Archives for category: Race to the Top

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, reviews SLAYING GOLIATH. This is the second part of his review.

This is an excerpt of a long and thoughtful review.

This second post will focus on Ravitch’s analysis of the research which predicted the defeat of accountability-driven, charter-driven policies. Perhaps the most striking pattern documented in Slaying Goliath is how they failed in the way that scholars and practitioners anticipated.

Decades of Disruption-driven reform began with the false claim “that American education was failing and the only way to fix it was with standards, tests, competition, and accountability.” As Arne Duncan’s public relations officer and Walton-funded reformer Peter Cunningham said, “We measure what we treasure.”

Ravitch’s response was, “I was taken aback because I could not imagine how to measure what I treasure: my family, my friends, my pets, my colleagues, my work, the art and books I have collected.” And that foreshadows the victory of the Resistance over Goliath. Most educators, patrons, and students agree that children are more than a test score.

No Child Left Behind and the Race to the Top set impossible test score targets. They were based in large part on the weird idea that “no-excuses” behaviorist pedagogies could be quickly “scaled up,” providing poor children of color a ladder to economic equality. Drawing on the tradition of Edward Thorndike and B.F. Skinner, reformers “rigidly prescribed conditioning via punishments and rewards.” Previewing their fatal flaw, Ravitch observes, “Behaviorists, and the Disrupters who mimic them today, lack appreciation for the value of divergent thinking, and the creative potential of variety. And they emphatically discount mere ‘feelings.’”

When educators resisted, corporate reformers became livid and doubled down on the punitive. Perhaps their worst debacle was using value-added teacher evaluations to hold each individual educator accountable for test score growth. It combined inappropriate test outputs with an unreliable and invalid algorithm, the VAM, as a club to enforce compliance. In the short run, it forced educators, who had previously tried to keep their heads down and “monkey wrench” testing mandates to join patrons and students in the Resistance. By 2018, however, pent up anger exploded as teacher strikes spread across the nation.

Today, many or most of Goliath’s coalition have become disenchanted with standardized testing, but their Disruption model can’t function without it. Few have gone as far as Paymon Rouhanifard, the former Camden superintendent who abolished report cards after listening to complaints, and denounced standardized testing as he left the job.

The more common path is to spin their punitive tests as “personalized” learning, and their incentives and disincentives as the “portfolio model.” As Ravitch explains, “A portfolio district is one where the local board (or some entity operating in its stead) acts like a stockbrokerage, holding onto winners (schools with high test scores) and getting rid of losers (schools with low test scores).”

As was also predicted by Campbell’s Law, test-driven accountability (made more intimidating by the dual threat of test-driven competition with charters) led to corruption. The cheating was far greater than just the scandals where adults erased and changed bubble-in answers. Graduation rates were easy to manipulate. For instance, NPR reported a “heartwarming story” in 2017 about a school with 100% graduation rate. A subsequent FBI investigation and a district audit found 1/3rd of the school’s graduates lacked credits and only 42% were on track to graduation.

And that leads to the corruption associated with school choice. Today’s Disrupters seem to be doubling down on charters to drive transformative change. As explained in a previous post, in 1988 Al Shanker saw charters as a path towards innovation. Within two years, however, the promise of win-win experimentation started to be undermined when conservative reformers Terry Moe and John Chubb claimed “choice is a panacea.”

In this case, it was choice-advocate Paul Peterson who predicted the political future. Charters didn’t take off because of the balanced approach of Shanker, but because reformers “radicalized” the concept. And, of course, there was plenty of big bucks available for pushing their radical but false narrative.

Within a decade, a shocking number of non-educators had been convinced by Goliath’s spinsters that the KIPP’s behaviorist model could be scaled up. As Slaying Goliath explains, “The biggest innovation in the charter sector was the invention of ‘no-excuses’ schools.” It took nearly another decade for policy makers to accept the fact that charters get average results except for those with high attrition.” And it took nearly as long to reveal the much greater down sides of charters…

Regardless of whether we’re discussing high-stakes testing, charter expansion, or the other pet theories, we should all heed Ravitch’s most important lesson of the past few decades is that “Reform doesn’t mean reform. It means mass demoralization, chaos, and turmoil. Disruption does not produce better education.”

