just got $91 million from the Legislature. This is money taken from the public schools’ facilities fund. Now, instead of the facilities belonging to the public, they will belong to the private sector organizations, for-profit and nonprofit, that own the charters. The entrepreneurs keep the public money. It is theirs.

Florida is well on its way to establishing a dual school system, one public, the other charter, both paid for with public funds. Florida has some of the nation’s most aggressive for-profit charter chains, which lobby, give money to candidates, and produce poor results for kids. One of those for-profit charter chains is Mavericks, run by Frank Biden, brother of our Vice President Joe Biden. It has a spotty record. But it will now get facilities funding, thanks to adroit lobbyists and a sympathetic governor and legislature. And public schools will get less.

Pete Dominick has a regular show on Sirius-XM called “Stand Up! with Pete Dominick.” He invited me to discuss the state of education every Monday morning at 7:35 am EST.

This was our first conversation, this morning.

Pete has children in public school and is very concerned about over-testing. He is right.

Jason Stanford, a first-rate journalist in a texas, looks for the lessons in the meteoric rise and astonishing descent of Michelle Rhee.

The major lesson, he says, is not so much about her as about the deep flaws in the test-and-punish philosophy she embodied. Putting the squeeze on subordinates to raise test scores leads to all sorts of negative consequences, but not to good education.

The flaw is inherent in No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

Until we get a better vision of education, there will be more Beverly Halls and Michelle Rhees.