Archives for the month of: October, 2015

Professor Audrey Amrein-Beardsley presents her views about the administration’s new stance on testing. Is it new? What does it really mean?

To read her many links, open the article and read it.

For those of you who have not yet heard, last weekend the Obama Administration released a new “Testing Action Plan” in which the administration calls for a “decreased,” “curbed,” “reversed,” less “obsessed,” etc. emphasis on standardized testing for the nation. The plan, headlined as such, has hit the proverbial “front pages” of many news (and other) outlets since…

The gist of the “Testing Action Plan” is that student-level tests, when “[d]one poorly, in excess, or without clear purpose…take valuable time away from teaching and learning, draining creative approaches from our classrooms.” It is about time the federal government acknowledges this, officially, and kudos to them for “bear[ing] some of the responsibility for this” throughout the nation. However, they also assert that testing is, nevertheless, still essential as long as tests “take up the minimum necessary time, and reflect the expectation that students will be prepared for success.”

What is this “necessary time” of which they speak?

They set the testing limits for all states not to exceed 2%. More specifically, they, “recommend that states place a cap on the percentage of instructional time students spend taking required statewide standardized assessments to ensure that… [pause marker added] no child spends more than 2 percent of her classroom time taking these tests [emphasis added].” Notice the circumlocution here as per No Child Left Behind (NCLB) — that which substantively helped bring us to become such a test-crazed nation in the first place.

When I first heard this, though, the first thing I did was pull out my trusty calculator to determine what this would actually mean in practice. If students across the nation attend school 180 days (which is standard), and they spend approximately 5 of approximately 6 hours each of these 180 days in instruction (e.g., not including lunch), this would mean that students spend approximately 900 educative hours in school every year (i.e., 180 days x 5 hours/day). If we take 2% of 900, that yields an approximate number of actual testing hours (as “recommended” and possibly soon to be mandated by the feds, pending a legislative act of congress) equal to 18 hours per academic year. “Assess” for yourself whether you think that amount of testing time (i.e., 18 hours of just test taking per student across all public schools) is to reduce the nation’s current over-emphasis on testing, especially given this does not include the time it takes for what the feds also define as high-quality “test preparation strategies,” either.

Nonetheless, President Obama also directed the U.S. Department of Education to review its test-based policies to also address places where the feds may have contributed to the problem, but might also contribute to the (arguably token) solutions (i.e., by offering financial support to help states develop better and less burdensome tests, by offering “expertise” to help states reduce time spent on testing – see comment about the 2% limit prior). You can see their other strategies in their “Testing Action Plan.” Note, however, that it also clearly states within this plan that the feds will do this to help states still “meet [states’] policy objectives and requirements [as required] under [federal] law,” although the feds also state that they will become at least a bit more flexible on this end, as well.

In this regard, the feds express that they will provide more flexibility and support in terms of non-tested grades and subjects, and the extent to which states that wish to amend their NCLB flexibility waivers (e.g., in terms of evaluating out-of-tested-subject-area teachers). However, states will still be required to maintain their “teacher and leader evaluation and support systems that include [and rely upon] growth in student learning [emphasis added]” (e.g., by providing states with greater flexibility when determining how much weight to ascribe to teacher-level growth measures).

How clever of the feds to carry out such a smoke and mirrors explanation.

Another indicator of this is the fact that the 10 states that the feds highlight in their “Testing Action Plan” as the states in which educational leaders are helping to lead these federal initiatives are as follows: Delaware, Florida, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington DC. Seven of these 10 states (except for Delaware, Minnesota, and Rhode Island) are the 7 states about which I write blog posts most often, as these 7 states have the most draconian educational policies mandating high-stakes use of said tests across the nation. In addition, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and New York are the states leading the nation in terms of the national opt-out movement. This is not because these states are leading the way in focusing less on said tests.

