Archives for the month of: November, 2014

Myra Blackmon, who writes for the Athens (Georgia) Banner, poses a question. What if Warren Buffett, one of the richest men in the world, came up with an idea for a drug? Would we skip clinical trials and the FDA? Would we just dispense because he said so?

 

That’s what Bill Gates is doing to our children, she writes, and we shouldn’t stand for it.

 

But that is exactly what Bill Gates, another megabillionaire, has done with education. Gates is rich, he has purchased his bully pulpit and we are swallowing his “brilliance” hook, line and sinker.
Just because he has made a lot of money. Just because he is smart. Gates is suddenly the education expert, advising the president and secretary of education on what is “best” for America’s children. He funds the development and promotion of his idea of “good” education practice.
He has never taught nor studied education. His own children went to private schools that wouldn’t touch his ideas with a 10-foot pole. But he is Bill Gates and we let him get away with it.
Gates decided, for example, that the Common Core State Standards are a great idea. And he proceeded to pour mountains of money into bringing it to market with little or no research, no clinical trials and absolutely no evidence of efficacy. He gives organizations big money to push the Common Core, which was developed in virtual secrecy, with almost no input from real teachers.
Gates also espouses “data-driven” education, in which numbers and data analysis take precedence over what teachers and parents believe is best for individual children. Their scores on high-stakes tests trump any firsthand knowledge or special circumstances that might determine the educational course for any given child.
There is no evidence that Gates’ big ideas work. We are allowing him to experiment on our children, absent even the simplest protections we would expect for a new medication or a new infant formula. We believe that because he is smart and rich, he knows what is best for our children.

 

Where is the moral outrage? Why on earth do we accept what Bill Gates says and deny the research that tells us not only that data-driven, test-based education doesn’t work, but tells us what can best help our children learn?

 

 

 

 

This is a pictorial graphic that shows the richest woman in every state.

 

Do you know any of them?

 

The Network for Public Education is looking for an angel who will help us fight corporate reform. We are trying to defend public schools, teachers, and children from predatory takeovers by powerful special interests.

 

We would love to find a billionaire who loves public schools.

 

We would actually be happy to have the help of the second or third or tenth richest person, woman or man.

 

Until we find that person, we will continue to count on your help with whatever you can afford.

 

We are not especially well-funded (we are not well funded at all), yet we are beating back the billionaires. Why? Be ause we have the strength of our numbers, including you. We speak for 5 million teachers and for the families of about 45 million students, give or take a few million. With all their billions (of dollars), they can’t beat our millions (of people).

 

And we are winning because we care about principle, not profit. We believe that right makes might, that failing “reforms” will be exposed as frauds and scams, and that in a democracy, the truth eventually prevails.

Bob Shepherd, veteran designer of curricula and textbooks, explains why he objects to PARCC:

 

 

How to Prevent Another PARCC Mugging: A Public Service Announcement

 

 

The Common Core Curriculum Commissariat College and Career Ready Assessment Program (CCCCCCRAP) needs to be scrapped. Here are a few of the reasons why:

 

1.The CCSS ELA exams are invalid.

First, much of attainment in ELA consists in world knowledge (knowledge of what—the stuff of declarative memories of subject matter). The “standards” being tested cover almost no world knowledge and so the tests based on those standards miss much of what constitutes attainment in this subject. Imagine a test of biology that left out almost all world knowledge about biology and covered only biology “skills” like—I don’t know—slide-staining ability—and you’ll get what I mean here. This has been a problem with all of these summative standardized tests in ELA since their inception.

 

Second, much of attainment in ELA consists in procedural knowledge (knowledge of how—the stuff of procedural memories of subject matter). The “standards” being tested define skills so vaguely and so generally that they cannot be validly operationalized for testing purposes as written.