Slaying Goliath celebrates a great victory for public education and democracy. However, Ravitch reminds us that the Disrupters are still threatening. She compares today’s danger to that which faced a man who decapitated a rattlesnake but who nearly died after being bitten by the detached head.

So, we can’t lower our guard until the principles that inspired the Resistance are safe in our schools.

 

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, reviews SLAYING GOLIATH in two-parts.

This is part one. 

He begins:

Diane Ravitch’s Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools is the history of the rise and fall of corporate school reform, but it is much more. It isn’t that surprising that a scholar like Ravitch, like so many researchers and practitioners, predicted over a decade ago how data-driven, competition-driven “reform” would fail. Technocratic “reformers,” who Ravitch calls “Goliath,” started with a dubious hunch, that socio-engineering a “better teacher” could overcome poverty and inequality, and then ignored the science that explained why evaluating teachers based on test score growth would backfire.

It may be surprising that Ravitch, an academic who had once worked in the Education Department of President George H. W. Bush, and served on the board of the conservative Fordham Foundation, become the leader of the grass roots uprising of parents, students, and educators which she dubs the “Resistance.” But it soon became clear why Ravitch inspired and guided the Resistance. In contrast to Goliath, who “ignored decades of research” and assumed the worst of their opponents, Ravitch respected and listened to practitioners and patrons.

One big surprise, which is explained in Slaying Goliath, is how Ravitch presciently understood why output-driven, charter-driven reform devolved into “privatization.”  She had firsthand experience with the hubris of the Billionaires Boys Club, understanding the danger of their desire to hurriedly “scale up” transformational change. And being an accomplished scholar, she had insights into how top-down technocrats’ embrace of behaviorism in the tradition of Edward Thorndike and B.F. Skinner, led to their commitment to “rigidly prescribed conditioning via punishments and rewards.”

Ravitch was among the first experts to fully grasp how, “Behaviorists, and the Disrupters who mimic them today, lack appreciation for the value of divergent thinking, and the creative potential of variety. And they emphatically discount mere ‘feelings.’”

Ravitch witnessed how corporate reformers “admire disruptive innovation, because high-tech businesses do it, so it must be good.” Rather than take the time to heed the wisdom of those who had no choice but to become Resisters, Goliath’s contempt for those in the classroom drove an evolution from “creative destruction” to “Corporate Disruption.”

Disrupters were in such a rush that they used children as “guinea pigs in experiments whose negative results are clear.” But they “never admit failure,” and remain oblivious to the fact that “The outcome of disruption was disruption, not better education.”  And these billionaires not only continue to “fund a hobby injurious to the common good.” They’ve ramped up their assault on public education and its defenders, perpetuating a “direct assault on democracy.”

Ravitch predicts, “Historians will look back and wonder why so many wealthy people spent so much money in a vain attempt to disrupt and privatize public education and why they ignored income inequality and wealth inequality that were eating away at the vitals of American society.”

Thompson goes on to tell some of the important events in which I was a participant. Such as the decision within the first Bush administration to trash the infamous Sandia Report, which disputed the desperate findings of “A Nation at Risk.” And my discussions with Albert Shanker about what charter schools should be in the American system. He saw them as part of a school district, operating with the approval of their peers as collaborators, as R&D labs, not as competitors for funding and students. And my 2011 meeting at the Obama White House, when the top officials asked what I thought of  Common Core and I urged them to launch field trials; they rejected the idea out of hand.

And Thompson quickly understood that, unlike the Disrupters, who wanted to reinvent and disrupt the public schools, I listened to practitioners. I assumed they knew far more than I, and I was right about that. I understood the negative effects of NCLB and the Race to the Top because I saw them through the eyes of those who had to implement shoddy ideas.

Thompson concludes:

Ravitch observes that in contrast to the Resistance, “So as long as billionaires, hedge fund managers, and their allies are handing out money, there will be people lined up to take it. But their transactions cannot be confused with a social movement.” Moreover, “The most important lesson of the past few decades is that “Reform doesn’t mean reform. It means mass demoralization, chaos, and turmoil. Disruption does not produce better education.”

I’ll conclude this post with Ravitch’s words on the two dogmas that the Disruption movement relied on:

First, the benefits of standardization, and second, the power of markets. Their blind adherence to these principles has been disastrous in education.    These principles don’t work in schools for the same reasons they don’t work for families, churches, and other institutions that function primarily on the basis of human interactions, not profits and losses.