In addition, all of this was also based (at least in part, see also here) on new survey results recently released by the Council of the Great City Schools, in which researchers set out to determine how much time is spent on testing. They found that across their (large) district members, the average time spent testing was “surprisingly low [?!?]” at 2.34%, which study authors calculate to be approximately 4.22 total days spent on just testing (i.e., around 21 hours if one assumes, again, an average day’s instructional time = 5 hours). Again, this does not include time spent preparing for tests, nor does it include other non-standardized tests (e.g., those that teachers develop and use to assess their students’ learning).

So, really, the feds did not decrease the amount of time spent testing really at all, they literally just rounded down, losing 34 hundredths of a whole.

Richard Parsons, chair of Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Commission, works for a firm that invests in education technology and has contracts with the state, according to the Long Island Business News.

“One of the governor’s chief education advisers is employed by a firm that does millions of dollars of business with the state’s schools, although that has not been disclosed to the public.
“Richard Parsons, the leader of an earlier state education commission that recommended heavy investment in technology and head of a new education task force, works for a company whose principal holdings include an education technology firm that does a substantial business with the state.
“Parsons, the former chairman of Citigroup and CEO and chairman of Time Warner, was recently named the head of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s task force on the Common Core.
“Since 2009 he has been a senior adviser at Providence Equity Partners – whose principal holdings include numerous education technology firms. The state disclosed his position there, but did not indicate that Providence had any involvement in education technology firms.
“That definitely should have been disclosed,” said one education official who asked not to be identified. “I knew him from Time Warner….

“Providence owns Blackboard, a high-tech education firms whose roots go back to a consulting firm founded in 1997 to work with non-profit IMS Global Learning Consortium and merged with CourseInfo the following year.
“Venture capital firms and venture capital arms of companies such as Pearson, Dell, AOL, The Carlyle Group and Novak Biddle Venture Partners all took stakes in Blackboard, which went public in 2004.
“Investors led by Providence Equity Partners later bought Blackboard for $1.64 billion, taking the firm private. Blackboard remains one of Providence’s key holdings with contracts around the country, including New York State.
“Blackboard in December of 2011 obtained a $6.8 million contract for the State University of New York system, according to state records, in 2012 obtained another $1 million contract and in 2014 obtained a $7.5 million contract.
The company also obtained a $5.9 million contract with the City University of New York in 2012, followed by an additional $1 million contract over the next two years.
“Blackboard has been building its New York business, even as Parsons has risen to a high rank among the state’s education advisers.

“Allison Breidbart White, a critic of the Common Core and of the task force Gov. Andrew Cuomo created, said there is “no doubt, lots of conflict of interest on that panel, not just with Parsons.”
“He also served as the head of the governor’s 2012 committee to reform education that recommended heavily investing in technology.
“The state indicates that the New York Education Reform Commission that Parsons led “played an instrumental role in developing a blueprint to improve the quality of education for all students through its final report in January 2014.”
“The New York Education Reform Commission under Parsons focused heavily on the benefits of and need to spend heavily on rolling out more technology.
Read more: http://libn.com/2015/10/27/gov-chief-ed-advisers-firm-major-supplier-to-state-ed/#ixzz3poDyxYv1

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, former CEO in Chicago, recently pleaded guilty to a kickback scheme that would have netted her $2.3 million for delivering a no-bid contract to a former employer. Now, the Chicago Sun-Times reports, the FBI is investigating a textbook contract for nearly $40 million that to another former employer while Byrd-Bennett worked in Detroit.

Reader Arthur Camins offered this comment about the renewed debate about testing:

I am cautiously optimistic that the Obama Administration has taken tentative steps to reduce over-testing. However, I don’t see evidence that there is a fundamental shift the values and goals that frame their education policies. Over-testing is certainly a huge problem. But, the type and role of testing is a bigger problem than the number of assessments.

As I argued here (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/05/01/what-if-we-approached-testing-this-way/), if we expect learning improvement, we need to shift the focus of assessment from consequential summative assessment to daily examination of student work that informs both students and teachers. In addition, we need to abandon the evidenceless idea that judging teaching effectiveness based on value-added measures of student performance can be a lever for improvement.