 

Third, nothing that students do on these exams EVEN REMOTELY resembles real reading and writing as it is actually done in the real world. The test consists largely of what I call New Criticism Lite, or New Criticism for Dummies—inane exercises on identification of examples of literary elements that for the most part skip over entirely what is being communicated in the piece of writing. In other words, these are tests of literature that for the most part skip over the literature, tests of the reading of informative texts that for the most part skip over the content of those texts. Since what is done on these tests does not resemble, even remotely, what actual readers and writers do in the real world when they actually read and write, the tests, ipso facto, cannot be valid tests of real reading and writing.

 

Fourth, standard standardized test development practice requires that the testing instrument be validated. Such validation requires that the test maker show that the test correlates strongly with other accepted measures of what is being tested, both generally and specifically (that is, with regard to specific materials and/or skills being tested). No such validation was done for these tests. NONE. And as they are written, based on the standards they are based upon, none COULD BE done. Where is the independent measure of proficiency in CCSS.Literacy.ELA.11-12.4b against which the items in PARCC that are supposed to measure that standard on this test have been validated? Answer: There is no such measure. None. And PARCC has not been validated against it, obviously LOL. So, the tests fail to meet a minimal standard for a high-stakes standardized assessment—that they have been independently validated.

 

2. The test formats are inappropriate.

 

First, the tests consist largely of objective-format items (multiple-choice and EBSR). These item types are most appropriate for testing very low-level skills (e.g., recall of factual detail). However, on these tests, such item formats are pressed into a kind of service for which they are, generally, not appropriate. They are used to test “higher-order thinking.” The test questions therefore tend to be tricky and convoluted. The test makers, these days, all insist on answer choices all being plausible. Well, what does plausible mean? Well, at a minimum, plausible means “reasonable.” So, the questions are supposed to deal with higher-order thinking, and the wrong answers are all supposed to be plausible, so the test questions end up being extraordinarily complex and confusing and tricky, all because the “experts” who designed these tests didn’t understand the most basic stuff about creating assessments–that objective question formats are generally not great for testing higher-order thinking, for example. For many of the sample released questions, there is, arguably, no answer among the answer choices that is correct or more than one answer that is correct, or the question simply is not, arguably, actually answerable as written.

 

Second, at the early grades, the tests end up being as much a test of keyboarding skills as of attainment in ELA. The online testing format is entirely inappropriate for most third graders.

 

3. The tests are diagnostically and instructionally useless.

 

Many kinds of assessment—diagnostic assessment, formative assessment, performative assessment, some classroom summative assessment—have instructional value. They can be used to inform instruction and/or are themselves instructive. The results of these tests are not broken down in any way that is of diagnostic or instructional use. Teachers and students cannot even see the tests to find out what students got wrong on them and why. So the tests are of no diagnostic or instructional value. None. None whatsoever.

 

4. The tests have enormous incurred costs and opportunity costs.

 

First, they steal away valuable instructional time. Administrators at many schools now report that they spend as much as a third of the school year preparing students to take these tests. That time includes the actual time spent taking the tests, the time spent taking pretests and benchmark tests and other practice tests, the time spent on test prep materials, the time spent doing exercises and activities in textbooks and online materials that have been modeled on the test questions in order to prepare kids to answer questions of those kinds, and the time spent on reporting, data analysis, data chats, proctoring, and other test housekeeping.

 

Second, they have enormous cost in dollars. In 2010-11, the US spent 1.7 billion on state standardized testing alone. Under CCSS, this increases. The PARCC contract by itself is worth over a billion dollars to Pearson in the first three years, and you have to add the cost of SBAC and the other state tests (another billion and a half?), to that. No one, to my knowledge, has accurately estimated the cost of the computer upgrades that will be necessary for online testing of every child, but those costs probably run to 50 or 60 billion. This is money that could be spent on stuff that matters—on making sure that poor kids have eye exams and warm clothes and food in their bellies, on making sure that libraries are open and that schools have nurses on duty to keep kids from dying. How many dead kids is all this testing worth, given that it is, again, of no instructional value? IF THE ANSWER TO THAT IS NOT OBVIOUS TO YOU, YOU SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED ANYWHERE NEAR A SCHOOL OR AN EDUCATIONAL POLICY-MAKING DESK.

