Archives for category: Race to the Top

Whitney Tilson is one of the founders of Democrats for Education Reform. He is a hedge fund manager. He is on the board of KIPP. He helped to launch Teach for America. He is not a likely ally for me. But he is a very intelligent and forthright person. When he lambasted the for-profit virtual charter chain for the inferior education it provides, he sent me his comments, and I applauded him. More recently, we have exchanged emails about the abominable bathroom bill in North Carolina, which he opposes as I do. I have never met Whitney, but our emails have been very cordial, so I consider him a gentleman (no matter what he has written about me on his blog). He was gentleman enough to suggest that we exchange views, and he initiated the dialogue by sending me a list of statements that represent what he believes. I responded, closing out the conversation after midnight last night. It seems that Whitney never sleeps, as he posted the exchange immediately this morning. He has promised to write a response to my comments. When he does, I will post them too. I must say that I was very impressed by his willingness to state that charter schools should be expected to accept the full range of children, not just those who are likely to get high scores. That is a big step forward, and I hope that his views resonate. I also hope that this exchange is widely read. My only regret is that I neglected to thank him for initiating it. It was a bold step and I welcome the opportunity to identify the areas where are in agreement and the areas where he disagree.

 

 

 

This is the post that Whitney Tilson sent out this morning (his words are in italics, mine are in caps):

 

 

 

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STOP THE PRESSES!!!

 

 

I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations in my life – and this ongoing one with Diane Ravitch certainly ranks up there.

 

 

If I recall correctly, we first exchanged emails a few years ago when I send her my presentation about K12, the awful for-profit online charter school operator. I knew we’d have common ground there, as she’d also exposed K12’s misdeeds in her book, Reign of Error.

 

 

I reached out to her again recently because I knew we’d have common views on North Carolina’s hateful HB2 law (in fact, we’ve both now published articles in the Huffington Post on this; here’s mine: An Open Letter to a North Carolina State Legislator; and here’s hers: That Dumb Bathroom Bill in North Carolina).

 

 

Our common views got me thinking: how is it that two well-informed people can agree on so much in almost all areas, yet apparently disagree on so much in one area (ed reform)? Is it possible that we agree on more than we think?

 

 

So I sent her the email below, in which I wrote 24 statements about which I thought we might agree, and asked if she’d reply, in the hopes that we might both learn something, find more areas of agreement where we could work together, and, in general, try to tone things down.

 

 

She was kind enough to reply, so I have included her comments (in ALL CAPS), interspersed and at the end of my original email (shared with her permission of course).

 

 

Overall, I was heartened to see how many things we agree on.

 

 

That said, we still disagree on many things, about which I will respond in due time. But in the interests of keeping this email to a manageable length, I’ll let her have the last word here – but not the final word, as we’ve both committed to continuing (and sharing) our ongoing discussion.

 

 

In the meantime, I hope you’ll find our initial exchange as interesting and illuminating as I did.

 
——————————

 
Hi Diane,

 

 

You know, despite our disagreements on ed reform, I’d bet we agree on 95% of everything else. I’m certain that we agree that the Republican party has been hijacked by extremists, Trump is a madman, Cruz is terrifying, and there’s nothing more important than getting a Democrat elected president in November (and, ideally, retaking the Senate and maybe even the House as well).

 

WE AGREE.

 

I’ll admit that this creates quite a dilemma for me: I want the teachers unions, which remain the single most powerful interest group supporting the Democratic party, to be strong to help as many Democratic candidates as possible win. But when it comes to my desire to implement the reforms I think our educational system needs, I usually want them to be weak.

 

I DISAGREE.

 

I WANT THE TEACHERS’ UNIONS TO BE STRONG SO THEY CAN DEFEND THEIR MEMBERS AGAINST UNFAIR PRACTICES AND PROTECT THEIR ACADEMIC FREEDOM. TEACHERS HAVE BEEN BLAMED FOR THE ILLS OF SOCIETY, MOST ESPECIALLY, POVERTY. TODAY’S REFORMERS HAVE CREATED THE MYTH THAT GREAT TEACHERS–AS DEFINED BY THEIR STUDENTS’ TEST SCORES– CAN OVERCOME POVERTY AND CLOSE THE ACHIEVEMENT GAPS AMONG DIFFERENT GROUPS OF STUDENTS. I WISH IT WERE TRUE, BUT IT IS NOT. THE MYTH ENCOURAGES LAWMAKERS TO BELIEVE THAT WHEREVER POVERTY PERSISTS OR TEST SCORES ARE LOW OR ACHIEVEMENT GAPS REMAIN, IT MUST BE THE TEACHERS’ FAULT.

 

RACE TO THE TOP REQUIRED STATES TO EVALUATE TEACHERS TO A SIGNIFICANT DEGREE BY THEIR STUDENTS’ TEST SCORES, WHICH WAS A HUGE MISTAKE THAT HAS COST STATES AND DISTRICTS HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS BUT HASN’T WORKED ANYWHERE. THIS METHOD HAS PROVED UNSTABLE AND INACCURATE; IT REFLECTS WHO IS IN THE CLASS, NOT TEACHER QUALITY.

 

SCORES ON STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE HIGHLY CORRELATED WITH FAMILY INCOME, OVER WHICH TEACHERS HAVE NO CONTROL. IN THE PAST FEW YEARS, SOME STATES HAVE ELIMINATED COLLECTIVE BARGAINING, AND THERE IS NO CORRELATION BETWEEN THE EXISTENCE OF A UNION AND STUDENTS’ ACADEMIC SUCCESS. IN FACT, THE HIGHEST-PERFORMING STATES ON THE NATIONAL ASSESSMENT OF EDUCATION PROGRESS–MASSACHUSETTS, CONNECTICUT, AND NEW JERSEY–ARE MORE LIKELY TO HAVE UNIONS THAN THE LOWEST PERFORMING STATES, WHERE UNIONS ARE WEAK OR BANNED.

 

SOME STATES HAVE ENACTED MERIT PAY PROGRAMS, WHICH HAVE NEVER IMPROVED EDUCATION OR EVEN TEST SCORES DESPITE NUMEROUS EXPERIMENTS. THERE HAVE BEEN NUMEROUS ASSAULTS IN LEGISLATURES AND IN THE COURTS ON DUE PROCESS (CALLED “TENURE”) AND ON PAY INCREASES FOR ADDITIONAL EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE. I HAVE OFTEN HEARD TEACHERS SAY THAT THEY BECAME TEACHERS KNOWING THEY WOULD NEVER BECOME RICH, BUT AT LEAST THEY WOULD HAVE A SECURE JOB. TAKE THAT AWAY AND TEACHERS SERVE AT THE WHIM OF ADMINISTRATORS WHO MAY OR MAY NOT BE SKILLED EDUCATORS. HOW WILL IT IMPROVE EDUCATION IF TEACHERS HAVE NO JOB SECURITY, LESS EDUCATION AND LESS EXPERIENCE?

 

SOMETIMES IT SEEMS LIKE THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM ARE SPENDING THEIR TIME TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO CRUSH TEACHERS’ MORALE AND FREEZE THEIR PAY. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THESE ANTI-TEACHER PUBLIC POLICIES HAVE BEEN UGLY. TEACHERS ACROSS THE NATION FEEL THEMSELVES TO BE THE TARGETS OF A WITCH-HUNT. MANY TEACHERS HAVE TAKEN EARLY RETIREMENT, AND THE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE ENTERING TEACHING HAS PLUMMETED. EVEN TEACH FOR AMERICA HAS SEEN A 35% DECLINE IN THE NUMBER OF APPLICANTS IN JUST THE PAST THREE YEARS. THE ATTACKS ON TEACHERS HAVE TAKEN THEIR TOLL, AND THERE ARE NOW SHORTAGES ACROSS THE NATION.

 

I BELIEVE UNIONS ARE NECESSARY, NOT ONLY IN TEACHING, BUT IN OTHER LINES OF WORK AS WELL, TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF WORKING PEOPLE, TO MAKE SURE THEY ARE NOT EXPLOITED AND TO ASSURE THEY ARE TREATED FAIRLY. UNIONS ARE BY NO MEANS PERFECT AS THEY ARE; SOME ARE TOO BUREAUCRATIC AND SELF-SATISFIED, SOME ARE TOO COMPLACENT TO FIGHT FOR THEIR MEMBERS, SOME STIFLE ANY CHANGES. BUT, IN MY VIEW, UNIONS BUILT THE MIDDLE CLASS IN THIS COUNTRY. WE ARE LOSING OUR STRONG, STABLE MIDDLE CLASS AS THE PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SECTORS ELIMINATE UNIONS. INCOME INEQUALITY IS WIDENING AS UNIONS SHRIVEL. IN EDUCATION, UNIONS ARE ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT TO MAKE SURE THAT TEACHERS ARE FREE TO TEACH CONTROVERSIAL SUBJECTS, LIKE EVOLUTION, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CONTESTED BOOKS (YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED HOW MANY CLASSIC BOOKS, LIKE “HUCKLEBERRY FINN,” “INVISIBLE MAN,” AND “OF MICE AND MEN” ARE ON THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION’S LIST OF THE 100 MOST FREQUENTLY BANNED BOOKS).

