Archives for category: Administrators, superintendents

I like this post by Peter Greene a lot because it clears up confusion about what defines a public school. Many people think that charter schools are public schools because most state laws define them as “public charter schools.” The charter industry wrote the state laws, and they desperately wanted to be considered “public schools” so they could qualify for the same funding as public schools (in Texas, they get even more funding than real public schools). The proliferation of corporate charter chains make it even harder to see charter schools as public schools, since nowhere in the history of public schools were multiple schools managed by a corporation.

Greene asks the questions that define what a real public school is.

Here are a few of them:

Is the school and its resources owned by the public?

Who owns the building? If the school closed tomorrow, who would take possession of the building, the desks, the chairs, the books, the music stands, etc etc etc. If the physical resources of the building are owned by the public, it’s probably a public school.


Is the school run by local elected officials?

When we get to the very top level of management, do we find a board of local people elected by local taxpayers? If so, it’s probably a public school. We’re in a fuzzy grey area in districts under mayoral control, but not at all fuzzy when discussing upper management that is not elected by anybody at all.

Did those local officials open the school?

Who decided this school should exist, and that local taxpayers should pay for it? If that decision was made by a board of local citizens elected by local taxpayers, it’s probably a public school.

Are those local official required by law to meet only ever in public?

Can the board of local citizens elected by the local taxpayers meet in secret? Or must their meetings be announced and in public, with exceptions only for times when the group must adjourn for privacy regarding, say, personnel or student issues? Public school boards don’t get to meet unannounced, privately.

Are all financial records available upon request, and subject to state audit?

If you’ve gone to court to block the state from auditing your school financial records, you are not a public school. It’s simple, really– you’re spending taxpayer money, and the taxpayers are entitled to an accounting of it. Any taxpayer should be able to access your financials. The state should audit you regularly.

If your school doesn’t meet these minimal requirements, it is not a public school.


The Orlando Sentinel has been covering scandal after scandal in the voucher schools of Florida, but the Legislature doesn’t care about their scandals and is planning to take even more money from public schools to fund more private voucher schools. The Sentinel published a story about one troubled voucher school that has received over $5 million from the state since 2015 despite the fact that it hires teachers without college degrees.

Leslie Postal and Annie Martin wrote about Winners Primary School in Orange County, which recently changed its name to Providence Christian Preparatory School:

The job applicant hoped to teach fourth grade at Winners Primary School, a small private school in west Orange County. She didn’t have a college degree and her last job was at a child care center, which fired her.

“Terminated would not rehire,” read the reference check form from the daycare.

Since 2018, the school, dependent on state scholarships for most of its income, has hired at least three other teachers with red flags in their employment backgrounds and at least 10 other instructors who lacked college degrees, an Orlando Sentinel investigation found.

One Winners teacher — whose only academic credential was his high school diploma — was arrested in November, accused of soliciting sexually explicit videos from a boy in his class. Others have criminal backgrounds or histories of being fired for incompetence in other jobs, the records show. Despite that, the Florida Department of Education recently opened and closed an investigation into the school without taking any action.

The school is constantly hiring because many teachers work there only briefly. With about a dozen teachers on staff, Winners had a teacher turnover rate of 83% between 2019 and 2020. The turnover and the questionable teaching credentials raise doubts about the quality of education offered to the school’s 250 students in pre-K through eighth grade.

“The kids should’ve been in public schools,” said Evan McKelvey, who taught math at Winners for six months, leaving in January after getting hired at Bishop Moore Catholic High School. “All of the public schools around here are leagues better than that place.”

Almost all the students attend because Florida’s scholarships, often called school vouchers, cover their tuition. Since 2015, Winners, a for-profit school run by a married couple with a history of financial problems, has received more than $5.1 million in state scholarship money.

The school’s students use the state scholarships — Family Empowerment and Florida Tax Credit — that aim to help children from low-income families attend private schools...

Typically, the nearly 2,000 private schools that take state scholarships do not need to make public information on their operations or their employees. Despite state support, taxpayers have no right to see who is hired or what is taught at these schools.

Because of the teacher’s arrest at Winners, however, the department opened an investigation, telling the principal it was worried the school could be in violation of state scholarship laws because “proper vetting during the hiring process is not occurring,” according to a letter sent to the school Nov. 19.

