Archives for category: Testing

Thomas Ultican continues his investigation of the tentacles of billionaire reformers, this time focusing on the tumultuous career of John Deasy, who resigned as superintendent of the Stockton, California, school district.

Ultican shows how Deasy rose to become superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, how Justin tenure there was marked by controversy as he walked in lockstep with the Eli Broad-Bill Gates agenda of charter school expansion, high-stakes testing, and huge investments in technology. His controversial decision to spend $1.3 billion on iPads and tech curriculum led to the end of his tenure in L.A.

On to Stockton, where the Mayor and three school board members were closely allied with the billionaire agenda.

A sad and cautionary tale about the destructive billionaire-funded movement to gut public schools.

Pawan Dhingra, a Professor of American Studies at Amherst College, writes about what he calls “hyper education,” the stress that parents apply to get their children to become high achievers. In this article, he writes about the phenomenon of Indian American students dominating spelling bees.

He begins:

Succeeding in the Spelling Bee for Indian Americans is more than a family affair

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, my parents insisted on me receiving good grades in school. They were eligible to immigrate from India in large part due to their advanced educational attainment, which helped earn them work visas. As long as I attained good grades, they did not worry about what activities I chose after-school. If I was a child today, that would probably be very different. I would likely be enrolled in some after-school scholastic activity to supplement my schoolwork. And as a family of Indian origin, there is a good chance that would have been a spelling bee or some other academic competition.

Over the past 20 years, Indian Americans have come to dominate the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The last Scripps Bee without an Indian American champion was 2007. In 2019, the last time a Scripps Bee was held, there were eight co-champions, seven of whom were Indian American. There is even a documentary on this trend, Spelling the Dream. What’s more, they have over-achieved in National Geography Bees, MATHCOUNTS, and other academic competitions.

I spent years with families engaged in spelling bees, math competitions, and other forms of after-school academics for my book, Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough. In part, I explain why Indian Americans have come to dominate them, which has to do with their own ethnic circuits of academic competitions, their command of the English knowledge, the family commitment of support and time, and the financial resources necessary to prepare.

Why care about academics in the first place?

But there is a more fundamental question I focus on, which is what motivates Indian Americans’ and others’ interest in after-school academics (e.g. learning centers, competitions) in the first place? Most other parents have their young children in sports, the arts, religious, or civic extracurricular activities. Indian immigrant parents do all of these as well. But they also put their children in extracurricular academics and, in particular, competitive ones.

As immigrant minorities, parents believed college entry would depend on having an undeniably strong academic record to compensate for a lack of networks, college legacy status, or athletic recruitment. They worried about being held to a higher standard in college admissions as Asian Americans. As one father told me, “The college admission system is that we need to be one step up. From what I’ve read, we have to have 130 points above others. That is how admissions are determined. Spelling bee will help with the SAT.”

Parents were not narrowly focused on spelling as how to boost their children’s competitiveness. I shared with a mother at a bee that my son enjoyed U.S. history but was not much into spelling. She excitedly shared that there is a national history bee I should enroll him in. The important point was to enroll the child into something academic.

It is indeed interesting to wonder why some immigrants are super strivers, others are not. Some see education as a route to success, others do not. In my own family, with an immigrant mother and eight children, we ran the gamut. I was focused on education, along with at least one other, but most were not.

Andy Hargreaves, a scholar of international renown, participated in a virtual seminar in South Korea about post-pandemic education.

His 20-minute presentation is brilliant, pithy, and compelling.

Look for it on this YouTube video. He starts at about 22:00 minutes and concludes at about the 43:00 minute mark.

He urges South Korea and the rest of the world not to “return” to austerity, competition, high-stakes testing, and education that is subservient to GDP, but to pursue a very different path.

To learn about that different and very alluring vision of the future, take 20 minutes of your time, watch and listen.

A parent of two children at the Success Academy charter chain in New York City reaches out to Mercedes Schneider in Louisiana to spill the beans about the chain’s efforts to kick her children out.

The teachers and administrators made it clear that her children should find another school, but she stubbornly hung on. They weren’t problem children, but the older child was “average,” and the younger one needed extra attention.

That was enough to cause the chain to try to shed them, but their mother ignored all the efforts to push them out.

When the pandemic struck and school went virtual, SA was no more nimble than the public schools. The mother realized that SA is all about grading students, not teaching them.

The National Superintendents Roundtable reports that Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina want to suspend testing next year. Other states may follow their lead. The most important priority must be the health and safety of students and staff.

On June 18, Georgia became one of the first states to seek an assessment waiver. Gov. Brian P. Kemp and State School Superintendent Richard Woods jointly announced their decision to apply for suspension of standardized testing to the U.S. Department of Education.

Continuing with high-stakes testing for the next school year, they said in a joint press release, would be “counterproductive.”

“In anticipation of a return to in-person instruction this fall, we believe schools’ focus should be on remediation, growth, and the safety of students,” the statement said. “Every dollar spent on high-stakes testing would be a dollar taken away from the classroom.”

In South Carolina, the state Senate approved a bill that would seek a waiver from all federal accountability reporting, as well as test suspension, “to help recoup extensive instruction time lost when our public schools closed” in spring.