 

DO UNIONS PROTECT “BAD” TEACHERS? YES, THEY DO. ONE CAN’T KNOW WHO IS “BAD” IN THE ABSENCE OF DUE PROCESS. A TEACHER MAY BE FALSELY ACCUSED OR THE ADMINISTRATOR MAY HARBOR A DISLIKE FOR HER RACE, HER RELIGION, HER SEXUAL ORIENTATION, OR HER PEDAGOGICAL BELIEFS. THOSE WHO WISH TO FIRE THEM AFTER THEIR PROBATIONARY PERIOD (WHICH MAY BE AS LITTLE AS TWO YEARS OR AS MANY AS FIVE YEARS–AND IN MANY STATES, TEACHERS DO NOT HAVE DUE PROCESS OR TENURE) MUST PRESENT EVIDENCE THAT THEY ARE BAD TEACHERS OR THAT THEY DID SOMETHING THAT MERITS THEIR REMOVAL. PROBATIONARY TEACHERS HAVE NO RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS. TEACHERS HAVE SOMETIMES BEEN FALSELY ACCUSED. TEACHERS SHOULD BE ABLE TO CONFRONT THEIR ACCUSERS, TO SEE THE EVIDENCE, AND TO BE JUDGED BY AN INDEPENDENT ARBITRATOR. IF BAD TEACHERS GET TENURE, THEN BLAME BAD OR LAZY ADMINISTRATORS. THE RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS MUST BE EARNED BY PERFORMANCE IN THE CLASSROOM AND SHOULD NOT BE AWARDED WITHOUT CAREFUL DELIBERATION BY THE ADMINISTRATOR.

 

GIVEN THE FACT THAT A LARGE PERCENTAGE–AS MUCH AS 40%, EVEN MORE IN URBAN DISTRICTS–LEAVE TEACHING WITHIN THEIR FIRST FIVE YEARS, OUR BIGGEST PROBLEM IS RETAINING GOOD TEACHERS, NOT GETTING RID OF BAD ONES. BAD ONES SHOULD BE PROMPTLY REMOVED IN THEIR FIRST OR SECOND YEAR OF TEACHING. W. EDWARDS DEMING, WRITING ABOUT THE MODERN CORPORATION, SAID THAT A GOOD COMPANY HIRES CAREFULLY AND THEN HELPS ITS EMPLOYEES SUCCEED ON THE JOB. IT INVESTS IN SUPPORT AND TRAINING. IT MAKES A CONSCIENTIOUS EFFORT TO RETAIN THE PEOPLE IT HIRED. WHY DON’T WE DO THE SAME WITH TEACHERS AND STOP BLAMING THEM FOR CONDITIONS BEYOND THEIR CONTROL?

 

This dilemma isn’t new – in fact, it’s one of the reasons I helped start Democrats for Education Reform: because I wasn’t comfortable joining forces with other reform-oriented organizations that existed at the time (roughly a decade ago), which were mostly funded, supported and run by Republicans with whom I shared almost no views in common other than in the area of ed reform (and even in that area, I disagreed with their union busting and overemphasis on vouchers).

 

I SERVED AS ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF EDUCATION FOR RESEARCH IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF GEORGE H.W. BUSH, BUT REALIZED OVER TIME THAT I DID NOT AGREE WITH THE REPUBLICAN APPROACH TO EDUCATION, NAMELY, COMPETITION, SCHOOL CHOICE, TESTING, AND ACCOUNTABILITY. IT IS IRONIC THAT THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ADOPTED THE SAME POLICIES AS THE REPUBLICANS, WITH THE SOLE EXCEPTION OF VOUCHERS. THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY USED TO HAVE A CORE SET OF EDUCATIONAL PRINCIPLES AT THE FEDERAL AND STATE LEVELS: EQUITY OF RESOURCES, EXTRA SUPPORT FOR THE NEEDIEST STUDENTS, LOW COLLEGE TUITION TO INCREASE ACCESS, VIGOROUS ENFORCEMENT OF CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS, AND SUPPORT FOR TEACHER PREPARATION. THAT APPROACH COMES CLOSEST TO PROVIDING EQUALITY OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY.

 

I OPPOSE THE REPUBLICAN APPROACH TO EDUCATION POLICY FOR THE FOLLOWING REASONS:

 

A) THEY DON’T SUPPORT PUBLIC EDUCATION AT ALL; EVERY ONE OF THEIR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES HAS ENDORSED SOME FORM OF PRIVATIZATION AND SAID NOTHING AT ALL ABOUT THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS THAT ENROLL 90% OF OUR STUDENTS.

 

B) THEY WOULD BE THRILLED TO ELIMINATE ALL UNIONS; THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT PEOPLE WHO ARE POOR OR STRUGGLING TO GET INTO THE MIDDLE CLASS OR TO STAY IN THE MIDDLE CLASS.

 

C) THE REPUBLICANS HAVE SWALLOWED THE FREE MARKET APPROACH TO SCHOOLING HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER, AS A MATTER OF IDEOLOGY, NOT EVIDENCE. I DON’T BELIEVE IN VOUCHERS, BECAUSE I KNOW THAT VOUCHERS HAVE NOT WORKED IN CHILE AND SWEDEN, AND THEY HAVE NOT WORKED IN THIS COUNTRY EITHER. MANY STATES HAVE ADOPTED VOUCHERS, THOUGH USUALLY CALLING THEM SOMETHING ELSE (EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNT, EDUCATION TAX CREDITS, OPPORTUNITY SCHOLARSHIPS, ETC.). MOST ARE USED TO SEND CHILDREN TO RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS, MANY OF WHICH HAVE UNCERTIFIED TEACHERS, INADEQUATE CURRICULA, AND NO ACCOUNTABILITY AT ALL. FURTHERMORE, THE RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS RECEIVING VOUCHERS USUALLY TEACH CREATIONISM AND OTHER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. I DON’T THINK PUBLIC MONEY SHOULD SUBSIDIZE RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS. VOUCHERS HAVE NEVER WON A PUBLIC REFERENDUM, BUT REPUBLICAN LEGISLATURES KEEP DEVISING WAYS TO GET AROUND THEIR OWN STATE CONSTITUTIONS.

 

The creation of DFER helped resolve this dilemma because I could fight against union policies when I felt they weren’t in the best interests of kids, without fighting against the principle of collective bargaining, which I believe in. And I could happily limit my political donations to supporting only Democrats (reform-oriented ones, of course, like Obama, Cory Booker and Michael Bennet).

 

WHAT OBAMA, CORY BOOKER, MICHAEL BENNETT AND OTHER CORPORATE-STYLE REFORMERS HAVE IN COMMON IS THAT THEY BELIEVE IN BREAKING UP PUBLIC EDUCATION AND REPLACING IT WITH PRIVATE MANAGEMENT. THEY BELIEVE IN CLOSING SCHOOLS WHERE TESTS SCORES ARE LOW. I DON’T. THE HIGHEST PERFORMING NATIONS IN THE WORLD HAVE STRONG, EQUITABLE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEMS WITH RESPECTED, WELL PREPARED, AND EXPERIENCED TEACHERS. THEY HAVE WRAP-AROUND SERVICES TO MAKE SURE THAT ALL CHILDREN COME TO SCHOOL HEALTHY AND READY TO LEARN. THEY DON’T TEST EVERY CHILD EVERY YEAR FROM GRADES 3-8 AS WE DO. THEY DON’T HAVE VOUCHERS OR PRIVATELY MANAGED CHARTERS.

 

So why am I feeling this dilemma again right now? Because the stakes are so high: our country is politically polarized, the Republican party is spiraling out of control, mostly likely nominating either a madman or extremist, and there’s an opportunity for we Democrats to not only win the presidency, but also take back Congress. The election in November will have an enormous impact on so many critical issues that hang in the balance: a majority in the Supreme Court, income inequality, healthcare, immigration, foreign policy/our relationships with the rest of the world, environmental issues/global warming, LGBT and women’s rights…the list goes on and on.

