Archives for category: Online Learning

I wrote a post yesterday and planned to post it at this hour. It was a brief recapitulation of an opinion piece that Kevin Huffman wrote yesterday in the Washington Post, in which he boldly stated that the current reliance on distance learning would hurt students and set back their learning.

Kevin Huffman is one of the leaders of the corporate reform movement. He worked for Teach for America, was married to Michelle Rhee, served as Commissioner of Education in Tennessee, where he pushed charters and vouchers and standardized testing. But when he tried to lose the state’s lowest performing school, the Tennessee Virtual Academy, he ran into a blank wall. It couldn’t be done. The TVA had friends in the legislature and it was impossible to close it down.

So in this article, he warned that the necessary emphasis on distance learning would not end well. In the post I planned to publish (but didn’t), I noted that he plugged the “no-excuses” Achievement First charter chain and Jeb Bush’s accountability-obsessed Chiefs for Change. I was not planning to mention that the “expert” he quotes is Hoover economist Erik Hanushek, who has a devout belief in testing and VAM and has predicted that increasing test scores would add trillions to the nation’s GNP. He has promoted the theory that teachers who can’t get their students’ scores up should be fired. Clean the ranks every year and—voila!—test scores will rise.

But unlike gullible me, Jan Resseger understood that Huffman’s article was a coded propaganda piece for the corporate reformers’ favorite organizations and remedies. Not only did he plug Achievement First and Chiefs for Change, he also cited the billionaire-funded City Fund, where he works. He did not note that it was created to subvert local school board elections by pumping money into the campaigns of charter-friendly candidates.

Resseger writes:

Kevin Huffman begins his recent Washington Post column with a warning about problems he expects to result from the widespread, coronavirus-driven school closures: “As the coronavirus pandemic closes schools, in some cases until September, American children this month met their new English, math, science and homeroom teachers: their iPads and their parents. Classes are going online, if they exist at all. The United States is embarking on a massive, months-long virtual-pedagogy experiment, and it is not likely to end well.”

This is pretty harsh. While in many places teachers are going to enormous lengths to create interesting projects to challenge children and keep them engaged, virtual schooling is a challenge. Online efforts school districts are undertaking to meet children’s needs during this long break are likely to be uneven. Huffman describes Stanford University research on the problems with virtual schooling, problems that are being exacerbated today by inequitable access to technology.

But what Kevin Huffman neglects to tell readers is that his purpose is not entirely to analyze his subject—the ongoing shutdown of schools. At the same time as he discusses the widespread school closure, he also manages to share the agenda of his current employer, The City Fund, a relatively new national group that finances the election campaigns of of charter school advocates running for seats on local school boards, supports the rapid expansion of charter schools, and promotes portfolio school reform. And when the Washington Post tells readers that Huffman, “a former education commissioner of Tennessee, is a partner at the City Fund, a national education nonprofit,” the Post neglects to explain The City Fund’s agenda.

Worse, Huffman proposes that schools should administer standardized tests to students when they return to school in September! Good grief, the results are not available for months. Of what value are such tests? I suppose we can now expect the testing corporations to begin losing for tests on the first day of school.

Resseger read the subtext: students, teachers, and schools can’t possibly survive without standardized testing. Be grateful for the charter chains who offer to help struggling school districts, which do not have the charters’ freedom to push out the kids they don’t want and do not have billionaire money to keep them afloat.

I read Huffman’s article and appreciated that he was wary of distance learning and unprepared parents struggling to teach their children.

Jan Resseger read it and exposed the hidden agenda: praising the billionaire agenda of charters and high-stakes testing. She correctly notes that this agenda failed when Huffman was Commissioner of Education in Tennessee. Some people learn from failure. Some don’t.

John Richard Schrock was a professor of science education at a Emporia State University for many years. He also taught in middle and high schools, as well as in Hong Kong. He frequently writes about education issues.

Screen Reading and Online Coursework Inferior

The forced closure of classrooms and shift to online learning from home has revived the hopes of big Ed-Tech companies that they can regain some legitimacy in education. Meanwhile, the general response of teachers and professors is exposing their extensive negative experiences with distance learning.

In the early 2000s, computer enthusiasts predicted the end of “brick-and-mortar” K-12 schools; students would study from home in their pajamas, using online links to teachers who would also teach from home. New digital readers were predicted to totally replace printed books by 2015. And massive open online colleges (MOOCs) would deliver all coursework online and free, replacing university coursework and making college classrooms obsolete a decade ago.

None of these predictions came true. Our armed forces kept track of their training dropout rate for high school students who graduated from online high schools; they performed as poorly as GED students who never completed genuine high school. Citizens who bought digital book devices temporarily increased but then fell back to a smaller number who found advantages in enlarged texts or backlit nighttime reading for recreation.

But university students need intense “deep reading.” Using on-screen textbooks meant printing off the text to avoid eye strain. The vast majority preferred printed texts for in-depth study and comprehension. Ironically, the high cost of college textbooks was due to the publishers covering the cost of added electronic services. American college textbook publishers ignored student concerns and moved to all-online texts in order to pay for tutors, course outlines, quizzes and testing services as professors were evaluated more on research and less on bothersome teaching.

While K-12 administrators found it easy to buy the latest electronic gadgets and sit youngsters in front of screens to impress naive parents, the actual evaluations of student learning on the NAEP, ACT, SAT and other measures show less, not more learning is occurring with on-screen media.

And while the Chronicle of Higher Education just came out with a clueless recommendation that universities should begin making comparisons of online learning with standard face-to-face teaching, there is already over two decades of solid research. It confirms what most teachers and professors already know: face-to-face teaching and reading-print are clearly superior.

