Archives for category: Research

A new study by University of Kentucky Dean Julian Vasquez. Heilig and Professor David G. Martinez demonstrates the inequity built into school funding., to the disadvantages of the poorest communities.

A newly published analysis of how dollars are distributed to schools in the U.S. posits that funding allocation models continue to disadvantage those in low-income communities, despite long-standing evidence that equitable funding is critical to students’ capacity to learn and achieve.

The article, authored by University of Kentucky College of Education Dean Julian Vasquez Heilig, Ph.D., and Davíd G. Martínez, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, appears in the latest issue of the Minnesota Journal of Law & Inequality.

Due to the reliance on local property values to fund schools, property poor districts are prevented from increasing or equalizing school revenue to the level of wealthier districts. This poverty is unequally distributed across racial and ethnic backgrounds. Recent peer-reviewed research has shown that in gentrifying urban communities, as the proportional intensity of white students increases in schools, so do the resulting resources and demands for schools, the authors write.

“Education is a human right and a civil right, but our school finance policies are failing to treat it as such,” Martínez said. “Access to quality education is necessary for communities to thrive. When there are major educational disparities that exist between communities, it impacts everyone. This is demonstrably true if those educational disparities are predicated on community wealth, or race and ethnicity. Policy makers must do more to understand the history of school finance disparity in their community, and take steps to ameliorate its impact.”

Martínez and Vasquez Heilig say in their analysis that, despite countless attempts to reform school finance policy, the U.S. has historically been unable to improve school funding inequity and injustice. Without creating a more equitable system, resolving challenges for marginalized students will continue to be difficult.

“We looked at numerous studies showing increases in funding resulted in greater academic success for marginalized students. For instance, when more resources were put into majority LatinX urban schools, reading and math achievements increased,” Vasquez Heilig said. “Quite simply, money does matter and investing in education early and often matters in the everyday life of a student.”

The authors suggest federal policymakers adopt a framework known as Opportunity to Learn that would put in place a set of minimum standards for equitable learning in U.S. schools. These standards would include well-trained and certified teachers and administrators, timely curriculum and texts, up-to-date facilities and wrap-around services to support neuro-divergent learners and the health, nutrition, housing and family wellness of students. As a civil right, the authors argue for complete and differentiated levels of service for every student and funding that allows for the provision of those services.

After these standards for learning are set, it would enable state policymakers to raise revenue to proper levels of fiscal support for meeting the standards. The authors say this model deviates from past school reform and finance models that have focused on test scores and the need for increased student achievement. They, instead, support a model where success is determined by how policymakers are supporting high-quality educational access and availability in every community, promoting alternatives to the historical resource disparity that has oppressed BIPOC students and families.

“Ultimately, as a civil right, we need to support students through the P-20 pipeline, which includes high school completion and earnings later in life, with the ultimate goal of reducing adult poverty,” Vasquez Heilig said.

If you are like me, your head is spinning about the conflicting signals about New York City’s public schools. The state legislature voted to mandate smaller class sizes, which will cost money, but the City Council voted to cut the schools’ budget.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, encourages everyone to fight back. She has spent more than 20 years arguing for reduced class sizes as the most effective reform for schools.

Here is her message:

Dear folks – 

Sadly, late Monday night the NYC Council agreedto a city budget that will make at least $215M in cuts directly to schools, by a 44-6 vote. These egregious cuts, the largest since the Great Recession of 2007-2008, were made despite billions more in the city’s reserve fund, an expected city budget surplus of more than $1B next year, and nearly $5B in unspent federal stimulus funds meant for our schools. These cuts will likely cause class sizes to increase and the loss of critical services for kids, who are still recovering from the disruptions caused by more than two years of the pandemic.

There are three things you can do now to help us fight back:  

1.Sign our petition to Gov. Hochul, urging her to sign the new state class size bill, S09460A10498,as soon as possible, passed by the New York State Legislature on June 3 by a vote of 147 to 2 in the Assembly and 59 to 4 in the State Senate. Once she signs the bill, it will give us a legal avenue to try to reverse or limit the damage of these inexcusable cuts. The petition is co-sponsored by NYC Kids PAC, AQE and the Education Council Consortium.

2. You can also let DOE know directly how you feel about these cuts at the final C4E hearings tonight, Wed. June 15. You can sign up here, starting at 5 PM; the hearings begin at 6 PM. The public comments are required to be summarized, posted and sent to the NY State Education Department to help them decide whether to approve the city’s C4E plan. It goes without saying that “Excellence” will be harder to achieve than ever in our schools, given these devastating cuts. Some additional talking points are here.

3. Please also attend our Annual Skinny Award celebration, on Monday June 27, in which we will honor the state leaders who made the new class size bill possible.   You can find out more about our honorees and how to purchase your tickets here. This is the first fundraiser Class Size Matters has held in three years — and we can really use your support. The education leaders who will be there to receive their awards also deserve your thanks.

But don’t forget to sign our petition to Gov. Hochul today! I will be up in Albany tomorrow and will deliver it to her office if there are enough signatures by then.