“When we’re made aware of situations like this, our team thoroughly investigates,” said Eric Hall, senior chancellor at the education department, when asked about Winners at a January meeting of the Florida Senate’s education committee. ”We take these things very seriously. We would make sure that we hold those institutions or those individuals accountable.”

Less than two months later, however, the department closed its investigation without taking any action against the school, despite a file depicting a shoddy employee vetting process and a history of questionable teacher hires. The school faced similar state inquiries in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and was cleared to remain a scholarship school then, too.

That is because the Republican-led Legislature has written the scholarship program laws to give the state only limited power to oversee participating private schools. As the Sentinel reported in its 2017 “Schools Without Rules” series, some of the schools have hired teachers with criminal backgrounds, been evicted, set up in rundown facilities and falsified fire and health reports but still remained in the voucher programs.

This year, the Florida Senate is considering a bill to expand the scholarship programs that already serve more than 181,000 students and cost nearly $1 billion, so that more children could use them and more state money would be spent.

The Legislature also has turned down requests to stiffen the rules that govern participating private schools. In 2018, for example, a proposal to require private schools’ teachers to have bachelor’s degrees — as the state demands of its public school teachers — was rejected. Advocates say the scholarships, some of which go to children with disabilities, give parents options outside public schools, and if parents aren’t happy with the private school they pick, they can move their child to another campus...

The education department investigated the school previously after a complaint from a parent who wrote the state to say the campus was dirty and “children of all ages are running out of the classroom screaming and hitting each other,” as well as after a report from the Florida Department of Children and Families that a teacher had hurt a student and the Sentinel’s report in 2018 that the school had hired a felon as a teacher.

A custodian at the school served time in prison for a firearms violation.

The story goes on with more details about the checkered past and present of a “school without rules” and a legislature that happily hands out millions to anyone who asks for them, all in the name of “school choice.” Even bad choices are fine in Florida.

Subscribe to the Orlando Sentinel to read the full story.

Kevin McDermott of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch excoriated retiring Senator Roy Blunt as a symbol of a cowering GQP establishment that failed to stand up to Trump. McDermott wonders why newcomer Josh Hawley has a national profile (as a Trump lackey), but the senior senator from Missouri is virtually unknown outside the state.

Unfortunately, Blunt also has personified what establishment Republicans became during the Trump era: passive enablers to a chronically mendacious, constitutionally malicious, mentally unfit president.

And now Blunt is, once again, personifying the GOP establishment, this time by exiting the extremist bunker that his party has become — a trend that intensified under Trump, as Blunt and others at the grownups’ table stared down at their plates in mute terror...

Blunt, just by virtue of his position in the Senate Republican hierarchy, could have forced a historic shift in the narrative of the Trump era had he done what he could have — shouldhave — done at any point during Trump’s tenure. Blunt could have walked up to any microphone in sight after some Trumpian outrage or other (the available choices were constant) and said what he knows is true: “This isn’t who we are. As a party, or as a country. Acceptance of this ignorant, corrosive sociopath of a president isn’t a valid trade for tax cuts and judges. It’s a selling of the soul, and I won’t do it anymore.

Yes, he would have lost his Senate Republican leadership role and probably his seat — the same seat he is now leaving willingly anyway. Meanwhile, it would have forced a badly needed self-examination by the GOP. Most importantly, Blunt might have provided a little cover for lower-ranking Republicans of conscience to follow suit.

Instead, Blunt mostly held his tongue for four years, voting twice to acquit Trump for his clearly impeachable offenses of trying to extort election aid from Ukraine and for inciting violent insurrection in an attempt to overturn the 2020 vote.

In essence, Blunt consistently backed a president who represented the most dire threat to constitutional democracy that we’ve seen in our lifetimes. The fact that Blunt did this quietly, without the toxic enthusiasm of Hawley and his ilk, is irrelevant. What’s the point of having a grownups’ table if its occupants let the children overrun the place?

The Biden administration selected San Diego Superintendent of Schools Cindy Marten to become Deputy Secretary of Education, the #2 job in the Department of Education.

She has a long career as a teacher, as principal of a high-poverty school in San Diego, and as Superintendent of the state’s second largest district since 2013.

Louis Freedberg of Edsource describes her career in this article.

Marten has been superintendent of San Diego Unified since 2013. But before that she had been a teacher for 17 years, as well as principal of San Diego’s Central Elementary School, a school in the diverse City Heights neighborhood where 96% of students qualify for free and reduced-priced meals.