 

I CERTAINLY AGREE. THE REPUBLICAN PARTY HAS LOST ITS BEARINGS, AND ITS CANDIDATE IS LIKELY TO BE SOMEONE ABHORRED BY ITS LEADERSHIP.

 

As such, I’m going to be extra careful in my writings, when I’m critical of the unions, to make clear that these are policy differences and that I don’t support attempts to demolish unions altogether, whether in the education sector or elsewhere.

 

Writing about things I think we agree on outside of ed reform has gotten me thinking: what might we agree on within the area of ed reform?

As one of my mentors, Charlie Munger, always says: “Invert, always invert.”

So I have tried to compile a list of statements that I believe that I think you might agree with as well. I’m not trying to change your mind about anything or put words in your mouth – I’m genuinely trying to find areas of agreement, at least on general principles (the devil’s usually in the details of course, but a good starting point is agreeing at a high level):

 

• Every child in this country has the right to attend a safe school that provides a quality education.
WE AGREE.

 

• The color of a child’s skin and his/her zip code shouldn’t determine the quality of school he/she attends.
WE AGREE.

 

• Poor parents care deeply about ensuring that their children get a good education.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Sometimes the closest neighborhood school isn’t right for a child, so parents should have at least some options in choosing what public school is best for their children.

 
I PAUSE HERE, BECAUSE THIS IS MOVING INTO SCHOOL CHOICE TERRITORY, WHERE REPUBLICANS HAVE SOLD THE IDEA THAT PARENTS SHOULD CHOOSE THE SCHOOL AS A MATTER OF CONSUMER CHOICE (JEB BUSH COMPARED CHOOSING A SCHOOL TO CHOOSING WHAT KIND OF MILK YOU WANT TO DRINK–FAT-FREE, 1%, 2%, WHOLE MILK, CHOCOLATE MILK, OR BUTTERMILK). UNFORTUNATELY, MANY CHOICE IDEOLOGUES TAKE THIS ARGUMENT TO ITS LOGICAL CONCLUSION AND PURSUE AN ALL-CHOICE POLICY, IN WHICH THE ONE CHOICE THAT IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE IS THE NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL. THAT IS THE CASE IN NEW ORLEANS. IT OFTEN SEEMS THAT REFORMERS–LIKE REPUBLICANS–CONSIDER PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO BE OBSOLETE AND WANT TO REPLACE THEM WITH AN ALL-PRIVATIZED DISTRICT.

 

• It is not the case that too many children are failing too many of our schools; rather, the reverse is true.

 
I DON’T AGREE. I WOULD SAY OUR SOCIETY IS FAILING OUR CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES BY ALLOWING SO MANY OF THEM TO LIVE IN POVERTY. WE HAVE THE HIGHEST PROPORTION OF CHILDREN LIVING IN POVERTY OF THE WORLD’S ADVANCED NATIONS–ABOUT 22%. THAT IS SHAMEFUL, THE SCHOOLS DIDN’T CAUSE IT. AS I SAID BEFORE, FAMILY INCOME IS THE BEST PREDICTOR OF STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES; THAT IS TRUE OF EVERY STANDARDIZED TEST, WHETHER IT IS THE SAT, THE ACT, THE STATE TESTS, NATIONAL TESTS OR INTERNATIONAL TESTS. IF POVERTY IS DIRECTLY RELATED TO LOW ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE, THEN TARGET POVERTY AND PURSUE PUBLIC POLICIES THAT WILL IMPROVE THE LIVES OF CHILDREN, FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES. AT THE SAME TIME, WORK TO IMPROVE SCHOOLS, NOT TO CLOSE THEM. THERE IS NOW A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF RESEARCH SHOWING THAT STATE TAKEOVERS SELDOM IMPROVE SCHOOLS; THAT CHARTERS PERFORM ON AVERAGE ABOUT THE SAME AS PUBLIC SCHOOLS; THAT VOUCHER SCHOOLS ON AVERAGE PERFORM WORSE THAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS; THAT THE CHARTERS THAT GET THE HIGHEST TEST SCORES EXCLUDE OR REMOVE STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES, STUDENTS WHO DON’T READ ENGLISH, AND STUDENTS WHO GET LOW TEST SCORES.

 

• Poverty and its effects have an enormous impact, in countless ways, on a child’s ability to learn.

 
WE AGREE. THE CHILD WHO IS HOMELESS, WHO LACKS MEDICAL CARE, WHO IS HUNGRY IS LIKELY NOT TO FOCUS ON HIS OR HER STUDIES AND IS LIKELY TO BE FREQUENTLY ABSENT BECAUSE OF ILLNESS OR CARING FOR A SIBLING. IT REALLY HURTS CHILDREN WHEN THE BASIC NECESSITIES OF LIFE ARE MISSING.

 

• If one had to choose between fixing all schools or fixing everything else outside of schools that affects the ability of children to learn (poverty, homelessness, violence, broken families, lack of healthcare, whether parents regularly speak and read to children, etc.), one would choose the latter in a heartbeat.

 
I CERTAINLY AGREE BECAUSE REDUCING POVERTY AND ITS ILL EFFECTS WOULD IMPROVE SCHOOLS AT THE SAME TIME.

 

• Schools should be rigorous, with high expectations, but also filled with joy and educators who instill a love of learning.

 
I MIGHT HAVE AGREED WITH YOU IN YEARS PAST, BUT I HAVE COME TO SEE “RIGOR” AS A LOADED WORD. IT REMINDS ME OF “RIGOR MORTIS.” I PREFER TO SAY THAT TEACHERS SHOULD TEACH ACADEMIC STUDIES WITH JOY AND ENTHUSIASM, AWAKENING STUDENTS TO THE LOVE OF LEARNING AND INSPIRING INTRINSIC MOTIVATION.

 

• Some testing is necessary but too much testing is harmful.

 
I AGREE THAT SOME TESTING IS NECESSARY. I BELIEVE BASED ON MANY YEARS OF STUDY OF STANDARDIZED TESTING THAT MOST TESTING SHOULD BE DESIGNED BY THE CLASSROOM TEACHERS, NOT BY OUTSIDE TESTING CORPORATIONS. I WOULD PREFER TO SEE MORE TIME DEVOTED TO ESSAYS, PROJECTS, AND ANY OTHER KIND OF DEMONSTRATION OF WHAT CHILDREN HAVE LEARNED OR WHAT THEY DREAM AND IMAGINE AND CREATE. STANDARDIZED TESTING SHOULD BE USED ONLY DIAGNOSTICALLY, NOT MORE THAN ONCE A YEAR, AND IT SHOULD NOT FIGURE INTO THE STUDENTS’ GRADE OR THE TEACHERS’ EVALUATION. I SAY THIS BECAUSE STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE NORMED ON A BELL CURVE; THE AFFLUENT STUDENTS CLUSTER AT THE TOP, AND THE LOW-INCOME STUDENTS CLUSTER AT THE BOTTOM. IN SHORT, THE DECK IS STACKED AGAINST THE KIDS IN THE BOTTOM HALF, BECAUSE THE TESTS BY THEIR NATURE WILL ALWAYS HAVE A BOTTOM HALF. WHY NOT HAVE TASKS THAT ALMOST EVERYONE CAN DO WELL IF THEY TRY? GIVE CHILDREN A CHANCE TO SHOW WHAT THEY CAN DO AND LET THEIR IMAGINATIONS SOAR, RATHER THAN RELYING ON THEIR CHOICE OF ONE OF FOUR PRE-DETERMINED ANSWERS.

 

I AGREE THAT TOO MUCH TESTING IS HARMFUL, AND IT IS ALSO HARMFUL TO ATTACH HIGH STAKES (LIKE PROMOTION, GRADUATION, OR TEACHER EVALUATION) TO A STANDARDIZED TEST BECAUSE IT MAKES THE TEST TOO IMPORTANT. STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE NOT SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS; THEY ARE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONS. THEY FAVOR THOSE WHO COME TO SCHOOL WITH ADVANTAGES (EDUCATED PARENTS, SECURE HOMES, BOOKS IN THE HOME, ETC.) WHEN THE TESTS ARE HIGH STAKES, THE RESULTS ARE PREDICTABLE: TEACHING TO THE TEST, NARROWING THE CURRICULUM, CHEATING. WHEN SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS WILL BE PUNISHED OR REWARDED FOR TEST SCORES, THE MEASURE ITSELF IS CORRUPTED (CAMPBELL’S LAW). IT NO LONGER MEASURES WHAT STUDENTS KNOW AND CAN DO, BUT HOW MUCH EFFORT WAS SPENT PREPARING FOR THE TEST. TEACHERS ENGAGE FOR WEEKS OR MONTHS IN TEST PREPARATION, SCHOOLS CUT BACK OR ELIMINATE THE ARTS, PHYSICAL EDUCATION, HISTORY, SCIENCE, AND WHATEVER IS NOT TESTED. TEACHERS, ADMINISTRATORS, SCHOOLS, EVEN DISTRICTS WILL CHEAT TO ASSURE THAT THEIR SCORES GO UP, NOT DOWN, TO AVOID FIRINGS AND CLOSURES AND INSTEAD TO WIN BONUSES.