 

5. The tests distort curricula and pedagogy.

 

The tests drive how and what people teach, and they drive much of what is created by curriculum developers. This is a vast subject, so I won’t go into it in this brief note. Suffice it to say that the distortions are grave. In U.S. curriculum development today, the tail is wagging the dog.

 

6. The tests are abusive and demotivating.

 

Our prime directive as educators is to nurture intrinsic motivation—to create independent, life-long learners. The tests create climates of anxiety and fear. Both science and common sense teach that extrinsic punishment and reward systems like this testing system are highly DEMOTIVATING for cognitive tasks. The summative standardized testing system is a really, really backward extrinsic punishment and reward approach to motivation. It reminds me of the line from the alphabet in the Puritan New England Primer, the first textbook published on these shores:

 

F
The idle Fool
Is whip’t in school.

 

7. The tests have shown no positive results.

 

We have had more than a decade, now, of standards-and-testing-based accountability under NCLB. We have seen only miniscule increases in outcomes, and those are well within the margin of error of the calculations. Simply from the Hawthorne Effect, we should have seen SOME improvement!!! And that suggests that the testing has actually DECREASED OUTCOMES, which is consistent with what we know about the demotivational effects of extrinsic punishment and reward systems. It’s the height of stupidity to look at a clearly failed approach and to say, “Gee, we should to a lot more of that.”

 

8. The tests will worsen the achievement and gender gaps.

 

Both the achievement and gender gaps in educational performance are largely due to motivational issues, and these tests and the curricula and pedagogical strategies tied to them are extremely demotivating. They create new expectations and new hurdles that will widen existing gaps, not close them. Ten percent fewer boys than girls, BTW, received a proficient score on the NY CCSS exams–this in a time when 60 percent of kids in college and 3/5ths of people in MA programs are female. The CCSS exams drive more regimentation and standardization of curricula, which will further turn off kids already turned off by school, causing more to tune out and drop out.

 

Unlike most of the CCSS-related messages that you have seen–the ones pouring out of the propaganda mills–this message is not brought to you by

 

PARCC: Spell that backward
notSmarter, imBalanced
AIRy nonsense
CTB McGraw-SkillDrill
MAP to nowhere
the College Bored, makers of the Scholastic Common Core Achievement Test (SCCAT),

 

nor by the masters behind it all,

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (“All your base are belong to us”)

Hah! This is what we have been waiting for! Economists are now borrowing from the education research literature to develop value-added metrics for physicians. Next, I hope, will be the development of VAMs for lawyers and soon you will hear the screams of outrage not only from the American Medical Association but the American Bar Association. With the economists figuring out metrics to measure these politically powerful professions, teachers won’t be alone in their battle against obsessive compulsive metrical disorder. If only someone would come up with VAM for elected officials! Better yet, how about a VAM for economists? For example, how often do their predictions about the economy come true?

 

Here is how you measure the value-added of physicians according to the link above from the National Bureau of Economic Research:

 

“Despite increasing calls for value-based payments, existing methodologies for determining physicians’ “value added” to patient health outcomes have important limitations. We incorporate methods from the value added literature in education research into a health care setting to present the first value added estimates of health care providers in the literature. Like teacher value added measures that calculate student test score gains, we estimate physician value added based on changes in health status during the course of a hospitalization. We then tie our measures of physician value added to patient outcomes, including length of hospital stay, total charges, health status at discharge, and readmission. The estimated value added varied substantially across physicians and was highly stable for individual physicians. Patients of physicians in the 75th versus 25th percentile of value added had, on average, shorter length of stay (4.76 vs 5.08 days), lower total costs ($17,811 vs $19,822) and higher discharge health status (8% of a standard deviation). Our findings provide evidence to support a new method of determining physician value added in the context of inpatient care that could have wide applicability across health care setting and in estimating value added of other health care providers (nurses, staff, etc).”