It was after several years at Central Elementary that she made the virtually unheard of jump from an elementary school principal to being superintendent of her district — not just any district, but the second-largest district in California and the 20th-largest in the nation.

Derrick Johnson, President of the national NAACP, tweeted his support for her candidacy.

The San Diego chapter of the NAACP, strong supporters of charter schools, has criticized Cindy Marten for the high suspension rates of black students (black students are 4% of the SD enrollment but 12% of suspensions). The critics do not note that the San Diego school board passed a resolution to replace suspensions with programs of restorative justice, which will drive down suspension rates.

No such voices complained about John King, when he was nominated to be Secretary of Education by the Obama administration, after Arne Duncan stepped down. King’s no-excuses charter school in Massachusetts had the highest suspension rate in the nation (nearly 60%), but no one mentioned it. He was “the king of suspensions,” but no one cared.

Marten is committed to child-centered education, with a heaping dose of the arts and play. She is a worthy choice to serve as Deputy Secretary of Education.

The Biden-Harris administration announced the selection of Cindy Marten, superintendent of schools in San Diego for the past seven years, as its choice for Deputy Secretary of Education. I have known her for 15 years. I first met her when she was the new principal of Central Elementary School. This will be the first time in the history of the U.S. Department of Education that the top two jobs were held by people with experience as teachers and principals.

This 2018 article is a good portrayal of who she is.

Read her memo to the transition team here.


The superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Susana Cordova, resigned abruptly, and her departure was followed by finger pointing. Denver has been a hot spot for “reformers,” and it’s school board elections attract DFER, “Education Reform Now,” and other big-money donors from out of state.

I asked Jeanne Kaplan, a former DPS board member, to explain what’s going on. She sent me her comments and a statement released by the Colorado Latino Forum.

Kaplan writes:

In spite of the cacophony of adulation from education reformers there is no evidence that Susana Cordova has been pushed out by the Board of Education. Susana Cordova left in the middle of the school year in the middle of a pandemic because Susana Cordova wanted to leave for reasons unknown. (Ms. Cordova has been silent so far except for her initial letter of resignation). Was the Board at odds with her and her reformer staffers? At times, yes, but that should be expected when education reformers consistently sought to thwart the decision of the people and the mandate to the Board through two election cycles. In fact an argument can be made that these education reformers are in fact the reason for Ms. Cordova’s exit, for it is they who have sewn chaos and dissent within the District.  

Since Ms. Cordova’s announcement reformers have gone into a full court press to push a story line that says, “Mean board pushed out a local woman of color superintendent. Bad Board would not work with superintendent” with a clear undercurrent message: “ board needs to be replaced.”  Letters of support and social media postings for Cordova have poured in from a former and the current mayor (both of whom it should be noted are strong education reformers),  education reformer extraordinaire, Arne Duncan (former Secretary of Education), 14 former DPS women school board members, historically reform oriented organizations like Donnell-Kaye, A+ Colorado, and a myriad of other smaller reform organizations. Again, with no evidence the “superintendent pushed out by the board” storyline has become the storyline.  But is this case? Or is this just a last ditch effort for education reform to continue to push to be the driving philosophy in Denver? Or, are one or more of these scenarios possible? Is this

o   An attempt for mayoral control of Denver’s public Schools?

o   An attempt to lay the groundwork for a no holds barred school board election cycle in 2021 where the current board is blamed for the chaos?

o   An attempt to blame teachers for her exit?

o   An attempt to blame Susana for the failures of Michael Bennet and Tom Boasberg?

o   A subtle attempt to undermine Denver’s women school leaders, since the Superintendent, Board president and Board vice president are women? And finally,

o   Did Susana’s departure lead to the departures of her education reformer staffers, Mark Ferrandino and Jen Holladay, or did their impending departures lead to Susana’s departure? The Colorado Latino Forum, whose mission is to increase the political, social, educational and economic strength of Latinas and Latinos, just released a statement regarding the current situation.  CLF has documented the situation and speaks for many of us.  Thank you to the Board of Directors for the honesty and bravery.

Statement Regarding Resignation of Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova

The sudden resignation of DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova has sparked a small but politically powerful group, led by Mayor Michael Hancock, to decry Cordova’s resignation as a far-fetched racist and sexist conspiracy — a charge so outrageous that it can not go unchallenged. Therefore, the CLF Board is compelled to set the record straight with several facts omitted by the Mayor in his campaign to smear duly elected Board of Education members, who, unlike Mayor Hancock and his wealthy allies, are unpaid public servants.

