Archives for category: Common Core

A teacher in California, who must remain anonymous to protect her job, wrote this post. CAASP testing is the Common Core test produced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

“We are 100% virtual, and teachers just had to sign an affidavit regarding CAASPP testing. I cannot believe they are STILL going forward with this. They expect that kids will 1) be in a quiet place with no distractions, 2) have their cameras on at all times, 3) not be using any other materials except pencil/paper, 4) that kids will have earbuds/headphones so they can hear the audio portion, 5) that kids won’t talk about the test content with ANYBODY.

And then, teachers are 1) supposed to simultaneously monitor 20+ students’ cameras and computer screens, 2) write down every time a student looks away or commits some other infraction, 3) keep every kid from unmuting their microphones (impossible).

I have students who stagger their time on chromebooks because of limited Wi-Fi, students who are self-conscious and terrified to have their cameras on, students who have multiple siblings all trying to do virtual meetings at once, students who literally hide in the bathroom so they can concentrate on my teaching (until they are kicked out 10 minutes later), students who are home alone at 8-10 years old, and I could go on. How is this EQUITABLE? How will the results be ACCURATE? I just cannot understand the rationale behind going forward with CAASPP testing. Oh, and 99% of our student body has to take the CAASPP in order for our results to be valid. Do you think that is going to happen? I am not being negative; I’m being realistic. I am praying that the decision makers will come to realize how ridiculous it is to try and do this test virtually.”

The teacher who forwarded this post added this thought:

This is where we are in CA right now despite CTA’s push to cancel the test, everything is moving forward. I just finished two weeks of MAP testing, 200 students from my school of 1200 did not finish and yet they think we are going to do the SBAC test which is four times longer.

Valerie Strauss posted this article that I wrote on her Washington Post site “The Answer Sheet.” The tests now required by federal law are worthless. The results are reported too late to matter. The reports to teachers do not tell them what students do or do not know. The tests tell students whether they did well or poorly on a test they took six months ago. They do not measure “learning loss.”

Diane Ravitch is a former assistant secretary of education and historian. For more than a decade, she has been a leading advocate for America’s public education system and a critic of the modern “accountability” movement that has based school improvement measures in large part on high-stakes standardized tests.


In her influential 2010 book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” Ravitch explained why she dropped her support for No Child Left Behind, the chief education initiative of President George W. Bush, and for standardized test-based school “reform.”


Ravitch worked from 1991 to 1993 as assistant secretary in charge of research and improvement in the Education Department of President George H.W. Bush, and she served as counselor to then-Education Secretary Lamar Alexander, who had just left the Senate where he had served as chairman of the Senate Education Committee. She was at the White House as part of a select group when George W. Bush first outlined No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a moment that at the time she said made her “excited and optimistic” about the future of public education.


But her opinion changed as NCLB was implemented and she researched its effects on teaching and learning. She found that the NCLB mandate for schools to give high-stakes annual standardized tests in math and English language arts led to reduced time — or outright elimination — of classes in science, social studies, the arts and other subjects.


She was a critic of President Barack Obama’s policies and his chief education initiative, Race to the Top, a multibillion-dollar competition in which states (and later districts) could win federal funds by promising to adopt controversial overhauls, including the Common Core State Standards, charter schools and accountability that evaluated teachers by student test scores.


In 2013, she co-founded an advocacy group called the Network for Public Education, a coalition of organizations that oppose privatizing public education and high-stakes standardized testing. She has since then written several other best-selling books and a popular blog focused primarily on education.


She was also appointed by President Bill Clinton to the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress, and served for seven years.

In the following post, she provides a historical overview of standardized testing — and takes issue with supporters who say that these exams provide data that helps teachers and students. Instead, she says, they are have no value in the classroom.


The subject has resonance at the moment because the Biden administration must decide soon whether to give states a waiver from the federal annual testing mandate. The Trump administration did so last year after schools abruptly closed when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States, but said it wouldn’t do it again if President Donald Trump won reelection. Trump lost, and now Biden’s Education Department is under increasing pressure to give states permission not to administer the 2021 tests.

By Diane Ravitch


I have been writing about standardized tests for more than 20 years. My 2000 book, “Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform,” included a history of I.Q. testing, which evolved into the standardized tests used in schools and into the Scholastic Aptitude Test, known now simply as the SAT. The psychologists who designed these tests in the early 20th century believed, incorrectly, that you inherited “intelligence” from your family and nothing you might do would change it. The chief virtue of these tests was that they were “standardized,” meaning that everyone took the same ones. The I.Q. test was applied to the screening of recruits for World War I, used to separate the men of high intellect — officer material — and from those of low intellect, who were sent to the front lines.
When the psychologists reviewed the test results, they concluded that white males of northern European origin had the highest I.Q., while non-English-speaking people and Black people had the lowest I.Q. They neglected the fact that northern Black people had higher I.Q. scores than Appalachian White people on the Army’s mental tests. Based on these tests, the psychologists believed, incorrectly, that race and I.Q. were bound together.


One of the psychologists who helped create the wartime I.Q. tests was Carl C. Brigham of Princeton University. He wrote an influential book, called “A Study of American Intelligence,” in 1923, which proclaimed that the “Nordic” race had the highest intelligence and that the increasing numbers of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were causing a decline in American intelligence.


His findings encouraged Congress to set quotas to limit the immigration of so-called “inferior” national groups from places like Russia, Poland and Italy. Brigham, a faculty member at Princeton, used his knowledge of I.Q. testing to develop the Scholastic Aptitude Test in 1926. Because they could be easily and cheaply scored by machine, the SAT tests eventually replaced the well-known “College Boards,” which were written examinations prepared and graded by teams of high school teachers and college professors.


Standardized testing occasionally made an appearance in American schools in the second half of the 20th century, but the tests were selected and used at the will of state and local school boards. The Scholastic Aptitude Test was important for college admission, especially for the relatively small number of elite colleges. Nonetheless, it was possible to attend an American public school from kindergarten through 12th grade without ever taking a standardized test of academic or mental ability.