 

ALL OF THIS CORRUPTS EDUCATION, AND IN THE END, THE SCORES STILL ARE A REFLECTION OF FAMILY INCOME AND OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN. AND CHILDREN HAVE A WORSE EDUCATION EVEN IF THEIR SCORES RISE BECAUSE OF THE ABSENCE OF THE ARTS AND OTHER IMPORTANT PARTS OF A SOUND EDUCATION.

 

• Tests should be thoughtful and cover genuine knowledge, not easily game-able, which too often leads to excessing teaching-to-the-test.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Expanding high-quality pre-K, especially for poor kids, is important.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Teachers should be celebrated, not demonized.

 
YES, ABSOLUTELY. TEACHERS HAVE ONE OF THE HARDEST, MOST CHALLENGING JOBS IN OUR SOCIETY AND THEY ARE UNDERPAID AND UNDER-RESPECTED. WHEN I WAS IN NORTH CAROLINA LAST WEEK, I WAS TOLD BY AN EDITORIAL WRITER THAT THE ENTRY PAY IS “GOOD,” AT $35,000, BUT THE TOP SALARY IS ONLY $50,000. TEACHERS SHOULD BE TREATED AS PROFESSIONALS AND EARN A PROFESSIONAL SALARY THAT ENABLES THEM TO LIVE WELL AND SEND THEIR CHILDREN TO COLLEGE.

 

• They should be paid more, both on a relative and absolute basis.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Some teachers are phenomenal, most are good, some are mediocre, and some are truly terrible.

 
THIS SPREAD IS PROBABLY THE SAME IN EVERY OTHER PROFESSION. THOSE WHO ARE “TRULY TERRIBLE” SHOULD BE REMOVED BEFORE THEY ACHIEVE TENURE; MOST, I SUSPECT, LEAVE EARLY IN THEIR CAREER BECAUSE THEY CAN’T CONTROL THEIR CLASSES. WE ACTUALLY HAVE MANY MORE SUCCESSFUL TEACHERS THAN MOST PEOPLE BELIEVE; AS STATES HAVE REPORTED ON THEIR NEW EVALUATION SYSTEMS, MORE THAN 95% OF TEACHERS HAVE BEEN RATED EITHER “HIGHLY EFFECTIVE” OR “EFFECTIVE.” VERY FEW FELL BELOW THOSE MARKERS. FRANKLY, TEACHING THESE DAYS IS SO DIFFICULT THAT IT TAKES A VERY STRONG PERSON TO HANDLE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CLASSROOM.

 

• All teachers should be evaluated regularly, comprehensively and fairly, with the primary goal of helping them improve their craft.

 
I AGREE, ALTHOUGH I THINK THAT TEACHERS WHO RECEIVE HIGH RATINGS FROM THEIR ADMINISTRATORS AND PEERS SHOULD NOT BE REGULARLY EVALUATED. THAT IS A WASTE OF TIME THAT SHOULD BE DEVOTED TO THOSE WHO NEED HELP IN IMPROVING. THE TOP TEACHERS SHOULD BE OFFERED EXTRA PAY TO MENTOR NEW TEACHERS.

 

• The best teachers should be rewarded while struggling ones should be given help so they can improve.

 
I DON’T BELIEVE IN PERFORMANCE BONUSES. THE RESEARCH SHOWS THEM TO BE INEFFECTIVE. I AGREE THAT THOSE WHO STRUGGLE SHOULD RECEIVE HELP SO THEY CAN IMPROVE.

 

• If a teacher doesn’t improve, there needs to be a timely and fair system to get them out of the profession.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• There should be a timely process to handle disciplinary charges against teachers so that there is no need for things like rubber rooms, which are a costly and dehumanizing embarrassment.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• In fighting for the interests of teachers, unions are doing exactly what they’re supposed to – and have done it well.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• The decline of unionization (which has occurred mostly in the private sector), has been a calamity for this country and is a major contributor to soaring income inequality, which is also a grave concern.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• What Gov. Scott Walker did in Wisconsin as well as the Friedrichs case were wrong-headed attempts to gut union power, and it was wonderful that the Supreme Court left existing laws in place via its 4-4 tie in the Friedrichs case last week.
AGREED. I WOULD SAY THE SAME ABOUT THE OVERTURNING OF THE VERGARA CASE IN CALIFORNIA, WHICH THREW OUT A LOWER COURT DECISION INTENDED TO ELIMINATE DUE PROCESS FOR TEACHERS.

 

• Charter schools, like regular public schools, should: a) take their fair share of the most challenging students; b) backfill at every grade level; and c) follow comparable suspension and expulsion policies.

 
I AGREE TO AN EXTENT. IN THE PRESENT SITUATION, WHERE CHARTERS COMPETE WITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR STUDENTS AND RESOURCES, I THINK THESE ARE FAIR REQUIREMENTS THAT ENSURE A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD. HOWEVER, IF WE WERE TO TAKE YOUR GOOD SUGGESTIONS, WE WOULD HAVE TWO PUBLICLY-FUNDED SCHOOL SYSTEMS, ONE MANAGED BY PUBLIC OFFICIALS, THE OTHER BY PRIVATE ENTREPRENEURS. I SEE NO REASON TO HAVE A DUAL SCHOOL SYSTEM–ONE HIGHLY REGULATED, AND THE OTHER UNREGULATED, OR AS YOU PROPOSE HERE, REGULATED TO A GREATER EXTENT THAN AT PRESENT. IF CHARTERS DO CONTINUE AS THEY NOW ARE, YOUR PROPOSAL WOULD MAKE THEM FAIRER AND LESS PREDATORY. IN THEIR CURRENT STATE, THEY ARE BANKRUPTING SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND SKIMMING OFF THE EASIEST TO EDUCATE STUDENTS, AND THAT’S NOT FAIR.

 

I WOULD LIKE TO SEE CHARTER SCHOOLS RETURN TO THE ORIGINAL IDEA PROPOSED IN 1988 BY ALBERT SHANKER AND A PROFESSOR IN MASSACHUSETTS NAMED RAY BUDDE. CHARTER SCHOOLS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE COLLABORATORS WITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS, NOT COMPETITORS. THEIR TEACHERS WOULD BELONG TO THE SAME UNION AS PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS. THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE FREEDOM TO INNOVATE AND EXPECTED TO SHARE THEIR INNOVATIONS WITH THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. AT THE END OF THEIR CHARTER–SAY, FIVE YEARS OR TEN YEARS–THEY WOULD CEASE TO EXIST AND RETURN TO THE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT. SHANKER THOUGHT THAT CHARTER SCHOOLS SHOULD EXIST FIND INNOVATIVE WAYS TO HELP THE KIDS WHO WERE NOT MAKING IT IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, THOSE WHO HAD DROPPED OUT, THOSE WHO WERE UNMOTIVATED, THOSE WHO WERE TURNED OFF BY TRADITIONAL SCHOOLS. I SUPPORT THAT IDEA. WE HAVE STRAYED VERY FAR FROM THE ORIGINAL IDEA AND ARE MOVING TOWARDS A DUAL SCHOOL SYSTEM, ONE FREE TO CHOOSE ITS STUDENTS, THE OTHER REQUIRED TO ACCEPT ALL WHO SHOW UP AT THEIR DOORS.

 

• For-profit online charters like K12 are providing an inferior education to far too many students and thus need to be much more carefully regulated and, in many cases, simply shut down.