First, Superintendent Susanna Cordova resigned last week of her own accord. According to her public announcement, she is taking a high-level position at a school district in the Dallas, Texas area. Ms. Cordova will benefit from a hefty pension from the DPS budget that will allow her to comfortably transition into a presumably well-paying new salary. However, unlike Ms. Cordova, many under-paid teachers and their students will continue to languish during a pandemic without adequate resources, such as basic internet access for remote learning. Further, their parents will continue to financially struggle to secure adequate childcare, and to make ends meet. It is disappointing that the Mayor does not express the same level of outrage for these teachers, students and their families.

Second, when selecting former superintendent Tom Boasberg’s replacement, Board members with close ties to the Hancock administration ensured that Cordova, as Boasberg’s protege, was the sole finalist after an expensive and superficial national search process. However, these same political insiders are now demanding an “independent” community engagement process — an opportunity that they denied to public education advocates during a succession of politically-connected superintendents dating back to over fifteen years. It is worth noting that neither Boasberg nor Bennet had education backgrounds, but were selected anyway over strong community objections.

Third, to blame teachers for hastening Cordova’s departure is irresponsible and mean spirited. Last November, the remaining Hancock-aligned board members opposed the teacher’s strike. These politically connected insiders also opposed raises and better working conditions for teachers while funneling increased resources to charter schools. For more than a decade, the Boasberg-Hancock-Cordova alliance forced overworked teachers to take a backseat to multimillion-dollar construction projects, while a corporate-backed board siphoned an increasing share of the $1.4 billion dollar school district budget to expand charter schools while destabilizing our public education system.

Fourth, Hancock — like most career politicians — is facing the end of his political reign due to term limits. The influence he once had to control DPS through mayoral appointees who held dual positions on the school board and within city government is coming to an end. It explains his outrageous Trumpian letter that mirrors some of the dysfunction in Washington politics. We wish to state unequivocally that Denver taxpayers would be better served if Mayor Hancock focused on managing the unprecedented crises facing

the City of Denver including the pandemic, racial unrest, economic recession and deepening housing crisis rather than interfering with the business of the DPS board.

Fifth, CLF dispels the myth that there is a monolithic Latino group that speaks for the interests of all Latinos in Denver, including the signatories of recent letters to the media from the same small circle of usual suspects. Given that, we strongly object to the Mayor weaponizing race and gender to smear volunteer school board members composed, in part, of dedicated people of color. Screaming “racism” and “sexism” by politically connected wealthy insiders hurts the movement for racial, social and education justice. If the Mayor wishes to go there, CLF reminds him that the staff of outgoing superintendent Cordova t​ hreatened striking teachers​, who were disproportionately Latinas, with deportation.

Further, we remind the Mayor that an inequitable system of economic disparities and institutional racism continues despite having a Latina superintendent according to statistics from the DPS and the Colorado Department of Education websites: 

  • ●  Only 38% of DPS students attend a ‘Blue’ or ‘Green’ school (SPF labels), compared to the goal of 80% by 2020.
  • ●  Only 68% of Black and Latino and 49% of Native students graduated high school in 4 years last year compared to the 81% of white students that graduated high school in 4 years. This is only 1800 out of 6200 seniors actually graduating from a DPS high school on time.
  • ●  Latino students continue to be under-enrolled in AP courses. Latinos make up more than 54% of the student population but they receive only 39% of AP credits. This percentage has decreased in the last 4 years. Meanwhile, White students receive 43% of AP credits, but only make up 25% of the student population.
  • ●  Approximately 1 in 5 teachers and principals left DPS. It is almost double the turnover rates of Adams-12 and Jefferson County districts.
  • ●  Reports of unfair, inequitable HR practices leading to disproportionate pushout of Black and Latino teachers have increased.
  • ●  There has been a 0% increase of Latino/Chicano teacher representation in the past 5 years — and only a 1% increase in Black teacher representation. Latino teachers only make up 17% of teaching staff in 2019-2020, and this percentage holds from five years ago. Black teachers make up 5% of the teaching population, only 1% higher than five years ago.
  • ●  The percentage of Latino principals has decreased by 1% in the past 5 years (from 19% to 18%); Black principals have not increased at all from 12%.These disparities occurred during Ms. Cordova’s tenure as Deputy Superintendent and Superintendent. The reinforcement of oppression of teachers, students and parents of color is inexcusable. It is a disservice to DPS teachers, students and families to mischaracterize her lucrative departure as the result of racist and sexist victimization. Instead of the Mayor tearing down members of a duly elected seven-member Board of Education, he should be encouraging the community to come together and engage in a search for a nationally-acclaimed superintendent of the highest caliber. We do not need another back-door, handpicked crony by opportunistic and meddling politicians who should stay in their lanes.Denver deserves top-notch candidates who can steer the billion-dollar DPS behemoth on a course of independent governance that takes our students to their highest educational and social potential. Let’s stop calling racism when millionaires don’t get their way. Instead, let’s get on with the business of supporting the Denver School Board’s search for an equity-driven, pro-public education candidate for this critical position. 
  • Signed,
    CLF BOARD of DIRECTORS