“Reformers,” as we all know, want to raise standards and improve education. Or so they say. To reach their goals, they say our schools are failing, our economy and national security are at risk, and our educators are rotten apples. their propaganda war against public education is relentless and has the financial support of the U. S. Department of Education, the Gates Foundation, the far-right Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Dell Foundation, the Arnold Foundation, the Helmsley Foundation, the Fisher Foundation, and many more.

“Reformers” close community public schools, fire teachers and principals, insist on tests that most students fail, and create constant disruption. Eventually the public realizes that they must choose a charter school or voucher school because there is no neighborhood school or its best students have been lured away by charters.

What’s going on?

Brett Dickerson explains that there is a carefully orchestrated plan to liquidate public education.

He writes:

“Plans are under way for investment corporations to execute the biggest conversion – some call it theft – of public schools property in U.S. history.

“That is not hyperbole. Investment bankers themselves estimate that their taking over public schools is going to result in hundreds of billions of dollars in profit, if they can pull it off….

“There are very clear plans being made for just such a thing.

“The plan has been and still is to execute the complete conversion or liquidation of public schools property built up at taxpayer expense for generations.

“It involves raiding pensions that have been hard-won from years of legislative work by teachers and their unions. I reported on ideas being floated in Oklahoma along these lines in this piece that I did for Red Dirt Report earlier this year.

“It will all be done through the control of legislatures that have been mostly compliant with lobbying efforts due to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allowed huge corporate money, mostly unidentified, to flow into elections. The Andre Agassi Foundation is just one of many who have worked this angle for their own return on investment….

“Offer to buy out a profitable company that has little or no debt.

“Silence the work force by tricking them into thinking life will be better with the new owners.

“Once the purchase is complete, fire the workforce.

“Liquidate the pension fund.

“Liquidate the company for the cash value of its paid-for property.

“Leave the host community in financial ruins.”

Caitlin Emma, who writes for politico.com, here reviews the threat to student privacy posed by online courses.

While students are taking these courses, the provider is gathering a treasure trove of information about each of them. This data may later be sold to marketers, who see students as customers.

There is a federal law that is supposed to protect student privacy, but in 2011-12, Secretary Arne Duncan oversaw a weakening of FERPA regulations, removing key protections.

Companies working together, like Pearson and Knewton, are gathering confidential student data whenever your child goes online.

Why should corporations advertise when they can use Big Data to identify their target audience? Race to the Top required states, if they wanted to be eligible for federal cash, to create a massive student data warehouse, to open more charters, and to adopt “college and career ready standards,” I.e. Common Core. Clever, no? A bonanza for certain corporations.

This is scary stuff.

Here is Mercedes Schneider with a brilliant post about the Obama U.S. Department of Education. She writes brief sketches of eight key appointees, each of whom is tied to the privatization movement.

 

When the President wonders why his party was so badly beaten at the polls earlier this month, he might think about the millions of educators who work in public schools and the millions of parents whose children attend good public schools; they are disgusted by Race to the Top, non-stop testing, test-based teacher evaluation, the Department’s preference for charter schools over public schools, and the millions of public dollars directed to TFA and charter schools. Educators were at one time a key part of the base of the Democratic party. As states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee lashed out at teachers, no protest was heard from Arne Duncan. As billions were cut from school budgets in Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Obama administration was silent (Duncan wrote a letter to Governor Corbett of Pennsylvania about the defunding of Philadelphia, but it was a faint protest, not like actually showing up). At present, educators and parents feel abandoned by both parties.

Peter Greene, high school English teacher in Pennsylvania, prolific blogger and humorist, decided to create “the big picture” of education reform. What’s it all about?

Peter writes:

“Why do we have these policies that don’t make sense? Why does it seem like this system is set up to make schools fail? Why do states pass these laws that discourage people from becoming teachers?