 
FOR-PROFIT ONLINE CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE A SCAM AND A FRAUD. THEY SHOULD BE PROHIBITED. I APPLAUDED YOUR FRANK DISSECTION OF K12 INC, WHICH SURPRISED ME BECAUSE VIRTUAL SCHOOLS GRAB ON TO THE COAT-TAILS OF THE REFORM MOVEMENT. FOR ANOTHER GREAT EXPOSE OF THE K12 VIRTUAL CHARTER CHAIN, READ JESSICA CALIFATI’S OUTSTANDING SERIES IN THE SAN JOSE MERCURY-NEWS, WHICH WAS PUBLISHED JUST DAYS AGO:

 

http://www.mercurynews.com/education/ci_29780959/k12-inc-california-virtual-academies-operator-exploits-charter

 

STUDENTS WHO ENROLL IN THESE SCHOOLS HAVE LOWER SCORES, LOWER GRADUATION RATES, AND LEARN LITTLE. A STUDY BY STANFORD UNIVERSITY’S CREDO EARLIER THIS YEAR SAID THAT THEY LEARN ESSENTIALLY NOTHING. WHY SHOULD TAXPAYERS FOOT THE BILL?

 

IN ADDITION, I WOULD LIKE TO SEE FOR-PROFIT CHARTER SCHOOLS PROHIBITED. THE PUBLIC PAYS TAXES FOR SCHOOLING AND BELIEVES THAT THE MONEY WILL BE SPENT ON EDUCATION, NOT ON PAYING A PROFIT TO INVESTORS IN A CORPORATION. THE PURPOSE OF A FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION IS TO MAKE A PROFIT; THE PURPOSE OF A PUBLIC SCHOOL IS TO PREPARE YOUNG CHILDREN TO LIVE A FULL AND SATISFYING LIFE AS CITIZENS AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY. THERE SHOULD NEVER COME A TIME WHEN SCHOOL LEADERS CHOOSE THE NEED TO SHOW A PROFIT OVER THE NEEDS OF STUDENTS. I WOULD ALSO STOP SPENDING PUBLIC MONEY ON FOR-PROFIT “COLLEGES.” THEY HAVE BEEN CHASTISED IN CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS TIME AND AGAIN FOR THEIR PREDATORY PRACTICES, BUT THEY ALWAYS MANAGE TO SURVIVE, THANKS TO SKILLFUL, BIPARTISAN LOBBYING. I RECOMMEND A NEW BOOK BY A.J. ANGULO, TITLED “DIPLOMA MILL$: HOW FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES STIFFED STUDENTS, TAXPAYERS, AND THE AMERICAN DREAM” (JOHNS HOPKINS PRESS).

 

• Voter IDs laws are a despicable and thinly disguised attempt by Republicans to suppress the turnout of poor and minority voters, which in turn hurts schools serving their children.

 
WE AGREE.

 

So what do you think? Do you disagree with any of these statements? What have I missed? What do you believe that you think I would agree with? I think it would be productive and interesting to come up with a long of a list as possible.

 

Best regards,

 

 

Whitney
———————–

 

DEAR WHITNEY,

 
HERE ARE A FEW OF MY BELIEFS THAT YOU MAY OR MAY NOT SHARE.

 

*I BELIEVE IN SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. PUBLIC MONEY SHOULD NOT BE SPENT FOR RELIGIOUS SCHOOL TUITION. PEOPLE SHOULD NOT BE ASKED TO SUBSIDIZE THE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OF OTHERS. ONCE WE START ON THAT SLIPPERY SLOPE, TAXPAYERS WILL BE UNDERWRITING SCHOOLS THAT TEACH CREATIONISM, WHITE SUPREMACY, FEMALE SUBJUGATION, AND OTHER IDEAS THAT VIOLATE BOTH SCIENCE AND OUR DEMOCRATIC IDEALS.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT EVERY CHILD, REGARDLESS OF ZIP CODE OR FAMILY INCOME, RACE, GENDER, DISABILITY STATUS, LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY, OR SEXUAL ORIENTATION, SHOULD BE ABLE TO ENROLL IN AN EXCELLENT SCHOOL.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT AN EXCELLENT SCHOOL HAS SMALL CLASSES, EXPERIENCED TEACHERS, A FULL CURRICULUM, A WELL-RESOURCED PROGRAM IN THE ARTS, SCIENCE LABORATORIES, AND A GYMNASIUM, SITUATED IN A WELL-MAINTAINED AND ATTRACTIVE BUILDING. STUDENTS SHOULD HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO STUDY HISTORY, LITERATURE, THE SCIENCES, MATHEMATICS, CIVICS, GEOGRAPHY, TECHNOLOGY, AND HAVE AMPLE TIME FOR PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES, SPORTS, AND EXERCISE. THE SCHOOL SHOULD HAVE A WELL-STOCKED LIBRARY WITH A FULL-TIME LIBRARIAN. IT SHOULD HAVE A SCHOOL NURSE, A SOCIAL WORKER, AND A PSYCHOLOGIST. THE PRINCIPAL SHOULD BE AN EXPERIENCED TEACHER, WITH THE AUTHORITY TO HIRE TEACHERS AND TO EVALUATE THEIR PERFORMANCE. TEACHER EVALUATION SHOULD BE BASED ON PEER REVIEW AND CLASSROOM PERFORMANCE, NOT ON TEST SCORES.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS, BASED ON MY STUDIES AS A HISTORIAN OF EDUCATION, IS TO DEVELOP GOOD CITIZENS. THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB THAT CITIZENS HAVE IN OUR DEMOCRACY IS TO VOTE THOUGHTFULLY AND TO BE PREPARED TO SIT ON JURIES AND REACH WISE DECISIONS ABOUT THE FATE OF OTHERS. CITIZENS MUST BE WELL INFORMED AND KNOWLEDGEABLE. THEY SHOULD KNOW HOW TO COLLABORATE WITH OTHERS TO ACCOMPLISH GOALS. THEY SHOULD CARE ABOUT THE FAIRNESS AND FUTURE OF OUR DEMOCRACY. THEY SHOULD BE KNOWLEDGABLE ABOUT AMERICAN AND WORLD HISTORY. THEY SHOULD UNDERSTAND THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF GOVERNMENT, ECONOMICS, AND SCIENCE SO THEY CAN UNDERSTAND THE GREAT ISSUES OF THE DAY.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT PUBLIC EDUCATION IS ONE OF THE BASIC BUILDING BLOCKS OF OUR DEMOCRACY. AS CITIZENS, WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO SUPPORT A GOOD PUBLIC EDUCATION FOR ALL CHILDREN, EVEN IF WE HAVE NO CHILDREN OR IF OUR OWN CHILDREN ARE GROWN OR IF WE SEND OUR CHILDREN TO RELIGIOUS OR PRIVATE SCHOOLS.

 

*BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN THE IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC EDUCATION, I OPPOSE ALL EFFORTS TO PRIVATIZE PUBLIC SCHOOLS OR TO MONETIZE THEM.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT THE PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY FOR SHAPING EDUCATION POLICY SHOULD BE IN THE HANDS OF EDUCATORS, NOT POLITICIANS. EDUCATORS ARE THE EXPERTS, AND WE SHOULD LET THEM DO THEIR JOBS WITHOUT POLITICAL INTERFERENCE.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT TEACHERS SHOULD NOT ONLY BE RESPECTED, BUT SHOULD BE PAID MORE FOR THEIR EXPERIENCE AND EDUCATION. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT EDUCATION WILL GET BETTER IF TEACHERS HAVE LESS EXPERIENCE AND LESS EDUCATION.

 

*I BELIEVE IN SCHOOL CHOICE, BUT I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT PRIVATE CHOICES SHOULD BE PUBLICLY SUBSIDIZED. ANYONE WHO WANTS THEIR CHILD TO HAVE A RELIGIOUS EDUCATION SHOULD PAY FOR IT. THE SAME FOR THOSE WHO WANT THEIR CHILDREN TO ATTEND A PRIVATE SCHOOL OR TO BE HOME-SCHOOLED. PARENTS HAVE A RIGHT TO MAKE CHOICES, BUT THEY SHOULD NOT EXPECT THE PUBLIC TO PAY FOR THEIR CHOICES.

 

*I WOULD LIKE TO SEE TODAY’S REFORMERS FIGHT AGAINST BUDGET CUTS TO PUBLIC SCHOOLS, AGAINST SEGREGATION, AND AGAINST THE OVERUSE AND MISUSE OF STANDARDIZED TESTS. I WISH WE MIGHT JOIN TOGETHER TO LEAD THE FIGHT TO IMPROVE THE LIVING STANDARDS FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES NOW LIVING IN POVERTY. I WISH WE MIGHT ADVOCATE TOGETHER FOR HIGHER SALARIES FOR TEACHERS, SMALLER CLASSES FOR STUDENTS, EFFECTIVE SOCIAL AND MEDICAL SERVICES FOR CHILDREN WHO NEED THEM, AND EXCELLENT PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD.

