Archives for category: Betsy DeVos

David Berliner and Gene Glass are leaders of the American education research community. Their books are required reading in the field. They shared with me their thoughts about the value of annual testing in 2021. I would add only one point: if Trump is voted out in November, Jim Blew and Betsy DeVos will have no role in deciding whether to demand or require the annual standardized testing regime in the spring of 2021. New people who are, hopefully, wiser and more attuned to the failure of standardized testing over 20 years, will take their place.

Glass and Berliner write:

Why Bother Testing in 2021?

Gene V Glass
David C. Berliner

At a recent Education Writers Association seminar, Jim Blew, an assistant to Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education, opined that the Department is inclined not to grant waivers to states seeking exemptions from the federally mandated annual standardized achievement testing. States like Michigan, Georgia, and South Carolina were seeking a one year moratorium. Blew insisted that “even during a pandemic [tests] serve as an important tool in our education system.” He said that the Department’s “instinct” was to grant no waivers. What system he was referring to and important to whom are two questions we seek to unravel here.

Without question, the “system” of the U.S. Department of Education has a huge stake in enforcing annual achievement testing. It’s not just that the Department’s relationship is at stake with Pearson Education, the U.K. corporation that is the major contractor for state testing, with annual revenues of nearly $5 billion. The Department’s image as a “get tough” defender of high standards is also at stake. Pandemic be damned! We can’t let those weak kneed blue states get away with covering up the incompetence of those teacher unions.

To whom are the results of these annual testings important? Governors? District superintendents? Teachers?

How the governors feel about the test results depends entirely on where they stand on the political spectrum. Blue state governors praise the findings when they are above the national average, and they call for increased funding when they are below. Red state governors, whose state’s scores are generally below average, insist that the results are a clear call for vouchers and more charter schools – in a word, choice. District administrators and teachers live in fear that they will be blamed for bad scores; and they will.

Fortunately, all the drama and politicking about the annual testing is utterly unnecessary. Last year’s district or even schoolhouse average almost perfectly predicts this year’s average. Give us the average Reading score for Grade Three for any medium or larger size district for the last year and we’ll give you the average for this year within a point or two. So at the very least, testing every year is a waste of time and money – money that might ultimately help cover the salary of executives like John Fallon, Pearson Education CEO, whose total compensation in 2017 was more than $4 million.

But we wouldn’t even need to bother looking up a district’s last year’s test scores to know where their achievement scores are this year. We can accurately predict those scores from data that cost nothing. It is well known and has been for many years – just Google “Karl R. White” 1982 – that a school’s average socio-economic status (SES) is an accurate predictor of its achievement test average. “Accurate” here means a correlation exceeding .80. Even though a school’s racial composition overlaps considerably with the average wealth of the families it serves, adding Race to the prediction equation will improve the prediction of test performance. Together, SES and Race tell us much about what is actually going on in the school lives of children: the years of experience of their teachers; the quality of the teaching materials and equipment; even the condition of the building they attend.

Don’t believe it? Think about this. In a recent year the free and reduced lunch rate (FRL) at the 42 largest high schools in Nebraska was correlated with the school’s average score in Reading, Math, and Science on the Nebraska State Assessments. The correlations obtained were FRL & Reading r = -.93, FRL & Science r = -.94, and FRL & Math r = -.92. Correlation coeficients don’t get higher than 1.00.

If you can know the schools’ test scores from their poverty rate, why give the test?

In fact, Chris Tienken answered that very question in New Jersey. With data on household income, % single parent households, and parent education level in each township, he predicted a township’s rates of scoring “proficient” on the New Jersy state assessment. In Maple Shade Township, 48.71% of the students were predicted to be proficient in Language Arts; the actual proficiency rate was 48.70%. In Mount Arlington township, 61.4% were predicted proficient; 61.5% were actually proficient. And so it went. Demographics may not be destiny for individuuals, but when you want a reliable, quick, inexpensive estimate of how a school, township, or district is doing in terms of their achievement scores on a standardized test of acheievement, demographics really are destiny, until governments at many levels get serious about addressing the inequities holding back poor and minority schools!

There is one more point to consider here: a school can more easily “fake” its achievement scores than it can fake its SES and racial composition. Test scores can be artificially raised by paying a test prep company, or giving just a tiny bit more time on the test, looking the other way as students whip out their cell phones during the test, by looking at the test before hand and sharing some “ideas” with students about how they might do better on the tests, or examining the tests after they are given and changing an answer or two here and there. These are not hypothetical examples; they go on all the time.