Thanks, Leonie 

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011
phone: 917-435-9329
leonie@classsizematters.org
www.classsizematters.org
Follow on twitter @leoniehaimson
Subscribe to the Class Size Matters newsletter for regular updates at http://tinyurl.com/kj5y5co
Subscribe to the NYC Education list serv by emailing NYCeducationnews+subscribe@groups.io

Host of “Talk out of School” WBAI radio show and podcast at https://talk-out-of-school.simplecast.com/

An economics and business writer at the New York Times named Peter Coy wrote an article titled “This Company Knows How to Increase Test Scores.” The article celebrates a study of a for-profit company called Bridge International Academies (renamed NewGlobe) that operates a large number of schools in Africa. Coy says the study by various American economists finds that the NewGlobe schools produce remarkable test score gains. What he doesn’t say is even more important. Civil society groups from across Africa and elsewhere urged the World Bank to stop investing in for-profit schools. The World Bank announced three months ago that it would no longer invest in the company praised in this article.

Coy begins:

Some of the world’s most successful educational techniques are being applied today in Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda and India, in schools serving poor children that are run or advised by NewGlobe Schools, a company founded by Americans with headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. These techniques deserve to be applied more widely, including in wealthy nations such as the United States.

A new study led by a Nobel laureate economist, Michael Kremer of the University of Chicago, found that in Kenya, enrolling in schools run by NewGlobe for two years increased test scores by an amount equal to being in school for an additional 0.89 year for primary school pupils, and to being in school an extra 1.48 years for pre-primary pupils. The poorest children improved the most.

The secret of NewGlobe’s success? Standardization. Every lesson is completely scripted and standardized. The teachers are told what to say and they say it. Most of the teachers are not high school graduates; they are not certified. They are paid less than union teachers. Yet the students get higher test scores! A reformer’s dream!

Coy compares these privately-run schools to the large KIPP chain (which, as I understand it, having visited KIPP schools, is not standardized, and whose results are not always as good as regular public schools) and to New York City’s Success Academy, a chain that has very high test scores but also very high student attrition and very high teacher turnover.

Coy writes:

“The test score effects in this study are among the largest observed in the international education literature, particularly for a program that was already operating at scale, exceeding the 99th percentile of treatment effects of large-scale education interventions,” Kremer and his colleagues found.

NewGlobe clearly has built a better mousetrap, but it has taken a while for the world to beat a path to its door. It has encountered multiple obstacles, including from the U.S. Congress, although it is gradually winning followers.

One reason for the slow uptake in the early going was resistance from teacher unions, including the Kenyan National Union of Teachers. During the period studied, NewGlobe paid teachers only one-third to one-fifth of what Kenyan public school teachers were earning. Many of its initial recruits didn’t have teaching certificates. (NewGlobe says it adapted to the government requirements as they changed over time.)

Here is the study. The title: “Can Education Be Standardized?” The authors believe it can and should be.

Here is the abstract:

We examine the impact of enrolling in schools that employ a highly-standardized approach to education, using random variation from a large nationwide scholarship program. Bridge International Academies not only delivers highly detailed lesson guides to teachers using tablet computers, it also standardizes systems for daily teacher monitoring and feedback, school construction, and financial management. At the time of the study, Bridge operated over 400 private schools serving more than 100,000 pupils. It hired teachers with less formal education and ex- perience than public school teachers, paid them less, and had more working hours per week. Enrolling at Bridge for two years increased test scores by 0.89 additional equivalent years of schooling (EYS) for primary school pupils and by 1.48 EYS for pre-primary pupils. These effects are in the 99th percentile of effects found for at-scale programs studied in a recent survey. Enrolling at Bridge reduced both dispersion in test scores and grade repetition. Test score results do not seem to be driven by rote memorization or by income effects of the scholarship.

Here are a few quotes from the Kremer et al study:

Three-quarters of teachers in public and private schools had acquired more than a secondary school education compared to just under one-quarter of teachers in Bridge schools. Relative to public school teachers, Bridge teachers were younger, less experienced, and more likely to be novice (first-year) teachers. On average, their total compensation amounted to between one fifth and one third of the average public school teachers total compensation and approximately the same as teachers in other private schools serving this population. They worked longer hours, including Saturdays...

Subsequent to the period analyzed in our study, Bridge’s parent company NewGlobe reduced the number of private schools operated by Bridge from 405 to 112, and launched a new model in which it primarily acts as a service provider to governments. Under this model, which now accounts for the bulk of students reached by NewGlobe, teacher qualification, compensation, and working conditions follow standard public sector guidelines; governments similarly set curricular, school infrastructure, and child safety standards, and costs of standardization are covered by the state rather than through fees to parents.

Note that Bridge has changed its main model, the one lauded by the Kremer study and Peter Coy. Why is Coy waxing enthusiastic about a model that has been downsized? Bridge dramatically reduced the number of for-profit private schools (where families had trouble paying $5 or more a month, and students were suspended for non-payment of fees). Instead it now has inserted its standardized model into the public sector, where its costs are paid by the government, not families, and it has to meet standards set by the government. But its costs are far beyond what these governments can afford to pay. Coy missed that detail.

