Archives for the month of: December, 2014

Thank goodness for Peter Greene, who finds the time to read reams of think tank reports and even the daily and weekly promotional materials produced by the U.S. Department of Education. He even reads the Department’s official blog, which regularly reminds the citizenry of what a good job the Secretary and the Department are doing, what a great contribution they are making to the improvement of American education.


Peter Greene came across a recent statement from Arne Duncan that is supposed to be his personal reflections on what he has learned as he traveled the country. Peter says he actually didn’t learn anything new. What he learned is that he has been right all along!


Peter writes:


Many people are unclear about the meaning of “learn.” Learning implies a change of state, a movement from not-knowing to knowing, from not-understanding to understanding. The world has a large supply of people who are not interested in a change of state, and so their interactions with the world around them are not about understanding or grasping or discovering, but about confirmation. They are not looking for a change of state, but of a more solid, comfortable settling into their status quo.


Politics are not conducive to learning. You don’t get many political points for saying, “Hey, I’ve look at some facts, talked to some people, examined the issue, and I’ve come to a different understanding.” In life, we aspire to be, find, foster life-long learners. In politics, learning just gets you a “flip-flopper” label.


So it’s not particularly surprising that in traveling through fifty states, Arne “learned” that he’s always been right about anything. Not once in fifty states did he encounter something that made him say, “Damn. I need to rethink this.”


And more:


Duncan goes on to cite some specific visits in which he was excited to discover that he has been right all along and that his policies are awesome. This is not learning. By the end of this piece of puffery, it’s clear that Arne has learned nothing in five years, but he has collected confirmations of his pre-existing beliefs….


The basic point of writing is that you have something you want to say and somebody you want to say it to. Arne’s essay appears to fail on both points.


I take it as the intersection of Arne in particular and politics in general– a pointless, empty exercise in talking to the air to signify, at a minimum, that you are still doing something, and that nothing has changed (just in case anybody was wondering). Devoid of personality, purpose or passion, it hints at a bureaucrat who has simply lost his moorings and any particular contact with actual human beings and the world they live in, but who may not realize that he’s even adrift.


Take it from me. It is very hard to admit you have been wrong. It is very hard to look at the evidence and publicly acknowledge error. What is especially problematic is that Arne Duncan has taken it upon himself to “reform” American education by imposing the lessons he learned in Chicago. Most people would agree that Chicago is far from being a model for America. But more important, no Secretary of Education in the past 35 years has taken it upon himself to control not only K-12 education, but higher education as well. Frankly, it’s alarming. I wish that Arne had learned in his travels that there is wisdom about education found in schools and universities across the nation, and that one of our great strengths as a nation is that we expect people and institutions to make decisions that work best for them and to operate without mandates from distant government agencies.



If you plan to comment on the proposed federal regulations to judge teachers’ colleges and education programs by the test scores of the students of their graduates, you cannot do so by email. You may comment on the “Federal eRulemaking Portal” or send mail. You may not comment by fax or email (except by entering the Federal eRulemaking Portal). Got that?


Here is the necessary information, sent by a reader:


Please note that the instructions for submitting comments are only partially correct — comments cannot be submitted via email. Submit them online at (there’s a green button in the right-hand column that says “SUBMIT A FORMAL COMMENT”).


As per the posting in the Federal Register,


Submit your comments through the Federal eRulemaking Portal or via postal mail, commercial delivery, or hand delivery. We will not accept comments by fax or by email. To ensure that we do not receive duplicate copies, please submit your comments only one time. In addition, please include the Docket ID at the top of your comments.
· Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to to submit your comments electronically. Information on using, including instructions for accessing agency documents, submitting comments, and viewing the docket, is available on the site under “Are you new to the site?” Show citation box
· Postal Mail, Commercial Delivery, or Hand Delivery: If you mail or deliver your comments about these proposed regulations, address them to Sophia McArdle, U.S. Department of Education, 1990 K Street NW., Room 8017, Washington, DC 20006.

Tony Talbert was a professor at Baylor when he decided to spend his sabbatical teaching high school so he would be better at preparing teachers.

“My return to high school allowed me to encounter students who considered digital technology not simply a tool for a specific task but instead a context for living and engaging in the world around them. It quickly became clear to me that the high school students I was teaching in 2013 ordered and perceived their world in a significantly different manner than the high school students I once taught more than two decades past.

“The old teaching and learning paradigm where technology is a tool to be used for a singular purpose and then put away until it is needed again had made way for a new paradigm where technology is a context without a beginning and without an end. Simply put, in the lives of my high school students digital technology was an extension of themselves. Therefore, it was with this reality that I as teacher had to find a way to incorporate this new paradigm into my lesson planning and teaching method in order to more meaningfully inform and transform the minds and lives of my students.”