However, don’t the principals and superintendents need the test data to determine which teachers are teaching well and which ones ought to be fired? That seems logical but it doesn’t work. Our colleague Audrey Amrein Beardsley and her students have addressed this issue in detail on the blog VAMboozled. In just one study, a Houston teacher was compared to other teachers in other schools sixteen different times over four years. Her students’ test scores indicated that she was better than the other teachers 8 times and worse than the others 8 times. So, do achievement tests tell us whether we have identified a great teacher, or a bad teacher? Or do the tests merely reveal who was in that teacher’s class that particualr year? Again, the makeup of the class – demographics like social class, ethnicity, and native language – are powerful determiners of test scores.

But wait. Don’t the teachers need the state standardized test results to know how well their students are learning, what they know and what is still to be learned? Not at all. By Christmas, but certainly by springtime when most of the standardized tests are given, teachers can accurately tell you how their students will rank on those tests. Just ask them! And furthermore, they almost never get the information about their students’ acheievement until the fall following the year they had those students in class making the information value of the tests nil!

In a pilot study by our former ASU student Annapurna Ganesh, a dozen 2nd and 3rd grade teachers ranked their children in terms of their likely scores on their upcoming Arizona state tests. Correlations were uniformly high – as high in one class as +.96! In a follow up study, with a larger sample, here are the correlations found for 8 of the third-grade teachers who predicted the ranking of their students on that year’s state of Arizona standardized tests:

Screen Shot 2020-08-11 at 12.16.01 PMIn this third grade sample, the lowest rank order coefficient between a teacher’s ranking of the students and the student’s ranking on the state Math or Reading test was +.72! Berliner took these results to the Arizona Department of Education, informing them that they could get the information they wanted about how children are doing in about 10 minutes and for no money! He was told that he was “lying,” and shown out of the office. The abuse must go on. Contracts must be honored.

 

Predicting rank can’t tell you the national percentile of this child or that, but that information is irrelevant to teachers anyway. Teachers usually know which child is struggling, which is soaring, and what both of them need. That is really the information that they need!

Thus far as we argue against the desire our federal Department of Education to reinstitute achievement testing in each state, we neglected to mention a test’s most important characteristic—its validity. We mention here, briefly, just one type of validity, content validity. To have content validity students in each state have to be exposed to/taught the curriculum for which the test is appropriate. The US Department of Education seems not to have noticed that since March 2020 public schooling has been in a bit of an upheaval! The chances that each district, in each state, has provided equal access to the curriculm on which a states’ test is based, is fraught under normal circumstances. In a pandemic it is a remarkably stupid assumption! We assert that no state achievement test will be content valid if given in the 2020-2021 school year. Furthermore, those who help in administering and analyzing such tests are likely in violation of the testing standards of the American Psycholgical Association, the American Educational Research Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education. In addition to our other concerns with state standardized tests, there is no defensible use of an invalid test. Period.

We are not opposed to all testing, just to stupid testing. The National Assessment Governing Board voted 12 to 10 in favor of administering NAEP in 2021. There is some sense to doing so. NAEP tests fewer than 1 in 1,000 students in grades 4, 8, and 12. As a valid longitudinal measure, the results could tell us the extent of the devastation of the Corona virus.

We end this essay with some good news. The DeVos Department of Education position on Spring 2021 testing is likely to be utterly irrelevant. She and assistant Blew are likely to be watching the operation of the Department of Education from the sidelines after January 21, 2021. We can only hope that members of a new admistration read this and understand that some of the desperately needed money for American public schools can come from the huge federal budget for standardized testing. Because in seeking the answer to the question “Why bother testing in 2021?” we have necessarily confronted the more important question: “Why ever bother to administer these mandated tests?”

We hasten to add that we are not alone in this opinion. Among measurement experts competent to opine on such things, our colleagues at the National Education Policy Center likewise question the wisdom of a 2021 federal government mandated testing.

Floridians, and everyone else, want to know the answer to this question. Some believe that keeping schools open during a pandemic will destroy them; some fear that opening them during a pandemic will destroy them. Take your pick.

Thanks to Peter Greene, I discovered a Florida blog called Accountabaloney, written by two savvy Floridians who are fed-up with their state’s absurd education policies. Sue and Suzette, welcome!

They write here about a podcast by Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider, questioning whether Betsy DeVos’s newfound enthusiasm for opening real public schools is another front in her war to destroy them.