“My friends, colleagues and family ask these kinds of questions all the time. So my goal today is to step back and try to fit the pieces into the larger picture. If you have been paying attention, you already know this stuff, but perhaps this post will help someone you know who’s trying to make sense of reformsterdom. Here, then, is my attempt to show the big picture.”

Peter sees a convergence of two big ideas: one, the longing for centralized efficiency, with everyone from teachers to students doing the same things at the same time, orchestrated from above.

“To do that, we’d need to get every possible data source plugged in, and for the data to mean anything, we’d have to have all schools doing basically the exact same thing. Standards could be used to tag and organize every piece of data collected about every student. This suited people who see US education as a slapdash, sloppy, disorganized mess of many different schools doing many different things (this bothered them as much as your pictures hanging cockeyed in the den drive your OCD aunt crazy). But all of that would require massive planning and infrastructure far beyond what government could politically or financially manage.”

So in our day comes educational privatization, the chance to make money from the many billions spent on schools. What a serendipitous combination of socialism (government always knows best) and capitalism (people are motivated by money).

Common Core was key to merging these two big ideas:

“Well, yes, kind of, and Common Core was key. Get everybody on the same page, and everybody needs to buy the same books. Common Core was envisioned as a way to get everyone teaching the same stuff at the same time, and therefor content providers need only align themselves to one set of expectations. Instead of trying to sell to thousands of different markets, they could now sell to a thousand versions of the same basic standardized school district.

“The less obvious effect of the Core was to change the locus of educational expertise. Previously teachers were the educational experts, the people who were consulted and often made the final call on what materials to buy. But one message of the Core was that teachers were not the experts, both because they had failed so much before and because Common Core was such a piece of “high standards” jargon-encrusted mumbo jumbo that you needed an expert to explain it.

“Educational experts were no longer found in the classroom. Now they are in corporate offices. They are in government offices. Textbook creators now include “training” because your teachers won’t be able to figure out how to use teaching materials on their own. More importantly, teachers can no longer be trusted to create their own teaching materials (at least not unless their district has hired consultants to put them through extensive training).

“Meanwhile, testing programs, which would also double as curriculum outlines, were also corporate products (which require such expertise that teachers are not allowed to see or discuss their contents), and every school must test as part of an accountability system that will both force schools to follow the centralized efficiency program and label them as failures when their test scores are too low, as well as feeding data into the cradle-to-career pipeline.”

All that and more.

I hate to criticize Texas, because it is my native state. On the other hand, Texas brought us NCLB and promoted testing as the answer to all our ills. And frankly, it has always been nutty when it comes time to adopt textbooks.

 

This time, the committee left out a lot of really absurd stuff—apparently there were enough people there who didn’t want to look too foolish, but they did leave in the claim that Moses somehow influenced the American Constitution. Maybe there is some logical connection there, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

 

In 2003, I wrote a book about textbook adoptions called The Language Police, and I know how zany many states have been when a committee gets to decide what will be taught to all the children in the state. You would be amazed at how Shakespeare’s plays were mangled, how classic books were censored, how all sorts of nonsense were inserted and excluded to satisfy the textbook committees. The publishers for the education industry have a long list of words, phrases, and illustrations that may never be included in textbooks or tests. For example, the champions for senior citizens insisted that the term “senior citizens” never be used, and that older people never be portrayed as infirm in any way, like using a walker or a cane. The preferable illustration would be Grandpa on the roof, hammering in nails, heedless to risk.

 

California rejected a book because it included a story about Mother Goose, which was clearly sexist.

 

One of the hopeful results of online textbooks might be the lessening of the power of state textbook committees. That would be a good development.

This letter arrived in my email from a professor at the University of New Mexico who is deeply disturbed by the over-testing of her children. The president of the local PTA did not want her to speak, she said. Even more shocking was her statement that teachers had to sign a pledge promising not to say anything negative to parents about the PARCC test or to disparage testing in general. I don’t know why, but I was reminded of the loyalty oaths that many teachers were compelled to sign during the McCarthy era in the late 1940s and early 1950s, to “prove” that they were not Communists.