In the last two decades there have been hundreds of rigorous studies comparing reading on screens to reading print. A “meta-analysis” is an analysis of previously published research articles and data, selecting just those studies that meet rigorous research criteria. There have been three major meta-analyses, including “Reading From Paper Compared to Screens: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis” by Virginia Clinton and just published in 2019 in the Journal of Research in Reading.

As with the prior studies, she found there was a statistically important benefit to reading print for reading performance, metacognition and efficiency. And despite the fact that online learning using screens has now been in operation in the U.S. for over 20 years, surveys of college professors who have experienced both conventional classroom teaching and online delivery still prefer face-to-face classroom teaching by over two-thirds, a percentage that has not budged for a decade.

We also now know that the student who listens and then writes out class notes understands much more than the student who is transcribing the words they hear a teacher speak onto a laptop, a relatively thoughtless typing process.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) compares educational systems of developed countries and administers the international PISA, a test that involves 15-year-olds across 31 nations. OECD found that students who used computers had both lower reading and math scores. “Those that use the Internet every day do the worst,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills and author of the report. While that study was published in 2015, the Reboot Foundation released a study in June 2019 that followed up using the most recent data and again found a negative connection between each nation’s performance on the PISA and their students’ use of technology in school. The more they used computer screens in schools, the lower the nation’s rank in educational achievement. In addition, the Reboot Foundation found a negative relationship between using electronic tablets in school and fourth-grade reading scores.

But you do not have to resort to extensive research to know that this shift to distance learning, albeit necessary, will produce minimal outcomes. Every teacher and isolated student knows in these upcoming months that there is far less learning going on.

The Los Angeles Times published a disturbing article about the problems and obstacles that students and teachers are encountering as online learning becomes the new normal. For many children, instruction is inaccessible.

The gaps between the haves and have-nots are glaring.

“ Misti Kemmer, a fourth-grade teacher at Russell Elementary School in South Los Angeles, is working hard to keep her students learning now that schools are closed. She shares detailed lesson plans on Google Drive, sends messages to families every day and delivers YouTube lectures from her home.

She’s trying to look at all this stuff on a tiny cellphone after dinner hours,” Kemmer said. “How much is a 9- year-old going to get done?”

“There’s this whole distance-learning thing, but how much learning is actually going on?” she added.

“But only three or four of her 28 students accessed their schoolwork last week, she said. Some don’t have computers and others are without internet access. One student can only open assignments on her father’s phone when he gets home from work.

“Almost all K-12 schools in California were shuttered last week. But from top state education leaders to district officials, including L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner, the message has been clear: Even though campuses are closed, learning will continue.

“While we are in very unique circumstances at this time, we are still providing education to our students,” state Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said earlier this week. “School is not out, but we are finding a different way to deliver it.”

“But the reality is complicated.

“As teachers scramble to adjust to an entirely new world of education, they are coming up against significant barriers.

“There is uneven access to technology, difficulties communicating with students and parents, and uncertainty about expectations at a time when many families are suffering.
And even for educators who have long used online learning tools and whose students have easy access to them, it is challenging to rely solely on technology.

“Many teachers are grappling with this while also adapting to the tough realities of working from home.

“At Marianna Avenue Elementary School in East Los Angeles, teachers and administrators scrambled after the closure was announced March 13 to make sure every student in first through sixth grades took home a Chromebook laptop, said Estela Campos, a coordinator at the school. The school is fortunate to have enough computers for nearly every student, she said.

“But teachers are struggling to get their students online — some children had never used the computers at home and many families don’t have internet access. In some cases, children in higher grades are now having to take care of their younger siblings while their parents work and are unable to dedicate time to their own schoolwork, she said….

“Erin Fitzgerald-Haddad, a seventh-grade math teacher at the San Fernando Institute of Applied Media, a Los Angeles Unified school, has the know-how and resources to make a transition to distance learning smoother.
Fitzgerald-Haddad said teachers and students at her school were regularly using digital platforms like Schoology, an LAUSD learning management system, or Google Suites long before the closures last week.

“The school was able to send all students home with an iPad or Chromebook, though some opted out, and the school put together a YouTube channel where teachers have been posting daily videos. Faculty are also checking in with students and monitoring their work online, she said.

“Even with their expertise to quickly mobilize resources, though, Fitzgerald-Haddad has noticed differences in how students are adapting to distance learning.

“Maybe it’s different at the high school level, but [for] eighth grade and younger, I do not believe it’s reasonable to expect students to be learning on their own,” she said.

“While some students are advanced and will be able to pick up the material on their own, the Schoology platform allows her to see that some aren’t keeping up.

“The ones that really need the support, they’re the ones I’m having to make phone calls to,” she said….”

This video went viral after it appeared on Twitter.

Fred Smith was the testing expert at the New York City Board of Education for many years. After he retired, he became a relentless truth-teller about the flaws of standardized testing and the clever means of distorting the stats to produce the desired results. He currently acts as an unpaid advisor to opt-out parents.

Smith sent this article from 2007 that shows how Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein played games with the data, in this case blaming “immigrant kids” for a drop in test scores.

Mayor Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, have reaffirmed that old Mark Twain saying about the three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.

Using a PowerPoint presentation filled with glitzy graphs and color charts, Klein reached a new low yesterday by attempting to blame a sharp drop in this year’s third-, fourth- and fifth-grade reading scores on thousands of immigrant pupils.

According to the chancellor, the drop in the lower grade scores was solely because of the federal government’s new requirement that all children classified as English-language learners, or ELLs, must take the regular state tests after being in the country just one year.

Because of that requirement, some 30,000 more ELLs took the state test this year than in 2006, Klein said, and their lower scores dragged down overall city results.

Fred Smith was outraged when he heard Klein’s explanation. Smith, you see, spent three decades analyzing tests for our city’s school system, so he knows a thing or two about how chancellors paint the prettiest picture for the public.