Listening to the “In the Weeds” podcast, they realized that another con was happening:

Some will read the title and dismiss it as a conspiracy theory. That is exactly what we used to hear if we equated “ed reform” with privatization five or so years ago, when the education reformers were still hiding their desire to privatize public education. In Florida, they now make few attempts to conceal their mission. We hope you will read this summary, subscribe at Patreon, listen to the entire “In the Weeds” segment, and draw your own conclusions. Will the Covid pandemic be used fundamentally alter public education in Florida?…

Keep in mind, the Commissioner Corcoran is a strong proponent of “school choice” and privatization, pushing as both a legislator and as the commissioner for the expansion of charter schools and private school voucher programs. Shortly after he was appointed as commissioner, he was reported saying his goal was to move 2/3rd of Florida’s 2.7 million public school students into private options, envisioning a system where most students attended charter and private schools.

After calling for the campus closures of Florida’s public schools in response to the pandemic in March, at the April 1st State Board of Education meeting, Commissioner Corcoran praised Florida Virtual School (FLVS) for re-allocating $4.3 million of its reserve funding to purchase the servers necessary to expand its capacity be capable of serving the entire Florida student population (2.72 million). He suggested that, should the closures remain necessary, FLVS could serve the entire state’s virtual needs…

Shortly after his inauguration, Governor Ron DeSantis redefined public education saying “if it’s public dollars, it’s public education,” an idea celebrated by DeVos.

I’m so glad to read this post. Florida is very likely the worst, most corrupt state in the nation when it comes to education policy.

Johann Neem, historian of education at Western Washington University, wrote an article in USA Today about the threat that COVID-19 poses to the future of public education. Affluent parents, he notes, are making their own arrangements. Some have created “learning pods” and hired their own teachers. Others will send their children to private schools, which have the resources to respond nimbly to the crisis. He recounts the early history of public schools and points out that they became essential as they served an ever-growing share of the community’s children.

Neem writes that the increase in the number of charter schools and vouchers, as well as Betsy DeVos’s relentless promotion of charters and vouchers, has already eroded the stature of public schools.

He warns:

We are at a moment of reckoning. The last time public schools were closed was when Southern states sought to avoid integration. The goal then was to sustain racial inequality. Even if today the aim is not racist, in a system already rife with economic and racial inequality, if families with resources invest more in themselves rather than share time and money in common institutions, the quality of public education for less privileged Americans, many of whom are racial minorities, will deteriorate.

His warnings are timely. Others warn that home schooling will increase so long as pinprick schools stay closed or rely on remote learning.

But there is another possibility: Eventually, schools will open for full-time, in-person instruction, when it is safe to do so.

How many parents will continue home schooling when their children can attend a real school with experienced teachers and a full curriculum and roster of activities? How many parents will pay $25,000 or more for each child when an equivalent education is available in the local public school for free? At present, only 6% send their children to charter schools. How likely is that to increase when new charters close almost as often as they open?
How many parents want vouchers for subpar religious schools, when only a tiny percentage chose them before the pandemic?

My advice: Don’t panic. Take care of the children, their families, and school staff. Fight for funding to make our public schools better than ever. After the pandemic, they will still be the best choice because they have the best teachers and the most children.

You may wonder, What’s a libertarian school? Good question. It’s not Summerhill. Read Mitchell Robinson’s post about Thales Academy in Apex, North Carolina, which is a voucher school.

It’s a low-cost, low-quality Private school that’s designed to standardize students and protect them from creative or critical thinking. It’s yet another entrant in DeVos’ “Cabinet of Horrors.” More of this and we will slip back into primordial slime.

This piece was published today on the New York Review of Books blog. Readers of this blog will be familiar with its contents. Readers of the NYBR blog will learn about the debate about how and when to reopen schools and will learn about how Trump and Pence strong-armed the CDC and forced it to weaken its guidance to schools on reopening.

Trump cares more about his re-election than about the lives of America’s students and school staff. He proved it. Today he tweeted a suggestion that the November elections should be delayed, a decision that belongs to Congress, not to him. You can bet that if Congress agreed (the Democratic House would never agree), there would never be another election in his lifetime. His good friend Putin should won a referendum to keep him in power until 2026. Trump must be envious.

Jan Resseger takes Trump and DeVos to task for ignoring the needs of students and adults in their headlong rush to reopen schools to prop up the economy in time for the election.

In contrast to Obama, who reacted to the Newtown massacre with compassion, our current leaders are indifferent to the risks they seek to impose on other people’s children.

Resseger cites some of the best articles that describe the disparate impact of the pandemic.

