Archives for category: Technology

Education Week published an insightful article about the dangers to student privacy during this time when students are relying on tech products to connect to teachers. Read it in full if you have a subscription.

https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/03/26/massive-shift-to-remote-learning-prompts-big.html

Massive Shift to Remote Learning Prompts Big Data Privacy Concerns

By Mark Lieberman

Schools are confronting a wide range of potential problems around student data privacy as they scramble to put technology tools for virtual instruction in place during extended school building shutdowns.

Teachers have already begun connecting with students using a variety of digital tools, some of which are new to them and their schools and weren’t designed for classroom use—everything from videoconferencing apps like Zoom to digital devices like Chromebooks and learning platforms like Babbel and BrainPop.

An unprecedented number of online interactions between teachers and students from their respective homes introduce new privacy questions that lack easy answers. And at least one state’s governor, aiming to speed up implementation of new remote learning tools, has temporarily waived legal requirements for agreements between school districts and technology companies that typically include student data privacy provisions.

The challenges for schools in staying abreast of privacy concerns have become acute as companies have begun offering temporary free subscriptions to their expensive tech products, said Antonio Romayor Jr., chief technology officer for El Centro Elementary School District in California.

Some teachers in his district have begun bypassing the typical vetting procedures for new tech products by adding the free products directly to their single sign-on platforms for students and teachers to use, he said.

Some of those free products could eventually cost schools and parents money, which means anyone using them should be extra careful about offering credit-card information when signing up, Romayor said. Programs that aren’t vetted in advance also might run afoul of privacy policy. “It’s a constant struggle,” he said.

While the new technological landscape for schools feels unprecedented in many ways, schools still have an obligation to inform parents of how their students’ data is being used, even if the teaching is occurring outside school buildings. Federal laws—such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)—should help guide school leaders in deciding what new technologies to use.

“The rules, the regulations apply whether the student is actually in the classroom physically or is at home being taught through a distance learning framework,” said Linnette Attai, president of the for-profit education company PlayWell and a close observer of student privacy issues.

Student privacy experts are recommending that school districts take a deliberate, rather than frenetic, approach to adopting new technologies, and guard against overinvesting in new tools before being fully aware of how they work and how they could jeopardize students’ data privacy.

Cheri Kiesecker, co-chair of the Parent Coalition for Data Privacy, wants parents and schools to minimize as much as possible the amount of student data that’s being collected and sold by tech companies. She felt the same before the COVID-19 outbreak.

In fact, Kiesecker points to a 2018 warning from the FBI noting that the consequences of ed-tech companies collecting too much data on students “could result in social engineering, bullying, tracking, identity theft, or other means for targeting children.” Most U.S. states earned a “C” or lower grade from a 2019 survey of student data privacy protections by Kiesecker’s organization and the Network for Public Education.

As schools rush to put remote learning programs in places, Kiesecker argues that those student data privacy problems could get significantly worse. And that could have long-term consequences for many students. “Data is actually your identity and a form of social currency,” she said.

I wrote a post yesterday and planned to post it at this hour. It was a brief recapitulation of an opinion piece that Kevin Huffman wrote yesterday in the Washington Post, in which he boldly stated that the current reliance on distance learning would hurt students and set back their learning.

Kevin Huffman is one of the leaders of the corporate reform movement. He worked for Teach for America, was married to Michelle Rhee, served as Commissioner of Education in Tennessee, where he pushed charters and vouchers and standardized testing. But when he tried to lose the state’s lowest performing school, the Tennessee Virtual Academy, he ran into a blank wall. It couldn’t be done. The TVA had friends in the legislature and it was impossible to close it down.

So in this article, he warned that the necessary emphasis on distance learning would not end well. In the post I planned to publish (but didn’t), I noted that he plugged the “no-excuses” Achievement First charter chain and Jeb Bush’s accountability-obsessed Chiefs for Change. I was not planning to mention that the “expert” he quotes is Hoover economist Erik Hanushek, who has a devout belief in testing and VAM and has predicted that increasing test scores would add trillions to the nation’s GNP. He has promoted the theory that teachers who can’t get their students’ scores up should be fired. Clean the ranks every year and—voila!—test scores will rise.

But unlike gullible me, Jan Resseger understood that Huffman’s article was a coded propaganda piece for the corporate reformers’ favorite organizations and remedies. Not only did he plug Achievement First and Chiefs for Change, he also cited the billionaire-funded City Fund, where he works. He did not note that it was created to subvert local school board elections by pumping money into the campaigns of charter-friendly candidates.

Resseger writes:

Kevin Huffman begins his recent Washington Post column with a warning about problems he expects to result from the widespread, coronavirus-driven school closures: “As the coronavirus pandemic closes schools, in some cases until September, American children this month met their new English, math, science and homeroom teachers: their iPads and their parents. Classes are going online, if they exist at all. The United States is embarking on a massive, months-long virtual-pedagogy experiment, and it is not likely to end well.”

This is pretty harsh. While in many places teachers are going to enormous lengths to create interesting projects to challenge children and keep them engaged, virtual schooling is a challenge. Online efforts school districts are undertaking to meet children’s needs during this long break are likely to be uneven. Huffman describes Stanford University research on the problems with virtual schooling, problems that are being exacerbated today by inequitable access to technology.

But what Kevin Huffman neglects to tell readers is that his purpose is not entirely to analyze his subject—the ongoing shutdown of schools. At the same time as he discusses the widespread school closure, he also manages to share the agenda of his current employer, The City Fund, a relatively new national group that finances the election campaigns of of charter school advocates running for seats on local school boards, supports the rapid expansion of charter schools, and promotes portfolio school reform. And when the Washington Post tells readers that Huffman, “a former education commissioner of Tennessee, is a partner at the City Fund, a national education nonprofit,” the Post neglects to explain The City Fund’s agenda.

Worse, Huffman proposes that schools should administer standardized tests to students when they return to school in September! Good grief, the results are not available for months. Of what value are such tests? I suppose we can now expect the testing corporations to begin losing for tests on the first day of school.

Resseger read the subtext: students, teachers, and schools can’t possibly survive without standardized testing. Be grateful for the charter chains who offer to help struggling school districts, which do not have the charters’ freedom to push out the kids they don’t want and do not have billionaire money to keep them afloat.

