Archives for category: Race to the Top

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.

 

 

nclb_cartoon

John Thompson, historian and teachers, wrote a guest column on Anthony Cody’s blog in which he calls out the “reformers” for their arrogance and reckless disregard for collateral damage: children, teachers, and public schools. Thompson said that from the outset of Obama’s first term, he hoped that Arne Duncan and his team of advisers from the Gates Foundation “would not create a mess.” He recognized that every element of their Race to the Top program ignored a large body of social science and the professional judgments of teachers. But he kept hoping. He hoped that Duncan would be willing to obtain objective evaluations of his experiments. “At the time, I couldn’t have known that Arne Duncan and his team of former Gates Foundation administrators would be so allergic to facing up to facts.”

 

He lays much of the blame for the administration’s failed education policies not only on Duncan but at Joanne Weiss (former CEO of the charter-promoting NewSchools Venture Fund), who directed the Race to the Top, then became Duncan’s chief of staff. Duncan saw his job not as someone seeking unbiased evaluations of his initiatives, but as a cheerleader for his programs, regardless of their results. Intent on claiming victory after victory, he never listened. Since Duncan was unwilling to obtain objective evaluations or listen to professional educators, it was left to others to appraise his prized RTTT and SIG (School Improvement Grants).

 

Thompson writes:

 

Now, we are getting the next best thing as conservative reformers, as well as educators, are calling them to task. One of the most recent examples of the pushback is conservative reformer Andy Smarick’s challenge to Joanne Weiss’s defense of the RttT. Weiss personified the administration’s overreach. As director of the RttT, she set out to impose corporate school reform on states and localities across the nation.

 

Weiss ignored the need for checks and balances of authority, and then she seemed to blame states and localities for the failures of her federal micromanaging of school policies. Smarick concludes, “even when federal education officials are pure of heart, their plans reliably underperform, as in the case of SIG, the backlash to NCLB and Common Core, the disappointing results of educator evaluation reform, and the disintegration of the federally funded testing consortia.” (I don’t agree that federal policies always under-perform, but it is a safe bet that grandiose federal social engineering always will.)

 

Some of the best critiques of Weiss’s spin can be found in the comments prompted by her article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Almost all of the fifty-plus comments were negative, and many were especially eloquent in criticizing Weiss and her innovations. My favorite commenters were Leonie Haimson and Christopher Chase. Chase fact-checked Weiss and in doing so he cited the pro-Obama spin by the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). DFER displayed an openness that contrasted sharply with Weiss’s current claims. It bragged, “President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan added the role of ‘venture philanthropist’ to the federal education policy wheelhouse.” The RttT and SIG, as well as Duncan’s NCLB Waivers were said to be transformative because previously:

 

[DFER wrote:] There was a confederacy of education reform-focused groups and most were narrowly focused (often with frustrating discipline) in their own directions. President Obama, primarily through the launch of the Race to the Top competition, got this crazy constellation of reform groups united and pointed in the same direction for the first time.
DFER not only gloated about the way that value-added added teacher evaluations were imposed through the process, but it also cheered the rise of the charter management organizations that facilitated the mass closures of schools. According to DFER, it “wasn’t accidental” that “charter schools flourished more under three years of Obama than under eight years of George W. Bush.”

 

Thompson wondered how smart people could make so many miscalculations and errors:

 

As conservatives and liberals finally come together to hold the Duncan/Obama/Gates reign of error accountable, we will often be able to grin at the language with which the administration’s social engineering is described. Rick Hess, as usual, is especially quotable; he describes their overreach as a “product of executive branch whimsy.” A commenter referred to Joanne Weiss as “a dilettante.” But, the policy wonk in me seeks a narrower explanation. How did the smart people – who imposed the full corporate reform agenda – do so while mandating policies that were so different than the principles they espoused?

 

Weiss’s micromanaging, for instance, imposed the full laundry list of the corporate reformers’ simplistic “silver bullets.” Her answer for the complex and interconnected problems in our low-income schools was an impossibly long and contradictory list of quick fixes: test-driven teacher evaluations, the undermining of teachers’ due process, Common Core, mass closures of urban schools, the mass dismissal of teachers, and subsidies for charter management systems.

 

In the context of mass closures, Weiss should have known, the abrogation of seniority rights would encourage districts to dump the salaries and benefits of veteran teachers, replacing them with often-ineffective novices. Her value-added mandates and need to meet extreme and immediate test score targets would incentivize bubble-in malpractice. One would think she would understand that her RttT would treat teachers as disposable, and thus kill the chances to build trusting and collaborative relationships. But, did Weiss not also realize that she was inviting a mass pushout of struggling students? It seems inconceivable that she wouldn’t recognize the opportunity costs of her RttT, undermining the capacity to build the student supports that readiness-to-learn requires in high-challenge schools.

 

Weiss later claimed that her RTTT wanted to get education out of “discrete silos.” But, she did so because the administration “wanted to mold entire systems.” It supposedly sought to help states implement “interconnected policies and work streams” and make them “move forward in tandem.”

 

And, that suggests an answer. Duncan staffed the USDOE with smart people who knew little or nothing about the inner city or high-challenge schools. What they knew was theories about incentives and disincentives. They were experts at the big “C,” control. They understood paperwork. They understood profits and privatization. Duncan, Weiss, et. al may have been clueless about real world schools, but they understood grant-making, rule-making, drafting criteria, subcriteria, memorandums of understanding, and regulations. They did what they knew how to do – creating work streams of interconnected policies that were disconnected from actual reality.

 

Thompson’s charitable explanation of how smart people do dumb things is that they were “disconnected from actual reality.” Meaning, they knew so little about schools and teaching that they created programs that were doomed to fail.

 

And now, as their failure becomes obvious to the world, they shift the blame to others, or in the case of Duncan, advise the nation to keep doing the same things over and over for at least another decade, when we will finally see the “results” he promised and never achieved. The question is whether the parents of millions of children want them to be subjected to Duncan’s failed policies for the next ten years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Burris carefully reviewed the NAEP scores. Listen to her interview on public radio. Unlike many commentators, she has the advantage of being an experienced educator and is also executive director of the Network for Public Education.

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