Further, the Administration’s continued support for the expansion of charter schools is a fundamental threat to equitable democratically governed public education and the value of community responsibility (http://www.arthurcamins.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Education-reform-and-the-corrosion-of-community-responsibility-_-The-Answer-Sheet.pdf). Finally, while there is certainly a range between Democrats and Republicans, no one in the Obama Administration, nor any of the presidential candidates have challenged the winners and losers philosophy that has dominated education policy for the last several decades.

It is time to say, “Haven’t We Done Enough! Must We Have Winners and Losers Even in Education,” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arthur-camins/havent-we-done-enough-mus_b_8292806.html) The Administration’s announcement on limiting testing is evidence of power of organized citizens, such as the Opt Out movement. It’s time to expand that influence to demand changes that will actually make a difference in the lives of our children. Our only hope for a different course of action in informed voters who demand different policies.
http://www.arthurcamins.com

Marc Tucker is glad to see the U.S. Department of Education acknowledging that American students spend too much time being tested and preparing for tests. But, he writes, it didn’t go far enough to take responsibility for the multiplication of redundant tests.

He writes:

A new report from the Council of the Great City Schools has done what seemingly nothing or no one has yet been able to do: Convince the current administration that the rampant over-testing in U.S. schools is proving harmful for the quality of education that our students receive.

The report found that students take, on average, more than 112 standardized tests between pre-K and grade 12, with the average student taking about eight standardized tests per year. Some are intended to “fulfill federal requirements under No Child Left Behind, NCLB waivers, or Race to the Top (RTT), while many others originate at the state and local levels. Others were optional.”

Now the administration is signaling that they see the error of their and their predecessors’ ways. Calling for a two percent cap on the amount of classroom time that is spent on testing, and a host of other proposals, the administration’s mea culpa is an unexpected demonstration of what can occur when the facts are laid bare for all to see. How much is actually done to reverse the over-testing trend will be decided by the actions of incoming acting Secretary of Education John King.

The tone of flexibility in the Department’s announcement is new and welcome, as is its recognition that the Department may share some culpability in the national revolt against testing. Its call for fewer and higher quality assessments is on target, as is its willingness to help the states come up with more sensible approaches.

What I don’t see in the administration’s proposals is understanding that the vast proliferation of indiscriminate testing with cheap, low quality tests is the direct result of federal education policies beginning with No Child Left Behind and continuing with Race to the Top and the current waiver regime. I offer you one phrase in the Department’s announcement in evidence of this proposition: “The Department will work with states that wish to amend their ESEA flexibility waiver plans to reduce testing…while still maintaining teacher and leader evaluation and support systems that include growth in student learning.”

But it is precisely the federal government’s insistence on requiring testing regimes that facilitate teacher and leader evaluations that include student growth metrics that caused all this over-testing in the first place.

Outstanding principals I’ve talked with tell me that when tough-minded, test-based accountability came into vogue, they created or found good interventions that came with their own assessments, each keyed to the intervention they were using. They had always done that. But their district superintendents, also fearful for their jobs under the new regime, mandated other interventions, with their own tests. Then the state piled on with their own mandated programs and tests, all driven by the fear of leaders, at each level, that if student performance did not improve at the required rate, their own jobs were on the line. Few of these interventions were aligned with the new standards or with each other. But time was of the essence. Better a non-aligned instructional program than none at all. Better a cheap test of basic skills they could afford than a much more expensive one they could not afford.

What sent the numbers right over the cliff was pacing. School administrators, focused on having their students score well on the basic skills tests used by the state accountability systems, pushed schools enrolling large numbers of disadvantaged students to figure out where the students needed to be at set intervals during the year. This determined the pace of instruction. It also made it much easier for administrators to get control over the instruction. All that remained was to administer a test at each of those intervals—say every month or couple of months—to see whether the teachers were keeping pace with the scripted curriculum and the students were making enough progress to do well at the end of the semester or year….