I read Huffman’s article and appreciated that he was wary of distance learning and unprepared parents struggling to teach their children.

Jan Resseger read it and exposed the hidden agenda: praising the billionaire agenda of charters and high-stakes testing. She correctly notes that this agenda failed when Huffman was Commissioner of Education in Tennessee. Some people learn from failure. Some don’t.

Audrey Watters reminds us of Rahm Emanuel’s immortal words, “Never allow a good crisis to go to waste.”

And she see the enthusiasts of the ed-tech industry ready to pounce and take advantage of the current crisis. She lives in Seattle, possibly the epicenter of the crisis.

She writes:

Some schools in the Seattle area — both K-12 and colleges — have closed, and there has been intense pressure on administrators to shut everything down and move instruction online. (Governor Inslee has just announced the state is considering “mandatory measures” to combat the spread of the illness, so we shall see what exactly that means.) I’ve heard lots of local tech workers complain angrily that, in a region that’s home to Microsoft and Amazon, there is really no excuse for schools staying open. Digital learning, they argue, is already preferable. And now, they say, it’s necessary.

But that just strikes me as wildly uninformed — although that’s never stopped the tech industry from intervening in education before. It’s an assertion that rests on the assumption that ed-tech is good, that it can replicate at home what happens in the classroom. “This may be our moment,” ed-tech folks exclaim, giddily sharing lists of their favorite digital learning tools (with little concern, it seems for questions of accessibility, privacy, or security) and tips for quickly moving “to the cloud.” Of course, education technology — as a field, an industry, a discipline, a solution, what have you — has had decades and decades and decades to get this right. It still hasn’t. So when you hear “this is our moment,” you should recall perhaps the thesis of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine. What we’re poised to see in response to the coronavirus — and not just in education, to be fair — is more disaster capitalism, and “disaster capitalists share this same inability to distinguish between creation and destruction, between hurting and healing.”

People are hurting and people are frightened right now. And thanks to the utter incompetence of the Trump Administration, there’s surely still more to worry about; still more people are going to suffer. This isn’t the time to be triumphant about ed-tech’s possibilities. This isn’t the time to prove anything about ed-tech, quite frankly. This an emergency response to a crisis.

Do all students have access to high-speed broadband at home? K-12 or otherwise? Nope. Do all students have access to laptops at home? Nope. Schools know this, and it’s part of the calculation they make whether or not to move everything online. But closure isn’t just about classes. The function of schools extends well beyond instruction. This is particularly true in K-12 schools, which also serve for many students and families as childcare, community centers, health care providers, disability support services, and places to eat breakfast and lunch. To close the doors to a school shifts the burden of all these services onto individual families.

Spare me the techno-solutionism. Let’s talk about big structural change. (But let’s not act like we’re gonna implement that tomorrow morning, ok?)

Debbie Truong writes in the Washington Post about parents who object to teachers’ reliance on iPads in the classroom. Twenty years ago, the burgeoning industry asserted that Ed tech would motivate students and lead to higher test scores, but that promise was never filled.


Meaghan Edwards had just finished reading children’s books to her son’s third-grade class when the teacher announced that students could have free time before lunch. Instead of playing cards, talking with friends or reading more, the students pulled out their iPads.

“They were zoned out like little zombies,” recalled Edwards, whose children attended school in the Eanes Independent School District in Austin.

The school system is one of many coast to coast that have spent millions of dollars on initiatives aimed at putting computers or tablets in the hands of every student, sometimes as early as kindergarten.
Do kids learn more when they trade in composition books for iPads?

The largest school district in Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools, announced last year plans to provide Dell laptops to students starting in third grade. Less wealthy school systems have issued bonds to purchase devices, borrowing millions of dollars for laptops, iPads and Chromebooks.

But some parents in parts of the country where the programs are in place want to scale back, saying the devices are harming the way young children learn.

From Northern Virginia to Shawnee, Kan., to Norman, Okla., parents have demanded schools reduce or eliminate use of digital devices, provide alternative “low-screen” classwork and allow parents to say they do not want their children glued to glowing screens. Some families have even transferred their children to schools that are not so smitten with technology.

Maryland health and education officials released guidelines on using digital devices in school that include reminding students to take eye and stretch breaks and that encourage educators to offer collaborative learning assignments on and off the devices.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/more-students-are-learning-on-laptops-and-tablets-in-class-some-parents-want-to-hit-the-off-switch/2020/02/01/d53134d0-db1e-11e9-a688-303693fb4b0b_story.html

In the past few months, there have been a number of articles about “the science of reading,” all touting the importance of phonics. I don’t know that there is a “science of mathematics” or a “science of history,” or a science of teaching any other subject. Although I have a long record in support of teaching phonics, I have long recognized that many children read without the help of phonics, many learn by being read to by their parents, many start reading because the grown ups in their lives make it important to them.

Nancy Bailey points out a central problem with the “science of reading.” The disappearance of libraries and librarians. The ed-tech industry has jumped on the “science of reading” bandwagon because it believes that a computer can teach sounds and symbols as well as a human teacher, maybe better, through repetitive exercises.

Nancy, as usual, says “hold on” and throws some common sense and experience into the discussion.

She writes:

The loss of libraries and qualified librarians in the poorest schools has reached a critical mass. Yet those who promote a Science of Reading (SoR), often supporting online reading programs, never mention the loss of school libraries or qualified librarians.

Ignoring the importance of school libraries and certified librarians delegitimizes any SoR. Children need books, reading material, and real librarians in public schools. If reading instruction doesn’t lead to reading and learning from books, what’s the point? Why should children care about decoding words if there’s no school library where they can browse and choose reading material that matters?

How do school districts prioritize reading when they shutter the only access some students have to books? Who will assist students when qualified school librarians are dismissed?

Across the country, as noted below, public school districts have chaotically closed school libraries and fired librarians. They have done this despite the fact that school libraries and qualified librarians are proven positive factors in raising reading scores in children.