This state of affairs began to change after the release of the Reagan administration’s “Nation at Risk” report in 1983. That report claimed that the nation’s public schools were mired in “a rising tide of mediocrity” because they were too easy. Politicians and education leaders became convinced that American education needed higher standards and needed tests to measure the performance of students on higher standards.


President George H.W. Bush convened a national summit of governors in 1989, which proclaimed six national goals for the year 2000 in education, including:


• By the year 2000, United States students will be first in the world in math and science.

• By the year 2000, all students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competence over challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history and geography.


Such goals implied measurement. They implied the introduction of widespread standardized testing.


In 1994, President Bill Clinton introduced his Goals 2000 program, which gave grants to every state to choose their own standards and tests.


In 2001, President George W. Bush put forward his No Child Left Behind legislation, which required every student in grades 3 to 8 to take a standardized test in reading and mathematics every year, as well as one test in high school. Test scores would be used to judge schools and eventually to punish those that failed to make progress toward having every student achieve competency on those tests. The NCLB law proclaimed that by 2014, virtually every student would achieve competency in reading and mathematics. The authors of NCLB knew the goal was impossible to achieve.


When Barack Obama became president, he selected Arne Duncan as secretary of education. The Obama administration embraced the NCLB regime. Its own program — Race to the Top — stiffened the sanctions of NCLB.


Not only would schools that did not get high enough test scores be punished, possibly closed or privatized for failing to meet utopian goals, but teachers would be individually singled out if the students in their classes did not get higher scores every year.
The Bush-Obama approach was recognized as the “bipartisan consensus” in education, built around annual testing, accountability for students, teachers, principals and schools, and competition among schools. Race to the Top encouraged states to authorize charter school legislation and to increase the number of privately managed charters, and to pass legislation that tied teachers’ evaluations to the test scores of their students.


Duncan also promoted the Common Core State Standards, which were underwritten by philanthropist Bill Gates; the U.S. Department of Education could not mandate the Common Core, but it required states to adopt “common national standards” if they wanted to be eligible to compete for a share of the $4.35 billion in federal funding that the department controlled as part of the recovery funds after the Great Recession of 2008-09.


The department was able to subsidize the development of two new national tests aligned to the Common Core, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). At the outset — in 2010 — almost every state signed up for one of the two testing consortia. PARCC had 24 state members; it is now down to two and the District of Columbia. SBAC started with 30 state members; it is down to 17.


Politicians and the general public assume that tests are good because they provide valuable information. They think that the tests are necessary for equity among racial and ethnic groups.


This is wrong.


The tests are a measure, not a remedy.


The tests are administered to students annually in March and early April. Teachers are usually not allowed to see the questions. The test results are returned to the schools in August or September. The students have different teachers by then. Their new teachers see their students’ scores but they are not allowed to know which questions the students got right or wrong.


Thus, the teachers do not learn where the students need extra help or which lessons need to be reviewed.


All they receive is a score, so they learn where students ranked compared to one another and compared to students across the state and the nation.


This is of little value to teachers.


This would be like going to a doctor with a pain in your stomach. The doctor gives you a battery of tests and says she will have the results in six months. When the results are reported, the doctor tells you that you are in the 45th percentile compared to others with a similar pain, but she doesn’t prescribe any medication because the test doesn’t say what caused your pain or where it is situated.


The tests are a boon for the testing corporation. For teachers and students, they are worthless.


Standardized test scores are highly correlated with family income and education. The students from affluent families get the highest scores. Those from poor families get the lowest scores. This is the case on every standardized test, whether it is state, national, international, SAT, or ACT. Sometimes poor kids get high scores, and sometimes kids from wealthy families get low scores, but they are outliers. The standardized tests confer privilege on the already advantaged and stigmatize those who have the least. They are not and will never be, by their very nature, a means to advance equity.


In addition, standardized tests are normed on a bell curve. There will always be a bottom half and a top half. Achievement gaps will never close, because bell curves never close. That is their design. By contrast, anyone of legal age may get a driver’s license if they pass the required tests. Access to driver’s licenses are not based on a bell curve. If they were, about 35 to 40 percent of adults would never get a license to drive.


If you are a parent, you will learn nothing from your child’s test score. You don’t really care how he or she ranks compared to others of her age in the state or in another state. You want to know whether she is keeping up with her assignments, whether she participates in class, whether she understands the work, whether she is enthusiastic about school, how she gets along with her peers. The standardized tests won’t answer any of these questions.


So how can a parent find out what he or she wants to know? Ask your child’s teacher.


Who should write the tests? Teachers should write the tests, based on what they taught in class. They can get instant answers and know precisely what their students understood and what they did not understand. They can hold a conference with Johnny or Maria to go over what they missed in class and help them learn what they need to know.


But how will we know how we are doing as a city or a state or a nation? How will we know about achievement gaps and whether they are getting bigger or smaller?


All of that information is already available in the reports of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), plus much more. Scores are disaggregated by state, gender, race, disability status, poverty status, English-language proficiency, and much more. About 20 cities have volunteered to be assessed, and they get the same information.


As we approach the reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act — the successor law to No Child Left Behind — it is important to know this history and this context. No high-performing nation in the world tests every students in grades 3 to 8 every year.


We can say with certainty that the No Child Left Behind program failed to meet its purpose of leaving no child behind.


We can say with certainty that the Race to the Top program did not succeed at raising the nation’s test scores “to the top.”


We can say with certainty that the Every Student Succeeds Act did not achieve its purpose of assuring that every student would succeed.


For the past 10 years, despite (or perhaps because of) this deluge of intrusive federal programs, scores on the NAEP have been flat. The federal laws and programs have come and gone and have had no impact on test scores, which was their purpose.