Another study of Bridge schools in Liberia was discouraging for Bridge. The condition of the free public schools in Liberia was dismal, which paved the way for outsourcing of schools to private management. About 25% of students in fifth grade could not read a single word in the public schools. It should not be hard to beat that low bar. The study found:

Outsourcing the management of 23 randomly-selected government primary schools in Liberia to Bridge International Academies led to learning gains of 0.35σ after three years, equivalent to reading roughly 2.2 additional words per minute. Beyond learning gains, Bridge increased dropout by more than half and reduced transition to secondary school (overall, Bridge had a -6.53 percentage point effect on the probability of being enrolled in any school after three years). Bridge had no statistically significant impact on corporal punishment and failed to reduced sexual abuse. Overall, any assessment of outsourcing public schools to Bridge must weigh its modest learning gains against its high operating costs and negative effects on access to education via increased dropout.

Bridge raised test scores, but the dropout rate was high, which probably increased test scores. Bridge was too expensive for the Liberian government: in its first year, it cost $640 per year. By year three, the Bridge cost was down to $161 per pupil. The Liberian government’s goal is $50 per pupil per year. This model does not look like the money-maker that its sponsors envisioned.

I first learned about Bridge International Academies when I read an article in the New York Times Magazine called “Can a Tech Start-Up Successfully Educate Children in the Developing World?” An American couple, Shannon May and her husband Jay Kimmelman, along with a third partner, had the audacious idea that a company that provided $5 a month private schools could dramatically disrupt education in Africa while creating a billion-dollar corporation. What was not to like?

Just as titans in Silicon Valley were remaking communication and commerce, Bridge founders promised to revolutionize primary-school education. ‘‘It’s the Tesla of education companies,’’ says Whitney Tilson, a Bridge investor and hedge-fund manager in New York who helped found Teach for America and is a vocal supporter of charter schools.

The Bridge concept — low-cost private schools for the world’s poorest children — has galvanized many of the Western investors and Silicon Valley moguls who learn about the project. Bill Gates, the Omidyar Network, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the World Bank have all invested in the company; Pearson, the multinational textbook-and-assessment company, has done so through a venture-capital fund.

The company’s pitch was tailor-made for the new generation of tech-industry philanthropists, who are impatient to solve the world’s problems and who see unleashing the free market as the best way to create enduring social change.

The basic idea of the Bridge Schools was standardization. The lessons were written by charter school teachers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, then read out loud by Bridge teachers on an e-reader in their classroom. Every teacher taught the same lesson at the same time in the same way, as instructed.

The new study says the concept works. However, it has run into political obstacles. The Bridge idea is opposed not only by teachers’ unions but by every civil society organization in Africa, which opposed the concept of privatizing African public schools. No matter how poorly resourced they are now, they will be destroyed by privatization. If the private companies can”t make money, how long will they stay?

I shared the new Kremer paper with an eminent economist, who responded, in part:

This approach seems crazy to me. Read section 9 of the paper which describes and explains the dramatic downsizing of the endeavor. That section confirms my initial response that the Bridge approach is ultimately likely to do far more harm than good. Shouldn’t young children have an opportunity to learn through play and personal engagement? Moreover, how does the approach deal with the fact that children develop at different rates and have different talents? And why would anyone who cares about children want to teach in such an environment? This is all very scary and disturbing.

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg can’t be pleased to see that the model they funded has been reduced from 405 schools to 112 schools. The pupils it is supposed to serve can’t afford the fees. Nor can the governments in the nations where they are located.

Peter Coy should read more carefully before he touts an experiment that has already failed.

We are told again and again by libertarians that the free market solves all problems.

In Africa, it failed to provide better education at a price that families or governments can afford. Africa desperately needs more money for education, not for profits.

Bridge (NewGlobe) is not a model for American schools or the schools of any other nation.

Standardization is for electrical outlets and machines, not for children, teachers and education.

This part of Capital & Main’s examination of union busting reviews the targeting of academics who study labor by corporate critics. It was written by Jo Constantz.

Many scholars who study the history and economics of organized labor are sympathetic to the union cause. These academics often encounter threats, harassment, and defunding of their research.

It begins:

Throttled by both strong-arm tactics from anti-union interests and a chronic lack of support from universities, the field of labor studies has dwindled in the U.S. in recent years.

Researchers in the field have been the target of legal threats and lawsuits, onerous public records requests and misinformation campaigns from union avoidance consultants, business executives, corporate lawyers and conservative think tanks. It’s one aspect of the business lobby’s relentless war against unions in recent decades, which has seen companies spend more than $340 million a year on consultants to defeat organizing efforts by their employees and helped sink union membership.

Labor studies, an interdisciplinary field in academia that examines workplace issues and worker organizations, reveals working conditions that motivate people to want to join a union. Much of the scholarship has illuminated the central role that labor’s decline has played in exacerbating income inequality. In doing so, the field has aroused the ire of anti-union companies and their allies. The field has never been a major force in academia and many centers have been gradually shuttered due to lack of funding or merged with other departments. Only a handful of universities currently offer a major or minor in labor studies. Faculty are often untenured, vulnerable to layoffs and budget cuts, and they are often not replaced when they retire.

Open the link and read on.

Ethan DeWitt of the New Hampshire Bulletin and NPR reported on the partisan divide surrounding vouchers. Republicans budgeted for 28 students but expect between 1,000-5,000 to enroll. Democrats worry that the cost of vouchers will spin out of control.