When recent NAEP scores appeared low, no one questioned how the loss of school libraries and librarians in America’s poorest schools could have accounted for lower scores. Instead, they obsessed over rising scores in Mississippi, likely due to holding third graders back.

The SoR fans criticize teachers, university education schools, and reading programs. Most are not classroom teachers and they appear to be taking children down a path towards all-tech reading programs.

Unlike the abundance of research showing the benefit of libraries and librarians, there’s no proven research that online reading programs will help children read better, especially if they have a reading disability.

The Research

We’ve known for years, that schools with quality school libraries and school librarians have students who obtain better test scores. Numerous research studies support the importance of libraries and librarians….

A Few of the Many Places that Have Lost School Libraries and Librarians:

New York City: A 2015 Education Week report, “Number of Libraries Dwindles in N.Y.C. Schools” notes that the number of N.Y.C. school libraries plummeted from nearly 1,500 in 2005 to fewer than 700 in 2014. The biggest drops happened in the three years before this time. Michael Bloomberg was mayor. Libraries were severely understaffed.

Philadelphia: This city has seen a drastic reduction of school libraries. The situation is dire. The Philadelphia Enquirer 2020 report, “You Should Be Outraged by the State of Philly Public School Libraries,” shows that, like other school districts, Philadelphia has had to resort to raising funds through donations to save its school libraries. Many schools have no library.

Michigan: Michigan has a known literacy crisis, but policymakers don’t put two-and-two together. Between 2000 and 2016, Michigan saw a 73% decline in school librarians. In 2019, they began retaining third graders with reading difficulties threatening children to “learn or else,” a reform with research stacked against it. Schools turned libraries into media centers and makerspaces. None of this is working out well.

California: California is one of the worst states for a lack of school libraries and qualified librarians. (Ahlfeld). In 2013-14, 4,273 California schools completed a survey representing 43 percent of schools. Of those responding to the survey, 84 percent have a place designated as the library, although staffing, collections, and programs range from exemplary to substandard. Sixteen percent of the schools didn’t have a library. Librarians were mostly found in high schools. Few schools in California have a certified school librarian. Some schools only open the library one day a week. Many elementary schools don’t have library services.

Oakland: In Oakland they’ve lost libraries, or they exist but they have old, outdated books. Signs on the wall tell students they are not allowed to check out books, and 30% of the original 80 school libraries have closed. Fourteen of the 18 high school libraries are gone. Sometimes the PTA provides volunteers for students to check out books.

Virginia: Some states permit schools to staff school libraries with volunteers, a common way to replace certified librarians. Teachers might help students check out books, or they have books for students to check out in their classrooms. Virginia avoided school library chaos in 2018 when the Virginia Association of School Librarians and the Virginia Library Association lobbied the state senate’s education committee helping to narrowly defeat a bill that would have removed regulations for qualified librarians at the middle and high school level. The Virginia House Education Committee defeated Senate Bill 261 in a 12-10 vote.

Chicago: In 2013, then Mayor Rahm Emanuel had the press take a picture of him in a school library discussing a funding increase to the school. The librarian had just lost their job! At that time it was reported that Chicago had 200 schools without a library, or the libraries were staffed by volunteers. The situation is still dire The recent teachers strike brought necessary change, but librarians worry they weren’t on the receiving end. About 80% of the 514 district-run schools are still without a librarian. There are only 108 full-time working librarians in the district, down from 454 librarians in the 2012–2013 school year, the year of the last Chicago teachers strike. But the recent strike did bring needed recognition to loss of school librarians and school libraries.

Arizona: Like so many places, Arizona has children who face poverty and don’t have access to reading material and literacy opportunities. But with only 140 certified school librarians, 57 book titles available for 100 students, and an average library budget of $960, Arizona school libraries are treading water.

New Jersey: In 2012, officials in New Jersey pondered whether librarians were necessary to help students when all students had to do was look up information online. But librarians are still critical to student success in elementary, middle, and high schools. In 2016, they reported a 20% drop in the number of school library media specialists or teacher-librarians in the state since 2007-2008. The New Jersey Library Association began a campaign Unlock Student Potential to address this serious problem. If you are concerned about the state of school libraries and librarians, this provides reports about the problems facing New Jersey.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools: In 2015, The Charlotte Observer published “Are School Librarians Going Way of the Milkman?” by Ann Doss Helms over concern about the loss of librarians and media specialists. School administrators used the excuse that teachers could offer books in their classrooms and get students library cards to the public library. This weakens the school structure, and paves the way to school privatization.

Denver: As more students entered the Denver school system, in 2019, they saw a 60% drop in their school librarians despite a previous 2012 study showing that Schools that either maintained or gained an endorsed librarian between 2005 and 2011 tended to have more students scoring advanced in reading in 2011 and to have increased their performance more than schools that either lost their librarians or never had one. How could they ignore what worked?

Florida: In 2015, The Florida Times-Union reported “Media specialists (librarians) almost endangered species in Duval schools.”Librarians are called media specialists there, but 110 media specialists had dropped to 70, leaving only 68 librarians in elementary schools, one at a high school, and one left at a middle school. In 2018, the number of librarians lost included 73 in Duval County, 206 in Dade County, 78 positions in Pasco County, and 47 librarians lost in Polk County (Sparks & Harwin).

Houston: The loss of school librarians began around 2008-2009 school year and got so bad many put bumper stickers that said “Houston We Have a Librarian Problem.” Houston started with 168 librarians. By 2013, it had dropped to 97 serving 282 K-12 schools. In 2019, the Houston Chronicle told about children coming home without books to read in their backpacks. Their 320 student school didn’t have a well-stocked library or full-time librarian.

Ohio: In 2015, it was reported that Ohio had lost more than 700 librarian positions over a decade. In that same year, the School Library Journal posted this report, “OH Department of Education Will Vote to Purge School Librarian Requirement.”

It appears that an emphasis on decoding, without addressing the loss of school libraries and qualified librarians, is intentionally incomplete for a reason. We know the importance of a school library and qualified librarians to a well-functioning school. Blaming teachers and their education schools for poor student reading scores, while ignoring this loss, indicates that forces are at work to end public education and replace teachers with screens. The SoR focus looks to be about this, and should be seen for it’s real agenda.