Now the trick will be for teachers and students to use technology thoughtfully and not become part of the technology industry’s bottom line.

Somebody at The Onion is on the right side of history.

Here are The Onion’s suggestions for fixing our nation’s schools. And they didn’t get an i3 grant from Arne or a grant from Gates or Broad or Walton.

In earlier posts this morning, I urged you to send your comments on the federal Department of Education plan to rate teachers’ colleges by the scores of students taught by their graduates. Call this “long-distance Value-Added Modeling.”


It is a bad idea on many counts, not least because VAM doesn’t work when it is applied to an individual (too many variables, too much missing data, too much error). It works even less when an institution will be judged by the test scores of students taught by their graduates.


Here are the proposed regulations.


Comments are due January 2 to the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB).


Comments are due to the U.S. Department of Education by February 2.



A reader informsus that the auditor of Massachusetts recently released an audit of the state’s charter schools. Our reader offers some of the findings:

“Suzanne M. Bump, Auditor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has finished her audit of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE’s) oversight of the Commonwealth’s charter school system.

“Since 1996, Massachusetts has spent $4.3 billion on charters, and this report shows that DESE—known for its emphasis with local public school districts on data collection and data-driven-decision-making—doesn’t ensure (maybe they can’t) ensure the collection, storage, security, reliability, validity or the dissemination of THEIR data. Such data has been the used to determine policy affecting the future of Massachusetts School Districts since 2009.

“Here’s just a sampling of the report says:

•Charter school waitlist information maintained by DESE is not accurate. A lack of accurate waitlist information may result in ineffective planning and oversight, as well as policymaking consequences such as an inaccurate assessment of demand when charter school approval, renewal, or expansion applications are considered and when the Legislature makes decisions on changes to existing limitations on the number of charter schools.

•Operating under different statutory requirements, charter schools have lower percentages of licensed teachers than traditional public schools.

Additionally, charter school teacher salary levels average 75% of those at sending districts.

•The reliability and accuracy of charter school information in DESE’s data systems are questionable.

•The extent to which the charter school system has provided a successful mechanism for developing and disseminating replicable innovation models is not determinable.

•DESE was inconsistent in its decisions regarding whether to impose conditions for school charter renewal.

We’re All Mad Here: The Conference on English Education’s (CEE) Response to the US Department of Education’s Proposed Regulations for Teacher Preparation



On Dec. 3, 2014, the United States’ Department of Education (DOE) released a document proposing new regulations for teacher preparation programs, citing the need for greater accountability for teacher preparation programs, as well as the development and distribution of data focused on the quality of those programs. The public was then invited to comment on the regulations, with the comment period closing on Feb. 2, 2015. Note, however, that the Office of Management & Budget “is required to make a decision regarding the collection of information contained in the proposed regulations between 30 and 60 days after publication of the proposed regulations.”3 For full consideration of the public’s response, therefore, comments should be submitted by Jan. 2, 2015.


The Conference on English Education (CEE) urges its membership, as well as teachers, parents and students, to make use of this public comment period to respond to the proposed regulations – ideally by Jan. 2.


These regulations are disingenuous at best, hypocritical at worst, in their misrepresentation of and approach to quality teacher education. Therefore, we must state clearly and forcefully – to the DOE, as well as to US senators, state representatives, university presidents, state superintendents, school principals, teachers, students, neighbors and the public at large – that the proposed regulations will do more harm than good.


Whether online, through the media or in person, we must speak against the misguided beliefs driving such regulation: that teacher performance can be equated to student performance; that standardized tests provide meaningful evidence of learning; that student learning occurs in a vacuum; that there is one set approach that works with all students. We have been invited to speak, and we must accept the invitation – although it feels a bit like being invited to the Mad Hatter’s tea party, doesn’t it? “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked. “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.” “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice. “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”


Despite very little evidence to support its efficacy for student learning, standardized testing has claimed our classrooms. “Objective” data drives decision-making rather than the “subjective” issues that affect the children we seek to educate. Teachers are constantly labeled as ineffective, uncaring, unprepared. Patently unqualified corporations, millionaires and for-profit businesses are invited to “solve” educational issues while patently qualified teachers, teacher educators and educational researchers are excluded from the discussion.