“They never told you that back in 2005, during the mayoral race, the school district quietly increased the number of exemptions for ELL kids and then claimed a record boost in scores,” Smith said.

In 2009, with Bloomberg’s fellow billionaire Meryl Tisch, in charge of the New York Board of Regents, test scores in the city went through the roof. After the mayoral primary election was safely past, the Regents commissioned a report by professors Daniel Koretz and Jennifer Jennings showing that the test questions had become familiar, leading to score inflation, and that the dramatic rise was not real.

Also, in an amusing turn of events, New York City won the Broad award in 2007 as the most improved urban district, right before the NAEP gains were released, showing that the city had made no gains on NAEP.

In 2010, Jennifer Medina of the New York Times wrote about the perils of over reliance on standardized tests and how it affected New York City in particular. 

She wrote:

When New York State made its standardized English and math tests tougher to pass this year, causing proficiency rates to plummet, it said it was relying on a new analysis showing that the tests had become too easy and that score inflation was rampant.

But evidence had been mounting for some time that the state’s tests, which have formed the basis of almost every school reform effort of the past decade, had serious flaws.

The fast rise and even faster fall of New York’s passing rates resulted from the effect of policies, decisions and missed red flags that stretched back more than 10 years and were laid out in correspondence and in interviews with city and state education officials, administrators and testing experts.

The process involved direct warnings from experts that went unheeded by the state, and a city administration that trumpeted gains in student performance despite its own reservations about how reliably the test gauged future student success.

It involved the state’s decision to create short, predictable exams and to release them publicly soon after they were given, making coaching easy and depriving test creators of a key tool: the ability to insert in each test questions for future exams. Next year, for the first time, the tests will not be released publicly.

It involved a national push for numbers-based accountability, begun under President George W. Bush and reinforced by President Obama. And it involved a mayor’s full embrace of testing as he sought to make his mark on the city, and then to get re-elected.

“They just kept upping the stakes with the scores, putting more pressure on the schools but not really looking at what it all means,” said Pedro Noguera, an education professor at New York University who has worked with the city’s Department of Education to help improve struggling schools.

New York has been a national model for how to carry out education reform, so its sudden decline in passing rates may be seen as a cautionary tale. The turnaround has also been a blow to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his chancellor, Joel I. Klein, who despite warnings that a laserlike focus on raising scores could make them less and less reliable, lashed almost every aspect of its school system to them. Schools were graded on how much their scores rose and threatened with being closed if they did not. The scores dictated which students were promoted or left back, and which teachers and principals would receive bonuses.

Even now, the city believes that the way it uses the tests is valid. The mayor and the chancellor have forcefully defended their students’ performance, noting that even after the changes this year, student scores are still better than they were in 2002. They have argued that their students’ progress is more important than the change in the passing rate, and that years of gains cannot be washed away because of a decision in Albany to require more correct answers from every student this year.

The test scores were even used for a new purpose this year: to help determine which teachers should receive tenure.

“This mayor uses data and metrics to determine whether policies are failing or succeeding,” said Howard Wolfson, the deputy mayor for government affairs and communications. He also helped run Mr. Bloomberg’s re-election campaign in 2009, using the city’s historic rise in test scores to make the case for a third term. “We believe that testing is a key factor for determining the success of schools and teachers.”

“Under any standard you look at,” he added, “we have improved the schools.”

But given all the flaws of the test, said Prof. Howard T. Everson of the City University of New York’s Center for Advanced Study in Education, it is hard to tell what those rising scores really meant.

“Teachers began to know what was going to be on the tests,” said Professor Everson, who was a member of a state testing advisory panel and who warned the state in 2008 that it might have a problem with score inflation. “Then you have to wonder, and folks like me wonder, is that real learning or not?”

New Generation of Tests

The problems that plagued New York’s standardized tests can be traced to the origin of the exams.

In 1996, New York set about creating tests for fourth and eighth graders as a way to measure whether schools were doing their jobs. A precursor to the widespread testing brought about by Mr. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, the tests replaced more basic exams that had been given in the same grades, which simply determined whether students needed remedial instruction. (The city had also given its own tests for many years.)

Teachers pushed back, saying they could gauge their students’ performance better than any mass-produced tests could. “There was a lot of resistance from throughout the education community to having the tests,” said Alan Ray, who was the chief spokesman for the State Education Department in the 1990s and in 2000, and retired this year after overseeing data for the office.

But education officials in New York, and many other states, were coming to the conclusion that some measurement system, no matter how limited, was necessary.

The officials sought advice from dozens of educators across New York to figure out what the tests should encompass, Mr. Ray said. Teachers and principals asked that the standards be specific, to make it clear what they were expected to teach at each grade level, and superintendents pleaded to keep the tests relatively short so that students would not spend days filling in bubbles. The state obliged both requests.

The decision to keep the tests narrow and short — the fifth-grade math test, for example, had 34 questions this year — would have a lasting impact, said Daniel Koretz, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education who specializes in assessment systems. The same types of questions would be trotted out every year, he said.

“In many cases you could not write an unpredictable question no matter how hard you tried,” Professor Koretz said. He oversaw the study of New York’s tests that led to the state’s conclusion that they had become too easy to pass.

The state also continued making tests public after they were administered. Coupled with the questions’ predictability, the public release of the tests, which started long before the nationwide accountability movement, provided teachers with ready-made practice exams….

A Mayor Chases Results

The state tests’ flaws would not become evident for years. But by 2001, the tests had a champion.

During his first campaign, Mr. Bloomberg said that education was his top priority. He pledged to take control of the city’s public schools, then under the supervision of the Board of Education, which had been ridiculed for budget troubles and stagnant academic performance.

Projecting the image of a bottom-line-oriented, pragmatic businessman, Mr. Bloomberg latched on to test scores as a clear way of seeing just how well students were doing.