I have written in the past about why Jen Mangrum would be a superb State Superintendent in North Carolina. She is an experienced teacher and teacher educator. She knows what teachers need to succeed. She has been endorsed by the state teachers’ association. She is also courageous. In 2018, she ran against the most powerful state legislator, Phil Berger.

Now a few words about her opponent, Catherine Truitt. North Carolina teacher Justin Parmenter reveals that Truitt received the maximum allowable donation from a millionaire who hates public schools and teachers. He has founded a string of charter and private schools. He thinks that public schools are hotbeds of Marxism where teachers “feed poison” to their students.

Follow the money. Vote for Jen Mangrum.

The Network for Public Education Action is proud to endorse Melissa Romano in her campaign to become Superintendent of Public Instruction in Montana.

Romano, a 16-year career elementary math teacher and the 2018 Montana Teacher of the Year, has been recognized as a leader in her field. 

This is Romano’s second race against opponent Elsie Arntzen. In 2016 Romano lost the election by a narrow 3% margin. Arntzen, a voucher supporter, was a state legislator prior to becoming State Superintendent. As a legislator she voted consistently for school choice legislation, and as Superintendent has continued to support school choice initiatives.

The Billings Gazette recently reported that school choice is a “line in the sand” for Romano. She has been endorsed by three prior State Superintendents who served from 1989-2017. In their endorsement of Romano, they accuse Arntzen of “attending private school rallies, applauding budget proposals that would cut millions from Montana’s public schools, mismanaging her office, and illegally diverting aid to private and for-profit schools.”

Romano is a strong supporter of a robust public preschool program, but opposed state funds flowing to private preschools.

Please be sure to cast your ballot for this career educator and public school supporter on November 3rd.

You can post this endorsement using this link.

No candidate authorized this ad. It is paid for by Network for Public Education Action, New York, New York.

Bob Shepherd is an editor, author, and recently retired teacher in Florida. He worked for many years as a developer of curriculum and assessments. He posted this comment here.

Combating Standardized Testing Derangement Syndrome (STDs)

The dirty secret of the standardized testing industry is the breathtakingly low quality of the tests themselves. I worked in the educational publishing industry at very high levels for more than twenty years. I have produced materials for all the major standardized test publishers, and I know from experience that quality control processes in that industry have dropped to such low levels that the tests, these days, are typically extraordinarily sloppy and neither reliable nor valid. They typically have not been subjected to anything like the standardization procedures used, in the past, with intelligence tests, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and so on. The mathematics tests are marginally better than are the tests in ELA, US History, and Science, but they are not great. The tests in English Language Arts are truly appalling. A few comments:

The state and national standardized tests in ELA are invalid.