It is time to think differently. It is time to relax the heavy hand of federal regulation and to recall the original purposes of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act: to distribute funding to the neediest students and schools; to support the professional training of teachers; and to assure the civil rights of students.


The federal government should not mandate testing or tell schools how to “reform” themselves, because the federal government lacks the knowledge or know-how or experience to reform schools.


At this critical time, as we look beyond the terrible consequences of the pandemic, American schools face a severe teacher shortage. The federal government can help states raise funding to pay professional salaries to professional teachers. It can help pay for high-quality prekindergarten programs. It can underwrite the cost of meals for students and help pay for nurses in every school.


American education will improve when the federal government does what it does best and allows highly qualified teachers and well-resourced schools to do what they do best.


Jake Jacobs, an art teacher in New York City, a leader of New York BadAss Teachers, and a writer for The Progressive, read and reviewed Hillary Clinton’s policy briefing book in 2017 and reviewed the education section for Alternet. I missed his article, but it’s worth reading now to understand how advocates of privatization have inserted themselves into both political parties and use their vast wealth to control public policy and undermine public schools.

Jacobs points out that Laurene Powell Jobs “has been close with the Clintons since the late ’90s, also sat with Betsy DeVos on the board of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. She set up billionaire “roundtables” with Clinton’s campaign advisors through 2015 while donating millions to Priorities USA, Clinton’s main PAC.”

Jacobs notes:

Notes taken by Clinton aide Ann O’Leary were made in interviews with Powell Jobs and Bruce Reed, President of The Broad Foundation (and former chief of staff to Joe Biden). According to the notes, the “experts” were calling for new federal controls, more for-profit companies and more technology in public schools — but first on the menu was a bold remake of the teaching “profession…”

Powell Jobs suggests letting principals “pick their teams,” making teachers individually negotiate salary (every teacher—really?), expanding online education offerings like Khan Academy and making teaching universities “truly selective like TFA and Finland.” This comment is perplexing because while Finland has demanding teacher vetting and training, Teach for America places inexperienced teachers in classrooms after a seven-week summer crash course...

Tying campaign donations to a singular issue like expanding charter schools might in days past been seen as a prohibited quid-pro-quo. But in this cycle, Podesta, O’Leary and [Neera] Tanden [director of the Center for American Progress and President Biden’s nominee to lead the crucial Office of Management and Budget, which sets priorities for federal funding] all busily raised campaign money from the same billionaire education reformers with whom they were also talking policy specifics.

But they did more than talk. On June 20, 2015, O’Leary sent Podesta an email revealing the campaign adopted two of Powell Jobs’ suggestions, including “infusing best ideas from charter schools into our traditional public schools.” When Clinton announced this policy in a speech to teachers, however, it was the one line that drew boos.

“Donors want to hear where she stands” John Petry, a founder of both Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) and Success Academy, New York’s largest network of charter schools, told the New York Times.  Petry was explicit, declaring that he and his billionaire associates would instead put money into congressional, state and local races, behind candidates who favored a “more businesslike approach” to education, and tying teacher tenure to standardized test scores.
..

Not mentioning education would become important in the general election. This policy book shows a snapshot in time when wealthy donors were pushing Clinton’s and Jeb’s positions together, seeking more of the federal privatization begun under George W. Bush and continued by Obama...

This was predicted by John Podesta, who bragged just after the 2012 election about nullifying education policy differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Sitting next to Jeb Bush, Podesta proclaimed “ed reform” a bipartisan affair, telling donors “the Obama administration has made its key priorities clear. The Republicans are pretty much in the same place…this area is ripe for cooperation between the center-right and center-left”...

The 2014 policy book reveals some essential lessons about how education policy is crafted: in secret, with the input and influence of billionaire donors seeking more school privatization and testing—regardless of what party is in power. Even as the backlash against testing and the Common Core grew, Clinton’s advisors pushed her to embrace them. Clinton vacillated, then fell silent on K-12 policy, and as a result, education issues were largely left out of the election debate. Today, under Trump, privatization marches on worse than ever.


I recently received a copy of Hillary Clinton’s policy book, assembled for her by her most trusted advisors in 2014. This policy book was released in 2016 by Wikileaks after it hacked into John Podesta’s emails. The education section begins on page 156. Clinton’s lead education advisor was Ann O’Leary, who is now chief of staff to California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Let me say at the outset that if I had read this brief before the 20116 election, I would have been disappointed and disheartened, but I still would have voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump. Despite my disagreement with her education advisors and plans, she was still 100 billion times better than Trump. Maybe 100 zillion times better.

Her education advisors came right out of the Bush-Obama bipartisan consensus that brought up No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core. The brief tells us that this wing of the Democratic party, which was in the ascendancy during the Obama administration, is an obstacle to improving American education. After thirty years of promoting charter schools and billions of dollars spent increasing their number, it is obvious that they are not a source of innovation, transparency, or accountability. The charter sector is a problem, not a solution. They have not brought great ideas to public schools; instead they compete with public schools for students and resources. Anyone who is serious about education must consider ways to help and support students, teachers, and communities, not promote schemes of uneven value that have opened the public purse to profiteers, entrepreneurs, religious zealots, and corporate chains.

What the brief teaches us is that the Democratic party is split between those who are still wedded to the failed bipartisan agenda that runs from Reagan to Clinton and those who understand that the Democratic party should commit itself to equity and a strong public school system that serves all children.

The education section of the policy brief makes for sobering reading. (It begins on page 163.) O’Leary wrote the education section of the policy brief. Among the “experts” cited are billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs and Bruce Reed of the Eli Broad Foundation. Among the policy papers is a statement by Jeb Bush’s spokesperson Patricia Levesque, recommending Jeb’s horrible ideas.