Both should worry that the evidence base for the efficacy of vouchers shows high attrition rates and meager or negative academic results. Furthermore, the voucher advocates repeat the big lie that a state grant of $5,000 will give poor kids the same opportunities as rich kids, whose families pay far more for private schools.

During a two-hour event sponsored by the conservative advocacy organization Club for Growth, DeVos and Pompeo applauded New Hampshire’s initiative. And they framed the effort to allow public money to help students attend private schools as essential to closing the country’s achievement gap when compared to other developed countries.

Here is a link to Pompeo’s speech.

“The same chance”? Not so. Saying it doesn’t make it so.

Representative Mel Myers, Democrat and ranking member of the NH House Education Committee, sent me the following comment:

You have to remember that this voucher policy was slipped into the budget with no public hearing on this bill version. Our House Education Committee heard a similar bill which was tabled after a rigorous challenge on the part of the Democratic members of the committee. During the remote hearing, over 1000 signed up and over 800 were in opposition. Our Governor Chris Sununu and Commissioner of Education Frank Edelblut continue their agenda to dismantle NH education which has always ranked in the top five in the nation.


Rep. Mel Myler

Ranking Dem

House Education Committee

Julian Vasquez Heilig, T. Jameson Brewer, and Frank Adamson recently published an analysis of the neoliberal roots of school choice and its spillover into research on school choice.

They begin:

To conceptualize the politics of research on school choice, it is important to first discuss the politics of market- based approaches within the broader purview of public policy. Modern notions of “markets” and “choice” in schooling stem from the libertarian ideas Milton Friedman espoused in the 1950s. As these ideologies escalated in the 1980s under neoliberal theory and Republican orthodoxy, the argument that parents should have choice between competing schools within an education market with little regulation began to crack the public schoolhouse door, allowing an influx of private school vouchers and charter schools.

The ideology of a competitive education market supposes that competition and deregulation are necessary and fundamentally positive forces that will “fix” the “failed” public school sector (Vasquez Heilig, 2013). Mundy and Murphy (2000) argued that to build public support for their approaches, neoliberal proponents focus on three organizing economic rationales: 1) efficiency, 2) the axis of competition- choice- quality, and 3) the apparent scarcity of resources. On the supply side, neoliberals argue that private firms deliver goods and services more efficiently than the government. On the demand side, neoliberals “promote competition as a means to deliver more consumer choice, which theoretically leads to higher quality products” (Adamson & Astrand, 2016, p. 9).

Because school choice is a policy prescription, research and evaluation often follow soon after the policies are implemented. In theory, new reforms should be piloted, researched, and then deter-mined to what extent they can— or should— be scaled. School choice advocates work backward: They conduct multiple experiments on communities in an attempt to justify a policy rooted in ideology rather than empirical evidence. In fact, Lubienski and Weitzel (2010) found that many states passed laws supporting charter school expansion at a faster rate than they could build the schools and faster than the normal research cycle needed to determine their effectiveness. Furthermore, this ideology presupposes the efficiency and effectiveness of educational markets, requiring education to be understood as an individualistic good rather than a public one.

The dichotomy between the concepts of a “public” or a “private” good rests at the center of school choice approaches. The idea of education as a public, or common, good views it through the lens of the collective and, theoretically, ensures equal access and equitable experiences. Conceptions of education as a common good— in the same way we conceptualize, say, police/ fire services, public libraries, and public roads— stem from the understanding that individuals in society share an obligation to one another, and if we collectively focus on improvement, we collectively benefit.

The contrasting view is the ideology rooted in Friedman’s (1955) rugged individualism, with a limited conception of public or common goods. According to Friedman, there is little collective obligation to one another, and a self- interested focus on personal improvement will, theoretically, improve the collective. Note that within this theory, the byproduct of collective improvement is not necessarily a result of a spillover from the individual to the collective; rather, through hyper- individualistic accountability, everyone for him or herself, the improvement of individuals will, taken as a whole, represent the improvement of the masses. The conceptualization of education as an individualistic good— a commodity to be bought, sold, and traded in educational markets— requires a reliance on a theory of meritocracy, whereby success is “attainable” through education and “hard work.” By definition, success is the result of making use of such things. Poverty, then, becomes evidence of poor choices and a failure to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps rather than an economically produced phenomenon. This myth that associates hard work with morals not only allows for the crass dismissal of systemic poverty and racism endemic in American society, but also informs how we conceive of educational choices within an educational marketplace. School “choice” systems in education further exacerbate individualistic accountability while also reinforcing the façade that success or poverty is a choice between working hard or failing to seize an opportunity. That is, if the choice exists for a “better” education in a charter school or by use of a school voucher, then generational poverty shifts the locus of accountability to the individual and family for failure to take advantage of the choice. Put simply, the presence of additional choices in education redefines public policy failures not as collective ones but as individualistic failures understood through deficit ideologies.

Considering the underlying politics of school choice, it is important to examine the ramifications of neoliberal and collective ideology on market- based school choice research. In this chapter, we point out that ideologically driven, neoliberal organizations push a sector of research suggesting positive findings of school choice models. We begin with a synthesis of the pertinent literature on the conceptions and funding of market- based school choice research. Next, we discuss the role of the production and politics of market- based school choice research in conceptualizing the current educational policy environment. In the third section, we delve into the politics of the use of market- based school choice research, focusing on the community level. We conclude by discussing the implications of how the comingling of ideology, methods, and funding informs the public discourse about market- based school choice and fits into the larger conversation about education reform.