First, much of attainment in ELA consists of world knowledge–knowledge of what–the stuff of declarative memories of subject matter. What are fables and parables, how are they similar, and how do they differ? What are the similarities and differences between science fiction and fantasy? What are the parts of a metaphor? How does a metaphor work? What is American Gothic? What are its standard motifs? How is it related to European Romanticism and Gothic literature? How does it differ? Who are its practitioners? Who were Henry David Thoreau and Mary Shelley and what major work did each write and why is that work significant? What time is it at the opening of 1984? What has Billy Pilgrim become “unstuck” in? What did Milton want to justify? What is a couplet? terza rima? a sonnet? What is dactylic hexameter? What is deconstruction? What is reader response? the New Criticism? What does it mean to begin in medias res? What is a dialectical organizational scheme? a reductio ad absurdum? an archetype? a Bildungsroman? a correlative conjunction? a kenning? What’s the difference between Naturalism and Realism? Who the heck was Samuel Johnson, and why did he suggest kicking that rock? Why shouldn’t maidens go to Carterhaugh? And so on. The so-called “standards” being tested cover ALMOST NO declarative knowledge and so miss much of what constitutes attainment in this subject. Imagine a test of biology that left out almost all world knowledge (How do vertebrates differ from invertebrates? What is a pistil? A stamen? What are the functions of the Integumentary System? What are mycelia? What is a trophic level?) 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 MAJOR problem with all of these summative standardized tests in ELA since their inception. They don’t assess what students know. Instead, they test, supposedly, a lot of abstract “skills”–the stuff on the Gates/Coleman Common [sic] Core [sic] bullet list, but they don’t even do that.

Second, much of attainment in ELA involves mastery of procedural knowledge–knowledge of what to do. E.g.: How do you format a Works Cited page? How do you plan the plot of a standard short story? What step-by-step procedure could you follow to do that? How do you create melody in your speaking voice? How do you revise to create sentence variety or to emphasize a particular point? What specific procedures can you carry out to accomplish these things? But the authors of these “standards” didn’t think that concretely, in terms of particular procedural knowledge. Instead, in imitation of the lowest-common-denominator-group-think state “standards” that preceded theirs, they chose to deal in vague, poorly conceived abstractions. The “standards” being tested define skills so vaguely and so generally that they cannot, as written, be sufficiently operationalized, to be VALIDLY tested. They literally CANNOT be, as in, this is an impossibility on the level of drawing a square circle. Given, for example, the extraordinarily wide variety of types of narratives (jokes, news stories, oral histories, tall tales, etc.) and the enormous number of skills that it requires to produce narratives of various kinds (writing believable dialogue, developing a conflict, characterization via action, characterization via foils, showing not telling, establishing a point of view, etc.), there can be no single prompt that tests for narrative writing ability IN GENERAL. But this is a broader problem. In general, the tests ask one or two multiple-choice questions per “standard.” But what one or two multiple-choice questions could you ask to find out if a student is able, IN GENERAL, to “make inferences from text” (the first of the many literature “standards” at each grade level in the Gates/Coleman bullet list)? Obviously, you can’t. There are three very different kinds of inference–induction, deduction, and abduction–and whole sciences devoted to problems in each, and texts vary so considerably, and types of inferences from texts do as well, that no such testing of GENERAL “inferring from texts” ability is even remotely possible. A moment’s clear, careful thought should make this OBVIOUS. So, the tests do not even validly test for what they purport to test for, and all this invalidity in testing for each “standard” doesn’t–cannot–add up to validity overall.

Third, nothing that students do on these exams even remotely resembles what real readers and writers do with real texts in the real world. Ipso facto, the tests cannot be valid tests of actual reading and writing. People read for one of two reasons—to find out what an author thinks about a subject or to have an interesting, engaging, vicarious experience. The tests, and the curricula based on them, don’t help students to do either. Imagine, for example, that you wish to respond to this post, but instead of agreeing or disagreeing with what I’ve said and explaining why, you are limited to explaining how my use of figurative language (the tests are a miasma) affected the tone and mood of my post. See what I mean? But that’s precisely the kind of thing that the writing prompts on the Common [sic] Core [sic] ELA tests do and the kind of thing that one finds, now, in ELA courseware. This whole testing enterprise has trivialized education in the English language arts and has replaced normal interaction with texts with such freakish, contorted, scholastic nonsense.

Fourth, a lot of attainment in ELA is not about explicit learning, at all, but, rather, about acquisition via automatic processes. So, for example, your knowledge (or lack thereof) of explicit models of the grammar of your native tongue has almost nothing to do with your internalized grammar of the language. But the ELA standardized tests and the “standards” on which they are based were conceived in blissful ignorance of this (and of much else that is now known about language acquisition).

Fifth, standard standardized test development procedures require that the testing instrument be validated. Such validation requires that the test maker show that results for the the test and for particular test items and test item types correlate strongly with other accepted measures of what is being tested. No such validation has been done for any of the new generation of state and national standardized ELA tests. None. And, given the vagueness of the “standards,” none could be. Where is the independent measure of proficiency on Common Core State Standard ELA.11-12.4b against which the items on the state and national measures have been validated? Answer: There is no such measure. None. So, the tests fail to meet a minimal standard for a high-stakes standardized assessment–that they have been independently validated.