To sum up the recommendations:

  1. The brief lauds charter schools as a solution to the nation’s low academic performance (only a year earlier, CREDO had released a report saying that only one of every five charter schools outperforms public schools).
  2. The brief excoriates colleges of education and their graduates. It calls for Clinton to “professionalize teaching” by embracing TFA. TFA is likened to Finland as a model for finding excellent teachers. The brief does not mention that Finland would never admit teachers who had only five weeks of training into their classrooms. Every teacher in Finland goes through a multi-year rigorous program of preparation.
  3. The brief contends that tests should be “better and fewer” but should not be abandoned. Jeb Bush and Florida are cited as a model.
  4. The brief says: Don’t shy away from equity issues: While the root cause on inequity in our schools is still disputed – with reformers focused on the in-school availability of good teachers, good curriculum and rigorous course offerings and the unions focused on the challenges faced by teachers who are asked to find solutions to problems that stem from poverty and dysfunction in the community – there is an agreement that our public school system is one of the root causes of income inequality in our country, and that you should not be shy about calling it out and demanding we work to fix the inequities inside and outside the school building. [sic]
  5. Support the Common Core standards, which were already so toxic that they helped to sink Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign. The brief says: Stand Up for the Common Core. There is strong agreement that we need high academic standards in our public school system and that the Common Core will help us to be more globally competitive. There is recognition, however, that the implementation of Common Core and the interaction with the testing regime has made many supporters nervous (including Randi Weingarten). However, all agree that you must stand for common core while working on the real challenges of how to implement it in a way that supports teachers. 
  6. The brief holds up New Orleans as a dramatic success, when in fact its greatest achievements were busting the teachers’ union, firing the entire teacher force (most of whom were African American, and turning public schools over to charter operators. We now know that about half of the charter schools in New Orleans are considered “failing schools” (ranked D or F) by the state’s own metrics, and that New Orleans is a school district whose scores are below the state average, in one of the lowest performing states in the nation. Hardly the “success” that should be hailed as a model for the nation.

Ann O’Leary interviewed Laurene Powell Jobs as an “expert” on education. One of Jobs’ strong recommendations is to reconsider the value of for-profit entrepreneurs.

Instead of just looking at the deficits of these schools, consider it a huge opportunity for transforming learning. Beginning to see some of this work in Udacity, Coursera – and we should be doing more of making the best in technology available to support students in getting skills and credentials they need. 

More from education expert Mrs. Jobs:

Re-Design entire K-12 system – know how to do it, but it comes down to political will. Public schools are a huge government program that we need to work brilliantly b/c it could change everything and be the thing that reduces income inequality; but we are stuck in system right now 

 Think about Charters as our R&D – only 5% of public schools still – MUST infuse ideas into the public school system, it is the only way – must allow public schools to have leaders that can pick their team and be held accountable; take away categorical funding, allow them to experiment and thrive 

 Need to increase IQ in the teaching sector: Teach for America; they are a different human capital pipeline – if Ed schools could be rigorous, highly esteemed, and truly selective like TFA and Finland, we’d see a different kind of teaching profession that would be elevated. Right now we have mediocre students become teachers in our classrooms; 

 Need transformation in our pipeline – Ed Schools should be like Med Schools – need to compensate teachers accordingly from $45K to 90K – have a professional union – like SAG; like docs and lawyers that have professional unions – individual contributors can negotiate; scientists and mathematicians; Teachers shouldn’t have to take a vow of poverty 

 Need to use technology to transform – technology allows teaches and children to focus on content mastery versus seat time; get to stay with your age cohort, but you have a “learn list” and “dashboard” set up to help you reach the needed content skills. This is happening with Sal Kahn and schools in Bay Area – need to learn from it and grow it. 

 Need to call out and address the inequities – Huge differential between what is taught in higher income and lower-income schools; the top 50 college admissions professionals in US know which high schools have rigor embedded; in low-income schools, kids top out and cannot get more; black 12th grader curriculum/school equivalent to 8th grade curriculum for white student 

Then Ann O’Leary interviewed “education expert” Bruce Reed, president of the Broad Foundation, but with zero experience in education:

 Hillary’s initial instincts still hold true – that choice in former [sic] of charters, higher standards and making this a center piece of what we do as a country – nation of opportunity – still all true, nothing has changed; turned out to be even more true than it was 30 years ago 

 Challenge of education reform: school districts are pretty hard, if not impossible, to reform – they are another broken part of democracy b/c no leader held accountable for success or failure; no one votes on school board – don’t’ know who it is; sups not elected; mayors don’t want to be involved. 

o New Orleans is an amazing story – when you make it possible to get political dysfunction and sick a bunch of talent on the problem – it’s the one place where grand bargain of charters has been kept the best 

 Problem with Charters as R&D: 

o Traditional system – less incentive and less freedom to do things in different ways – big part of charter success is to pick staff you want and pick curriculum you want – don’t have anyone to blame if you are failing; principal is ultimately accountable, but in traditional system principal is often without any power 

o Critical mass…. Get to certain tipping point and rest of the system and will follow – New Orleans – if you create the Silicon Valley of education improvement, which is what New Orleans has, you can get there; but the central office must let go of thinking it knows how to run schools; Denver does it, letting go of micromanagement on curriculum, instead do transportation and procurement….pro charter; pro portfolio system for public schools. 

o Critical mass…. Get to certain tipping point and rest of the system and will follow – New Orleans – if you create the Silicon Valley of education improvement, which is what New Orleans has, you can get there; but the central office must let go of thinking it knows how to run schools; Denver does it, letting go of micromanagement on curriculum, instead do transportation and procurement….pro charter; pro portfolio system for public schools. 

Steve Hinnefeld, an Indiana blogger, reviews Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire’s new book A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door and finds that it resonates with his own experience in Indiana.

He writes:

“A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door” focuses on a fundamental debate on the nature of schools. Education, the authors argue, is best treated as a public good that belongs to everyone.

“Like clean air, a well-educated populace is something with wide-reaching benefits,” Berkshire and Schneider write. “That’s why we treat public education more like a park than a country club. We tax ourselves to pay for it, and we open it to everyone.”