Mercedes Schneider listened to Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos deride what they call “America’s failing government schools.”

She writes that these two deep thinkers put the hyphen in the wrong place. To understand what has happened over the past two decades, you must realize that the schools have been victimized by failing-government policies, by policies based on flawed theories and uninformed hunches, starting with a “Texas miracle” that never happened and followed by federal mandates that were unrealistic and just plain dumb.

Who failed? Not the schools. The politicians.

 

This is a very engaging video interview of Tom Ultican, an expert on corporate education reform, explaining the federal takeover of public schools via No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Ultican goes into detail about the corporate assault on public schools in the Dallas Independent School District. He names names, starting with the misguided superintendency of Mike Miles, a Broadie who managed to drive out large numbers of experienced teachers. He identifies the funders of corporate funders, both billionaires and the Dallas Chamber of Commerce.

He gives a concise analysis of the money behind the “portfolio model,” charters, and privatization in Texas and Dallas.

Gary Rubinstein has been following the Tennessee Achievement School District since its inception and reporting annually on its failure. The ASD was funded by $100 million from the Obama-Duncan “Race to the Top.” The theory behind the ASD was that students had low test scores because they attended public schools with bad teachers. Take the same students in the same schools, turn them over to charter operators, and their test scores would soar. The theory was wrong.

Gary writes about it here. 

Since 2011 I have been following the biggest, and most predictable, disasters of the education reform movement — the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD).  It was formed in a perfect storm of reform theory.  First, Tennessee won Race To The Top money.  Then they hired a TFA-alum and the ex-husband of Michelle Rhee, Kevin Huffman to be their state commissioner.  Then he hired TFA-alum and charter school founder Chris Barbic to design and run the ASD.  The initial promise of the ASD was that they would take schools in the bottom 5% and convert them into charter schools in order to ‘catapult’ them into the top 25% in five years.  They started with 6 schools in 2012 and grew to over 30 schools within a few years.

They completely failed at this mission.  Chris Barbic resigned, Kevin Huffman resigned, Barbic’s replacement resigned, Barbic’s replacement’s replacement resigned.  Of the 30 schools they nearly all stayed in the bottom 5% except a few that catapulted into the bottom 10%.

The new education commissioner of Tennessee is also a TFA alum with ideas similar to Huffman.  She promised, however, to get a handle on the ASD and what to do about its failure.  After a listening tour around the state she made, it seemed at first, a decision that was long overdue.

Chalkbeat TN recently had a post with the enticing title ‘All 30 schools in Tennessee’s turnaround district would exit by 2022 in a massive restructuring proposal.’  It would seem like this is good news.  The ASD was such a costly failure, costing about $100 million over the years I think, the only thing to do was to put it out of its misery and dissolve it completely.

But I’ve been studying reformers enough over the years not to get too excited about this.  The headline would make the most optimistic readers think that the 30 schools going back to the district would again become public schools.  The charter schools supposedly traded flexibility for accountability so their failure to deliver on their promises should result in them being sent packing.

But according to the article, it is not clear yet if being returned to the district means that they will become public schools again.  Also they say that there still will be an ASD after this.  Now there can’t be a school district with zero schools, so what’s going on?

I think, and I hope I’m wrong about this, that with the failure of the ASD there was no way that they could justify adding more schools to it.  But by ‘returning’ the 30 schools back to their districts, and probably keeping them as charters, there will now be room to add more schools in the bottom 5% to the re-booted ASD.  If this is what happens, the ASD won’t be disappearing or even shrinking, it will be expanding.  There will be the 30 schools that are still charters, but just operating as part of the district they have been returned to.  And then there will be another 20 schools, maybe, that are in the new ASD.  (They actually call it the ASD 2.0 in the state slide show)

Gary suspects a bait-and-switch, like a businessman declaring bankruptcy, then reappearing with a new name and more money.

He will keep watch for us.

Daniel Koretz is one of the leading authorities on testing in the United States. A professor at Harvard University, he has written two important books about testing–its uses and misuses.

The first was Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us.

His latest is The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better. 

He recently wrote an article about how the federal government’s demand for high-stakes testing has actually undermined education.

He wrote:

In December, we received more bad news about the achievement of American students: Our 15-year-olds made no significant progress in math and reading on PISA, the largest of the international tests. This followed on the heels of a new report from our National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which showed no real progress in reading or math for fourth or eighth grade students for the past decade, and longer for reading.