Texas also moved in a similar direction earlier this month, when state Rep. Dan Flynn announced a resolution seeking a waiver from Gov. Greg Abbott for state accountability ratings, adding that extended closures have historically negatively impacted students’ math and reading achievement.

A growing number of educators realize the uselessness of annual standardized testing.

A group of superintendents from metro Detroit and surrounding counties is urging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state Superintendent Michael Rice to seek the OK to suspend state-mandated academic testing during the upcoming school year.

“Every educator’s first and foremost priority will be to work with students individually, assess their needs, and help them readjust to in-person learning,” the district leaders wrote.

The letter was signed by the superintendents of intermediate school districts in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, Genesee, Monroe, Washtenaw, and St. Clair counties. Intermediate school districts provide a range of services to local districts and charter schools within their boundaries.

The letter asks the state to seek the OK from the U.S. Department of Education to suspend testing. Federal guidelines require annual assessments.

The request comes as districts across the state are working to develop plans to reopen school buildings in the fall, and make accommodations for students who opt to continue learning online. Whitmer next week is expected to release guidelines for the safe reopening of schools.

A group of superintendents from metro Detroit and surrounding counties is urging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state Superintendent Michael Rice to seek the OK to suspend state-mandated academic testing during the upcoming school year.

“Every educator’s first and foremost priority will be to work with students individually, assess their needs, and help them readjust to in-person learning,” the district leaders wrote.

The letter was signed by the superintendents of intermediate school districts in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, Genesee, Monroe, Washtenaw, and St. Clair counties. Intermediate school districts provide a range of services to local districts and charter schools within their boundaries.

The letter asks the state to seek the OK from the U.S. Department of Education to suspend testing. Federal guidelines require annual assessments.

To think that it required a global pandemic to stop the nation’s obsession with standardized testing.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board has three core beliefs about education.

1. Public schools are horrible.

2. Teachers’ unions are evil.

3. Non-unionized charters and vouchers are the remedy to all that ails American education.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

The three highest performing states in the nation—Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey—have strong teachers’ unions. None of the non-union states are at the top of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Unions fight for adequate resources and decent salaries for teachers, in addition to fighting for teachers’ right to fair treatment on the job. The resources help their students, and the job rights help retain career teachers.

Most recently the WSJ wrote a glowing editorial about the alleged success of vouchers in Florida, one of its favorite states because its governor and legislature have diverted $3 billion from public schools to non-union charters and vouchers. The editorialists are thrilled because Florida just recently expanded its voucher program.

Most vouchers in Florida are used in religious schools, most of which are evangelical Christian schools. The voucher schools are not required to take state tests. They are not required to be accountable in any way. They are not required to hire certified teachers or principals. The voucher schools are allowed to discriminate against gay students, staff, and families. They do not have to adopt the state standards and may use the Bible as their science textbook if they wish. The Orlando Sentinel wrote a revealing series about Florida’s voucher program, called “Schools Without Rules.”

Bear in mind that the size of a voucher—less than $8,000–guarantees that it will be accepted only by low-tuition schools, not by the schools of elite families, where tuition may be as high as $35,000-40,000 a year.

Here is the text of the WSJ editorial:

The headline is “Florida’s School Choice Blowout.”

The subtitle is: “The State Expands Its Successful K-12 Scholarship Program.”

Good news from Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed the biggest private school voucher expansion in U.S. history—giving families in Democratic, union-controlled states another reason to move to the Sunshine State.

Florida established the Family Empowerment Scholarship last year for low and middle-income families. The private school vouchers run between $6,775 and $7,250 per student depending on the grade level, and 87% of recipients come from households below 185% of the federal poverty level (about $48,470 for a family of four). Most are black or Hispanic.

Vouchers had been limited to 18,000 students this year with annual growth capped at about 7,000. This wasn’t enough to meet parental demand, and there are 35,000 eligible students on scholarship waiting lists. Republicans have now quadrupled the cap on annual growth so that 28,000 more students can benefit each year. If the voucher program’s capacity exceeds demand from eligible families, the new law will increase the household-income limit (currently 300% of the poverty line) by 25% so more middle-income families can apply. In short, supply of vouchers will now automatically expand to meet demand.

As a political trade, Mr. DeSantis gave public schools $500 million for salary increases—not that this appeased the teachers unions that oppose all school choice because it forces unionized public schools to compete for students. While voucher studies have shown mixed effects on academic performance, one reason is probably that giving parents more choice forces improvements at public schools. A National Bureau of Economic Research study this year found higher standardized test scores and lower absenteeism among students, especially low-income ones, who attended Florida public schools in areas where more students had access to private-school choice.

Notably, fourth-graders in Washington, D.C., and Miami-Dade in Florida showed the most improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores among large urban school districts since 2011. Both Florida and Washington, D.C., offer robust private-school choice and have eliminated teacher tenure. By contrast, student scores in most districts including Houston, Philadelphia and Baltimore have been flat or declined.