 

 

 

 

Albuquerque PTA Smackdown

 

 

 

 

This is a redacted version of the talk I attempted to deliver at my children’s Elementary School PTA meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Tuesday, November 18, 2014.

 

The former PTA president had suggested that I ask the current president to put Standardized Testing on the agenda for this meeting, so my understanding was that the PTA was inviting me to speak on this topic.

 

In the five days leading up to the meeting, I was intimidated by emails from the PTA president and a phone conversation intended to censor the content of what I was going to present.

 

I knew that teachers’ freedom of speech on the topic of Standardized Testing had been curtailed, but until last week I hadn’t heard of parents being censored on this topic.

 

The president told me that the PTA officers had met in advance of the meeting, and that if they were going to allow me to speak (her words), they had the right to control the parameters of what I might say.

 

When I arrived on Tuesday night, the doors to the building were locked. When my husband, who had been misdirected to another building, managed to get in, he was told not to bother plugging in the projector for my powerpoint presentation, because they were not going to let me finish presenting.

 

While speaking, I was repeatedly interrupted by the PTA president’s attempts to cut me off. When PTA members called out “let her speak,” a vote was called and a majority voted to let me continue. Still, feeling harassed in the hostile environment the PTA president had created, I was only able to read about half of the following:

 

I would like to begin by thanking the PTA officers and the former PTA president for suggesting that I put Standardized Testing on the agenda for this meeting. The current PTA President has asked me to supply you with the means to get more information on this topic, so flyers with links to websites will be handed out.

 

I am Dr. Kimberle López and as Spanish professors at the University of New Mexico here in Albuquerque, my husband and I have had the honor and privilege of having many of this elementary school’s teachers and parents as our students. I am here not representing the PTA but as a parent and private citizen presenting the results of research I have conducted over the past year since attending a meeting at our neighboring elementary school.

 

I present this information so that you can draw your own informed conclusions. First I would like to present a little background on Standardized Testing.

 

The thing is, test scores can be used to argue opposite points, depending on how you interpret cause and effect. If you want to assert that people with lower incomes or different ethnicities are naturally less intelligent, then lower test scores can back you up. But if you say that testing favors those who have economic advantages, you will interpret the correlation between test scores and income level very differently, taking into account that not all students are given equal educational opportunities.

 

The increase in testing over the past decade and a half arose in part as a response to a supposed dramatic rise in test scores in Houston and other parts of Texas, which were soon proven to be the result of lies, cheating, and manipulation of data.

 

When I first learned about No Child Left Behind, what struck me most was that it seemed that when schools did poorly on standardized tests, the plan was to take money away from those schools. That always seemed backwards to me, since aren’t those the schools that need more resources and support?

 

There is a new test for this Spring that is causing a lot of consternation because of a format unlike that of any other large scale high stakes test given before.

 

Standardized Tests are designed from a model of what do kids need to know to go from high school to college into a career, and then that is trickled down into middle school and elementary school exams. The exams are designed and graded by individuals who do not necessarily have any training in child development nor classroom experience with children. The high school model is not developmentally appropriate for young children.

 

The letters ARCC in the acronym PARCC stand for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers, and this is the test that our 3rd through 5th graders will be taking in Spring.

 

The PARCC test is problematic on a technological level since from one question to another students have to switch between typing in answers, clicking on multiple choices, filling in blanks, navigating texts between split screens, dragging and dropping, highlighting, using a drop-down menu, etc.

This involves class issues and institutional racism, since children from affluent families who have their own iPads would be more familiar with dragging and dropping and using drop-down menus than children who live below the poverty line.

 

We all have concerns about “teaching for the test,” but up until this year, those concerns had to do with teachers having to take class time away from more appropriate forms of learning to teach the content of what would be on the tests. But this year with the PARCC a whole new level of concern has arisen—that we need to take time away from classroom instruction to prepare students for the technological format of the test.