Nancy then offers a list of sources to prove her claim that libraries in schools are crucial for cultivating a love of reading. Access to books matters.

There is a difference between reading and literacy. Reading can be low-level or it can be a tool for gaining knowledge and knowing how to absorb it.

Open her post and read it.

She makes her case.

I don’t know why, but I find it fascinating to read about entrepreneurial ventures in education that launch with dazzling publicity, then quietly disappear. For some reason, entrepreneurs with no education experience think it should be easy to revolutionize schooling. Bill Gates has been reinventing American education for about 20 years. Laurene Powell Jobs started the Emerson Collective and the XQ Initiative to reinvent the high school and put on a show on all three networks to launch. SamuelAbrams wrote an excellent book about the high-flying adventures of Chris Whittle and the Edison Project, called Education and the Commercial Mindset. Joel Klein persuaded Rupert Murdoch to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in his plan to revolutionize American education with a program called Amplify, which Murdoch unloaded in a fire sale to Laurene Powell Jobs (Klein now works for an online health insurance company called OSCAR, founded by Jared Kushner’s brother). Jonathan Knee wrote a book called Class Clowns: How the Smartest Investors Lost Billions in Education.

And here is a new entry about the dangers of amateurs reinventing education.

Peter Greene tells the story of the glorious rise and inglorious descent of AltSchool.

It was founded by alumni of Google. They raised large sums of money from investors. What could go wrong?

Greene begins:

You remember AltSchool, the miraculous Silicon Valley technoschool that was going to Change the Game. We’ve checked in on them from time to time, and it’s time to see what has happened since the Altschool ship ran aground on the shores of reality a while ago.

After two years of tinkering and tweaking, AltSchool burst on the scene with a flurry of PR in 2015. Founded by Max Ventilla, formerly of Google, and Bharat Mediratta, also a Googlite, it was going to bring technology and personalization to new heights. Like a wired-up free school, it would let students and teachers just sort of amble through the forest of education. Teachers would capture moments of demonstrated learning on video, students would do work on modules on computer, and it would all be crunched in a back room full of IT whizzes who would churn out personalized learning stuff for the students. The school set up some branch schools, lab schools, hither and yon. All the big names wanted to invest– Zuckerberg, Powell Jobs, etc.

They had money. They had ideas. All they were lacking was knowledge and experience.

You will want to read the rest. It’s a cautionary tale for other entrepreneurs.

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of advanced mathematics and physics in California, doesn’t like Amplify. 

He doesn’t like its focus on profit and he doesn’t like its pedagogy.

He traces its provenance from Joel Klein to Rupert Murdoch to Laurene Powell Jobs.

it started with high promise and claims that it would transform American education but the business went south when its first big client complained of melting chargers and cracked screens.

Murdoch lost the faith and bailed out. Jobs bought it.

As he writes, she has a low opinion of classroom teachers.

He concludes:

The reason schools are buying these terrible education technology frauds is that professional educators are no longer making curricular decisions. All large modern businesses including schools require a significant digital infrastructure. This means that there must be an information technology group headed by an expert. That expert who loves technology and has no pedagogical expertise becomes the leading voice concerning the purchase of digital equipment. That explains in part why school districts in financial difficulty are still purchasing pricey education technology software and hardware. Board members believe they have no choice and that they are implementing professional advice.

Amplify Education, Inc. is another modern snake oil salesman. The only reason they did not disappear in 2003 is that the federal government and investors like Rupert Murdoch have poured billions of dollars into this company. It is past time for the fraudulent STEM ideology, education testing scam and the sale of low quality education technology products to be stopped. Taxpayers are being fleeced, schools are being bankrupted and children are being harmed.

Fred Smith was the testing expert at the New York City Board of Education for many years. After he retired, he became a relentless truth-teller about the flaws of standardized testing and the clever means of distorting the stats to produce the desired results. He currently acts as an unpaid advisor to opt-out parents.

Smith sent this article from 2007 that shows how Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein played games with the data, in this case blaming “immigrant kids” for a drop in test scores.

Mayor Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, have reaffirmed that old Mark Twain saying about the three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.

Using a PowerPoint presentation filled with glitzy graphs and color charts, Klein reached a new low yesterday by attempting to blame a sharp drop in this year’s third-, fourth- and fifth-grade reading scores on thousands of immigrant pupils.

According to the chancellor, the drop in the lower grade scores was solely because of the federal government’s new requirement that all children classified as English-language learners, or ELLs, must take the regular state tests after being in the country just one year.

Because of that requirement, some 30,000 more ELLs took the state test this year than in 2006, Klein said, and their lower scores dragged down overall city results.

Fred Smith was outraged when he heard Klein’s explanation. Smith, you see, spent three decades analyzing tests for our city’s school system, so he knows a thing or two about how chancellors paint the prettiest picture for the public.

“They never told you that back in 2005, during the mayoral race, the school district quietly increased the number of exemptions for ELL kids and then claimed a record boost in scores,” Smith said.

In 2009, with Bloomberg’s fellow billionaire Meryl Tisch, in charge of the New York Board of Regents, test scores in the city went through the roof. After the mayoral primary election was safely past, the Regents commissioned a report by professors Daniel Koretz and Jennifer Jennings showing that the test questions had become familiar, leading to score inflation, and that the dramatic rise was not real.

Also, in an amusing turn of events, New York City won the Broad award in 2007 as the most improved urban district, right before the NAEP gains were released, showing that the city had made no gains on NAEP.

In 2010, Jennifer Medina of the New York Times wrote about the perils of over reliance on standardized tests and how it affected New York City in particular. 

She wrote:

When New York State made its standardized English and math tests tougher to pass this year, causing proficiency rates to plummet, it said it was relying on a new analysis showing that the tests had become too easy and that score inflation was rampant.

But evidence had been mounting for some time that the state’s tests, which have formed the basis of almost every school reform effort of the past decade, had serious flaws.

The fast rise and even faster fall of New York’s passing rates resulted from the effect of policies, decisions and missed red flags that stretched back more than 10 years and were laid out in correspondence and in interviews with city and state education officials, administrators and testing experts.