The alternative: education as a private good that benefits and belongs to those who consume it. In that increasingly influential view, families should choose schools – or other education products and services — the same way they choose restaurants or where to buy their shoes, with little concern for anyone else.

The threats they describe are not a wolf but a veritable wolfpack: conservative ideologues who want to reduce taxes and shrink government, anti-union zealots, marketers bent on “selling” schools, self-dealers making money from ineffective virtual-school schemes and technology enthusiasts who envision a future in which algorithms replace teachers.

That may make the book sound like a polemic; it’s not, at least in my reading. The authors offer a fair and accurate reading of opposing views and acknowledge that public schools aren’t perfect. All too often, they admit, public schools have excluded or failed students of color, immigrants, religious minorities, students with disabilities and others…

I remember, in the late 1990s, being surprised when the Indiana Chamber of Commerce said it planned to push for vouchers. Democrats controlled the governor’s office and the Indiana House. Just a few years earlier, a well-organized voucher push led by prominent business officials fizzled out.

But, as Schneider and Berkshire document, voucher supporters have played a long game, carried forward by groups like Indianapolis-based EdChoice and the American Legislative Exchange Council. In 2011, with a GOP supermajority in the legislature and Mitch Daniels in the governor’s office, Indiana approved vouchers. The program started small but grew to include over 300 private schools, nearly all of them religious, and over 36,000 students. Now there’s talk of expanding it further – or possibly of adopting education savings accounts, one of the “neo-voucher” programs that Schneider and Berkshire describe.

There is reason to hope, he writes, but also reason to be alarmed and vigilant.

Andrea Gabor has written recently about the importance of civics education. She has reminded us that the obsession with standardized testing has robbed students of the joy of learning and consumed time that could be better spent in other ways.

The 22-year-old Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, who spoke so beautifully at the inauguration of President Joe Biden, reminded her that we have lost the study of poetry in our mad Race to Leave No Child Behind and to force testing on every student and teacher.

I heartily agree with Gabor. I have always loved poetry. I edited two collections that included many iconic poems: The American Reader and The English Reader (with my son Michael). During a time when I was grieving the loss of a child, I read poetry and found solace in a poem by Ben Jonson. When my children were young, we read poetry together, and they learned the fun of wordplay.

Gabor writes in her article about the need to allot more time to reading and writing poetry.

For too long, poetry has been treated as impractical, and even frivolous, with just 12% of the U.S. adults reporting, in 2018, that they had read a poem during the previous year. Perversely, that sad metric represented a major improvement over the previous decade, when annual poetry reading fell to below 7%. With schools encouraged to focus on practical subjects such as math, science and engineering, and a growing emphasis on nonfiction in the Common Core standards used to help states and school systems decide what to teach, poetry has become an afterthought.

It shouldn’t be. Poetry can be inspirational and teach important lessons about communication (thanks again, Amanda Gorman). It can even be practical, as poetry-loving business executives have long asserted. Elevating the role of poetry also could serve as a low-cost way to bolster student creativity and engagement.

For children, poetry serves as a key to literacy with the rhythm and cadence of books like Dr. Seuss’s “Cat in the Hat” helping even the youngest decode words and meaning, while its absurd rhymes make reading fun. Think of Thing One and Thing Two and the havoc they’ll do.

As children get older, the metaphors and ambiguity of more complex poems serve as an intellectual puzzle, helping youngsters analyze, make connections between words and concepts, and foster critical thinking. Poetry teaches grammar in bite-sized stanzas. Great poems embed unforgettable images and teach the power that a few spare words by Carl Sandburg can convey:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Gorman herself described the research skills that her inaugural poem employed, including examining the work of earlier poet laureates, as well as the oratory of Fredrick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. She drew on the musical “Hamilton,” which pays homage to hip hop and rap, the street poetry that rose out of economic devastation in the 1970s. And she examined tweets following the Capitol riot, which inspired the line, “We’ve seen a force that would shatter this nation rather than share it.”

For Gorman and Biden, who both wrestled with speech impediments, reciting poetry paved the way to eloquence. Gorman has trouble pronouncing Rs, so she practiced the rap lyrics of “Aaron Burr, Sir” from “Hamilton.” To help him overcome a stutter, Biden recited the poems of William Butler Yeats.

For poor children, from New York City to New Delhi, poetry serves as an especially important outlet for self-expression and even for promoting mental health. In Allison Baxter’s class of English-language learners at West Chicago high school, teaching Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem” is a key to understanding Lorraine Hansberry’s play, “A Raisin in the Sun.” The poem begins:

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?

The sophistication of the language and grammar in both the poem and the play provide a welcome challenge for students who relish reciting excerpts from both works, Baxter says. They also offer a window on the Chicago of Hansberry’s youth and an opportunity to help introduce students to their adopted city. 

Poetry has its real-world uses, too. Sidney Harman, the founder of the audio-technology company Harman Kardon, once famously said: “Get me poets as managers. Poets are our original systems thinkers.” (Harman endowed a writer-in-residence program at Baruch College; I’m on the program’s selection committee.)

Consider the frustration of Wes Chapman, a health-care technology entrepreneur, who once rejected dozens of applicants for a marketing job at his Hanover, New Hampshire-based startup M2S — English majors from Dartmouth College, his alma mater — because none of them could identify a favorite poem or poet. “Marketing is a job that requires command of language and understanding how words and images influence people,” says Chapman, who notes that the scientists he worked with, at the time, recited poetry. Although Chapman favors 19th-century verse, he eventually hired a young woman who was able to recite a poem by Maya Angelou.

Poetry is an important part of the liberal arts tradition, which is again being seen as a key to business success.

School principals should encourage teachers to make time for verse. And states and districts should help fund the kinds of organizations — including libraries and student clubs — that offer resources and outlets for student poets. And with states advocating for the federal government to suspend standardized testing this year, in recognition of the difficulties posed by the pandemic, schools could be encouraged to produce year-end projects instead, including those focused on poetry.