 

Some schools in New Mexico have computer labs and computer lab teachers, but not all children across the state have equal access to computers. Many schools across our state don’t even have the computer facilities to administer the PARCC test, much less to prepare student for its technological challenges.

 

In addition to time spent preparing for the test, the administration of the PARCC test will take approximately 10 hours. Ten hours—that is more than twice as long as the MCAT college seniors take to get into Medical School or the LCAT they take to get into Law School.

 

I have heard that the PARCC will take time away from instruction and interrupt the school routine for six weeks in Spring. Even though the kids won’t be taking the test all day, I think we all know that if students are taking tests in the morning, they may not be as receptive to learning in the afternoon.

 

I would like to see our school keep our current high rating, but not because we have an unfair advantage over other kids across the state. Our neighboring school has an “F” rating that is affecting student enrollment, the ability to hire teachers, and property values in their district.

 

Why? Not because it is a bad school with bad teachers, but on the contrary, because they have a magnet Special Education program, and my understanding is that Special Education students must take the standardized tests corresponding to their grade level without reasonable accommodations.

 

Because test scores are tied to Teacher Evaluations and School Rankings, Special Ed teachers are more likely to be rated as “minimally effective,” get lower raises, and the schools that serve the most underserved children are ranked lower and risk having their funding reduced. So again, the kids who need the most help get fewer resources, and the teachers who work the hardest and have the most stressful job are the least rewarded.

 

New Mexico teachers have 50% of their Teacher Evaluation based on student test scores—no other state in the union has a higher percentage, and most count Standardized Testing as a significantly lower percentage of Teacher Evaluations. States risk losing federal funding if they don’t tie Teacher Evaluations to student test scores.

 

The rating of schools using A-F grades is particularly demoralizing to teachers, because teachers took pride in being “A” students when they were in school.

 

Schools having an F rating for a certain number of years risk closure. What is happening across the country is that Standardized Test scores are being used as a pretext to close public schools and then re-open them as corporate-run for-profit schools funded with tax dollars.

 

The process of privatization seems to follow this sequence: first, there appear headlines saying “Our Schools Are Failing.” If they repeat it often enough, we begin to believe it. Then they use Standardized Testing to give failing grades to school, then after a few years they close them and replace them with Corporate Charter Schools. Last year in Chicago alone, 50 public schools were closed, and in Chicago the for-profit corporate charter school industry is booming.

 

When I say corporate charter schools, I am not talking about the grassroots charter schools run by dedicated educators who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and rolled up their sleeves ready to work to contribute to educate our kids and make our communities a better place. No–I am talking about multi-billion dollar corporations that run for-profit schools using our tax dollars.

 

They use the top-down corporate model that pays administrators top dollar while treating teachers like lowly assembly line workers, underpaid and overworked. The administrators making educational decisions are businesspeople not educators.

 

New Mexico, like other states, is moving toward the privatization of education. The privatization of public education means that, like the private prisons, our tax dollars would be used to pay for-profit companies to run our schools.

 

If you haven’t heard about these issues, it may be due to the fact that teachers are discouraged from discussing testing with parents. It surprised me to learn this, since one would think that it would be a professional obligation of teachers to critically examine the tests and discuss them with parents. Instead, it is a taboo subject and teachers are led to believe that they might lose their jobs if they talk to parents about something so relevant to their students’ educational wellbeing. We want teachers to teach our kids critical thinking, but they are discouraged from applying critical thinking to examining the circumstances in which they practice their own profession.

 

[The day after this PTA meeting, I attended a School Board meeting where I learned that New Mexico teachers who would be administering the PARCC had all been obliged to sign a waiver saying that they would not speak disparagingly about the PARCC.]

 

It is because teachers have been intimidated and made to feel fearful about discussing the topic of Standardized Testing that I feel compelled as a parent to speak. Teachers are threatened with losing their jobs, but parents still have the right and the obligation to monitor their children’s education.