The process involved direct warnings from experts that went unheeded by the state, and a city administration that trumpeted gains in student performance despite its own reservations about how reliably the test gauged future student success.

It involved the state’s decision to create short, predictable exams and to release them publicly soon after they were given, making coaching easy and depriving test creators of a key tool: the ability to insert in each test questions for future exams. Next year, for the first time, the tests will not be released publicly.

It involved a national push for numbers-based accountability, begun under President George W. Bush and reinforced by President Obama. And it involved a mayor’s full embrace of testing as he sought to make his mark on the city, and then to get re-elected.

“They just kept upping the stakes with the scores, putting more pressure on the schools but not really looking at what it all means,” said Pedro Noguera, an education professor at New York University who has worked with the city’s Department of Education to help improve struggling schools.

New York has been a national model for how to carry out education reform, so its sudden decline in passing rates may be seen as a cautionary tale. The turnaround has also been a blow to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his chancellor, Joel I. Klein, who despite warnings that a laserlike focus on raising scores could make them less and less reliable, lashed almost every aspect of its school system to them. Schools were graded on how much their scores rose and threatened with being closed if they did not. The scores dictated which students were promoted or left back, and which teachers and principals would receive bonuses.

Even now, the city believes that the way it uses the tests is valid. The mayor and the chancellor have forcefully defended their students’ performance, noting that even after the changes this year, student scores are still better than they were in 2002. They have argued that their students’ progress is more important than the change in the passing rate, and that years of gains cannot be washed away because of a decision in Albany to require more correct answers from every student this year.

The test scores were even used for a new purpose this year: to help determine which teachers should receive tenure.

“This mayor uses data and metrics to determine whether policies are failing or succeeding,” said Howard Wolfson, the deputy mayor for government affairs and communications. He also helped run Mr. Bloomberg’s re-election campaign in 2009, using the city’s historic rise in test scores to make the case for a third term. “We believe that testing is a key factor for determining the success of schools and teachers.”

“Under any standard you look at,” he added, “we have improved the schools.”

But given all the flaws of the test, said Prof. Howard T. Everson of the City University of New York’s Center for Advanced Study in Education, it is hard to tell what those rising scores really meant.

“Teachers began to know what was going to be on the tests,” said Professor Everson, who was a member of a state testing advisory panel and who warned the state in 2008 that it might have a problem with score inflation. “Then you have to wonder, and folks like me wonder, is that real learning or not?”

New Generation of Tests

The problems that plagued New York’s standardized tests can be traced to the origin of the exams.

In 1996, New York set about creating tests for fourth and eighth graders as a way to measure whether schools were doing their jobs. A precursor to the widespread testing brought about by Mr. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, the tests replaced more basic exams that had been given in the same grades, which simply determined whether students needed remedial instruction. (The city had also given its own tests for many years.)

Teachers pushed back, saying they could gauge their students’ performance better than any mass-produced tests could. “There was a lot of resistance from throughout the education community to having the tests,” said Alan Ray, who was the chief spokesman for the State Education Department in the 1990s and in 2000, and retired this year after overseeing data for the office.

But education officials in New York, and many other states, were coming to the conclusion that some measurement system, no matter how limited, was necessary.

The officials sought advice from dozens of educators across New York to figure out what the tests should encompass, Mr. Ray said. Teachers and principals asked that the standards be specific, to make it clear what they were expected to teach at each grade level, and superintendents pleaded to keep the tests relatively short so that students would not spend days filling in bubbles. The state obliged both requests.

The decision to keep the tests narrow and short — the fifth-grade math test, for example, had 34 questions this year — would have a lasting impact, said Daniel Koretz, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education who specializes in assessment systems. The same types of questions would be trotted out every year, he said.

“In many cases you could not write an unpredictable question no matter how hard you tried,” Professor Koretz said. He oversaw the study of New York’s tests that led to the state’s conclusion that they had become too easy to pass.

The state also continued making tests public after they were administered. Coupled with the questions’ predictability, the public release of the tests, which started long before the nationwide accountability movement, provided teachers with ready-made practice exams….

A Mayor Chases Results

The state tests’ flaws would not become evident for years. But by 2001, the tests had a champion.

During his first campaign, Mr. Bloomberg said that education was his top priority. He pledged to take control of the city’s public schools, then under the supervision of the Board of Education, which had been ridiculed for budget troubles and stagnant academic performance.

Projecting the image of a bottom-line-oriented, pragmatic businessman, Mr. Bloomberg latched on to test scores as a clear way of seeing just how well students were doing.

“If four years from now reading scores and math scores aren’t significantly better,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a radio interview in 2001, “then I will look in the mirror and say that I have been a failure. I’ve never failed at anything yet, and I don’t plan to fail at that.”

After Mr. Bloomberg persuaded the Legislature to give him control of the schools, he appointed Mr. Klein, a former Justice Department lawyer and media executive, as his chancellor. Mr. Klein was seen as a technocrat who was eager and able to produce tangible results, the kind that could be measured.

Scores in the city and state were on their way up. In 2004, for example, the proportion of fourth graders in the city meeting math standards increased to 68 percent, up 16 percentage points since 2001. Only 42 percent of eighth graders met that mark, but that was still a significant improvement from just a few years earlier. By 2009, that rate would jump nearly 30 points.

“What is encouraging is that for two or three years in a row now, the tests have gone in the same direction — up,” the mayor said on a radio show in October 2004. “So there’s reason to believe we’re headed to the correct place.”

In 2003, Mr. Bloomberg ended the practice of “social promotion” in certain grades, requiring students performing at the lowest levels on the tests be held back unless they attended summer school and showed progress on a retest. That year, Mr. Klein released a list of 200 successful schools, the only places where teachers would not have to follow the citywide math and English curriculums. The list was primarily based on test scores.

More and more of the mayor’s educational initiatives were linked to the scores. They were used to help decide which schools should be closed and replaced with new, smaller schools. The new A-through-F grading system for schools was based primarily on how their students improved on the tests. Teachers and principals earned bonuses of up to $25,000 if their schools’ scores rose. Teachers’ annual evaluations and tenure decisions are partially dependent on test results.