The routine debate is underway about how bad this news is, but such arguments mostly miss a core lesson: America’s school reform movement has plainly failed. It’s time to face up to this failure and think about new approaches for improving education.

The routine debate is underway about how bad this news is, but such arguments mostly miss a core lesson: America’s school reform movement has plainly failed.

There have been numerous reforms over the past two decades, but at the heart of them are efforts to pressure educators to raise test scores. The idea is deceptively simple. Tests measure important things we want students to learn. Hold educators accountable for raising scores, and they will teach kids more. And by focusing accountability on low-scoring groups — most often by setting uniform targets via state or federal laws, such as No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds Act — we will close achievement gaps.

Unfortunately, this concept has turned out to be more simplistic than simple, and it hasn’t worked. Even though the primary focus has been reading and math tests, reading hasn’t improved. Test-based accountability has contributed to math gains among younger students, but these improvements ended a decade ago, were achieved in part by taking time away from other subjects, and don’t persist until students graduate from school, making them of questionable value. The effort to improve equity has also failed.

As I showed decades ago, the gap between racial and ethnic minorities and non-minority students started to narrow before the rush into test-based accountability, but that progress has ground to a halt in recent years. At the same time, as Sean Reardon at Stanford University has shown, the gap between rich and poor students has widened on a variety of independent tests. The gap between high- and low-scoring students overall has also recently grown larger.

“Reform” that involves mandating high-stakes testing is a farce. Some politicians have claimed that the way to make kids smarter is to test them more frequently and to make the tests harder and harder. Koretz says this is nonsense. I say that the politicians should be required to take and pass the tests they mandate for helpless students.

It is good to have our concerns and doubts about the pernicious effects of high-stakes testing confirmed by one of the nation’s leading testing experts.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was one of the few members of the U.S. Senate to vote against No Child Left Behind when it was approved by Congress in 2001.

Today is the anniversary of the signing of that law.

Sanders writes that the federal mandate for annual testing in grades 3-8 has been an expensive failure.

In this article in USA Today, Sanders calls for an end to the NCLB mandate, which remained in place through Race to the Top and the Every Students Succeeds Act of 2015 (Every student succeeds is another way of saying “no child left behind.”)

He writes:

Wednesday marks 18 years since the signing into law of No Child Left Behind, one of the worst pieces of legislation in our nation’s history. In December 2001, I voted against NCLB because it was as clear to me then, as it is now, that so-called school choice and high-stakes standardized testing would not improve our schools or enhance our children’s ability to learn. We do not need an education system in which kids are simply taught to take tests. We need a system in which kids learn and grow in a holistic manner. 

Under NCLB, standardized tests were utilized to hold public schools and teachers “accountable” for student outcomes. As a result, some schools that underperformed were closed and their teachers and unions blamed. 

The long-term effects of this approach have been disastrous. NCLB perpetuated the myth of public schools and teachers as failing, which opened the door for the spread of school voucher programs and charter schools that we have today. Some of these charter schools are operated by for-profits; many of them are nonunion and are not publicly accountable.

One error here: 90% of charters are non-union, not “many.” That is why charters have the enthusiastic support of right-wingers like the Waltons, DeVos, Koch, and other billionaires (see Slaying Goliath for a comprehensive list of the billionaires, foundations, and corporations that support testing and charters)

On January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind law.

Thus began an unprecedented federal intrusion into state and local education.

The law was sweeping in imposing federally mandated annual tests from grades 3-8.

No high-performing nation in the world tests every child every year.

The law mandated that every school must achieve 100% proficiency by 2014 or face increasingly onerous consequences, culminating in being privatized, taken over by the state or closed.

The law made appeals to research repeatedly, but there was no research whatever for its claim that pressure and punishment would ever produce 100% proficiency nor was there any evidence for the “remedies” it proposed.

NCLB was a hoax buil on a lie. The lie was Bush’s campaign claim that there had been a “Texas miracle,” the result of annual testing and accountability. We need only look at Texas’s middling standing on NAEP to see that there was no miracle. The hoax was the law itself, which threatened punishment to those who could not meet impossible goals and offered remedies that had never produced results for any district or state.

Today marks a sad day in the history of American education, when politicians proclaimed that they knew how to fix America’s schools.