The document is found at!documentDetail;D=ED-2014-OPE-0057-0001


To do so, visit!submitComment;D=ED-2014-OPE-0057-0001


For additional information, view Jane West’s webinar: uploads/2014/12/Teacher-Preparation-Regulations-for-CEEDAR.pdf


For an excellent example, see Anne Elrod Whitney’s piece Proposed Regulations Bad for Kids, Teachers, and Schools: teachers-and-schools/ And now, teacher education programs have moved into the line of fire. If the proposed regulations are to be believed, teacher preparation currently functions with little accountability, producing poor quality candidates whose abilities are not properly assessed. The evidence for such claims consists of flawed measures and unreliable research from questionable sources.


Yet, the answer to this (unproven) assumption is to increase assessment and accountability measures, despite no evidence that these measures have been beneficial as implemented in the public schools. Madness. Teacher preparation programs are, indeed, held accountable; they undergo assessment; they use data to inform their decision-making processes.


As the professional organization for English teacher education, CEE created the Standards for Initial Preparation of Teachers of Secondary English Language Arts 7-12; revised in 2012, these standards delineate the required competencies of knowledge, skills and dispositions connected to content, pedagogy, learners and professionalism. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) uses these standards to assess and recognize the abilities of English teacher education programs to prepare quality secondary English teachers. To meet these standards, programs must gather, analyze and report a wide range of data from both the program and the candidates. This external accountability is in addition to the internal accountability of the programs themselves. In-house, as it were, teacher preparation programs must remain cognizant of and respond to the internal and external pressures driving education in order to prepare teachers for the classroom.


Do some teacher education programs fail in this endeavor? Admittedly, yes. But the way to improve our teacher education programs is not with more assessment and accountability, measures in and of themselves that are already present and valued in higher education. Could these measures be improved? Certainly, as any educator knows. Teacher education programs recognize the need to improve our efforts to gather better data from and about our graduates; we are constantly revising our means of candidate assessment in order to respond to our needs and the requirements of an outside accrediting body.


What we don’t do is expect the test scores of our graduates’ students to provide a worthwhile measure of their teacher’s efficacy. Value added measurement (VAM) has little support among those with the ability to understand the nuances of assessment5, much less those of teaching and learning. Parents certainly do not support the current over-testing of their children; teachers know that reliance on externally developed high-stakes tests offers a distorted view of a child’s abilities; teacher educators recognize that assessment is a nuanced process that requires multiple measures over time. We know that assessing teachers’ worth on the test scores of the complex human beings they teach is a deeply flawed measure of ability, with no recognition of the many factors influencing both teaching and learning. Rather than admit this and seek better ways to determine quality teaching, however, the US Department of Education now proposes to assess the teachers of the teachers’ worth on those same test scores. Madness. Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”


For more on those nuances, see the American Statistical Association’s Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment: These regulations promulgate beliefs that those in education know to be false: that there is one right measure of learning, that there is one right method of teaching, that there is one right type of teacher, that there is one right way to prepare teachers. Teaching is a complex, complicated, challenging, often contentious, endeavor because those we seek to teach – and the subjects we seek to teach them – are complex and complicated and challenging and, often, contentious. We understand, though, that teacher education creates the foundation that our students build on for the rest of their teaching career rather than hubristically assuming that we can boil teaching down to a set of “one size fits all” approaches that will serve in any situation.


Teacher education programs educate prospective teachers to understand, examine and respond to issues of content, pedagogy, learners and learning. It isn’t an easy job – hence the diversity of approaches and the ongoing assessment of those approaches in teacher education programs around the country. While the foundational principles of education may remain the same, English education programs in New York City are not – and should not be – the same as those in Cheyenne. What my students in West Lafayette, Indiana need to know in order to teach a largely rural population differs from what my colleague’s students in Tampa, Florida need to know in order to teach a largely urban population.


Yet, every day, we in teacher education embrace this difficult task of preparing young men and woman to respond as experienced professionals to every possible combination of factors they will meet in their future classrooms. These regulations trade on the common complaint that many beginning teachers feel unprepared when they first enter the classroom, pointing back to a lack of preparation from their teacher education programs. Solidifying such unproven cause and effect into ill-suited regulation belies the many factors that shape a teacher’s entry into the classroom: the type of school, the level of support, the number of resources, the diversity of student issues in addition to the teacher’s individual abilities, understandings and personality. Assuming that this one factor – how teachers are prepared – contributes to the high rate of teacher turnover is yet another unproven cause and effect. Teachers don’t leave simply because they aren’t prepared well. They leave because political, social and rhetorical conditions in this country destroy their will to teach. And those conditions are now poised to destroy teacher education.