“If four years from now reading scores and math scores aren’t significantly better,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a radio interview in 2001, “then I will look in the mirror and say that I have been a failure. I’ve never failed at anything yet, and I don’t plan to fail at that.”

After Mr. Bloomberg persuaded the Legislature to give him control of the schools, he appointed Mr. Klein, a former Justice Department lawyer and media executive, as his chancellor. Mr. Klein was seen as a technocrat who was eager and able to produce tangible results, the kind that could be measured.

Scores in the city and state were on their way up. In 2004, for example, the proportion of fourth graders in the city meeting math standards increased to 68 percent, up 16 percentage points since 2001. Only 42 percent of eighth graders met that mark, but that was still a significant improvement from just a few years earlier. By 2009, that rate would jump nearly 30 points.

“What is encouraging is that for two or three years in a row now, the tests have gone in the same direction — up,” the mayor said on a radio show in October 2004. “So there’s reason to believe we’re headed to the correct place.”

In 2003, Mr. Bloomberg ended the practice of “social promotion” in certain grades, requiring students performing at the lowest levels on the tests be held back unless they attended summer school and showed progress on a retest. That year, Mr. Klein released a list of 200 successful schools, the only places where teachers would not have to follow the citywide math and English curriculums. The list was primarily based on test scores.

More and more of the mayor’s educational initiatives were linked to the scores. They were used to help decide which schools should be closed and replaced with new, smaller schools. The new A-through-F grading system for schools was based primarily on how their students improved on the tests. Teachers and principals earned bonuses of up to $25,000 if their schools’ scores rose. Teachers’ annual evaluations and tenure decisions are partially dependent on test results.

Each new policy was met with denunciations from the teachers’ union or from education experts like Diane Ravitch. Ms. Ravitch, a supporter of standardized testing when she was an adviser to the Clinton and Bush administrations, became one of the biggest critics, arguing that schools were devoting too much time to the pursuit of high scores.

“If they are not learning social studies but their reading scores are going up, they are not getting an education,” Ms. Ravitch said in 2005, as the mayor coasted to re-election.

The mayor and chancellor dismissed these criticisms as the hidebound defenses of an old, failed system devoid of meaningful standards. But some questions were also being raised by people close to the administration.

In the Education Department headquarters on Chambers Street, some officials argued that the A-through-F system of grading schools should incorporate not only the English and math tests, but also the science and social studies exams given by the state. “We wanted to draw this as broadly as possible,” said a former school official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid publicly disagreeing with Mr. Klein.

But after months of running models and tweaking formulas, Mr. Klein decided to stick with the two core subjects. After all, he often argued, if students could not master essential math and English skills, it would be impossible for them to grasp other concepts.

Dr. Noguera, the N.Y.U. education professor and adviser to the city, applauded Mr. Klein for creating a grading system that rewarded improvement from year to year so that schools in poor neighborhoods had the same chance of achieving a good grade as those in wealthier areas.

But it also was risky, Dr. Noguera said. “That got schools fixated on how to raise scores, not looking for more authentic learning,” he said.

Dr. Noguera expressed his views publicly and to some of Mr. Klein’s deputies, but never directly told the chancellor, he said.

Mr. Klein said in recent interviews that while the tests were imperfect, they were still the best measurements available for a school system that previously had no yardsticks. They also were not the only signs proving the city had been making progress, he said: On more difficult federal tests given to a sample of fourth and eighth graders, the city had steadily improved.

And the city’s main goal, he said, was not simply giving out laurels for students’ scoring 3s (“proficient”) and 4s (“advanced”) on the state tests.

Instead, its system of school grades and teacher incentives gave considerable weight to scores that showed improvement from year to year at all levels.

“Nobody else was doing this,” Mr. Klein said. “We never said it was good enough to get to passing and just stay there.”

In 2006, the state added tests for the third, fifth, sixth and seventh grades, in order to align with the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Scores jumped in 2007.

There were improvements at every grade level across the state and in New York City, where 65 percent of all students met state standards in math, an improvement of eight percentage points in one year.

“I’m happy, thrilled — ecstatic, I think, is a better word,” Mr. Bloomberg said at the time. “The hard work going on in our schools is really paying off.”

After Mr. Bloomberg’s first full term as mayor, the new scores seemed to ratify his claims of success. They also raised more alarms.

As a superintendent in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Kathleen Cashin had seen several schools improve throughout the early part of the decade. But when she saw the sudden jump, she said, she was shocked.

“I said to my intimate circle of staff, this cannot be possible,” Ms. Cashin recalled. “I knew how much effort and how much planning any little improvement would take, and not all of these schools had done any of it.”

But Ms. Cashin, who retired in February, held her tongue at the time. Asked why she did not take up her concerns with Mr. Klein or his deputies, she said, “I didn’t have their ear.”

A Proposal for a Fix

The following winter, Professor Koretz, of Harvard, and Professor Everson, of CUNY, who was a member of a state testing advisory group, sent a memo to state education officials.

“Research has shown that when educators are pressured to raise scores on conventional achievement tests, some improve instruction, while others turn to inappropriate methods of test preparation that inflate scores,” they wrote in the Feb. 5, 2008, memo. “In some cases, the inflation of scores has been extreme.”

The researchers proposed to devise a kind of audit. While tests tended to be similar from year to year, they would add to each exam some questions that did not resemble those from previous years. If a class performed well on the main section of the test but poorly on the added questions, that would be evidence that scores were inflated by test preparation. If a class performed well on both, the researchers wrote, that teacher might have methods worth emulating.

In addition, they wrote, such a system would give teachers “less incentive to engage in inappropriate test preparation and more incentive to undertake the much harder task of improving instruction.”

State education officials, the professors said, did not give them a hearing.

The 2008 results showed even more large gains — 74 percent of city students were deemed proficient in math, an increase of nine points in one year; and the city’s passing rate in reading was now 58 percent, up from 51 percent two years earlier. Statewide, the passing rates jumped to 81 percent in math and 69 percent in reading.