The key for great school leaders isn’t formal evaluation and it isn’t firing people. Only Donald Trump, evidently, fired his way to the top. The key is running a great school that great people want to work in, and then spending a lot of time identifying, recruiting and supporting those great people. Principals who work this way often let their staff know that they expect them to work hard. Those who do not want to work so hard go elsewhere. But these principals do not depend on test-based accountability systems to identify the slackers nor do they depend on test-based accountability systems to identify the teachers they want to hire or to develop them once they are hired.. Why should they? They are in classrooms all the time, talking and observing, coaching and supporting.

The data reported by the Council of the Great City Schools reveal a calamity. The cause is our national accountability system. The flexibility offered by the Department of Education is welcome and refreshing, but it is not the answer. The answer will have to wait for the day when the federal government no longer insists that the states and schools use test-based accountability and value-added strategies to assess individual teachers with consequences for individual teachers. John King did not create this system. Perhaps he can help this country change it. We’ll see.

State Representative Andrrw Brenner recently became chairman of Ohio’s House Education Committee. His views are extreme, to say the least. He believes that public schools are socialistic, along the lines of the old Soviet Union. He is upset that children don’t read the Bible in school, a practice banned by the U.S. Supreme Court half a century ago.

This is the kind of slander about public schools that was popular among hard-right Republicans in the 1940s and 1950s. I wonder if Rep. Brenner also considers police and firefighters to be socialistic and if he objects to public parks, beaches, and highways.

Brenner was co-sponsor of the bill that allows the state to takeover the Youngstown school district and to place a non-educator in charge with sweeping power.

Rep. Brenner reminds us that the assault on public education will end only when supporters of sane, centrist, and equitable education policies are returned to public office.

The featured documentary, Education Inc., explores how public education is under attack not only here in the Empire State, but across the nation. From Colorado to Chicago to New York State, millionaires, billionaires and corporate America are leading a campaign to privatize public schools and starve them of resources. Join us tonight to learn what we can do to to stop the corporate education reformers, and preserve Public Education as we know it. 
Education Inc. Documentary and Discussion
Hosted By Assemblymember Cathy Nolan, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee
LaGuardia Community College Little Theater 
 31-10 Thomson Ave, Long Island City
This event is free and open to the public.
5:00-7:00pm Today, October 27!
From testing to privatization, we can protect our kids from the corporate ed reform agenda! Please join the conversation to discover what issues face our schools, and what we can do to stop it. 
For more information, please contact jasmine@aqeny.org for more details. To see the trailer for Education Inc. click here.
Best, 

Jasmine Gripper

Statewide Education Advocate 

Alliance for Quality Education 
Follow @AQE_NY on Twitter

The Alliance for Quality Education I 94 Central Ave., Albany, NY I (518) 432-5315 I http://www.aqeny.org I @AQE_NY

Maureen Downey tells the story on her blog at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Georgia was late opening charters so it has not seen scandals like Ohio and Florida. Here is the first big one.

She writes:

“An AJC story this week reveals troubling allegations about the much heralded Atlanta Latin Academy and its charismatic and well-regarded founder Chris Clemons.

“Police have called Clemons a suspect in the disappearance of $600,000 from the school.
That is likely to shock people who knew him. The Georgia Charter Schools Association describes Clemons as “visionary” on its website.

“A 2007 profile of him by a MIT publication — Clemons holds a MBA from the prestigious school — quotes a former colleague as saying, “He’s brilliant. I don’t know anyone who can keep up with his mind…If he believes in something, watch out. The sky is the limit for him.”

AJC reporter Molly Bloom wrote:

“Atlanta police are investigating the alleged theft of more than half a million dollars from a charter school, according to a police report.