Has it occurred to no one (except educators) that one reason teachers leave the classroom is because many schools have become unpleasant places to be? This has less to do with their preparation – teacher education programs cannot control the factors their students will meet upon entering the classroom – and everything to do with the current climate in this country surrounding teachers and education. Why would anyone want to enter a profession that is continuously attacked, denigrated and demeaned in every public avenue? And, yet, I have students in my college classrooms wanting to do just that. These bright young women and men are cognizant that their choice of career is held in little regard; they understand that they will work long hours for little external reward; they accept that the public will disregard their intelligence, their ability and their commitment in seeking to become English teachers. They want to teach, however, because they want to do something meaningful with their brains and their bodies.


These young college graduates willingly take on an astounding level of responsibility from their very first day in the classroom because, as one of my students wrote recently, “How are we, as future teachers, supposed to challenge our students if we never challenge ourselves?” “Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly. “I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.” “You mean you can’t take LESS,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take MORE than nothing.”


At this point in our country’s history, teachers and teacher educators are doing their best with more of nothing: no public support for their work, no understanding of their professionalism, no recognition of the contributory factors to student learning. That extends to the teacher education programs that prepare them. We work against the fallacy that teacher education at the college level is of little benefit, that sixweek boot camps can prepare anyone for the classroom, that those with no understanding of or background in education are better suited to do our work. The US DOE regulations of teacher education programs cost more time and more money – millions, in fact – while implementing an assessment system in higher education that has proven seriously flawed in the public schools. They assume a reductive approach to teacher preparation that belies the complex factors teacher education programs must navigate to educate their candidates. They dismiss the solid work happening in teacher education programs every day throughout the country in favor of pushing an agenda that neither conforms to reality nor recognizes expertise.


Like Alice, we need to push away from our seat at this table by clearly speaking against the misguided beliefs propelling these regulations. We need to publicly proclaim this party for the madness it is, opposing those who lead it and shaking those who slumber while it happens. We know better, as teacher educators. Every day, we do better, as teacher educators. It’s time we spoke up, as teacher educators, and established that we are better at assessing our students’ abilities as teachers than the measures proffered by these fundamentally flawed regulations.


Respectfully submitted,


Melanie Shoffner, PhD Chair, Conference on English Education

The U.S. Department of Education is accepting comments on its proposed regulations about teacher education until January 2, 2015. These regulations would impose VAM on teacher education. These institutions would be judged by the test scores of the students taught by the graduates of these institutions. Graduates would be incentivized to avoid the neediest students.


Please write today and urge the DOE not to impose discredited junk science on teacher education programs.



This is from the Conference on English Education of the National Council of Teachers of Education.



This document provides an overview of the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations for teacher education programs, a list of points concerned educators, scholars, students and parents might use when drafting a response to the proposed regulations, and information on how and when to deliver a response. The authors of this Call to Action urge the CEE membership, as well as all concerned parties, to submit a response to these regulations immediately.



How to Comment: 1. E-mail by January 2, 2015. 2. Submit comments through the comment portal on the regulations website:


Summary of Proposed Regulations



On December 3, 2014, the U.S. Department of Education proposed a new federal rule to extend accountability measures to teacher education programs.


Under this rule, teacher education programs would be graded based on the employment, placement, and performance of its graduates. Included in the performance ranking is the use of VAM (value added measures), a statistical formula that uses children’s tests scores to demonstrate teacher effectiveness.


These rankings will be used to determine eligibility for federal TEACH grants. The Office of Management & Budget is required to make a decision about the collection of information between 30 and 60 days after the regulations’ publication. For your comments to be fully considered, (1) submit them by email ( or (2) through the comment portal ( by Jan. 2, 2015.



Points to Reiterate in Your Own Words: Too Much Testing



The tests used to create the VAM hinder teaching, learning, and innovation. They diminish the experience of school for teachers and children. They discourage teaching that responds to the child and encourage teaching to the test. Children are defined as data and ranked by test scores.


Flawed Methods, Bad Measures


The methods suggested to rank teacher education programs rely on measures that do not serve children, teachers, or schools. The regulations extend the controversial VAM and standards-based models of K-12 education to higher education. The American Statistical Society discredited the VAM as a valid measure of teacher effectiveness.



Hampers Innovation



Innovation demands risk; regulations demand obedience. By tying university programs to a federal rule, the regulations stifle creative responses to local education needs. Instead of meeting the needs of school systems, teachers, children, and parents, universities will be tied to meeting the standards of regulation, regardless of how those regulations fit the local context. In addition, a federal rule leaves university programs unable to meet new challenges and to adapt to changing conditions. 2 Federal Overreach States already regulate their teacher education programs. The proposed regulations transfer that power to the federal government and use the TEACH grants to enforce that power. This is the definition of federal overreach.