The test formats are inappropriate.

The new state and national tests consist largely of objective-format items (multiple-choice and so-called evidence-based selected response items, or EBSR). 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 what in EdSpeak is called “higher-order thinking.” The test questions therefore tend to be tricky and convoluted. The test makers, these days, all insist on all the multiple-choice distracters, or possible answers, being “plausible.” The student is to choose the “best” answer from among a list of plausible answers. Well, what does plausible mean? It means “reasonable.” In other words, on these tests, many reasonable answers are, BY DESIGN, wrong answers! So, the test questions end up being extraordinarily complex and confusing and tricky–impossible for kids to answer, because the “experts” who designed these tests didn’t understand the most basic stuff about creating assessments, for example, that objective question formats are generally not great for testing so-called “higher-order thinking” and are best reserved for testing straight recall. The use of these inappropriate formats, coupled with the sloppiness of the test-creation procedures, results in question after question where there is, arguably, no correct answer among the answer choices given or one or more choices that are arguably correct. Often, the question is written so badly that it is not, arguably, answerable given the actual question stem and text provided. I did an analysis of the sample released questions from a recent FSA ELA practice exam and demonstrated that such was the case for almost all the questions on the exam, so sloppily had it been prepared. But I can’t release that for fear of being sued by the scam artists who peddle these tests to people who aren’t even allowed to see them. Hey, I’ve got some great land in Flor-uh-duh. Take my word for it. Available cheap (but not available for inspection).

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 the high-stakes standardized 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. The results always come too late to be of any use, anyway. So the tests are of no diagnostic or instructional value. None. None whatsoever.

The tests have enormous opportunity costs.

I estimate that, nationwide, schools are now spending a third of the school year on state standardized 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 doing 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. That’s all lost instructional time.

The tests have enormous direct, incurred costs.

Typically, the US spends 1.7 billion per year under direct contracts for state standardized testing. The PARCC contract by itself was worth over a billion dollars to Pear$on in the first three years, and you have to add the cost of SBAC and the other state tests to that. No one, to my knowledge, has accurately estimated the cost of the computer upgrades that were (and continue to be) necessary for online testing of every child, but those costs vastly exceed the amount spent on the tests themselves. Then add the costs of test prep materials and staff doing proctoring and data chats and so on. Then add the costs of new curricula that have been dumbed down to be test preppy. Billions and billions and billions. 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, invalid as assessment and of no diagnostic or instructional value?

The tests dramatically distort curricula and pedagogy.

The tests drive how and what people teach and much of what is created by curriculum developers. These distortions are grave. In U.S. curriculum development today, the tail is wagging the dog. To an enormous extent, we’ve basically replaced traditional English curricula with test prep. Where before, a student might open a literature textbook and study a coherent unit on The Elements of the Short Story or on The Transcendentalists, he or she now does random exercises, modeled on the standardized test questions, in which he or she “practices” random “skills” from the Gates/Coleman bullet list on random snippets of text. There’s enormous pressure on schools to do all test prep all the time because school and student and teacher and administrator evaluations depend upon the test results. Every courseware producer in the U.S. now begins every ELA or math project by making a spreadsheet with a list of the “standards” in the first column and the place where the “standard” will be “covered” in the other columns. And since the standards are a random list of vague skills, the courseware becomes random as well. The era of coherent, well-planned curricula is gone. I won’t go into detail about this, here, but this is an ENORMOUS problem. Many of the best courseware writers and editors I know have quit in disgust at this. The testing mania has brought about devolution and trivialization of our methods and materials.

The tests are abusive and demotivating.

Our prime directive as educators should be to nurture intrinsic motivation in order 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. See this:

https://search.yahoo.com/search?fr=mcafee&type=C111US662D20151202&p=daniel+pink+drive+rsa

The summative standardized testing system is a 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

The tests have shown no positive results; they have not improved outcomes, and they have not reduced achievement gaps.