 

*I WOULD LIKE TO SEE ALL OF US WHO CARE ABOUT CHILDREN, WHO RESPECT TEACHERS AND WANT A GREAT EDUCATION FOR EVERY CHILD, JOIN TOGETHER TO PERSUADE THE PUBLIC TO INVEST MORE IN EDUCATION AND TO CONSIDER EDUCATION THE MOST IMPORTANT ENDEAVOR OF OUR SOCIETY, THE ONE THAT WILL DETERMINE THE FUTURE OF OUR SOCIETY. LET US RECOGNIZE TOGETHER THAT POVERTY MATTERS, TEACHERS MATTER, SCHOOLS MATTER, AND THAT WE MUST STRIVE TOGETHER TO REACH THE GOALS UPON WHICH WE AGREE.

 

THANK YOU FOR INITIATING THIS DIALOGUE. I LOOK FORWARD TO CONTINUING IT.

 

DIANE RAVITCH

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Thompson, teacher and historian, writes here about one of the most controversial education issues of our time: mandated systems of test-based teacher evaluation. This was a central aspect of Race to the Top, and it was hated by large numbers of teachers.
Thompson writes:

“The obituaries for the idea that value-added teacher evaluations can improve teaching and learning are pouring in. The most important of those studies, probably, are those that are conducted by well-known proponents of data-driven accountability for individuals.

 

“Before summarizing the meager, possible benefits and the huge potential downsides of value-added evaluations, let’s recall that these incredibly expensive systems were promoted as a way to improve student outcomes by .50 standard deviations (sd) by removing the bottom-ranked teachers! In Washington D.C., for instance, a $65 million grant which kicked off the controversial IMPACT system was supposed to raise test scores by 10% per year! Of course, that raises the question of why pro-IMPACT scholars don’t mention its $140 million budget for just the first five years.

 

As reported by Education Week’s Holly Yettick, a study funded by the Gates Foundation and authored by Morgan Polikoff and Andrew Porter “found no association between value-added results and other widely accepted measures of teaching quality.” Polikoff and Porter applied the Gates Measures of Teaching Quality (MET) methodology to a sample of students in the Gates experiment, and found, “Nor did the study find associations between ‘multiple measure’ ratings, which combine value-added measures with observations and other factors.”

 

“Polikoff, a vocal advocate for corporate reform, acknowledged, “the study’s findings could represent something like the worst-case scenario for the correlation between value-added scores and other measures of instructional quality. … ‘In some places, [value-added measures] and observational scores will be correlated, and in some places they won’t.’”

 

“Before moving on to another study by pro-VAM scholars which calls such a system into question, we should note other studies reviewed by Yettick that help explain why the value-added evaluation experiment was so wrong-headed. Yettick cites two studies in the American Educational Research Journal. First, Noelle A. Paufler and Audrey Amrein-Beardsley which concludes, “elementary school students are not randomly distributed into classrooms. That finding is significant because random distribution of students is a technical assumption underlying some value-added models.” In the second AERJ article, Douglas Harris concludes, “Overall, however, the principals’ ratings and the value-added ratings were only weakly correlated.”

 

“Moreover, Yettick reports that “Brigham Young University researchers, led by assistant professor Scott Condie, drew on reading and math scores from more than 1.3 million students who were 4th and 5th graders in North Carolina schools between 1998 and 2004” and they “found that between 15 percent and 25 percent of teachers were misranked by typical value-added assessments.”

 

“Finally Marianne P. Bitler and her colleagues made a hilarious presentation to The Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness that “teachers’ one-year ‘effects’ on student height were nearly as large as their effects on reading and math. While they found that the reading and math results were more consistent from one year to the next than the height outcomes, they advised caution on using value-added measures to quantify teachers’ impact.”

 

“Bitler’s study should produce belly laughs as she makes the point, “Taken together, our results provide a cautionary tale for the interpretation and use of teacher VAM estimates in practice.” Watching other advocates for test-driven accountability twisting themselves into pretzels in order to avoid confronting the facts about Washington D.C.’s IMPACT should at least prompt grins.

 

“Getting back to the way that pro-VAM researchers are now documenting its flaws, Melinda Adnot, Thomas Dee, Veronica Katz, and James Wyckoff spin their NBER paper as if it doesn’t argue against D.C.’s IMPACT evaluation system. Despite the prepublication public relations effort to soften the blow, their “Teacher Turnover, Teacher Quality, and Student Achievement” admits that the benefits of the teacher turnover incentivized by IMPACT are less than “significant.”

 

“The key results are revealed on page 18 and afterwards. Adnot et.al conclude, “We find that the overall effect of teacher turnover in DCPS conservatively had no effect on achievement.” But they add that “under reasonable assumptions,” it might have increased achievement. (As will be addressed later, I doubt many teachers would accept the assumptions that have to be made in order to claim that IMPACT improved student achievement as reasonable.)

 

 

“The paper’s abstract and opening (most read) pages twist the findings before admitting “To be clear, this paper should not be viewed as an evaluation of IMPACT.” It then characterizes the study as making “an important contribution by examining the effects of teacher turnover under a unique policy regime.”

 

“In fact, the paper notes, “IMPACT targets the exit of low-performing teachers,” and “virtually all lowperforming teacher turnover [prompted by it] is concentrated in high-poverty schools.” That, of course, suggests that an exited teacher with a low value-added might actually be ineffective, or that the teacher was punished for a value-added that might be an inaccurate estimate caused by circumstances beyond his or her control.

 

“Their estimates show that exiting those low value-added teachers improves student achievement in high-poverty schools by .20 sd in math, and that the resulting exit of 46% of low-performing teachers “creates substantial opportunity to improve achievement in the classrooms of low-performing teachers.” The bottom line, however, is: “We estimate that the overall effect of turnover on student achievement in high-poverty schools is 0.084 and 0.052 in reading.” Both estimates may be “statistically distinguishable from zero” but they would only be “significant at the 10 percent level.”

 

“So, why were the total gains so negligible?

 

“The NBER study concludes that IMPACT contributed to the increase in the attrition rate of Highly Effective teachers to 14%. It admits that some high-performing teachers find IMPACT to be “demotivating or stressful” and that the loss of top teachers hurts student performance. It acknowledges, “This negative effect reflects the difficulty of replacing a high-performing teacher.”

 

“The study doesn’t address the biggest elephant in the room – the effect of value-added evaluations on instructional effectiveness on the vast majority of D.C teachers. If high-performing teachers leave because of the “stress and uncertainty of these working conditions,” wouldn’t other teachers be “dissatisfied with IMPACT and the human capital strategies in DCPS writ large?” If the attrition rate of the top teachers in higher-poverty schools increases to 40% more than their counterparts in lower-poverty schools, does that indicate that the harm done by the evaluations is also greater in high-challenge schools? And, the NBER paper finds that “teachers exiting at the end of our study window were noticeably more effective than those exiting after IMPACT’s first year.” Shouldn’t that prompt an investigation as to whether the stress of IMPACT is wearing teachers down?

 

“Adnot, Dee, Katz, and Wyckoff thus continue the tradition of reformers showcasing small gains linked to value-added evaluations and IMPACT-style systems, but brushing aside the harm. On the other hand, they admit that IMPACT had advantages that similar regimes don’t have in many other districts. D.C. had the money to recruit outsiders, and 55% of replacement teachers came from outside of the district. Few other districts have the ability to dispose of teachers as if we are tissue paper.

 

“Even with all of those advantages provided by corporate reformers in D.C. and other districts with the Gates-funded “teacher quality” roll of the dice, an incredible amount of stress has been dumped on educators as they and students became lab rats in an expensive and risky experiment. The reformers’ most unreasonable assumption was that these evaluations would not promote teach-to-the-test instructional malpractice. They further assume that the imposition of a accountability system that is biased against high-challenged schools will not drive too much teaching talent out of the inner city. They never seem to ask whether they would tackle the additional challenges of teaching in a low-performing school when there is a 15 to 25% chance PER YEAR of being misevaluated.

 

“Now that these hurried, top-down mandates are being retrospectively studied, even pro-VAM scholars have found minimal or no benefits, offset by some obvious downsides. I wonder if they will try to tackle the real research question, try to evaluate IMPACT and similar regimes, and thus address the biggest danger they pose. In an effort to exit the bottom 5% or so of teachers, did the test and punish crowd undermine the effectiveness of the vast majority of educators?”

Merryl Tisch is stepping down as Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents, ending a 20-year tenure on the board. The New York Times interviewed her about her time in office.

