Archives for category: Race to the Top

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.

 

Nancy Bailey writes here about the idea–promoted by NCLB, Race to the Top, and Common Core– that kindergarten children should know how to read. She says this is wrong.

Young children should be encouraged to speak and listen, she writes, which is something they do while playing and interacting with other children.

She writes:

With No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core State Standards, some adults have been led to believe that four- and five-year-old children should read by the end of kindergarten. Preschoolers are pushed to be ready for formal reading instruction by the time they enter kindergarten.

This is a dangerous idea rooted in corporate school reform. Children who struggle to read might inaccurately believe they have a problem, or reading could become a chore they hate.

Pushing children to focus on reading means they miss listening and speaking skills, precursors to reading. These skills are developed through play, which leads to interest in words and a reason to want to read.

Some children might learn to read in kindergarten, and others might show up to kindergarten already reading, but many children are not ready to read when they are four or five years old. And just because a child knows how to read in kindergarten, doesn’t mean they won’t have other difficulties with speech and listening.

When children come to schools from poor home environments, much of what they’ve missed involves a variety of language skills like speech and learning how to listen. When children have disabilities, speaking and listening skills are critical.

Forcing children to focus on reading early denies children opportunities to work on those other missing skills.

Also, there’s no research, no evidence that a child’s brain has evolved to indicate children can and should read earlier. Our culture has changed, but children have not. Even if new reading methods are developed that assist children to be better readers, there’s no reason to push children to read before they are ready.

In the drive for higher test scores, play has been minimized or eliminated. This is a crime against children.

This is a good time to recommend some reading: Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle, Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive. 

 

 

John Merrow writes here about the stagnant scores reported on NAEP, PISA, and every other measure. They are an indictment of the test-centric policies of Bush, Obama, and Trump, he says.

He writes:

Given the PISA results and the harsh truth that NAEP scores have been disappointing for many years, it’s time to rename NAEP. Let’s call it the National Assessment of Educational Paralysis, because paralysis accurately describes what has been going on for more than two decades of “School Reform” under the test-centric policies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Unless and until we renounce these misguided “School Reform” policies developed under No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, educational paralysis will continue, and millions of children will continue to be mis-educated and under-educated.

Right now, too many school districts over-test, which means their teachers under-teach. Too often their leaders impose curricula that restrict teachers’ ability to innovate.  At the same time, these narrow curricula have curtailed or eliminated art, music, physical education, recess, drama, and even science.  Today many districts judge teachers largely by student test scores, leading teachers to devote more and more class time to test-prep, not teaching and exploration of idea.  This is what I and others label the ‘test-and-punish’ approach to education, instead of a far more desirable ‘assess to improve’ philosophy.

The National Superintendents Roundtable has a message for the public: be fair when judging our public schools. Schools today are far better than they were 40 or 50 years ago, by all conventional measures. what they might have added was that schools made steady progress until about 2007 or so, when No Child Left Behind took hold, then things were made worse by Race to the Top and Common Core. The proliferation of choice has flattened the progress made from 1970 to 2007.

A group of scholars collaborated to write a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research that studies how teachers affect student height. It is a wonderful and humorous takedown of the Raj Chetty et al thesis that the effects of a single teacher in the early grades may determine a student’s future lifetime earnings, her likelihood graduating from college, live in higher SES neighborhoods, as well as avoid teen pregnancy.

When the Chetty study was announced in 2011, a front-page article in the New York Times said:

WASHINGTON — Elementary- and middle-school teachers who help raise their students’ standardized-test scores seem to have a wide-ranging, lasting positive effect on those students’ lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates and greater college matriculation and adult earnings, according to a new study that tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years.

The paper, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, all economists, examines a larger number of students over a longer period of time with more in-depth data than many earlier studies, allowing for a deeper look at how much the quality of individual teachers matters over the long term.

“That test scores help you get more education, and that more education has an earnings effect — that makes sense to a lot of people,” said Robert H. Meyer, director of the Value-Added Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which studies teacher measurement but was not involved in this study. “This study skips the stages, and shows differences in teachers mean differences in earnings.”

The study, which the economics professors have presented to colleagues in more than a dozen seminars over the past year and plan to submit to a journal, is the largest look yet at the controversial “value-added ratings,” which measure the impact individual teachers have on student test scores. It is likely to influence the roiling national debates about the importance of quality teachers and how best to measure that quality.

Many school districts, including those in Washington and Houston, have begun to use value-added metrics to influence decisions on hiring, pay and even firing….

Replacing a poor teacher with an average one would raise a single classroom’s lifetime earnings by about $266,000, the economists estimate. Multiply that by a career’s worth of classrooms.

“If you leave a low value-added teacher in your school for 10 years, rather than replacing him with an average teacher, you are hypothetically talking about $2.5 million in lost income,” said Professor Friedman, one of the coauthors…

The authors argue that school districts should use value-added measures in evaluations, and to remove the lowest performers, despite the disruption and uncertainty involved.

“The message is to fire people sooner rather than later,” Professor Friedman said.

Professor Chetty acknowledged, “Of course there are going to be mistakes — teachers who get fired who do not deserve to get fired.” But he said that using value-added scores would lead to fewer mistakes, not more.

President Obama hailed the  Chetty study in his 2012 State of the Union address.

Value-added teacher evaluation, that is, basing the evaluation of teachers on the rise or fall of their students’ test scores, was a central feature of Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top when it was unveiled in 2010. States had to agree to adopt it if they wanted to be eligible for Race to the Top funding.

When the Los Angeles Times published a value-added ranking of thousands of teachers, teachers said the rankings were filled with error, but Duncan said those who complained were afraid to learn the truth. In Florida, teacher evaluations may be based on the rise or fall of the scores of students that the teachers had never taught, in subjects they had never taught. (About 70% of teachers do not teach subjects that are tested annually to provide fodder for these ratings.) When this nutty process was challenged inn court by Florida teachers, the judge ruled that the practice might be unfair but it was not unconstitutional.

The fundamental claim of VAM (value-added modeling or measurement) has been repeatedly challenged, most notably by economist Moshe Adler. When put into law, as it was in most states, it was found to be useless, because only tiny percentages of teachers were identified as ineffective, and even the validity of the ratings of that 1-3% was dubious. The use of VAM was frozen by a judge in New Mexico, then tossed out earlier this year by a new Democratic governor. It was banned by a judge in Houston.  A large experiment funded by the Gates Foundation intended to demonstrate the value of VAM produced negative results.

Now comes economic research to test the validity of linking teacher evaluation and student height.

 

Marianne Bitler, Sean  Corcoran, Thurston Domina, and Emily Penner wrote:

NBER Working Paper No. 26480
Issued in November 2019
NBER Program(s):Program on Children, Economics of Education Program

Estimates of teacher “value-added” suggest teachers vary substantially in their ability to promote student learning. Prompted by this finding, many states and school districts have adopted value-added measures as indicators of teacher job performance. In this paper, we conduct a new test of the validity of value-added models. Using administrative student data from New York City, we apply commonly estimated value-added models to an outcome teachers cannot plausibly affect: student height. We find the standard deviation of teacher effects on height is nearly as large as that for math and reading achievement, raising obvious questions about validity. Subsequent analysis finds these “effects” are largely spurious variation (noise), rather than bias resulting from sorting on unobserved factors related to achievement. Given the difficulty of differentiating signal from noise in real-world teacher effect estimates, this paper serves as a cautionary tale for their use in practice.