We have been doing this standards-and-standardized-testing stuff for more than two decades now. Richard Rothstein, the education statistician, has shown that turning our nation’s schools into test prep outfits has resulted in very minor increases in overall mathematics outcomes (increases of less than 2 percent on independent tests of mathematical ability) and NO IMPROVEMENT WHATSOEVER in ELA. Simply from the Hawthorne Effect, we should have seen some improvement. Rothstein also showed that even if you accept as valid the results from international comparative tests, if you correct for the socioeconomic level of the students taking those tests, US students are NOT behind those in other advanced, industrialized nations. So, the rationale for the testing madness was false from the start. The issue is not “failing schools” and “failing teachers” but POVERTY. We have a lot of poor kids in the US, and those kids take the tests in higher numbers than elsewhere. Arguably, all the testing we’ve been doing has actually decreased outcomes, which is consistent with what we know about the demotivational effects, for cognitive tasks, of extrinsic punishment and reward systems. Years ago, I watched a seagull repeatedly striking at his own reflection in a plate glass window, until I finally drove him away to keep him from killing himself. Whatever that seagull did, the one in the reflection kept coming back for more. It’s the height of stupidity to look at a clearly failed approach and to say, “Gee, we should do a lot more of that.” But that’s just what the Gates-funded disrupters of U.S. education–those paid cheerleaders for the Common [sic] Core [sic] and testing and depersonalized education software based on the Core [sic] and the tests are asking us to do. Enough.

In state after state in which the new generation of standardized tests has been been given, we have seen enormous failure rates. In the first year, fewer than half the students at New Trier, Adlai Steven, and Hinsdale Central–the best public schools in Illinois–passed the new PARCC math tests. In New York, in the first year of PARCC, 70% of the students failed the ELA exams and 69% the math exams. In New Jersey, 55% of students in 3-8 failed the new state reading test, and 56% the new math test. The year after, Florida delayed and delayed releasing the scores for its new ELA and math exams. Then they announced that they weren’t going to release only T-scores and percentiles but were still working on setting cut scores for proficiency. LOL. Criterion-based testing, as opposed to norm-referenced testing, is supposed to set absolute standards that students must meet in order to demonstrate proficiency. I suspect that what happened that year in Florida–the reason for the resounding silence from the state–is that the scores were so low that they couldn’t set cut scores at any reasonable level without having everyone fail.

Decades of mandated federal high-stakes testing hasn’t improved outcomes and hasn’t reduced achievement gaps. NAEP results improved a tiny, tiny bit in the first years of the testing because when you teach kids the formats of test questions, their scores will improve slightly. Then, after that, NAEP results went FLAT. No improvement, whatsoever, for a decade and a half. But the testing has had results: it has trivialized ELA curricula and pedagogy and wasted enormous resources that could have been used productively elsewhere.

The test makers are not held accountable.

All students taking these tests and all teachers administering them have to sign forms stating that they will not reveal anything about the test items, and the items are no longer released, later, for public scrutiny, and so there is no check whatsoever on the test makers. They can publish any sloppy crap with complete impunity. I would love to see the tests outlawed and a national truth and reconciliation effort put into place to hold the test makers accountable, financially, for the scam they have been perpetrating.

Anyone who supports or participates in this testing is committing child abuse. Have you proctored these tests and seen the kids squirming and crying and throwing up? Have you seen them FURIOUS afterward because of the trickiness of the tests? I have.

Standardized testing is a vampire. It sucks the lifeblood from our schools. Put a stake in it.

NB: I would love to be able to post, here, analyses of the sample release questions from ELA tests by the major companies, but I can’t because I would be sued. However, it’s easy enough to show that most of the questions are so badly written that AS WRITTEN, they don’t have a single correct answer, have more than one arguably correct answer, or are unanswerable.

It’s time to make the testing companies answerable for their rapacious duplicity and for stealing from any entire generation of kids the opportunity for humane education in the English language arts.

Right now, Mayor Bill de Blasio must be thinking that mayoral control of the schools is not such a great idea. Michael Bloomberg demanded mayoral control when he was first elected mayor in 2001. The State Legislature turned the schools over to the billionaire. Despite specious claims of a “New York City Miracle,” the problems remained serious. The mayor broke almost all the large high schools into small schools. He embraced charters as an engine of innovation, which they were not.

Now de Blasio is trying to deal with a major publuc health crisis that has hurt the city’s economy, and the dilemma of reopening is on his desk.

The Council of Supeervisors and Administrators passed a resolution of no confidence in both de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza.

Leonie Haimson explains why.