Professor Koretz and Professor Everson wrote another memo in September 2008, again proposing to create a way to make test results more reliable. But the idea went nowhere….

The city’s Department of Education constantly mines test score data for patterns to show where improvement is happening and where it is needed. In 2008, it noticed an incongruity: Eighth graders who scored at least a 3 on the state math exam had only a 50 percent chance of graduating from high school four years later with a Regents diploma, which requires a student to pass a certain number of tests in various subjects and is considered the minimum qualification for college readiness.

The city realized that the test results were not as reliable as the state was leading people to believe.

Mr. Klein and several of his deputies spoke by phone with Merryl H. Tisch, the vice chancellor of the Board of Regents, and Mr. Mills, trying to persuade them to create a statewide accountability system similar to the city’s, one that gave improvement at least as much weight as the score itself.

The state said it would consider moving to such a system, but would need more time.

Neither the city nor state publicly disclosed the concerns about the scores. By then, students across the state were preparing for the 2009 tests, filling in bubbles on mock answer sheets, using at least three years of previous state tests as guides.

The scores arrived in May, and with them, the bluntest warning yet.

Just before the results were released, a member of the Regents named Betty Rosa called Ms. Tisch, who had recently become chancellor.

Ms. Rosa, who had been a teacher, principal and superintendent in the Bronx for nearly three decades, said the unprecedented high scores simply seemed too good to be true. She suggested the unthinkable: the scores were so unbelievable, she said, that the state should not publicly release them.

“The question was really are we telling the public the truth,” Ms. Rosa said in a recent interview. Ms. Tisch, she said, relayed that she, too, found the scores suspicious, but that it would be impossible to withhold them. “It was like a train that was already in motion and no way to stop it,” Ms. Rosa said.

The English test scores showed 69 percent of city students passing. Mr. Bloomberg called the results “nothing short of amazing and exactly what this country needs.”

“We have improved the test scores in English,” he continued, “and we expect the same results in math in a couple of weeks, every single year for seven years.” Four weeks later, it was announced that 82 percent of city students had passed the math tests.

Because of the widespread improvement in the scores, 84 percent of all public schools received an A in the city’s grading system, something Mr. Klein said he later regretted. This year, the city limited the number of A’s to 25 percent of schools.

The 2009 numbers came out as the mayor was trying to accomplish two goals: to persuade the Legislature to give the mayor control of the schools for another seven years; and to convince city voters that he deserved a third term.

Mr. Bloomberg’s opponent, Comptroller William C. Thompson, had once been president of the Education Board.

“Mike Bloomberg changed that system,” said one of the mayor’s campaign advertisements. “Now, record graduation rates. Test scores up, violence down. So when you compare apples to apples, Thompson offers politics as usual. Mike Bloomberg offers progress.”

In his debates, Mr. Bloomberg hammered home the theme. “If anybody thinks that the schools were better when Bill ran them, they should vote for him,” he said in one face-off. “And if anybody thinks they’re better now, I’d be honored to have their vote.”

Indeed, according to exit polls, 57 percent of those who said education was their primary concern voted for Mr. Bloomberg, who won the election by a five-point margin.

Mr. Wolfson, the deputy mayor and 2009 campaign strategist, said the mayor had no regrets about focusing on the exams as a matter of policy, and during the election.

“What’s the converse?” he said. “The converse is that we don’t test and we have no way of judging success or failure. Either you believe in standards or tests, or you don’t — and life is not like that. There are tests all the time.”

Ms. Tisch, in releasing the 2009 test results, had not heeded Ms. Rosa’s radical request. But the very day she put out the English test results, she began openly acknowledging doubts about the scores, irking the mayor and chancellor, who privately seethed that she was seeking to undermine their success. “As a board, we will ask whether the test is getting harder or easier,” she said.

Although the Regents did not immediately opt to create an entirely new test, Ms. Tisch and David Steiner, the new education commissioner, asked Professor Koretz, who had been rebuffed in previous requests, to analyze the ones that were in use. His conclusion — and that of another researcher, Jennifer L. Jennings — was that the tests had become too easy, and hence the scores were inflated. That led the State Education Department to raise the number of correct answers required to pass each test.

The state intends to rewrite future tests to encompass a broader range of material, and will stop publicly releasing them.

“We came in here saying we have to stop lying to our kids,” Ms. Tisch said in a recent interview. “We have to be able to know what they do and do not know.”

Bloomberg was first elected to the mayoralty in 2001. There was a two-term limit. He ran again in 2005, for what should have been his second and last term, and won easily. In 2009, he used his vast resources to persuade the City Council to vote to give him and themselves a third term. And that he is how he qualified to run for a third term and used his education record as a reason to be re-elected.
Now, after all this investment in testing, test prep, interim assessments, etc. what were the results?
New York City has shown no gains in reading on NAEP from 2003-2019, in either fourth or eighth grades.
Make of it what you will.
If Bloomberg is the Democratic candidate against Trump, I will vote for him.
But please don’t believe the boasting about the New York City education miracle.
It never happened.
An update on some of the individuals mentioned in the New York Times’ 2010 article. Betty Rosa is now Chancellor of the State Board of Regents. Kathleen Cashin is a member of the Board of Regents. Meryl Tisch is now on the board of the State University of New York (which has the power to authorize new charter schools, including those of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain). David Steiner–now a professor at Johns Hopkins University– served for two years as State Commissioner, during which time he approved Mayor Bloomberg’s choice to succeed Joel Klein as NYC Chancellor, a retired magazine publisher named Cathie Black, who lasted three months. Steiner was also in charge of the State Education Department when it won a Race to the Top grant and committed the state to using student test scores to evaluate teachers, increasing the number of charter schools, and adopting the Common Core standards. These changes, in turn, created the parent-led Opt Out movement, in which parents refused to let their children take the state tests and grew to represent 20% of the eligible students. John King succeeded David Steiner and eventually replaced Arne Duncan in the last year of President Obama’s second term. When Joel Klein stepped down, he hired a Department of Education vendor named Wireless Generation and created a technology company called Amplify. Rupert Murdoch bought Amplify and invested a reputed $1 billion; newspaper stories predicted that Amplify would usher in a new age of hardware and software. However, the biggest sale of Amplify tablets and software was made to Guilford, North Carolina, purchased with Race to the Top funding; it turned into  a disaster when chargers melted and other problems emerged. Guilford canceled the contract. Murdoch, having lost about $500 million, put the company up for sale. Laurene Powell Jobs bought it, and Amplify is now part of her Emerson Collective, selling “personalized learning.” Klein works for an online healthcare company called OSCAR, co-founded by Joshua Kushner, brother of Jared Kushner.