They didn’t, and a new era of test abuse, failure, hubris, profiteering, consultants, and other ways to defund the nation’s public schools began.

The spirit of this failed law animated Race to the Top (President Obama said publicly that his RTTT was built on the foundation of NCLB) and survives in the current Every Student Succeeds Act, which continues to require annual testing and gives the Secretary of Education the power to review state plans for compliance with federal law.

NCLB was a noon for the testing industry and consultants but a tragedy for students and teachers. Teachers lost autonomy. Students lost the arts, recess, history, and the love of learning for its own sake. Test scores became the purpose of education.

The restoration of the promise of public education will begin when we have a President and Congress who expunge the legacy of this dreadful law from the books.

 

Jeff Bryant attended the Presidential Forum for Democratic candidates in Pittsburgh, and he watched to see how the candidates reacted to the Bush-Obama-Duncan agenda.

Michael Bennett was the only one to endorse it, and he got a tepid reception.

The others spoke of their love for public schools, their desire to raise funding, etc, but barely mentioned charters or testing unless pushed.

Duncan’s name was never mentioned.

Evaluating teachers by test scores never came up.

Everything that Bush and Obama had promoted was absent.

Of course, everything they promoted has failed, and the moderator kept referring to flat NAEP scores to challenge the candidates, without recognizing that the stagnant scores are the results of 20 years of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core.

But Jeff is not convinced that the change is more than cosmetic.

He thinks that the candidates will gravitate to where the money is: Wall Street; hedge fund managers; billionaires.

Warren and Sanders have not.

But he is right about this: Bad habits and bad ideas die slowly. If at all.

Not one candidate said simply and candidly, “everything that the federal government has imposed since passage of NCLB has failed. We need a fresh vision.”

 

 

Every blogger who has written about MSNBC’s Public Education Forum expressed gratitude that a big cable network paid attention to our most important democratic institution.

Nancy Bailey is angry about the issues that were ignored, the ones that threaten the future of students, teachers, and public education.

She is also streamed that the program was not on live TV. Public education not important enough for live TV? 50 million children are in public schools. They have parents. Quite an audience to overlook.

Good work, Nancy!

She writes (in part, read it all):

Candidates talked about making the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes to help schools, but no one mentioned Bill Gates, the Waltons, Eli Broad, Mark Zuckerberg or any of the corporate reformers who are taking control of public schools.

They didn’t mention Common Core or the failure of the initiatives funded by the Gates Foundation and taxpayers. Nor did they speak about portfolio schools, the latest corporate endeavor to push choice and charters.

No one mentioned using Social Impact Bonds or Pay for Success to profit off of public schools. See: “Wall Street’s new way of making money from public education — and why it’s a problem” by Valerie Strauss.

CEO Tom Steyer mentioned corporate influence towards the end, but it was brief, and no moderator attempted to explore what he said.

Ed-Tech

No one mentioned what might be the biggest threat to public education, the replacement of teachers and brick-and-mortar schools with technology.

Disruption was initially described by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn in their book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. This is seen as the revolution by those in business and the tech industry and is being played out in online charter schools like Summit and Rocketship. Summit also has an online virtual school.

Many students across the country get school vouchers to be used for substandard online instruction like K12 and Connections Academy.Preschoolers are subjected to unproven Waterford UPSTART.

The candidates might want to review Tultican’s “Ed Tech About Profits NOT Education.”

Wrench in the Gears is another blog good at describing the threat of technology.

Teach for America

Teach for America corps members with little training have taken over classrooms, and they run state departments of education!

Do Democratic candidates have Teach for America corps members as consultants on their campaigns? It’s troubling if they do. They should not be wooing teachers with professional degrees and experience while relying on TFA behind the scenes.

Other insidious reform groups are also about replacing education professionals. Relay Graduate School, The New Teacher Project, New Leaders are a few.

This needs to be addressed, sooner, not later.

Betsy DeVos et al.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy hearing Democratic candidates say they’re going to boot Education Secretary Betsy DeVos out.

But President Obama had individuals from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other corporate reform groups, working in the U.S. Department of Education. Arne Duncan was no friend to teachers or public schools.

So, while applause against DeVos are justifiable, now’s the time to address the role Democrats have played (and continue to play) in corporate school reform.

The fact is, many groups and individuals are working to end public education, who wear Democratic name tags. It’s imperative that Democratic candidates address this.