When I served in the George H.W. Bush administration, I was Assistant Secretary for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

OERI, as it was then called, had almost no discretionary money. There was very little opportunity for any initiatives, which may have been a good thing at that time. I became very involved in advocacy for national standards, which I now regret. I also spoke up for the national goals (remember them?), most of which were out of reach (like, we will be first in the world in math and science by the year 2000). OERI has since been pretentiously renamed the “Institute for Education Sciences.”

However, there is one thing that I am very proud of. I initiated a statistical review of the history of American education and the best brains in the Office of Research gathered the data to show the progress of education. It was published in 1992.

It is called 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait.

I still refer to it when writing essays that require historical information about education.

It should have been updated by now, but it has not been.

It is a wonderful resource for scholars and others engaged in research about education.

This is the introduction that I wrote in 1992:

Diane Ravitch Assistant Secretary

As an historian of education, I have been a regular consumer of education statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. For many years, I kept the Department’s telephone number in my address book and computer directory. It did not take long to discover there was one person to whom I should address all my queries: Vance Grant. In my many telephone calls for information, I discovered he is the man who knows what data and statistics have been gathered over the years by the Department of Education. No matter how exotic my question, Dr. Grant could always tell me, without delay, whether the information existed; usually, he produced it himself. When I asked a statistical question, I could often hear the whir of an adding machine in the back- ground, even after the advent of the electronic calculator.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, to find myself in the position of Assistant Secretary of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), the very home of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The latter agency is headed by Emerson Elliott, the first presidentially appointed Commissioner of Education Statistics. And imagine my delight when I encountered Vance Grant, face to face, for the first time. The voice on the telephone, always cheerful and confident, belonged to a man employed by the Department or Office of Education since 1955.

Vance Grant, a Senior Education Program Specialist, and Tom Snyder, NCES’ Chief of the Compilations and Special Studies Branch in the Data Development Division, prepared 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait. They did so enthusiastically, because—like me—they knew it was needed. Historians of education customarily must consult multiple, often disparate, sources to find and collect the information in this one volume. They can never be sure if the data they locate are consistent and reliable. This compilation aggregates all relevant statistics about the history of our educational system in one convenient book. It will, I believe, become a classic, an indispensable volume in every library and on every education scholar’s bookshelf, one that will be periodically updated. Vance Grant’s and Tom Snyder’s careful preparation of this report substantially enriches our knowledge of American education. But collecting these historical data in one volume not only benefits professional historians. As a Nation, we need to develop an historical perspective in analyzing change. Too often, newspapers report important political, economic, or social events without supplying the necessary historical context. We are all now accustomed to reading headlines about the latest test scores. Whether up or down, they invariably overstate the meaning of a single year’s change. And the same short-sightedness often flaws journalistic reports of other major educational trends.

Historical Context

One does not need to be an historian to recognize the tremendous importance of historical context. Each of us should be able to assess events, ideas, and trends with reliable knowledge of what has hap- pened in the past. If we cannot, our ability to understand and make sense of events will be distorted. This volume would become a reference for all who wish to make informed judgments about American education. We must struggle mightily against the contemporary tendency towards presentism, the idea inspired by television journalism that today’s news has no precedent. As we struggle to preserve history, we preserve our human capacity to construct meaning and to reach independent judgment.

In an age when we are awash with information and instantaneous news, it is meaning, understanding, and judgment that are in short supply. This collection of historical statistics about American education provides its readers with the perspective they need to understand how far we have come in our national commitment to education and how far we must still go in pursuit of our ideals.

I especially thank Vance Grant and Tom Snyder for their untiring efforts in assembling this book. Without their dedication, and without Emerson Elliott’s support for the importance of this work, it would never have happened.

Emerson was the career civil servant who directed the National Center for Educational Statistics, which was the heart of the original Department of Education, created in 1867. As I mentioned, in the thirty years since this publication was issued, it has not been updated. What a shame.

Two friends got together to address an important topic for readers of the blog. Yong Zhao is a much-published international scholar based at the University of Kansas. Bill McDiarmid is Dean Emeritus of the College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

They write:

COVID-19 has disrupted schooling in its traditional sense. It has also disrupted other school related activities such as state standardized testing. As schools return to “normal” thanks to vaccination, many states are already pushing to resume standardized testing as part of the “normal” operations of formal education and to assess the so-called “learning loss” (Zhao, 2021). Resuming standardized testing is perhaps one of the worst things that can happen to children, especially after more than a year of social isolation and unprecedented disruption.

Standardized testing in schools has been criticized repeatedly for multiple reasons. A decade and a half ago, Sharon Nichols and David Berliner clearly articulate the damage to American education caused by standardized tests in their book, Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools (Nichols & Berliner, 2007). Dan Koretz has cited mounting evidence to show that test-based accountability has failed to significantly improve student performance in his recent book The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better(Koretz, 2017). State-mandated high-stakes testing has led educators and educational authorities to cheat, reduced education to a narrow band of the knowledge spectrum, demoralized educators, and failed to significantly close the opportunity and results gaps that marginalized students and their families continue to endure (Emler, Zhao, Deng, Yin, & Wang, 2019; Tienken & Zhao, 2013).