 

John Thompson is a historians and recently retired teacher in Oklahoma.

 

For more than two decades I’ve mourned the loss of opportunities for online instruction to augment and enhance student learning, as opposed enabling a Social Darwinian competition where charters attack traditional public schools. Educators seeking meaningful choices, such as real personalized learning, have been shackled by the need to fight back against “choice” advocate, as well as their spin, claiming to offer “personalized” instruction, measured by impersonal test score metrics.

Above all, I’ve been saddened by the way that beaten-down educators have often been bogged down in a defensive war against test-driven, competition-driven reformers. In order to survive the charter assaults armed with bogus test scores, too many schools merely complied with the corporate reformers’ mandates. In doing so, they robbed the students of the opportunity to be taught and to learn how to make the real choices that can guide them to lifelong learning.

This year’s Oklahoma legislature’s Common Education Committee Interim Studies are revealing a new, brave, and worthy campaign for holistic instruction. Almost all of the legislators who attend these hearings are former educators. Even though the committee avoids mentioning the unfolding Epic virtual charter school scandal, their weekly questioning of state educationleaders and virtual charter supporters make two things clear: today’s accountability for virtual charters is completely inadequate and it’s hard to even visualize a path toward a valid accountability system, much less build and implement one.

These hearings have been especially impressive because witnesses now dare to “keep it real.” They share the lessons learned in their years of experience in developing blended learning, recent experiments in virtual learning in traditional public schools, and their witnessing of the harm they’ve seen imposed by for-profit virtual charters. These efforts have been guided by experienced educators, by cognitive science, and educationresearch, not business people assuming that the market would solve vexing dilemmas.

So far in the interim hearings, charter advocates have kept their cards close to their vests and ducked the most important questions. A common refrain is that many charter leaders now agree that more accountability is necessary. An unknowable number of online students “hide out,” pretending that they are enrolled in school.

When asked how we got to the point where at least 18,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters, although we don’t even have adequate methods of counting attendance, they hear from charter supporters that the accountability law is only two years old, there are concerns about accountability metrics, and concerns about virtual charters not being accountable for low graduation rates, as well as a prominent multi-million dollar marketing campaign (which clearly referred to Epic’s advertising budget.)

https://oklahomawatch.org/2019/09/12/five-things-to-know-about-virtual-school-funding/?utm_source=Newsletter+Subscribers&utm_campaign=b4ab572ee5-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_08_26_05_18_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_a3f6ea538a-b4ab572ee5-97009525&mc_cid=b4ab572ee5&mc_eid=05d2eb1443

The latest hearing, “Family Choice within Oklahoma Public Schools,” started with an overview of the vast range of choices that are offered by traditional public schools. Patrons don’t need charters to have access to: “Empowerment Schools;” “Conversion Schools;” supplemental online blended and virtual learning; and magnet and enterprise schools; or to take advantage of the state’s Open Transfer law. Expert witnesses then made the case that all of these options are less risky and more likely to benefit students when they are deliberately planned and implemented by professional educators, as opposed to true believers in market forces that can “blow up” the education “status quo,” producing rapid, “transformative” change.

https://okhouse.gov/Documents/InterimStudies/2019/19-129%20Detailed%20Agenda.pdf

Two of the best things about the evidence being presented to the interim committee are that they draw upon seven years of research by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), and cognitive science about what it really takes to devise 21st century pedagogies. For the first time in years, I heard thoughtful discussions of how schools can nurture “inner directedness,” respecting students by helping them to develop their internal locus of control.

In previous meetings, Derald Glover of the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administrators (CCOSA) cited the National Education Policy Center and others showing that virtual schools need  24 to 41 percent less funding than brick and mortar schools. A key recommendation was that virtual school funding should not be based on student counts like brick and mortar schools; Oklahoma should learn from research and from states that base funding on course completion.

https://nepc.colorado.edu/sites/default/files/publications/Virtual%20Schools%202019.pdf
https://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/01/11/11/11111.pdf
https://www.tulsaworld.com/news/local/education/lawmakers-examine-charter-school-funding-and-oversight-policies/article_77a4ca26-a05d-52be-acf6-570b141698a3.html

And the NEPC research cited by Glover explains why traditional public schools are the better vehicle for expanding online instruction. They cost less and produce better student performance. (For instance, administrative costs of virtual programs run by Oklahoma traditional public school systems range from about 1/3rd to ½ of Epic’s administrative costs.)

Their testimony was also consistent with the NEPC’s conclusion that blended learning is much more promising than virtual learning, but that blended charters haven’t shown that much better outcomes than virtual charters. This helps explain why blended learning offered by brick and mortar traditional public schools are the best option for online learning.  Drawing upon the work of Gary Miron, Alex Molnar, and others, CCOSA developed Blended Learning Framework where the teacher drives instruction.

https://www.ccosa.org/index.php?resources&a=view&resource_id=112

Moreover, representatives of the Tulsa Union and Cleveland school systems described the process of how they started with blended instruction, and used those experiences when devising virtual learning programs. Tulsa Union is the district which inspired the headline for David Kirp’s New York Times article, “Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These?”