Inspiration, creativity, joy, critical thinking about language and its nuances: these are the lessons of poetry, and they matter more than bubbling in the right answer. That is, if you care about real education.

Recently Tom Ultican responded to something I posted on Twitter.

His response contained a typo.

He meant to write “Common Core Standards,” but mistakenly wrote “Common Care Standards.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our schools had “Common Care Standards,” in which we acknowledged our responsibility to care about students?

The standards might read like this:

All children shall have access to high quality preschool.

All children should have time to play every day, between classes and after school.

All children should have three nutritious meals every day.

All children should see a school nurse whenever they don’t feel well.

All children should be checked by a doctor and dentist annually.

All children should have access to a well-stocked library.

All children should have a safe place to live.

All children should have the arts as part of their daily schedule.

All children should have a school curriculum that includes not only reading and mathematics, but civics and history, science, literature, and foreign language.

Do you have anything to add to the Common Care Standards?

We have all been guessing about what President-Elect Joe Biden will do in education. Will he keep his campaign promises and set federal policy on a new direction, away from No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, ESSA, high-stakes testing, and school choice, or will he stick with the stale and destructive status quo?

No one knows for sure but many have tried to divine his intentions by the composition of his transition team for education. At first glance, it is worrisome that so many of its members come from the Race to the Top era. But Valerie Strauss offers a different perspective on the transition team’s purpose and significance.

She writes:

Now that President-elect Joe Biden has named a 20-person education transition team, the education world is trying to glean insight from its makeup as to what the next president will do to try to improve America’s public schools.


Some progressives are worried that the list of members is heavy with former members of the Obama administration, whose controversial education policies ultimately alienated teachers’ unions, parents and members of Congress from both major political parties. Some conservatives are concerned that four of the team’s members come from national teachers’ unions. And others wonder what it means that Biden chose Linda Darling-Hammond — the first Black woman to serve as president of the California Board of Education and an expert on educational equity and teacher quality — to lead the team.


When it comes to policy, such concerns are probably misplaced. This transition team is not charged with writing big policy papers or selecting a new education secretary. The campaign set Biden’s education agenda, and there is a separate, smaller committee working on domestic policy.


The transition team’s charge is largely about reimagining the Education Department, which has been run for nearly four years by Betsy DeVos, whose top priority was pushing alternatives to public school districts and encouraging states to use public money to fund private and religious school education. She also focused on reversing a number of Obama administration initiatives in civil rights and other areas.


Biden has promised to focus on the public schools that educate the vast majority of America’s schoolchildren and to take steps to address the inequity that has long existed in the education system — and his proposals speak to a divergence from the Obama agenda.


Subgroups on the transition team are tackling different areas, including K-12, higher education and a covid-19 response that would allow schools to safely reopen — an urgent priority for Biden. Step No. 1, according to one person familiar with the process (who spoke on the condition of anonymity) is to “figure out what damage she [DeVos] did and then stand up a department.”


The selection of the transition team does speak to some basic Biden priorities. He picked people who have expertise in their field; most of the 20 on the transition team were involved in the Education Department in either the Obama or Clinton administration. He won’t, for example, hire a neurosurgeon to run a department that deals with housing, like Trump did with Ben Carson. Biden promised to hire a teacher as education secretary, not someone who never went to a public school, like DeVos.


As Kevin Welner, the director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said, the “obvious reason” there are so many former Obama administration education officials on the Biden team is that they are working “on crafting remedies for the Trump-DeVos reversals — to restore guidances and executive orders that the current administration changed or eliminated.”
The inclusion of four union leaders — three from the American Federation of Teachers and one from the National Education Association — underscores Biden’s long connections with the labor movement and shows he is not expecting to break those ties.


In fact, two of the names reported to be under consideration for Biden’s education secretary are Lily Eskelsen García, former president of the National Education Association, which is the largest union in the country; and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. (The appointment of one of these women raises some questions: Would a Republican-led Senate confirm a labor leader? Would Biden appoint one as acting if it won’t?)


The Biden team has been floating a number of names for education secretary, a job that many thought would go to Darling-Hammond before she said recently that she didn’t want it.


She is as highly regarded in the education world as just about anyone; among other things, she is the founder of the Stanford University Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, founder of the California-based Learning Policy Institute think tank, founding director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, and a former president of the American Educational Research Association.


Darling-Hammond was also Obama’s education transition chief after his 2008 presidential win. It was a time when serious flaws with the K-12 No Child Left Behind law had emerged, including an unhealthy emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and mandates that were unachievable.


Obama had said during the 2008 campaign he thought kids took too many standardized tests, telling the American Federation of Teachers, “Creativity has been drained from classrooms as too many teachers are forced to teach fill-in-the-bubble tests.” And many public school advocates believed he would support their agenda of de-emphasizing the tests that had become routine under No Child Left Behind.


But Obama had quietly embraced a group called Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) — started by some New York hedge-fund managers — who wanted to reform schools along business principles and who were antagonistic toward the teachers’ unions. Columns began appearing in numerous publications accusing Darling-Hammond of being too close to the unions.


Obama wound up tapping Arne Duncan, a reformer in the DFER mold, as education secretary. Duncan, the former chief of Chicago schools, pushed the evaluation of teachers by student standardized test scores, the adoption by states of Common Core State Standards and the expansion of charter schools. The result was that students took many more standardized tests and some states created cockamamie evaluation systems that saw teachers evaluated by the test scores of students they didn’t have. The Common Core, which started with bipartisan support, saw a rushed implementation that helped lead to opposition to it.


By 2014, the National Education Association called for Duncan’s resignation and the AFT said he should change policy or resign. Congress eventually rewrote the No Child Left Behind law, taking away some of the federal power that Duncan had exercised in education policy and giving it to the states.