The negative impact of standardized testing on students cannot be overstated. First, testing discourages many students, especially historically marginalized students who may not do well on the tests for reasons outside their control. These students, primarily because of where they happen to live, have performed worse on standardized tests than their counterparts from wealthier, suburban, and mostly white neighborhoods. The results, then, are often used to hold them back or relegate them to remediation. Consequently, they miss opportunities to participate in more meaningful activities that could nurture their talents, interests, and, thus, their engagement with school.

Second, standardized testing for each grade is designed to measure students learning for that year in school. The learning thought to be measured for a given year, however, may be less important than other knowledge, skills, and dispositions students may have developed that will serve them better in their lives.  For example, although students may have not mastered certain mathematical formulae measured on the state test, they may have improved their talents, curiosity, confidence, or collaborative skills which are valuable in life (Zhao, 2018). Opportunities to build these essential skills may be rare. Mathematical formulae, on the other hand, can be retrieved online as needed. Assessment in education has been heavily focused on short-term instructional outcomes and knowledge while largely ignoring non-cognitive skills and skills needed to be life-long learners. In a world in which workers will be changing jobs four or five times and established industries will die out and new ones arise, students will need the skills suited to frequent self-reinvention.

Third, standardized testing has typically focused on two subjects: literacy and numeracy. Other subjects and domains of knowledge have been slighted or ignored. Equally important it fails to offer students opportunities to demonstrate their learning in activities and domains that are of greatest importance to them and in which they may excel. As a result, although testing results show students’ talent in taking tests in mathematics and language, it says nothing about students’ strengths and their potential to be not only good but, potentially, excellent at whatever are their innate talents and interests (Zhao, 2016). Many examples exist in multiple areas of human achievement of people who tested poorly in school but made extraordinary contributions to our world. Testing does nothing to further educators’ efforts to deploy strength-based practices that encourage and support interest-driven learners. 

After years of criticism from many students, families, and educators, and exposure of the corrupting and distorting effects of high-stakes testing, many policymakers, educational authorities, and members of the public cling to test-based accountability. Although ESEA has reduced testing requirements, the change is minimal. U.S. students may face fewer tests than a decade ago but, except for the pandemic period, students are still over-tested.  

Some argue that testing is necessary to figure out if school systems are addressing the persistent failure to justly serve marginalized students and communities. This could be accomplished, however, without high-stakes consequences for schools, educators, students, and families. We can also imagine assessments that place as much emphasis on the skills needed for the rapidly evolving world of work as on the legacy curriculum subjects. According to the World Bank, McKinsey, the OECD, and other crystal-ball-gazingorganizations, if students are to succeed in the future, these include creativity, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, as well as non-cognitive skills such as persistence, teamwork, and conscientiousness.  Some researchers are currently testing surveys that provide reliable data on these skills (STEP, 2014).  

In line with “never waste a crisis,” the current moment of disruption is the time for us to radically rethink our addiction to high-stakes assessments. It won’t be easy. Many are heavily invested in the testing status quo. At the very least, we need a conversation that includes the voices of all concerned – students, educators, families, communities, and policymakers.  

References:

Emler, T. E., Zhao, Y., Deng, J., Yin, D., & Wang, Y. (2019). Side Effects of Large-Scale Assessments in Education. ECNU Review of Education, 2(3), 279-296. 

Koretz, D. (2017). The Testing Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Manyika, J., Lund, S., Chui, M., Bughin, J., Woetzel, J., Batra, P., . . . Sanghvi, S. (2017, November 28). Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages. McKinsey Global Institute.Retrieved 03/25/21 from:https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/jobs-lost-jobs-gained-what-the-future-of-work-will-mean-for-jobs-skills-and-wages

Nichols, S. L., & Berliner, D. C. (2007). Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

STEP skills measurement surveys : innovative tools for assessing skills (English). Social protection and labor discussion paper, no. 1421. Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group. Retrieved 03/25/21 from: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/516741468178736065/STEP-skills-measurement-surveys-innovative-tools-for-assessing-skills

Tienken, C. H., & Zhao, Y. (2013). How Common Standards and Standardized Testing Widen the Opportunity Gap. In P. L. Carter & K. G. Welner (Eds.), Closing the Opportunity Gap: What America Must Do to Give Every Child an Even Chance (pp. 113-122). New York: Oxford University Press.

Zhao, Y. (2016). From Deficiency to Strength: Shifting the Mindset about Education Inequality. Journal of Social Issues, 72(4), 716-735. 

Zhao, Y. (2018). What Works May Hurt: Side Effects in Education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Zhao, Y. (2021). Build back better: Avoid the learning loss trap. Prospects, 1-5.

Yong Zhao

Foundation Distinguished Professor

School of Education and Human Sciences

University of Kansas

Professor in Educational Leadership

Melbourne Graduate School of Education

University of Melbourne

and


G. Williamson McDiarmid

Dean Emeritus

College of Education

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hil

David C. Berliner, one of our nation’s most honored researchers of education, shared this essay for readers of the blog.