“More than $600,000 was taken from Atlanta Latin Academy bank and credit card accounts through ATM withdrawals to pay for dinners, nonwork-related travel, bonuses to employees and “personal entertainment at local nightclubs, ” according to the report.

“School founder Chris Clemons and the school‘s operations director were the only staff members with access to both accounts, school board chairman Kaseem Ladipo said.”

At this point, Clemons is the only suspect.

Welcome, Georgia, to the wonderful new world of charters, where public money mysteriously disappears.

Emily Talmage, Maine teacher and blogger, began to wonder whether there was a connection between Maine’s Common Core standards, its Smarter Balanced tests, and its proficiency-based tests. She did some research, and you won’t be surprised–although she was–to learn that behind everything was ………the Gates Foundation!

http://emilytalmage.com/2015/10/22/gates-undercover/

Whether it was the Nellie Mae Education Foundation or Great Schools or Educate Maine, the money came from Gates.

“Several months ago, while conducting some much overdue research into the back-story of Common Core, I stumbled across a document from the Gates Foundation that painted such a frighteningly clear picture of next-gen ed-reform that I actually wondered for a time if perhaps I was hallucinating.

I wasn’t, and within a very short time, it became unmistakably obvious that the Common Core Standards, our new Smarter Balanced test, and Maine’s one of a kind (but not for long if they have their way, so watch out!) proficiency-based diploma mandate were all linked like pieces of a puzzle to a corporate-driven agenda to transform our schools into “personalized” (digital!) learning environments. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, see here for more.)

Quite literally sick to my stomach, I emailed a union rep to ask if he knew anything about the paper I had found.

“It’s ghastly,” he replied, “but in Maine, it has been the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and the Great Schools Partnership that has been behind these policies.”

Okay. So maybe I was mistaken. Nellie Mae sounded friendly enough. So did Great Schools. (Who doesn’t like great schools?)”

What’s the bottom line? Online digital learning for all, linked to online assessments.

After a career in education in Pennsylvania, Arnold Hillman and his wife Carol decided to move to Hilton Head, South Carolina, after their retirement. They spent 35 years advocating for children in rural schools.

Here are some unsettling first impressions, which Arnold wrote for this blog:


SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY ?????

This will be the 10th week that Carol and I have lived in South Carolina. It just seems like we have been getting settled in, which means unpacking boxes, buying new furniture, reordering our medications and going to copious doctors. The travel through the medical esplanade has been an awakening. We have concluded that the medical care here is superior to that which we received in Harrisburg.

It appears that docs here use the most advanced technology. It is difficult to conceive how much more we will find out as we run through them all. I am now enthused about how I might take the age spots off my hands, or eliminate the need for specs. I was even happy that I will now be able to eliminate some of these pesky growths on my arms and head without having them frozen off. In some ways these are positive things. You can figure out why they might not be.

We are living in a dream world. The community was built starting in 1995. It has every amenity you can think of. It has encouraged us to get into good physical shape. It has so many activities that some people have to take tranquilizers just to keep up. We will not be doing the club circuit as yet. We are more interested in what is going on outside the gates of the community than inside it.

What we found is rather sad. We understood when we moved down here, that Hilton Head Island is an extremely wealthy community. The first bizarre item is that there are tons of thrift shops. I guess when the wealthy change their home décor; they must get rid of their former furniture. It is also a place that houses many older people. That means when they pass (a southern expression) the items in their homes become grist for auctions, so that relatives can turn them into cash. There are even booklets with the names and locations of most of the thrift shops on both Hilton Head and Bluffton (where we live).

Carol and I are pretty much convinced that what we know as “Southern Charm” is just a cover name for racism. The county that we live in is next door to a very poor county. The kids in the schools there – they have county school districts, are 85% minority. In 2010, the graduation rate for the high schools in that county was 39%. Can you believe that, 39%? The well to do and mostly white county, in which we live, serves 21,000 students and is growing at a rate of 500 more students per year. Its schools are either new or are well turned out. Some of the elementary schools that have some poverty seem not to be as well resourced as some others.