 

[I didn’t think that parents were also censored on this topic, but by this time the PTA president had interrupted me several times and was trying to cut me off. A vote was called and a majority voted to let me continue. The PTA president set a timer for two minutes so I didn’t get much further]

 

The topic of Standardized Testing makes teachers very nervous. Students pick up on this, and it makes them nervous as well. Anxiety is running high–although it is only November, kids are already coming home and telling their parents about a big test they will be taking next Spring.

 

What causes a lot of teacher stress is the top-down corporate model of education. The idea is that a school or a school system is basically like a business and should be run like one, with the administrators at the top being paid top dollar and the teachers being not just the lowest paid and least appreciated, but also those whose opinions are least taken into account when educational decisions are made.

 

Instead, decisions that affect our children most are taken by business managers without taking into account input from those who know the most about what is best for our kids, their classroom teachers. I would venture to guess that what is most demoralizing to teachers is not the low wages or the ever increasing workload (teachers are used to being overworked and underpaid) but the fact that the administration fails to draw on teachers’ extensive experience when making decisions that affect our kids.

 

The main reason this corporate model is flawed is that a school is not like a business. A business runs to produce a product and make a profit. Our school system has tried to copy this model with the student as the “product” and the teachers as the assembly line producers. Standardized Testing has grown as its own multi-billion dollar industry in response to the need to measure educational “production.”

 

Standardized Tests have never been proven with independent research (not funded by the publishing companies that produce and sell the tests) to be an accurate measure of students’ knowledge. The only thing Standardized Testing has definitively been proven to have achieved is to have enriched the coffers of the publishing houses that design and produce the tests.

 

New Mexico has dedicated $9.8 million to the online PARCC tests for this Spring, and it has cost our public school system $1.3 million to add a testing coordinator at each of our schools this year. The state reforms are forcing our most experienced teachers out of the classroom while we are adding testing coordinators and computer experts to prepare students for these exams.

 

Ten million dollars could be better spent on something directly contributing to education: 10 million dollars could fund thousands of teacher salaries, buy thousands of computers and hundreds of thousands of books for our schools.

 

Although it is common knowledge that teachers are underpaid and overworked, they are often treated as if they were overpaid and underworked, and each year they are loaded up with new bureaucratic tasks that don’t translate into more meaningful classroom experiences for their students.

 

If you lined up 10 teachers and asked them whether they would prefer to have a higher salary; less work; or the right to have a say in decisions that affect education, and the knowledge that the work they were doing was not bureaucratic busy work but meaningful work that contributes to education, I believe that at least 9 of them would accept their current salary and workload if they knew that they were respected for their experience and their opinions were taken into account in educational decisions.

 

At the meeting over a year ago at our neighboring school, a highly esteemed teacher who works tirelessly for students at our school, said that our “B” rating is due in part to the fact that our faculty have figured out how to say what bureaucracy wants to hear when they fill out the forms set up for ranking schools. Someone in the audience replied that it is unfortunate that we have put our teachers in the position where they have to jump through hoops. Indeed, jumping through hoops is something we train circus animals, not professional educators, to do. It is appalling that teachers need to spend so much time on meaningless bureaucratic tasks, taking time away from doing the meaningful work they were educated and hired to do.

 

Most of us just let this happen because we figure there is nothing we can do about it. The public school system doesn’t make parents aware of the fact that they can opt their children out from testing. And if we do happen to find the opt-out form on line, we read language that aims to “guilt” parents into not signing the form. Our form says that opting out may “hamper instructional planning for my child” but if the tests are taken in Spring and results are not received until the next school year, it is simply not true that these tests help instructional planning for my child, who will be in a different class with a different teacher by the time my kid’s current teacher receives the test scores.

 

Many parents feel torn about “opting out” of standardized testing—even if parents think that opting out is best for our children, they are told that it will hurt our schools. The only reason it would hurt our schools is because the system is arbitrarily set up to base teacher raises and school rankings on standardized test scores. Why should parents be forced to choose between what is best for our schools and what is best for our kids? Shouldn’t what is best for our kids and our schools be the same thing?