                                             A Hug for Jennifer

          I met Jennifer for the first time at a party. She taught elementary school to mostly white, mostly middle-class kids in a suburb of San Francisco. We chatted about education for a while and she invited me to visit her class. I like visiting classes, in part, because they are always so difficult to understand. It is an enormous intellectual challenge to witness and make sense of the interaction of teachers and students with curriculum materials in a classroom setting. Sometimes, with teachers you come to admire, it is like trying to put together a recipe after  tasting  a delicious food. It’s hard to figure out the ingredients that made it so special. 

More frequently, my observations struck me as a bit like trying to study what comes out the end of a funnel–without much confidence that you know all about what went into the funnel. It’s hard to figure out the ingredients—the stuff that makes a classroom hum or fail. Some of the things that are sure to have entered the funnel are: all of society’s values; the pop culture of today, particularly as represented on television; the individual child-rearing practices of 25 or so different families; the economic, physical and mental health of the people in the neighborhood around the school; the teaching skills, content knowledge, prejudices and personal family concerns of the individual teacher; the leadership skills of the principal; the educational directives issued by the school district and the state; and so forth. After the large, open-end of the funnel receives a thousand items of this type, I wander into a classroom to observe a teacher attempting to create something sensible and unique out of whatever comes tumbling out the small end of the funnel. You really never know what you’ll see and hear when you go to observe a classroom. 

         Besides the challenge of trying to unravel what goes on in such  complex environments, I also visited classes regularly for another reason. It was because of my profound distaste for the many people who freely comment about education but spend no significant amounts of time visiting schools and classes. These education bashers regularly provide the media with false descriptions of America’s schools, inadequate critiques of the educational system, and unfeasible suggestions for school improvement. So, I took Jennifer up on her offer and I began to occasionally drop in on her class since her school was on the way to my work. On one of those visits, now many years ago, I learned a lesson about teachers and observing in classrooms that affected the rest of my career.

         Jennifer taught fourth grade. She had the self-confidence to let me drop in any time, unannounced, to observe her class. I timed one of my visits so I could avoid the taking of attendance, the principals’ announcements, and other morning housekeeping activities. As I had planned, I arrived just as reading was about to start. From the seating chart Jennifer had given me I soon identified Alec. He had caught my eye, though I was not yet sure why. Alec sat at the side of the class, his face a blank– impassive, masklike. I somehow was compelled to watch him a lot throughout the reading period.  Despite the generally upbeat lesson in which the class was involved, Alec displayed no emotions. He seemed to barely follow what was going on around him.  I was surprised that Jennifer, who usually was so equitable in her interactions with the children, seemed to be ignoring Alec. When reading was finished, and the children went out for recess, Alec remained in the class, the same blank look on his face, and with Jennifer still showing the same pleasant, but unconcerned manner. 

When the children returned from their break, no one talked to Alec. To his teacher and his classmates, Alec seemed not to exist. To me, the outside observer, it looked like a modern version of an old punishment–Alec was being shunned!  I was losing my curiosity about what was happening and, instead, began to get angry at Jennifer and the other children.

       Mathematics work began and Jennifer called small groups of children to the desk where she presented some new concepts, while most of the rest of the class did problems in their workbooks. Alec did nothing. He never took out his workbook and Jennifer never criticized him, and she never invited him to the desk, as she did the other students. I couldn’t stop myself from focussing on this situation, to the exclusion of whatever else was happening in the class. I grieved for this child, remembering my worst days as a school boy and my terror of being ostracized, even for a short time. I remembered the games we sometimes played, games in which we were so cruel to one another. My memory filled suddenly with an event from junior high school. A time when we once had “Don’t talk to Bobby day!”–a day when my classmates and I purposely set out to hurt another child. But never had I seen a teacher join in, as seemed to be the case here. As my fantasies about Alec’s plight merged with my own resurrected childhood fears and embarrassment, I began to get angrier and angrier at Jennifer. When the lunch bell finally rang, and the children filed out with Alec, still alone, but now among them, I approached Jennifer’s desk. I tried to keep the anger I felt under control and I pushed away, to the farthest reaches of my mind, the shame and the embarrassment I felt about being both perpetrator and victim of such exclusionary practices in the past. I said to Jennifer, in as controlled a manner as possible, that Alec did not seem to be participating much in classroom activities. 

         When Jennifer responded, I learned a lesson about the importance of understanding the intentions, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of the persons you intend to study. It is difficult, of course, in any communication setting, to genuinely understand another person’s thoughts and feelings. But when you try to be a social scientist, and are not just an ordinary person chatting with others, this commonplace problem in interpersonal communication looms much larger. A lack of understanding, or a misunderstanding of another person’s intentions, can lead a social scientist to make dangerously flawed inferences about that persons behavior.  

      Jennifer responded to me, saying that Alec’s brother had been shot and killed by the police the night before– a rarity in the middle class neighborhood the school served. And it happened at home, in front of Alec. Before I had arrived that morning Jennifer had taken Alec aside and told him how sorry she was for his whole family. She thought the day might be a tough one for him, so she told Alec that he should feel free to participate or not that day, to do whatever he felt like. She would let him decide how he wanted to use his time. She also told him how glad they all were that he was in the class and when he felt like getting involved with everything again to just start doing so. The other students had all heard about what had happened and were not shunning Alec, but giving him some breathing room. My anger, of course, was gone. In its place was a sense of wonder.