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/01/opinion/sunday/who-needs-charters-when-you-have-public-schools-like-these.html

Union’s virtual students are offered “every choice they could ever want.” They are welcome to enjoy the “entire high school experience, including prom.” About 1/4th of the virtual students sign up for music electives, and they can sign up for early college instruction and graduate with associates degrees; or participate in Career Tech partnerships that seek, “Commencement for a Reason”

Union, as well as Cleveland Public Schools, “vet applications carefully.” In contrast to for-profit and competition-driven virtual charters, traditional public schools understand that, ultimately, it is the patrons who choose the type of school they want, but if you have a kid who has struggled, extra guidance needs to be provided. They invest heavily in conversations with counselors and families, and seek buy-in by parents and students. During Q&A, the Cleveland superintendent said that if parents chose virtual schooling for a student who seemed to not be ready for it, they would then meet with counselors after two weeks, continuing the conversation about what was best for the kid.

https://okhouse.gov/Documents/InterimStudies/2019/19-129%20Educational%20Environment%20Options%20in%20Public%20Schools_Espolt%20(Cleveland%20Public%20Schools)%20presentation.pdf

And that brings me to the crucial issue that has been mostly ignored during the corporate school reform era. It was so rewarding to hear superintendents stressing the need to help learners become inner directed, not “outer-directed” persons, controlled by external forces. In contrast to some charters that are trying to socio-engineer a better system of controlling children’s behavior, molding them into better gladiators in the global marketplace, these traditional public schools want to help students develop an internal locus of control. Of course, that means these innovative districts put the whole child over test scores. Give the persuasiveness by which they explained their blended learning frameworks, I expect more and more districts to follow their lead, build upon the power of public education, and serve students holistically.

 

I wish you had a subscription to the Los Angeles Times so you could read this article in full. If you do, you should.

The University of Southern California had one of the nation’s best graduate social work programs. In search of more revenue, it made a deal with an East Coast digital startup to establish an online degree in social work, and enrollment ballooned from 900 in 2010 to 3,500 in 2016. The university saved on the cost of dorms and classrooms.

The money was rolling in, but the big beneficiary was the tech company, which kept more than half the revenue and is now valued at more than $2 billion. USC’s once prestigious social work school has lowered its standards to admit students who would not have qualified in the past; its reputation has suffered; and it is “facing a budget crisis so severe that nearly half of the staff may lose their jobs.”

Maryland-based corporation 2U Inc. now services universities around the country and abroad, but it relies on USC for about a fifth of its revenue.

Industry analysts have pressed 2U executives repeatedly about the unfolding situation at the social work school, and the company lowered revenue forecasts last fall, citing in part instability at the Los Angeles university…

Part-time teaching positions are being largely eliminated and professors required to shoulder significantly heavier course loads. A university committee has recommended laying off up to 45% of the non-teaching staff….

2U takes a 60% cut of online tuition from the social work program, and the contract carries onerous penalties if USC breaks the arrangement. People familiar with the agreement told The Times it contains a so-called poison tail that requires the university to continue handing over its revenue share for two years after canceling.

USC’s contract with the company extends to 2030.

The arrangement has been great for 2U. Not so much for USC.

 

 

This is an important article about the Silicon Valley billionaires who want to remake America’s schools, although none has any deep knowledge of children or cognition or the multiple social issues that affect children and families. Being tech entrepreneurs, most of them think there is a technological fix for every problem.

The article focuses on several billionaires and what they aim to achieve.

The writer, Natasha Singer, is careful to add red flags where necessary and seek out evaluations. She also is alert to the possibility that the tech entrepreneurs are building their portfolios and enriching themselves. And she points out that much of what they are doing challenges democracy itself in the absence of public debate and understanding.

She writes:

“In the space of just a few years, technology giants have begun remaking the very nature of schooling on a vast scale, using some of the same techniques that have made their companies linchpins of the American economy. Through their philanthropy, they are influencing the subjects that schools teach, the classroom tools that teachers choose and fundamental approaches to learning….

“The involvement by some of the wealthiest and most influential titans of the 21st century amounts to a singular experiment in education, with millions of students serving as de facto beta testers for their ideas. Some tech leaders believe that applying an engineering mind-set can improve just about any system, and that their business acumen qualifies them to rethink American education…

“Tech companies and their founders have been rolling out programs in America’s public schools with relatively few checks and balances, The New York Times found in interviews with more than 100 company executives, government officials, school administrators, researchers, teachers, parents and students.

“They have the power to change policy, but no corresponding check on that power,” said Megan Tompkins-Stange, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Michigan. “It does subvert the democratic process.”

Furthermore, there is only limited research into whether the tech giants’ programs have actually improved students’ educational results….

“Mr. Hastings of Netflix and other tech executives rejected the idea that they wielded significant influence in education. The mere fact that classroom internet access has improved, Mr. Hastings said, has had a much greater impact in schools than anything tech philanthropists have done.”

Hastings’ Dreambox software depends on constant data-mining:

“DreamBox Learning tracks a student’s every click, correct answer, hesitation and error — collecting about 50,000 data points per student per hour — and uses those details to adjust the math lessons it shows. And it uses data to help teachers pinpoint which math concepts students may be struggling with.”

This is the same Reed Hastings who just spent $5 million helping charter entrepreneurs gain control of the Los Angeles school board.

“Another difference: Some tech moguls are taking a hands-on role in nearly every step of the education supply chain by financing campaigns to alter policy, building learning apps to advance their aims and subsidizing teacher training. This end-to-end influence represents an “almost monopolistic approach to education reform,” said Larry Cuban, an emeritus professor of education at Stanford University. “That is starkly different to earlier generations of philanthropists.”