Each new policy was met with denunciations from the teachers’ union or from education experts like Diane Ravitch. Ms. Ravitch, a supporter of standardized testing when she was an adviser to the Clinton and Bush administrations, became one of the biggest critics, arguing that schools were devoting too much time to the pursuit of high scores.

“If they are not learning social studies but their reading scores are going up, they are not getting an education,” Ms. Ravitch said in 2005, as the mayor coasted to re-election.

The mayor and chancellor dismissed these criticisms as the hidebound defenses of an old, failed system devoid of meaningful standards. But some questions were also being raised by people close to the administration.

In the Education Department headquarters on Chambers Street, some officials argued that the A-through-F system of grading schools should incorporate not only the English and math tests, but also the science and social studies exams given by the state. “We wanted to draw this as broadly as possible,” said a former school official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid publicly disagreeing with Mr. Klein.

But after months of running models and tweaking formulas, Mr. Klein decided to stick with the two core subjects. After all, he often argued, if students could not master essential math and English skills, it would be impossible for them to grasp other concepts.

Dr. Noguera, the N.Y.U. education professor and adviser to the city, applauded Mr. Klein for creating a grading system that rewarded improvement from year to year so that schools in poor neighborhoods had the same chance of achieving a good grade as those in wealthier areas.

But it also was risky, Dr. Noguera said. “That got schools fixated on how to raise scores, not looking for more authentic learning,” he said.

Dr. Noguera expressed his views publicly and to some of Mr. Klein’s deputies, but never directly told the chancellor, he said.

Mr. Klein said in recent interviews that while the tests were imperfect, they were still the best measurements available for a school system that previously had no yardsticks. They also were not the only signs proving the city had been making progress, he said: On more difficult federal tests given to a sample of fourth and eighth graders, the city had steadily improved.

And the city’s main goal, he said, was not simply giving out laurels for students’ scoring 3s (“proficient”) and 4s (“advanced”) on the state tests.

Instead, its system of school grades and teacher incentives gave considerable weight to scores that showed improvement from year to year at all levels.

“Nobody else was doing this,” Mr. Klein said. “We never said it was good enough to get to passing and just stay there.”

In 2006, the state added tests for the third, fifth, sixth and seventh grades, in order to align with the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Scores jumped in 2007.

There were improvements at every grade level across the state and in New York City, where 65 percent of all students met state standards in math, an improvement of eight percentage points in one year.

“I’m happy, thrilled — ecstatic, I think, is a better word,” Mr. Bloomberg said at the time. “The hard work going on in our schools is really paying off.”

After Mr. Bloomberg’s first full term as mayor, the new scores seemed to ratify his claims of success. They also raised more alarms.

As a superintendent in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Kathleen Cashin had seen several schools improve throughout the early part of the decade. But when she saw the sudden jump, she said, she was shocked.

“I said to my intimate circle of staff, this cannot be possible,” Ms. Cashin recalled. “I knew how much effort and how much planning any little improvement would take, and not all of these schools had done any of it.”

But Ms. Cashin, who retired in February, held her tongue at the time. Asked why she did not take up her concerns with Mr. Klein or his deputies, she said, “I didn’t have their ear.”

A Proposal for a Fix

The following winter, Professor Koretz, of Harvard, and Professor Everson, of CUNY, who was a member of a state testing advisory group, sent a memo to state education officials.

“Research has shown that when educators are pressured to raise scores on conventional achievement tests, some improve instruction, while others turn to inappropriate methods of test preparation that inflate scores,” they wrote in the Feb. 5, 2008, memo. “In some cases, the inflation of scores has been extreme.”

The researchers proposed to devise a kind of audit. While tests tended to be similar from year to year, they would add to each exam some questions that did not resemble those from previous years. If a class performed well on the main section of the test but poorly on the added questions, that would be evidence that scores were inflated by test preparation. If a class performed well on both, the researchers wrote, that teacher might have methods worth emulating.

In addition, they wrote, such a system would give teachers “less incentive to engage in inappropriate test preparation and more incentive to undertake the much harder task of improving instruction.”

State education officials, the professors said, did not give them a hearing.

The 2008 results showed even more large gains — 74 percent of city students were deemed proficient in math, an increase of nine points in one year; and the city’s passing rate in reading was now 58 percent, up from 51 percent two years earlier. Statewide, the passing rates jumped to 81 percent in math and 69 percent in reading.

Professor Koretz and Professor Everson wrote another memo in September 2008, again proposing to create a way to make test results more reliable. But the idea went nowhere….

The city’s Department of Education constantly mines test score data for patterns to show where improvement is happening and where it is needed. In 2008, it noticed an incongruity: Eighth graders who scored at least a 3 on the state math exam had only a 50 percent chance of graduating from high school four years later with a Regents diploma, which requires a student to pass a certain number of tests in various subjects and is considered the minimum qualification for college readiness.

The city realized that the test results were not as reliable as the state was leading people to believe.

Mr. Klein and several of his deputies spoke by phone with Merryl H. Tisch, the vice chancellor of the Board of Regents, and Mr. Mills, trying to persuade them to create a statewide accountability system similar to the city’s, one that gave improvement at least as much weight as the score itself.

The state said it would consider moving to such a system, but would need more time.

Neither the city nor state publicly disclosed the concerns about the scores. By then, students across the state were preparing for the 2009 tests, filling in bubbles on mock answer sheets, using at least three years of previous state tests as guides.

The scores arrived in May, and with them, the bluntest warning yet.

Just before the results were released, a member of the Regents named Betty Rosa called Ms. Tisch, who had recently become chancellor.

Ms. Rosa, who had been a teacher, principal and superintendent in the Bronx for nearly three decades, said the unprecedented high scores simply seemed too good to be true. She suggested the unthinkable: the scores were so unbelievable, she said, that the state should not publicly release them.

“The question was really are we telling the public the truth,” Ms. Rosa said in a recent interview. Ms. Tisch, she said, relayed that she, too, found the scores suspicious, but that it would be impossible to withhold them. “It was like a train that was already in motion and no way to stop it,” Ms. Rosa said.

The English test scores showed 69 percent of city students passing. Mr. Bloomberg called the results “nothing short of amazing and exactly what this country needs.”