Ellie Mystal wrote in The Nation:

“We have not gotten anything right when it comes to caring for our children. We were not getting things right before the coronavirus pandemic; we did not get things right at the outset of the crisis; and as we hurtle towards the fall, we are on the verge of getting things dangerously, irreparably wrong again… It didn’t have to be this way. If we had successfully done the work of stopping the spread of the virus, as has been done in other countries, we wouldn’t have to pick which poison to expose our kids to… Meanwhile, just last week, President Donald Trump worried that CDC guidelines for protecting our children were too ‘expensive.’… And so, we are here. I wouldn’t let my children eat candy handed out by this administration. There are snakes with better parental instincts than these people.”

What’s missing from the Trump-DeVos response is empathy and simple decency.

Jim Blew was hired by Betsy DeVos for a key role at the U.S Department of Education, having worked at the far-right Walton Family Foundation, which has a strong commitment to privatization, charter schools, Teach for America, and union-busting. He told education writers that the Department of Education was not likely to grant waivers for next spring’s annual federal testing, despite a year of confusion and disruption in schooling.

The American people are likely to tell Betsy DeVos and Jim Blew and the other public-school haters to pack their bags this November and clear out by January 20, 2021. Someone appointed by President Biden will decide whether to inflict the detritus of NCLB on the nation’s students. If the public votes wisely, the whole wrecking crew will be ousted, blown with the wind, so to speak.

An assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education said Friday that his agency’s inclination is not to grant states waivers from federally mandated tests for the upcoming school year like it did in the spring.

Speaking on a video call with reporters at the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar, Jim Blew, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy analysis, stressed the importance of testing beyond accountability. And he expressed support for a recent statement from the Council of Chief State School Officers about the importance of assessments for learning; that July 20 statement said that “even during a pandemic” assessments “serve as an important tool in our education system.”

In March, as schools shut down in-person classes around the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos quickly granted waivers to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico from having to administer certain annual exams as required by federal law. But concerns about the pandemic’s impact on the 2020-21 school year have grown, as have sentiments in some quarters that states should get those waivers again, in order to focus on other educational needs…

During a question-and-answer session with reporters, Blew pointed to CCSSO’s statement and said that with respect to testing, “Accountability aside, we need to know where students are so we can address their needs.”

Blew then indicated it would be premature to grant waivers at this time from testing and said, “Our instinct would not be to give those waivers” from the exams, which are mandated under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the main federal K-12 law. “There are so many benefits to testing and it allows for some transparency about how schools are performing and the issues we need to address, that our instinct would be to decline those waivers,” Blew added.

Steve Hinnefeld writes here about a rare act of courage in a red state. Indiana State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick defied Betsy DeVos and has refused to hand out money from the CARES Act to private schools, without regard to need.

Superintendent McCormick told DeVos to stuff it. For her courage and independence, she goes on the blog’s honor roll.

Hinnefeld writes:

The good news: In Indiana, at least, public school districts won’t need to worry about Betsy DeVos diverting their anticipated funding to private schools.

DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, may still succeed in her scheme to use the act to boost funding for even the wealthiest private schools. But the Indiana Department of Education will make up any funds that are lost to public schools.

“The CARES Act was intended to assist those most in need …,” Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Jennifer McCormick told school officials. “COVID-19 has affected everyone, but not equally. It is my responsibility and IDOE’s obligation to ensure those most in need receive the appropriate support.”

The CARES Act, signed into law in late March, provides $215 million to Indiana to help public school districts and charter schools cover costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The act says the funds should be allocated in the same manner as annual Title I grants, with more money for high-poverty schools.

Public school districts must share some of their Title I funds to provide “equitable services” in local private schools, with the amount based on the number of students from low-income families enrolled in the private schools.

But DeVos, in guidance issued in early May, said that CARES Act funding for private schools should be based on their total enrollment, not their enrollment of poor students: presumably a private school with zero poor students would qualify for as much money as a private school where all students are poor.

The guidance was nonbinding; states could ignore it, and Indiana did.

DeVos then doubled down, issuing a rule that would severely restrict how public school districts can use CARES Act funding if they don’t follow her guidance. The rule would have the force of law – if it’s legal. Several states, school districts, parents and the NAACP have sued, arguing that it isn’t.

Meanwhile, the school year is starting, and school districts need to know how much money they can spend. To stave off the uncertainty, the Indiana Department of Education says it will use its own share of CARES Act funds to offset any money that school districts lose, should DeVos prevail in court.