      How many incidents like this one did Jennifer have to deal with per week or per month, on top of her academic responsibilities? Who taught her to confront this awful event in such a straightforward and sensible manner? Actually, I am still not sure it was the best response to Alec’s loss and sadness, but it sure seemed to be a sensible response to me. Did she have such sensitivity to youngsters when she first started teaching, or is this part of what teachers learn as they gain experience? How could I have been so blind as to what was going on that I grew angry at Jennifer? How many other times have I observed classes and reached completely wrong conclusions about what was going on?

         After this incident, when I was working in classrooms, I was sure that I had become a better social scientist. I tried always to understand the intentions of the teachers that I studied. I spent time with them, trying to learn what they were going to teach, what special constraints they were under, and what they thought I should know before I began watching them. When I did this, I was sure that my conclusions about what occurred in their classrooms were different than before I had met Jennifer. More importantly, however, is that my views about observation in classrooms had changed. I once thought that some kind of “raw” observation was possible, that a kind of neutral, objective mirror of classroom life could be obtained. But Jennifer taught me that is just not true.

          Observations can be relatively undistorted, relatively objective, but never completely so. In fact, it is likely that observations and interpretations of classroom life without understanding teachers and their intentions, are likely to be more distorted than observations and interpretations made with such knowledge. I believe this despite the obvious loss of objectivity and neutrality that must occur as teachers and researchers get to know each other better. I’ll say it clearly: Interpretations of a teachers’ behavior without knowledge of the teachers’ intentions are either useless or, worse, inaccurate and unjust. My visit to Jennifer’s classroom that particular day, as an outsider, had led me to inaccurate and unjust conclusions about what was going on. It was sobering.

         There is also a bigger issue to which this incident is relevant. Since we cannot adequately interpret life in classrooms unless we have an insider’s understanding of that classroom, how is it possible for principals, department heads, and others who evaluate teachers, to do so when they visit a teacher’s classroom infrequently, stay for only the briefest period of time, and try to distance themselves from the teacher to maintain a goal of objectivity? The unbiased observations of the outsider may be a requirement in physics, chemistry, oncology, and other natural and biological sciences. Doing “good science” certainly requires the illusion of total objectivity, even though the best of scientists acknowledge that such a goal is impossible to achieve. But in areas of social behavior and especially those research areas concerned with classrooms and schools, such calls for objectivity are probably misplaced. Perhaps the only way to understand life in classrooms is to visit frequently, stay for a lengthy period of time, and have a shared vision with the teacher of what is intended. Evaluations of teachers that rely too heavily on formal observation instruments, notions of objectivity, and the outsider’s view of the classroom are likely to report, as I might have, that Jennifer was an insensitive, uncaring, human being. A more appropriate evaluation system would have caused the observer to hug Jennifer and give thanks that she chose to teach children rather than sell computers.

DAVID C. BERLINER is Regents Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.

The Kentucky legislature, controlled by Republicans, passed voucher legislation. The Governor, Democrat Andy Bashear, seems certain to veto it.

Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader wonders why Republicans are both anti-public school and anti-teacher, since most of them graduated from public schools and send their own children there. Why are they so eager to take money away from their community schools to fund what are almost certain to be inferior choices? Is it revenge on teachers for leading protests against pension changes?

She writes:

Back in the 1990s, Kentucky was a shining model of a state that valued education. The Kentucky Education Reform Act revolutionized school funding by creating a central pot of property taxes rather than an uneven patchwork of rich and poor. There was much more: cracking down on corruption and nepotism, raising academic standards, new money for teacher training, important supports for struggling children.

But over the past two decades, the state’s politics have turned crimson and all that potential — and state support for it — is slipping away. Why do Republicans appear to dislike and distrust public schools so much? Is it because their teachers are represented by politically powerful unions that happened to get our Democratic unicorn governor elected? Is it because those unions negotiated pretty good pension promises? Is it because they resisted reopening schools? Is it because the very notion of public education recognizes that government can do good things? 

“I think what you see is a demonization of public education that’s coming from all these right wing groups,” said Nema Brewer, a co-founder of 120 Kentucky United, an education advocacy group that helped defeat Republican plans for teacher pensions and elect Beshear in 2019. “The Republican Party of Kentucky has bought into this demonization of public schools, completely forgetting the majority of them are products of public schools. It’s just amazing to me that this is what’s happened.”

Those Republicans got their political revenge on Tuesday night when they passed House Bill 563, what’s known as a “neo-voucher bill.” It hurts teachers and rural school districts, while creating more segregation and less school funding, a veritable lottery for the GOP.

By now, the research on vouchers is compelling: they don’t raise the academic achievements of students. Voucher schools are typically inferior to public schools because they are free to hire uncertified teachers and principals. They discriminate at will. Why would Republicans think it was a good idea to waste public money on low-quality religious schools or to subsidize the tuition of students already in religious schools?


Read more here: https://www.kentucky.com/opinion/linda-blackford/article249974744.html#storylink=cpy