The Hidden Costs



The federal regulations demand data and performance from teacher education programs, but they place the costs of gathering and disseminating that data on states. This is another unfunded mandate from the federal government.



Caricatures of Teacher Education Programs



The report portrays teacher education programs as unaccountable producers of poorly prepared teachers. This portrait understands accountability as a statistical formula. Teacher education programs understand assessment and accountability as an ongoing, varied and supportive effort that focuses on the child as an individual with individual needs and abilities, Teacher education programs prepare many, many excellent teachers every year in an inhospitable climate to public education.



How to Comment: 1. E-mail by January 2, 2015.



2. Submit comments through the comment portal on the regulations website:



Respectfully submitted,



Rebecca Powell, University of Southern Mississippi


Anne Elrod Whitney, Pennsylvania State University


Don Zancanella, University of New Mexico


Melanie Shoffner, CEE Chair, Purdue University





American Statistical Society on VAM


Sharon Robinson, AACTE President programs-are-a-cause-for-concern_18389/


Jane West’s webinar: Preparation-Regulations-for-CEEDAR.pdf


Anne Elrod Whitney’s piece Proposed Regulations Bad for Kids, Teachers, and Schools:

In an opinion piece in the Sunday New York Times–a very important place to make one’s views known–David Kirp attempts to explain to the lay public why there is so much pushback against the Common Core standards.


First is the “simple” (one might say “simplistic”) assumption that having common national standards will level the playing fields for all students. As Kirp notes, it is hard to see how that makes sense when some states and districts spend so much more than others; he might as well have added, and some districts have a higher concentration than others of students who are learning English and have severe disabilities.


Second, the Obama administration’s demand for more and more high-stakes testing built heavy opposition to the standards. High-stakes testing, says Kirp, is very unpopular.


He adds:


The Obama administration has only itself to blame. Most Democrats expected that equity would be the top education priority, with more money going to the poorest states, better teacher recruitment, more useful training and closer attention to the needs of the surging population of immigrant kids. Instead, the administration has emphasized high-stakes “accountability” and market-driven reforms. The Education Department has invested more than $370 million to develop the new standards and exams in math, reading and writing.


Kirp does not object to the standards. He suggests that if they had been introduced along with a moratorium on high-stakes testing, there would have been less opposition. He is right about that. The collapse of student scores that follows Common Core testing has not helped the standards or the tests win friends. Their advocates would have us believe that 70% of our kids are dumb, and their schools have been lying to them. But neither parents nor teachers believe the test results have any merit, and when you learn that both PARCC and Smarter Balanced Tests were aligned with the NAEP proficient level, which is beyond the reach of most students and has been ever since the NAEP achievement levels were set in the 1980s. If you set a passing point that you know most kids cannot meet, you are setting them up for unwarranted “failure.”


If we go back to his first point–what difference will national standards make when there is so much inequitable funding–one is left to wonder what difference the Common Core standards would make even if there were a moratorium on high-stakes testing?



The latest state report in Georgia found that student performance across both public schools and charter schools was stagnant, no doubt a reflection of the failure of test-based accountability. At some point, do you think policymakers will decide that all the time and money invested in testing has been wasted?


Georgia’s public schools took a step backward academically, an annual state report card released last week found, and many charter schools did not escape the lower marks.
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution review of the data found about three of five charter school grade clusters had lower scores on the state education department’s 2013-14 College and Career-Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) than they did the prior school year. Grade clusters are separated by the elementary, middle and high school levels.
The index shows several charter high schools are in trouble or need improvement. Three charter high schools were 50 percent or more below the statewide high school average for academic achievement. Academic achievement — how students fared on state end-of-course and standardized tests — accounts for up to 60 points, more than half the CCRPI score. In all, 15 of the 24 charter high schools reviewed by the AJC had academic achievement scores that were below the statewide high school average….


There was some encouraging news from the recent CCRPI findings for charter schools. Middle schools with data available were four points better than the state average. Elementary charter schools were on average five-tenths of a point better.


The data reviewed by the AJC showed charter high schools were on average three-tenths of a point below the statewide average.


Conversion charter schools, schools that began as traditional public schools, fared about as well as startup charter schools, the AJC’s review of available data found.


Is this why the Waltons and other billionaires poured money into Georgia’s state referendum on charters? Is this the education revolution they expected? A four-point gain in middle school; five-tenths of a point better in elementary schools; three-tenths of a point below the state average in high school?


Much ado about nothing, other than destroying the public’s belief that public schools belong to the public and providing opportunities for entrepreneurs to cash in.