“These efforts coincide with a larger Silicon Valley push to sell computers and software to American schools, a lucrative market projected to reach $21 billion by 2020. Already, more than half of the primary- and secondary-school students in the United States use Google services like Gmail in school.”

Singer goes through each of the entrepreneurs’ programs. The only one that impressed me was the program in San Francisco that created a Pricipals’ Innovation Fund, “which awards annual unrestricted grants of $100,000 to the principal at each of the district’s 21 middle and K-8 schools.” The key word here is unrestricted.

Mark Zuckerberg’s dream is to sell his digitized approach to enable children to learn via computer and use teachers as moderators. He calls this “personalized learning,” since the computer algorithm adjusts for each student. Singer’s subtitle for Zuckerberg’s dream is: “Student, Teach Thyself.”

““Our hope over the next decade is to help upgrade a majority of these schools to personalized learning and then start working globally as well,” Mr. Zuckerberg told the audience. “Giving a billion students a personalized education is a great thing to do.”

Please, Natasha Singer, do a follow-up that explains that learning from a machine is depersonalized learning.

Leonie a Haimson, leader of Class Size Matter and board member of the Network for Public Education, reviews the drama of the last week and looks ahead.

“So it happened as predicted; Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote for Betsy Devos this afternoon.
Though disappointing it was in its way historic: the only time in US history that a Cabinet secretary needed the vote of the Vice President to be approved.

“The last few weeks have been historic in another way: Never have parents, teachers and concerned citizens been so outraged and activated over an education official or issue. Never have so many called, rallied, protested, faxed and written letters to their Senators, in an “avalanche” that nearly flattened Capitol Hill, overwhelming and shocking Senators of both parties….

“We need to sustain the activism and involvement we exercised in this battle and keep speaking out loudly and firmly to let education policymakers at the federal, state and local levels know that we will not stand idly by while our public schools are defunded, dismantled and privatized.

“One issue little noticed by the media: it was widely recognized how avid Betsy DeVos has been to allow for-profit charters and vouchers to draw funds from the public schools. What was little noticed is her devotion to online learning and questionable ed tech solutions. These will just as surely divert resources from the proven strategies that provide students with the support and human feedback they need. It was reported that the one financial company she refused to divest from is Neurocore that runs “brain performance centers” via biofeedback to treat autism and attention deficit disorder with no evidence of efficacy.

“In 2015, while speaking at SXSW Edu, that annual Kumbaya gathering of the technology tribe, DeVos sounded exactly like Bill Gates:

It’s a battle of Industrial Age versus the Digital Age. It’s the Model T versus the Tesla. It’s old factory model versus the new Internet model. It’s the Luddites versus the future. We must open up the education industry — and let’s not kid ourselves that it isn’t an industry — we must open it up to entrepreneurs and innovators.

This is how families without means will get access to a world-class education. This is how a student who’s not learning in their current model can find an individualized learning environment that will meet their needs.
We are the beneficiaries of start-ups, ventures, and innovation in every other area of life, but we don’t have that in education because it’s a closed system, a closed industry, a closed market. It’s a monopoly, a dead end. And the best and brightest innovators and risk-takers steer way clear of it. As long as education remains a closed system, we will never see the education equivalents of Google, Facebook, Amazon, PayPal, Wikipedia or Uber. We won’t see any real innovation that benefits more than a handful of students.”

“Surely, we will need all your activism in the battles to come – whether it be against the expansion of charters, the use of tuition tax credits or vouchers, or wasteful ed tech scams — all of which would divert precious resources from our public schools. Now that we’ve woken up our elected officials to the fact that parents and teachers and citizens fiercely love their public schools, and will do nearly anything to preserve, protect and support them, we must continue to speak out.

Please watch the 10-second video at the end of this post. You will love it!

Emily Talmadge, a teacher-blogger in Maine, used to worry about the dangers inherent in a Clinton administration. Now she warns that the threat of competency based education–delivered online, all the time, profiting a few, bad for humans–will thrive in a Trump Administration.

“The real agenda – the ongoing march toward a cradle-to-grave system of human capital development that relies on the most sophisticated data collection and tracking technologies to serve its unthinkably profitable end – is fueled and directed by a multi-billion dollar education-industrial-complex that has been built over the course of decades.

“It’s an absolute beast, an army of epic scale, and it’s a system that has the same uncanny ability to blend in with its surroundings as a chameleon.

“Take, for example, the new “innovative assessment systems” that are being thrust on us every which way in the wake of ESSA. Under the banner of free market ideology, the far-right American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is promoting the very same assessment policies that far-left groups like the national unions and the National Center for Fair and Open Testing are now pushing. And though some claim that one ideology is merely “co-opting” the ideas of the other, the reality is that they lead to the same data-mining, cradle-to-career tracking end.

“Consider, too, the massive push for blended, competency-based, and digital learning – all unproven methods of educating children, but highly favored by ed-tech providers and data-miners.

“Most of these corporate-backed policies were cooked up in Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, and then made their way not only to the far-right ALEC, but also to left-leaning groups like the Center for Collaborative Education, the Coalition for Essential Schools, and the Great Schools Partnership. Depending on what sort of population each group is targeting, these wolves will dress themselves up in sheep’s clothing and make appeals to different values. For the right, they will package their policies in the language of the free market and choice; for the left, they will wrap them in a blanket of social-justice terminology.

“Pull back the curtain far enough, however, and you will see they are selling the same thing.”

Emily lives in Maine, whose Tea Party Governor Paul LePage was one of the first to jump on the Jeb Bush “Digital Learning Now!” bandwagon.

It was exposed in a wonderful, prize-winning “follow the money” investigative report.