 

Tisch led the state’s effort to win Race to the Top funding. The state received $700 million, promising to increase charters, adopt the Common Core, create a longitudinal database for students, and evaluate teachers by test scores.

 

She promoted high-stakes testing, test-based teacher evaluation, charter schools, and everything expected by Race to the Top. And she didn’t just comply, she truly believes that testing, Common Core, and accountability will increase equity and reduce achievement gaps. She did it for the kids.

 

“She tried to do too much, too fast.

 
“That is Merryl H. Tisch’s appraisal of her tenure as chancellor of the Board of Regents, the top education post in New York State, as she prepares to step down at the end of the month.

 
“Her critics say the same thing.

 
“A champion of the Common Core learning standards, Dr. Tisch, 60, pushed for the creation of new, harder tests based on those standards and for teacher evaluations tied to students’ performance on the exams.

 

“That set off a backlash in which a fifth of the eligible students sat out the state’s third- through eighth-grade reading and math tests last spring. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, once her ally on using test scores in teacher evaluations, did an about-face….

 

““If anything, I fault myself for being ambitious for every child,” she said.”

 

 

Rick Hess writes about a new study of teacher evaluation systems in 19 states by Matthew Kraft and Allison Gilmour. It shows that the new systems have made little difference. Instead of 99% of trachers rated effective, 97% are rated effective.

 

This was Arne Duncan’s Big Idea. It was an essential element of Race to the Top. The assumption behind it was that if kids got low test scores, their teachers must be ineffective.

 

It failed, despite the hundreds of millions–perhaps billions– devoted to creating these new systems to grade teachers. Think of how that money might have been used to help children and schools directly!

 

Hess writes:

 

“Emboldened by a remarkable confidence in noble intentions and technocratic expertise, advocates have tended to act as if these policies would be self-fulfilling. They can protest this characterization all they want, but one reason we’ve heard so much about pre-K in the past few years is that, as far as many reformers were concerned, the big and interesting fights on teacher evaluation had already been won. They had moved on.

 

“There’s a telling irony here. Back in the 1990s, there was a sense that reforms failed when advocates got bogged down in efforts to change “professional practice” while ignoring the role of policy. Reformers learned the lesson, but they may have learned it too well. While past reformers tried to change educational culture without changing policy, today’s frequently seem intent on changing policy without changing culture. The resulting policies are overmatched by the incentives embedded in professional and political culture, and the fact that most school leaders and district officials are neither inclined nor equipped to translate these policy dictates into practice.

 

“And it’s not like policymakers have helped with any of this by reducing the paper burden associated with harsh evaluations or giving principals tools for dealing with now-embittered teachers. If anything, these evaluation systems have ramped up the paperwork and procedural burdens on school leaders—ultimately encouraging them to go through the motions and undercut the whole point of these systems.”

 

 

 

 

John Thompson, historians and teachers, assesses a discussion about the role of scholars in the current era of tumult in education.

He writes:

Education Week published essays by four scholars, Jeffrey Henig, Jay Greene, Jeannie Oakes, and Rick Hess, on the role of academic researchers in school improvement. While I respect all four contributors, and with the key points of the four commentaries, I found a part of Henig’s message http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/01/13/the-responsibility-of-edu-scholars-in-the-public.html to be unsettling, so I will get my concerns out of the way before embracing the thrust of their arguments.

Being an academic turned inner city teacher, I know the joy that can come from bringing advanced scholarship into public education. I’m not surprised by Henig’s explanation why academics would be leery of edu-politics, however, especially during this era of bitter reform wars. He writes, “Younger scholars worried that those with opposing views would wreak revenge on them.” Moreover, Henig reports:
Seasoned and secure scholars worried about being drawn into making more simplistic and extreme statements than they felt comfortable with, believing that necessary to be heard above the noisy background of claim and counterclaim. As one researcher put it to me, “Once somebody else brings a knife to the fight, you have to bring a knife to the fight, too.”

Henig correctly complains that public discourse about education has become partisan and ideological. But, I wonder what exactly does he mean when charging that the debate has become “simplistic” and “simple-minded.” And, I was downright offended by his call for “at least some reasonable voices to be heard—voices that distill and accurately reflect what research has to say.” (emphasis mine) Speaking only for our side of the reform wars, teachers and unions are not just (belatedly) bringing a metaphorical knife to the fight that was imposed on us. Our spokespersons include some of the nation’s greatest education experts and social scientists.

Although I object to the ideology of the contemporary reform movement, scholars who embrace it are very skilled in their fields (such as economic theory and data modeling) and reasonable. The ones who I have communicated with merely don’t know what they don’t know about actual schools and systems. Had they seriously contemplated the social science of the Johns Hopkins Everyone Graduates Center and the Consortium for Chicago School Research, the historical wisdom of Diane Ravitch and Larry Cuban, and the practical implementation insights of Jack Jennings and John Merrow, I can’t believe that many would have gone down the test, sort, reward, and punish path to school improvement.

In the 25 years since leaving academics for the inner city, I have repeatedly seen situations in schools and policy-making that are downright surrealistic, as well as tragic. To be blunt, scholars who do not visit with teachers and students may not have the background to determine whether an argument is simplistic or simple-minded, or whether it is an accurate identification of policies, imposed by non-educators, that are “simplistic and extreme.”
In my experience conversing with pro-reform academics dismayed by the pushback against their policies by practitioners and patrons, the issue of Common Core usually comes up. Even after we teachers had seen students denied high school diplomas because they could not pass college readiness exit exams, I would hear the claims by some who still believed that Common Core only applied to math and English. Later, policy people protested that very few 3rd graders have been denied promotion due to Common Core tests. In doing so, they ignore the obvious reality that it was the Opt Out movement and the grassroots anti-“reform” counter-attack that prevented the full implementation of Common Core high stakes tests that would have been disastrous.

So, I’d add a concrete point to Henig’s commentary. An academic who wants to help improve schools should at least see how well he fares on a Common Core GED high school equivalency math test before assuming that our positions are simplistic.

Next, Jay Greene http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/01/13/truth-telling-is-academias-privilege-and-obligation.html warns against engaging in “delicate ‘messaging’ [that] will produce a desired outcome or please a powerful patron.”

He bluntly but accurately writes:

Researchers involved in the Gates Foundation’s “Measures of Effective Teaching” study from 2009 claimed the study found that teachers are best evaluated using a formula that combines multiple measures when the research actually found no such thing.
Greene links to specific misstatements issued by the Gates Foundation, but I would make a more general point. The MET methodology would have been beneficial if the Gates Foundation had acknowledged what it was actually conducting – theoretical research. It was hopelessly inappropriate for policy research.

I still find it hard to believe that academics would bring no more than regression models to a real-world fight against the legacies of poverty and discrimination. Why would they assume that statistical models could capture the complexities of urban education?

Then, Jeannie Oakes http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/01/13/public-engagement-is-essential-to-scholarship.html and Rick Hess http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/01/13/the-responsibility-of-edu-scholars-in-the-public.html offer solid advice to scholars. Oakes cites John Dewey in urging academics to embrace “the ‘hurly burly’ of social policymaking.” She explains that, “Education policymaking must negotiate strongly held public perceptions and contested political terrain—factors usually far more influential than research findings.” Oakes then encourages public scholars to “nurture trusting and respectful relationships with policymakers and public actors. These are not one-way relationships, but reflexive.”
Rick Hess adds that there are multiple “right way(s) to think about education.” Hess affirms that, “Parents, students, community leaders, journalists, and more all have their own legitimate, valuable perspectives.” He notes, “This robust pluralism is the very foundation of the American project.”
Hess is correct that “scholars have an important role to play in that democratic cacophony, though far too few play it enthusiastically or well.” Moreover, “public debates and decisions benefit when all of our talents are brought to the table.” Academics must “connect with and learn from their fellow citizens.”

I would add that academics need to learn from each other when they engage in policy research. For the life of me, I can’t understand why so much faith was placed in regression models, and how scholars seemed to believe they could advance policy studies without thrashing out old-fashioned falsifiable hypotheses. Had quantitative and qualitative researchers joined the same table to draft hypotheses, and ask what results would be necessary to support their assumptions and put their findings into a sound narrative, we all would have benefitted. Such conversations would have identified the nuances of education issues and prompted academics to talk with other stakeholders in the ways that are proposed by the four scholars.

Remember how the Every Student Succeeds Act was transferring power from the Feds to the states? Well, not everything. The law still requires annual testing as before. It still requires a participation rate of 95%. The U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to education officials across the nation to advise them about these basic facts.