The 2008 education transition team that Darling-Hammond headed included some progressive thinkers in education who wrote deep policy papers that focused on educational equity and other transformative issues. Duncan ignored them, going his own way. In 2008, the makeup of the presidential transition team had no effect on policy.


Through his tenure as vice president, though, Biden did not publicly discuss the Obama-Duncan education changes. It appears that he was not a big supporter; his wife, Jill Biden, a community college educator, is a longtime member of the NEA, and the AFT’s Weingarten has said when the AFT was not getting along with the Obama administration, Biden was “our north star” and our “go-to guy who always listened to us.”


Biden sought out Darling-Hammond to run his transition team because of her expertise in education and in part as a signal about what he hopes to prioritize in education, according to people familiar with the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity.


Biden and his team made a number of promises about education during the campaign, including increasing federal funds for the poorest students as well as for students with special needs, raising the salaries of teachers, making community college free and implementing college debt forgiveness. His proposals would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to implement; meeting his promise to “fully fund” the federal law protecting students with special needs alone could cost $40 billion or more.


It is more than highly unlikely that there will be federal funding available to do everything he promised, but public education advocates say they are hopeful that he will stick to his promise to concentrate on publicly funded school districts and not school choice, like DeVos, or standardized testing, like Duncan.


All the signs at the moment indicate that Biden’s education agenda will be significantly different from Duncan’s (and certainly DeVos’s) and start to address the issue of educational equity in ways that Darling-Hammond has always thought were important, including how public schools are funded. Stay tuned.

Over 600 educators of color and education scholars of color have signed a statement opposing failed billionaire-backed “reforms” intended to privatize public schools and deprofessionalize teaching.

The statement was drafted by Kevin Kumashiro and can be found on his website, along with the list of those who signed it. People continue to sign on to demonstrate to the public that their rightwing campaign is not fooling educators and scholars of color.

All Educators of Color and Educational Scholars of Color in the U.S. are invited to sign on (please scroll down to sign)

THIS MUST END NOW:

Educators & Scholars of Color Against Failed Educational “Reforms”

The public is being misled. Billionaire philanthropists are increasingly foisting so-called “reform” initiatives upon the schools that serve predominantly students of color and low-income students, and are using black and brown voices to echo claims of improving schools or advancing civil rights in order to rally community support. However, the evidence to the contrary is clear: these initiatives have not systematically improved student success, are faulty by design, and have already proven to widen racial and economic disparities. Therefore, we must heed the growing body of research and support communities and civil-rights organizations in their calls for a more accurate and nuanced understanding of the problems facing our schools, for a retreat from failed “reforms,” and for better solutions:

• Our school systems need more public investment, not philanthropic experimentation; more democratic governance, not disenfranchisement; more guidance from the profession, the community, and researchers, not from those looking to privatize and profiteer; and more attention to legacies of systemic injustice, racism, and poverty, not neoliberal, market-based initiatives that function merely to incentivize, blame, and punish.

• Our teachers and leaders need more, better, and ongoing preparation and support, more professional experience and community connections, and more involvement in shared governance and collective bargaining for the common good, not less.

• Our vision should be that every student receives the very best that our country has to offer as a fundamental right and a public good; not be forced to compete in a marketplace where some have and some have not, and where some win and many others lose.

The offer for “help” is alluring, and is reinforced by Hollywood’s long history of deficit-oriented films about white teachers saving poorer black and brown students from suffering, as if the solution consisted merely of uplifting and inspiring individuals, rather than of tackling the broader system of stratification that functions to fail them in the first place. Today, more than ever before, the “help” comes in the form of contingent financing for education, and the pressure to accept is intense: shrinking public resources, resounding claims of scarcity, and urgent calls for austerity make it seem negligent to turn down sizable financial incentives, even when such aid is tied to problematic reforms.

The growing number of funders includes high-profile foundations and obscure new funders (including but not limited to the Arnold Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bradley Foundation, Broad Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, City Fund, DeVos family foundations, Gates Foundation, Koch family foundations, and Walton Family Foundation), and for the most part, have converged on what counts as worthwhile and fundable, whether leaning conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat (see, for example, the platform of Democrats for Education Reform). Such funders may be supporting some grassroots initiatives, but overall, mega-philanthropy in public education exemplifies the 21st-century shift from traditional donating that supported others’ initiatives with relatively smaller grants, to venture financing that offers funding pools of unprecedented size and scale but only to those who agree to implement the funders’ experiments. Belying the rhetoric of improving schools is the reality that such experiments are making struggling schools look less and less like the top performing schools for the elite, and do so by design, as with the following:

• The Portfolio Model. 



Exemplified in the early 2000s by the turnaround-school reforms in Chicago Public Schools and Race to the Top, and increasingly shaping urban districts across the country today, the “portfolio model” decentralizes decision making, expands school choice, holds schools accountable through performance measures like student testing, and sanctions failing schools with restructuring or closure, incentivizing their replacements in the form of charter schools. This model purports that marketizing school systems will lead to system improvement, and that student testing carries both validity and reliability for high-stakes decisions, neither of which is true.



Instead of improving struggling schools, what results are growing racial disparities that fuel gentrification for the richer alongside disinvestment from the poorer. The racially disparate outcomes should not be surprising, given the historical ties between mass standardized testing and eugenics, and even today, given the ways that “norm referencing” in test construction guarantees the perpetuation of a racialized achievement curve. Yet, the hallmarks of the portfolio model are taught in the Broad Superintendents Academy that prepares an increasingly steady flow of new leaders for urban districts, and not surprisingly, that has produced the leaders that have been ousted in some of the highest profile protests by parents and teachers in recent years. This is the model that propels the funding and incubation of school-choice expansion, particularly via charter schools, through such organizations as the NewSchools Venture Fund and various charter networks whose leaders are among the trainers in the Broad Academy. Imposing this model on poorer communities of color is nefarious, disingenuous, and must end.