The animosity of the community in the poor county can be viewed at every school board meeting. Most of the time, the white board members are attacking the school superintendent. She is African American. She is also very talented and has raised almost every major educational marker since she came here 5 years ago.

Because of her desire to improve the education of the children, she has embarked on a journey that has improved the district as a whole, but has angered those who enjoyed the fruits of a dilapidated system. Things like nepotism had run rampant. The hiring of those without the proper certifications were daily occurrences. School district economic issues were handled behind closed doors. People in the business office were not professionals and budgeting was helter skelter.

This appeared to be o.k. with a board that had seen significant turnover and co-terminus with superintendent turnover.

When the new superintendent arrived from being an assistant in a large city in South Carolina, she began to do away with nepotism. She dispensed with the uncertified staff and got rid of some of the employees that were there only because Uncle Louie insisted on their being hired. This began a minor conflagration with those whose reason for being on the board was to somehow influence the district to send business to them or their friends and family members.

As things started to improve, those who see African Americans with education as “uppity” wanted this all to stop and wanted to put her in her place. This all has a familiar ring to it. At the last election, most of the new board members had a beef with the superintendent. One new member wanted to have her daughter be the homecoming queen, even though she had lost. The mom wanted the superintendent to declare her daughter the winner.

Another member was a longtime volunteer from the wealthy side of the community. He worked at the high school and presented information he had gleaned there to make public presentations about how things were going so poorly. He was asked by the teachers to please leave.

I believe that South Carolina is the only state that buys its buses for all of its school districts. The buses that they purchased are usually used ones and last time they were those from Tennessee. Of the 30 some odd buses in the county, 20 of them are over 20 years old and have over 300,000 miles on them. This puts pressure on rural schools, because you might have some dough to lease other buses, but if not, you are stuck with the ancient ones. If you buy your own buses, the state removes THEIR buses one for one.

Some of our neighbors here in Disneyworld for adults, have never seen or experienced racial bias. I was forced to tell them that they did not look like the people who were being discriminated against. It is our experience that African American women are more likely to tell you what’s going on than African American men. I believe that is because it falls on their children to battle the forces that want to keep them in their place. The moms know what’s ahead for their children and have their feelings on their sleeves.

Carol and I may have some small understanding of discrimination. We have felt it as a result of living in rural communities where there were few or no Jews. There were a few incidents in the schools they went to. They were taken care of by the principals. Sometimes it’s good to be the superintendent of schools. Even the principals began to understand.

We went to a specialist for Carol’s issues in Savannah. Some of the preliminary testing was done by an African American woman in her forties. As the test was quite long, we were able to strike up a conversation with her. I guess, as patients, we were not anyone that she would have to worry about. She was quite frank with us about how the color of your skin meant more to people than what your skills were. She did not complain about having been passed over for a job. She explained that the kind of discrimination that goes on in the hospital must be seen with a wider eye.

Her view was that most of the jobs in the hospital, including physicians and nurses, were the province of those that controlled things. The city itself was set up so that only certain people were permitted to rise to the top. Even with an African American as mayor, the system was always the same. There was kind of a glass ceiling that everyone was just supposed to obey.

There was little of the outward prejudice that one might think was there, but it is more insidious and much less on the surface. Greetings with the terms, ma’am, sir, and so on are plentiful, but the real lack of respect is what happens after the introductions.

“The Corridor of Shame” was a documentary about the schools along rte. 95 in South Carolina. It extends from the North Carolina border to the border of Georgia. It is rife with poverty and schools with insufficient funds. It was also the subject of a lawsuit based on the Abbeville School District that began in 1993 and was concluded just last year. The Supreme Court of South Carolina voted 3-2 for the legislature to produce adequate funding for its schools. The legislature was given to February 2016 to come up with a plan.

The legislature has said that it had no intention of fulfilling that order.
88% of those school districts children are minority. Looks like another victory for Southern Charm.