The Washington Post says that Trump has latched on to school choice and a fast reopening as issues that will win back white suburban women, whose support for him has faded.

This may indicate how out of touch he is. Parents move to the suburbs because their property wealth creates good schools. There is no unmet demand in the suburbs for vouchers or charter schools.

Furthermore polls clearly show that parents want their children to return to safe schools. They do not want their children to go to full-time in-person instruction without safeguards in place.

Trump is unaware that vouchers are not popular, that they have lost every state referendum by large margins.

But Republicans won’t let school choice go, even though only a tiny percentage of parents choose to leave public schools, even when choice is easy and free.

The Post writes:

President Trump sees two school issues as key to reelection, and after paying almost no attention to education for most of his presidency, he’s pushing both in negotiations over the next pandemic relief bill.

The president’s first priority is getting schools to reopen this fall, which he sees as central to economic recovery and getting parents back to work. Trump regularly tells advisers that he believes it is “totally safe” for children to return to school, a senior White House official said.

He is also newly focused on school choice policies, which let families use tax dollars for private school tuition. Aides see both as political winners with suburban women and, in the case of school choice, black voters, too…

Now the White House is pushing Congress to tie tens of billions of dollars in new federal aid to whether schools restart in-person education, even as cases of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, climb. Trump also wants 10 percent of new K-12 spending set aside for private schools, including tax credits that would support private tuition scholarships, a form of vouchers.

Senate Republicans are proposing $70 billion for K-12 schools as part of the larger pandemic relief package, and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said half of that would be reserved for schools that are “going back to a traditional school setting” as opposed to only distance learning. He said that’s because operating in person creates new expenses.

For private schools, Republicans plan to set aside the 10 percent Trump wants, but they are not planning to include his tax credit plan. Rather, lawmakers are considering direct payments to private schools, or funneling dollars through scholarship funds, which help families pay private school tuition, a GOP Senate aide said. The aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, said these two options will be presented to Democrats, who could pick…

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has taken a more nuanced tack. Last week, he released a plan that urged caution, saying that each school district should make decisions based on local conditions and that schools in areas with high infection rates should not reopen too soon.
“Donald Trump’s disastrous mismanagement of the coronavirus response is the top roadblock stopping schools from reopening,” said Biden spokesman Andrew Bates.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said: “If Disney World can be open, so can our schools.”
Politically, Trump’s gamble is that voters are more eager for their children to return to classrooms than fearful of the virus. Mercedes Schlapp, a top campaign adviser to Trump, put it this way at an online event aimed at women: “The suburban mom will say, ‘I am going to stick with President Trump on this one because he wants to make sure my kid gets back to school.’ ”

But the polling suggests that is a tough sell.

A Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking poll released Thursday found 6 in 10 parents with children in schools said it is better to open schools later to minimize infection risks, even if students miss out on academics and social services and some parents will not be able to work. About half that — 34 percent — said the reverse. A recent Quinnipiac University survey found voters disapproved of Trump’s handling of school reopenings by a margin of more than 2 to 1. Voters also said, again by a 2-to-1 ratio, that it was unsafe to send students to elementary, middle and high schools in the fall.

Republican allies have showed polling like this to Trump, warning him that pushing for full reopening will not be popular. Nonetheless, the White House is pushing forward, as Trump argues that reopening schools will eventually be widely popular.

“The president sees it as a metric of success that we are getting back to normal,” said a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal discussions.

Laurie Garrett is a Pulitzer Prize winning science writer. This article in Foreign Affairs explains why Trump and DeVos’s demand to reopen the schools for full-time, in-person schooling in a few weeks will fail. The schools don’t have the money to meet the necessary safety requirements. The less affluent the community, the less money is available to reduce class sizes and make the schools safe.

The article makes excellent points and contains a useful summary of research. I urge you to read it.

But be warned: it has the worst, most misleading headline I have ever seen in any article. I don’t hold writers responsible for headlines. I wonder whether the person who wrote it read the article.

The schools are neither a moral nor a medical catastrophe. It would have been more accurate to say that the federal government’s treatment of the schools is a moral and medical catastrophe. After all, we have a president who scoffs at science. Who can trust their children’s lives to his uninformed advice? It is obvious that his desire to open the schools is based on his political self-interest, not the lives of children and staff.

Where the pandemic is raging, it is not safe to open schools. Where it appears to have been controlled, the schools must reopen cautiously, with the resources needed to keep people as safe as possible, and with full awareness that there might be a resurgence of the virus.