• Choice, Vouchers, Charters. 



The expansion of school choice, including vouchers (and neo-voucher initiatives, like tax credits) and charter schools, purports to give children and parents the freedom to leave a “failing” school. However, the research on decades of such programs does not give any compelling evidence that such reforms lead to system improvement, instead showing increased racial segregation, diversion of public funding from the neediest of communities, neglect of students with disabilities and English-language learners, and more racial disparities in educational opportunity. This should not be surprising: choice emerged during the Civil Rights Movement as a way to resist desegregation; vouchers also emerged during this time, when the federal government was growing its investment into public education, as a way to privatize public school systems and divert funding to private schools for the elite; and charter schools emerged in the 1990s as laboratories for communities to shape their own schools, but have become the primary tool to privatize school systems.



Yes, choice and vouchers give some students a better education, but in many areas, students of color and low-income students are in the minority of those using vouchers. Yes, some charters are high performing, but overall, the under-regulation of and disproportionate funding for charter schools has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in waste (and even more in corporate profits) that could otherwise have gone to traditional public schools. The NAACP was right when it resolved that privatization is a threat to public education, and in particular, called for a moratorium on charter-school expansion; and the NAACP, MALDEF, ACLU, and other national civil-rights organizations have opposed voucher expansion. Diverting funds towards vouchers, neo-vouchers, and charters must end.


• Teacher Deprofessionalization. 



The deprofessionalization of teaching—including the undermining of collective bargaining and shared governance, and the preferential hiring of underprepared teachers—is foregrounded in charter schools (which often prohibit unionization and hire a disproportionate number of Teach for America teachers), but affects the teaching force in public schools, writ large. The mega-philanthropies are not only anti-union, having supported (sometimes rhetorically, sometimes resourcefully) the recent wave of anti-union bills across the states; but more broadly, are anti-shared governance, supporting the shift toward top-down management forms (including by for-profit management at the school level, and unelected, mayor-appointed boards at the district level). 



The weakening of the profession is also apparent in the philanthropies’ funding of fast-track routes to certification, not only for leaders (like with New Leaders for New Schools), but also for classroom teachers, like with the American Board for Certification of Teaching Excellence, and more notably, Teach for America (TFA). TFA accelerates the revolving door of teachers by turning teaching into a brief service obligation, justified by a redefining of quality teacher away from preparedness, experience, and community connectedness to merely being knowledgeable of subject matter (and notably, after the courts found that TFA teachers did not meet the definition of “highly qualified,” Congress would remove the requirement that every student have a “highly qualified” teacher in its 2015 reauthorization of ESEA, thus authorizing the placement of underprepared teachers in the neediest of schools). 



Parents are being lied to when told that these “reforms” of weakening unions and lessening professional preparation will raise the quality of teachers for their children. Yes, some teachers and leaders from alternative routes are effective and well-intended, but outliers should not drive policy. Students are being lied to when told that choosing such pathways is akin to joining the legacy of civil-rights struggles for poorer communities of color. Not surprisingly, the NAACP and the Movement for Black Lives have called out how initiatives like TFA appeal to our desire to serve and help, but shortchange the students who need and deserve more.

We, as a nationwide collective of educators of color and educational scholars of color, oppose the failed reforms that are being forced by wealthy philanthropists onto our communities with problematic and often devastating results. These must end now. We support reforms that better serve our students, particularly in poorer communities of color, and we will continue to work with lawmakers, leaders, school systems, and the public to make such goals a reality.

Frank Splitt is a retired electrical engineer with a distinguished resume and wide-ranging interests, including education. A friend gave him the hostile review of SLAYING GOLIATH that appeared in The New York Times. He decided to read the book and reach his own judgment. He wrote the following review for Amazon:

An Educational Whodunit with a Happy Ending

For anyone still wondering about what happened to the highly touted education reform programs, such as Common Core, Race to the Top, and Value Added Measures, wonder no more. Diane Ravitch puts on her education historian hat once again—telling a page-turning story.

It’s a whodunit that begins by naming the villains (Goliaths), the millionaires and billionaires who targeted America’s public schools—labeling these schools as poorly managed havens for bad teachers who are protected by their powerful unions.

The villains aimed to replace public schools with charter schools and/or voucher programs while ferreting out so-called bad teachers on the basis of student test scores. For some, public schools presented a rich marketing opportunity ripe for the taking. And take they did with the cooperation of federal, state, and local governments. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Education under the administrations of President’s George W. Bush, Barack H. Obama, and Donald J. Trump have all been deeply complicit to varying degrees.

The heroes (Davids) in the story are the teachers, students, administrators, and parents who formed the ill-funded, passionate resistance to the privatization and corporatization of America’s public school system. It was this passionate resistance that slayed Goliath.

I would also count Diane Ravitch among these heroes. She sees public education as a basic public responsibility—warning Americans not to be persuaded by a false crisis narrative to privatize it while urging parents, educators, and other concerned citizens to join together to strengthen our public schools and preserve them for future generations.

In this book, Ravitch has exposed the rampant corruption involved with the villain’s takeovers, the baseless notion of evaluating teacher via student test scores, as well as the damage done to communities, schools, students and teachers that will take years to heal, especially so while dealing with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although this is not another book about education reform per se, one is left to wonder where American public education would be today if the Goliaths respected the sound principle of giving to meet needs instead of giving to impose their ideas and take control of K-12 education in America.
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My thanks go to primary teachers Holly Rothstein Balk, Katianne Rothstein Olson, Chelsea Gabzdyl, and Margaret Zamzow Wenzelman, as well as high school teachers Margaret Mangan, (the late) Joseph Hafenscher and to retired Illinois State Board of Education staff member Michael Mangan, for their insights into the Common Core State Standards, Value Added Measures, and the impact of the standards and related over-the-top testing regimes on school administrators, teachers, and their students.

This is a must read book for parents, teachers, government officials, and other concerned citizens as well.