 

But what happens when large numbers of students opt out to protest over testing, loss of the arts, and lousy tests?

 

As Alyson Klein explains in Edweek,

 

 

When it comes to opt-outs, ESSA has a complex solution. It maintains a requirement in the previous version of ESEA, the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act, that all schools test at least 95 percent of their students, both for the whole school, and for traditionally overlooked groups of students (English Language Learners, racial minorities, students in special education, kids in poverty). Under NCLB, though, schools that didn’t meet the 95 percent participation requirement were considered automatic failures—and that was true under the Obama administration’s waivers from the law, too. (That part of the NCLB law was never waived.)

 

Now, under ESSA, states must figure low testing participation into school ratings, but just how to do that is totally up to them. And states can continue to have laws affirming parents’ right to opt their students out of tests (as Oregon does).

 

This is the year of opt-outs, and no less than a dozen states—Rhode Island, Oregon, Wisconsin, Washington, Delaware, North Carolina, Idaho, New York, Colorado, California, Connecticut, and Maine, received letters from the U.S. Department flagging low-participation rates on the 2014-15 tests—statewide or at the district or subgroup level—and asking what they planned to do about it. The department is reviewing the information it got from states. So far, the administration has yet to take serious action (like withholding money) against a state with a high opt-out rate.

 

So what’s this letter about? It sounds like the department is reminding states that they must come up with some kind of a plan to address opt-outs in their accountability systems, even in this new ESSA universe. And if they don’t have some sort of a plan in place, they’ll risk federal sanctions.

 

And, in a preview of what guidance could look like now that ESSA is in place, the department gives a list of suggested actions states could take in response to low participation rates. These actions are all pretty meaningful, like withholding state and district aid, counting schools with low participation rates as non-proficient for accountability, or requiring districts and schools to come up with a plan to fix their participation rates.

 

The letter makes it clear that states can come up with their own solutions, though. So it’s possible a state could decide to do something a lot less serious than the options listed in the letter. But importantly, states’ opt-out actions would likely have to be consistent with their waiver plans, since waivers are still in effect through the end of the school year. 

 

But the bottom line is that no state can prevent parents from opting their children out of state tests. They may threaten sanctions, but the larger the number of opt outs, the hollower the threats. This is called democracy. When the government announces a policy–in this case, a policy that was agreed upon behind closed doors, without any democratic discussion or debate–the citizens can register their views by saying NO.

 

No other nation in the world–at least no high-performing nation–tests every child every year. Annual testing was imposed on the nation by Congress in 2001 and signed into law as NCLB in 2002. We were told that annual testing meant that “no child would be left behind.” That didn’t happen. What we got instead was narrowing the curriculum, billions for the testing industry, cheating, and teaching to bad standardized tests.

 

The people who love high-stakes testing make sure that their own children attend schools like the University of Chicago Lab School (Arne Duncan, Rahm Emanuel) or Sidwell Friends (Barack Obama), where there is no high-stakes testing. The onerous testing of NCLB and the Race to the Top is not for their children, just yours.

 

Despite the failure of annual testing to fulfill the promise, Congress imposed it again. The more parents opt out, the sooner Congress will get the message that this policy is wrong.

 

Protect your children. Protect education. Cut off the money flow to Pearson and friends.

 

Opt out in 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

This is an essay that was written by a South Carolina school superintendent named John Taylor in 2002. It was originally called “Absolutely the Best Dentists.” It was supposed to be a satire, but reality overtook the jokes, and it was retitled “No Dentist Left Behind.” It was reprinted again and again. It was supposed to be funny.

Imagine a government system to rate dentists by the number of cavities their patients have. When the dentist in the story says that he chooses to serve patients in a poor neighborhood, and he can’t control how often they brush their teeth or what they eat, he is too to stop making excuses.

A dozen years ago this story was a satire. It was laughable and absurd on its face. Now it is federal policy, an integral part of Race to the Top. No one is laughing.

FairTest has been the staunchest, most persistent critic of standardized testing for decades. Monty Neill explains here why FairTest supports ESSA, with full recognition of its faults.

 

He writes:

 

“From an assessment reform perspective, FairTest is convinced that the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) now before the House and Senate, though far from perfect, improves on current testing policy. The bill significantly reduces federal accountability mandates and opens the door for states to overhaul their own assessment systems.

 

“Failure to pass this bill in 2015 means NCLB and waivers will continue to wreak havoc for at least another several years.

 

“The primary improvement would be in “accountability.” The unrealistic “Adequate Yearly Progress” annual test score gain requirement would be gone, as would be all the federally mandated punitive sanctions imposed on schools and teachers. States will be free to end much of the damage to educational quality and equity they built into their systems to comply with NCLB and waivers. Waivers to NCLB would end as of Aug. 1, 2016. (Other provisions of the bill would take effect over the coming summer and fall.)

 

“Another modest win would be federal recognition of the right for parents to opt their children out of tests in states that allow it. While a 95 percent test-participation provision remains, states will decide what happens to schools that do not meet the threshold. (The feds had already backed down from enforcing this dictate.)….

 

“A dangerous requirement to rank schools continues. Worse, rankings must be based predominantly on student scores. High school rankings must include graduation rates, and all schools must incorporate English learners’ progress towards English proficiency. This data must be broken out by “subgroup” status. However, states must incorporate at least one additional indicator of school quality (such as school climate or student engagement) and can include multiple such indicators….

 

“Meanwhile, up to seven states will be able to fundamentally overhaul their assessments right away, with additional states allowed to join this pilot program after three years. States could design systems that rely primarily on local, teacher-developed performance assessments (as does the New York Performance Standards Consortium). New Hampshire already has a waiver from NCLB to do that, starting with allowing pilot districts to administer the state test in only three grades. For all grades, the pilots employ a mix of state and local teacher designed performance tasks, an approach with great potential.

 

“The new law also bars the U.S. Secretary of Education from intervening in most aspects of state standards, assessment, accountability and improvement. Given Secretary Arne Duncan’s history (and the track record in New York state of his soon-to-be acting successor, John King), that seems a good thing.”

 

The law is not ideal. But it is far better than NCLB or the failed Race to Nowhere. And we can keep fighting for a better law and resisting at the local level by opting out.

Mercedes Schneider is one of the few people who have read all (or almost all) of the 1,000 page plus behemoth that is the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. Her latest post provides valuable new information. This legislation was passed out of the Senate-House conference committee and is likely to move swiftly for full approval by both houses in the next few days or weeks. ESSA would replace No Child Left Behind, which should have been reauthorized eight years ago. It also kills off Race to the Top by stripping the Secretary of any power to impose his ideas about how to reform schools on districts and states.

 

The big change is the reduction in the role of the federal Department of Education (ED). This is the first big downsizing of the federal role since the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was passed. There are strict limitations on the power of the Secretary to meddle in state or local education matters. The shrinking of the federal role is Arne Duncan’s legacy.

 

Mercedes points out that the law is still mired in the testing-and-accountability mindset but oversight and responsibility shifts is from the federal ED to local and state governments. She says the bill is “test-centric.”

 

But there are some very good things in the bill. It puts an end to the hated No Child Left Behind and the failed Race to the Top. The bill eliminates AYP and Duncan’s waivers. States can drop out of Common Core without any penalty. No more teacher evaluation by test scores unless the states want to do it. Bill Gates will no longer have the Department of Education mandating his latest ideas. No more federal mandates about how to reform schools.

 

I know that many readers would like the law to go farther. I would like to see an end to annual testing, a practice unknown in the high-performing nations of the world. I would like to see stipulations about charter accountability and transparency. But that’s not there.

 

Nonetheless, I support the bill because it gets rid of a terrible, failed law and a terrible, failed program. The Bush-Obama era is over. Now the fight for a humane education system shifts to the states. In some states, that may seem like a herculean task. But the fact is that parents and educators have a greater chance of being heard by their state legislators than by the White House and Congress.

 

So what next? Organize, mobilize, agitate, wake the town and tell the people. Stop the privatization of public schools. Stop the testing madness. Join with organizations in your state and community that are fighting to transform the schools to places where learning, character, ethics, imagination, creativity, citizenship, and kindness are valued. Join the Network for Public Education. Find out how to make alliances with people who share  your values. We have a long way to go. The time to start is now.

 

 

A time to laugh and celebrate that the dumb policies of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are widely recognized as failures and will soon go into the dustbin of history, where they belong. To make a better world for children and educators, the fight goes on, to replace poor leaders and failed policies, to save public education from privatization, and to make real the elusive promise of equality of educational opportunity: for all, not some.

 

 

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