“We have improved the test scores in English,” he continued, “and we expect the same results in math in a couple of weeks, every single year for seven years.” Four weeks later, it was announced that 82 percent of city students had passed the math tests.

Because of the widespread improvement in the scores, 84 percent of all public schools received an A in the city’s grading system, something Mr. Klein said he later regretted. This year, the city limited the number of A’s to 25 percent of schools.

The 2009 numbers came out as the mayor was trying to accomplish two goals: to persuade the Legislature to give the mayor control of the schools for another seven years; and to convince city voters that he deserved a third term.

Mr. Bloomberg’s opponent, Comptroller William C. Thompson, had once been president of the Education Board.

“Mike Bloomberg changed that system,” said one of the mayor’s campaign advertisements. “Now, record graduation rates. Test scores up, violence down. So when you compare apples to apples, Thompson offers politics as usual. Mike Bloomberg offers progress.”

In his debates, Mr. Bloomberg hammered home the theme. “If anybody thinks that the schools were better when Bill ran them, they should vote for him,” he said in one face-off. “And if anybody thinks they’re better now, I’d be honored to have their vote.”

Indeed, according to exit polls, 57 percent of those who said education was their primary concern voted for Mr. Bloomberg, who won the election by a five-point margin.

Mr. Wolfson, the deputy mayor and 2009 campaign strategist, said the mayor had no regrets about focusing on the exams as a matter of policy, and during the election.

“What’s the converse?” he said. “The converse is that we don’t test and we have no way of judging success or failure. Either you believe in standards or tests, or you don’t — and life is not like that. There are tests all the time.”

Ms. Tisch, in releasing the 2009 test results, had not heeded Ms. Rosa’s radical request. But the very day she put out the English test results, she began openly acknowledging doubts about the scores, irking the mayor and chancellor, who privately seethed that she was seeking to undermine their success. “As a board, we will ask whether the test is getting harder or easier,” she said.

Although the Regents did not immediately opt to create an entirely new test, Ms. Tisch and David Steiner, the new education commissioner, asked Professor Koretz, who had been rebuffed in previous requests, to analyze the ones that were in use. His conclusion — and that of another researcher, Jennifer L. Jennings — was that the tests had become too easy, and hence the scores were inflated. That led the State Education Department to raise the number of correct answers required to pass each test.

The state intends to rewrite future tests to encompass a broader range of material, and will stop publicly releasing them.

“We came in here saying we have to stop lying to our kids,” Ms. Tisch said in a recent interview. “We have to be able to know what they do and do not know.”

Bloomberg was first elected to the mayoralty in 2001. There was a two-term limit. He ran again in 2005, for what should have been his second and last term, and won easily. In 2009, he used his vast resources to persuade the City Council to vote to give him and themselves a third term. And that he is how he qualified to run for a third term and used his education record as a reason to be re-elected.
Now, after all this investment in testing, test prep, interim assessments, etc. what were the results?
New York City has shown no gains in reading on NAEP from 2003-2019, in either fourth or eighth grades.
Make of it what you will.
If Bloomberg is the Democratic candidate against Trump, I will vote for him.
But please don’t believe the boasting about the New York City education miracle.
It never happened.
An update on some of the individuals mentioned in the New York Times’ 2010 article. Betty Rosa is now Chancellor of the State Board of Regents. Kathleen Cashin is a member of the Board of Regents. Meryl Tisch is now on the board of the State University of New York (which has the power to authorize new charter schools, including those of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain). David Steiner–now a professor at Johns Hopkins University– served for two years as State Commissioner, during which time he approved Mayor Bloomberg’s choice to succeed Joel Klein as NYC Chancellor, a retired magazine publisher named Cathie Black, who lasted three months. Steiner was also in charge of the State Education Department when it won a Race to the Top grant and committed the state to using student test scores to evaluate teachers, increasing the number of charter schools, and adopting the Common Core standards. These changes, in turn, created the parent-led Opt Out movement, in which parents refused to let their children take the state tests and grew to represent 20% of the eligible students. John King succeeded David Steiner and eventually replaced Arne Duncan in the last year of President Obama’s second term. When Joel Klein stepped down, he hired a Department of Education vendor named Wireless Generation and created a technology company called Amplify. Rupert Murdoch bought Amplify and invested a reputed $1 billion; newspaper stories predicted that Amplify would usher in a new age of hardware and software. However, the biggest sale of Amplify tablets and software was made to Guilford, North Carolina, purchased with Race to the Top funding; it turned into  a disaster when chargers melted and other problems emerged. Guilford canceled the contract. Murdoch, having lost about $500 million, put the company up for sale. Laurene Powell Jobs bought it, and Amplify is now part of her Emerson Collective, selling “personalized learning.” Klein works for an online healthcare company called OSCAR, co-founded by Joshua Kushner, brother of Jared Kushner.

ProPublica has another important expose, this one about the Navy’s dependence on flawed technology. 

I donate to ProPublica. This investigative journalism has never been more important.

The Navy installed touch-screen steering systems to save money.

Ten sailors paid with their lives.

COLLISION COURSE

When the USS John S. McCain crashed in the Pacific, the Navy blamed the destroyer’s crew for the loss of 10 sailors. The truth is the Navy’s flawed technology set the McCain up for disaster.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

DAKOTA BORDEAUX HAD RARELY traveled outside his home state of Oklahoma before he joined the Navy in February 2017. He’d certainly never seen the ocean.

But only four months later, Bordeaux was standing at the helm of the USS John S. McCain, steering the 8,300-ton destroyer through the western Pacific. Part of the Navy’s famed 7th Fleet, the McCain was responsible for patrolling global hot spots, shadowing Chinese warships in the South China Sea and tracking North Korean missile launches.

It filled the high school graduate with pride.

“Not many people of my age can say, ‘Hey, I just drove a giant-ass battleship,’” said Bordeaux, 23.

To guide the McCain, Bordeaux relied upon a navigation system the Navy considered a triumph of technology and thrift. It featured slick black touch screens to operate the ship’s wheel and propellers. It knit together information from radars and digital maps. It would save money by requiring fewer sailors to safely steer the ship.

Bordeaux felt confident using the system to control the speed and heading of the ship. But there were many things he did not understand about the array of dials, arrows and data that filled the touch screen.

“There was actually a lot of functions on there that I had no clue what on earth they did,” Bordeaux said of the system.

Bordeaux, one of the newest sailors on the ship, was joined in uncertainty by one of the most seasoned, Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez, captain of the McCain.

A 19-year Navy veteran, Sanchez had watched as technicians replaced the ship’s traditional steering controls a year earlier with the new navigation system. Almost from the start, it caused him headaches. The system constantly indicated problems with steering. They were mostly false alarms, quickly fixed, but by March 2017, Sanchez’s engineers were calling the system “unstable,” with “multiple and cascading failures regularly.”

Sanchez grew to distrust the navigation system, especially for use in delicate operations. He often ordered it to run in backup manual mode, which eliminated some of the automated functions but also created new risks.

In August 2017, Sanchez and his crew steered the ship toward a naval base in Singapore, where technicians were waiting. The navigation system had indicated more than 60 “major steering faults” during the month.

“We were going to have the programmers,” Sanchez said, “give the system a full, a full check, a full clean bill of health.”

The McCain never reached its destination.

 

John Merrow learned about the latest trending idea in teacher training. Give a teacher a script, put a “bug” in his or her ear, and let the teacher follow instructions.

This is what he calls “insect-based” teacher training.

He decided to visit some schools to find out how it was working.

Part 1 begins like this:

The latest development in the never-ending struggle to improve teaching involves “A bug in the ear” AND “A fly on the wall.”  This insect-based approach has a highly-trained but distant observers watching (on closed circuit video) teachers at work and giving them instructions and suggestions in real time, so the teachers can modify methods and instantly improve their instruction. 

According to Education Week, what’s called ‘Bug in the Ear Coaching”  is being used in about a dozen states. “The premise is simple: A teacher wears an earpiece during a lesson, which is being live-streamed for an instructional coach who is somewhere else. Throughout the lesson, the coach delivers in-the-moment feedback to the teacher, who can add something or switch gears based on what she’s hearing in her ear.”

I reached out to some of the sources I developed in my 41 years of reporting for a closer look. One enthusiastic superintendent, who requested anonymity, said that the system would pay for itself in higher scores on standardized tests. “While the initial investment of $500,000 per school for cameras and directional microphones for every classroom, a dedicated room of monitors, the cost of a half-time tech person, and the salaries of the instructional experts who monitor the teachers, looks like a lot, once those standardized test scores go up, it’s smooth sailing.”

Are there other costs, I wanted to know?

“Our experts wanted all the teachers to wear identical loose-fitting shirts and blouses to minimize sound interference.  I had a great deal worked out with the company that makes the uniforms they wear at the federal penitentiary in the next county.”  He chuckled, “But without stripes, of course.” However, he explained, the teachers union shot the idea down. 

He (and some educators cited in Ed Week) say that most teachers like the immediacy of the system, saying that instant feedback is really the only kind that sticks.  “It was really nice to feel supported and get direct feedback in the moment,” a special education teacher in Washington State told Ed Week.

However, when I reached out to some veteran teachers I respect, I found no support for the approach.  (Stop reading here if vulgar language offends you.)

I stopped reading right there, but you don’t need to!

Then he posted Part 2, where he continued his investigation. 

Last week in this space I took a poke or two at what I called “Insect-Based Teacher Training,” specifically the practice of wiring teachers so that remote observers can hear and see what they do in their classrooms.  What they call “Bug in the Ear training” enables experts to interrupt teachers and tell them what they are doing wrong. In theory, that allows teachers to improve on the spot.  You may remember that the expert I observed in action wasn’t particularly effective.

(Full disclosure: In last week’s essay I took a small liberty with the two veteran teachers whose opinions I cited: neither of them actually referenced ‘ants in underpants’ or ‘ticks on dicks.’   I owe my readers an apology because the teachers did not say that.  I made that up, just for the fun of it. 

Why would I do that?  Well, after so many years of reporting for public broadcasting, where the emphasis is on truth, making stuff up gives me a huge adrenalin rush.

However, everything else in that essay  is 100% accurate.  You can take that to the bank.)

But I digress. What I want you to know is the morning after “Insect-Based Teacher Training” was published, I received a call from the School Superintendent whose district I had visited.   He was upset about my portrayal of the process, saying that the observer had a bad day.  Moreover, he said, I had failed to grasp the subtle, significant ways that technology improves education.  Would I come back and learn more, he asked?

I rushed out the door, and a few hours later the Superintendent and I were in the school’s monitoring room, staring at the 30+ video screens that showed all the school’s classrooms.

I wanted to hear his defense of the “Bug in the Ear” approach.  Would he have wanted to have a bug in his ear when he was teaching, I wanted to know?

“I actually never taught,” came his response. “I came up the ranks through coaching.”

Then he chuckled.  “That’s an old joke, superintendents starting out as coaches.  I was never a coach either.”

What was his background, I wanted to know?

“I studied organizational behavior in college, and then, for my MBA, I focused on management.”

He continued:  “But that’s not why I asked you to come back,” he said. “I want you to see another way that monitoring and advanced technology improve teaching and learning.”

Go on, I said.

To get the inside scoop on “insect-based teacher training,” this is a must-read.

In case you wondered, the first time I ever heard of the bug-in-your-ear approach to teaching, it was in the description of the methodology of Bridge International Academies, the private sector effort to take over schooling in certain African nations. The BIA approach was to give each teacher an iPad (or similar device) with a curriculum written by TFA teachers located in Boston. Then each teacher got a bug-in-the-ear to make sure that they were delivering the curriculum precisely as directed by the device. BIA charges a fee and was engaged in trying to turn a profit by enrolling hundreds of thousands of students in the world’s poorest countries. Its investors included Bill Gates, Pearson, Mark Zuckerberg, Pearson, and the World Bank. The problem with its approach was that it had the effect of discouraging the government from taking responsibility for building a universal, free public education system. Furthermore, if students couldn’t pay the fees, they were kicked out. BIA says it gets higher scores, which is not surprising since it accepts students only if they can pay. Strange that BIA’s methods crossed the ocean back to where it was started.