Jeb Bush kicked off Florida’s school choice movement two decades ago, and Rick Scott (now Senator) and Mr. DeSantis have built on his success. More than 130,000 students in Florida now receive scholarships. Florida is helping to increase social mobility and future incomes by expanding educational opportunity for all.

Here are the facts:

Florida’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a sample test of reading and mathematics in grades 4 and 8 for the nation, states, and some urban districts, have been mostly flat over the past decade. The NAEP scores don’t include voucher schools, because they are not held accountable in any way. The WSJ asserts that Florida is a great “success” story, that its fourth graders showed dramatic improvement from 2011-2019, but that is false. Why leave out the eighth graders? Could it be because the eighth grade scores in both Florida and Miami were flat?

Here are the NAEP results for 2019 in reading.

Here are the NAEP results in mathematics for 2019.

You can look at average scores over time for every state and for urban districts that asked to be tested, including Miami-Dade.

You can compare 2019 to previous years. The WSJ chose to compare 2019 to 2011, but I chose to compare 2019 to 2009. It’s not impressive for Florida or Miami no matter which year you choose.

Let’s check the progress of Florida and Miami on NAEP (public schools only):

Fourth grade reading: Scores unchanged since 2009.

Eighth grade reading: Scores unchanged since 2009.

Fourth grade mathematics: Scores unchanged since 2011 (Remember that Florida retains low-scoring third graders, which tends to inflate fourth -grade scores).

Eighth grade math: Scores unchanged from 2009-2019.

Since the WSJ refers to NAEP as evidence of Florida’s amazing performance, it’s worth noting that Florida has flat-lined for the last decade on NAEP.

We don’t know anything about the “success” of vouchers in Florida, since their students don’t take state tests or NAEP.

But we do know that rigorous voucher studies in other states—Louisiana, Ohio, Indiana, the District of Columbia—have shown that voucher students lose ground compared to their peers in public schools. (See here and here and here.)

Far from “expanding opportunity,” vouchers enable children to attend low-cost schools where they abandon their civil rights protections at the door, are instructed by uncertified teachers, and are likely to fall behind academically or return to their public school. One of the unexplored issues associated with voucher schools is their high attrition rates. When voucher boosters boast about their high school graduation rate, they fail to mention the number of kids who didn’t make it to senior year. Only the elitist Wall Street Journal would think of this as a boon for children and families.

This is an interview with Russ Roberts of the Hoover Institution about SLAYING GOLIATH.

The Hoover Institution has a huge endowment, and it is committed to free markets. Its funders do not like public schools. They disparage them as “government schools.” They like vouchers and charters.

Russ is a nice guy, and he believes in choice and charter schools. We disagreed. You might enjoy this podcast.

I was a Senior Fellow at Hoover from 1999-2009. Then when I realized that testing and choice were failing and were doing damage to schools and students, I left and began a campaign to stop what I once supported. At Hoover, testing and choice are dogma, and I no longer was a true believer. Hoover is situated on the Stanford University campus but has touchy relations with the university. While I was attached to Hoover, I donated my papers to the Hoover archives, which has a fabulous collection of personal papers of all sorts of people, including educators.

Harvard University has dropped the SAT as a Condition of admission for the new class entering in fall 2021.

The Boston Globe reports:


In a pivotal decision that will likely ripple across higher education, Harvard University announced on Monday that it will not require next year’s undergraduate applicants to submit standardized test scores.

The decision comes amid fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and growing criticism that standardized test requirements unfairly penalize students of color.

A coalition of civil rights groups and education advocates intend to send a letter on Tuesday to elite colleges, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and UMass Amherst, urging them to scrap the SAT and ACT altogether.

“[We] call upon you to stand up against practices that institutionalize racial inequity and take action to ensure your institution promotes the type of inclusive diversity that is critical for generating sustainable solutions and a better future for all,” says the letter, written by The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and signed by 10 other organizations and provided to the Globe.

Harvard’s decision is temporary. The university has defended its admissions policy and its strategy to build a diverse student body in court. Last fall, a federal district court judge in Boston ruled in favor of Harvard’s race-conscious admissions policy, although opponents are looking to overturn that judgment on appeal.

Over 600 educators of color and education scholars of color have signed a statement opposing failed billionaire-backed “reforms” intended to privatize public schools and deprofessionalize teaching.

The statement was drafted by Kevin Kumashiro and can be found on his website, along with the list of those who signed it. People continue to sign on to demonstrate to the public that their rightwing campaign is not fooling educators and scholars of color.

All Educators of Color and Educational Scholars of Color in the U.S. are invited to sign on (please scroll down to sign)

THIS MUST END NOW:

Educators & Scholars of Color Against Failed Educational “Reforms”

The public is being misled. Billionaire philanthropists are increasingly foisting so-called “reform” initiatives upon the schools that serve predominantly students of color and low-income students, and are using black and brown voices to echo claims of improving schools or advancing civil rights in order to rally community support. However, the evidence to the contrary is clear: these initiatives have not systematically improved student success, are faulty by design, and have already proven to widen racial and economic disparities. Therefore, we must heed the growing body of research and support communities and civil-rights organizations in their calls for a more accurate and nuanced understanding of the problems facing our schools, for a retreat from failed “reforms,” and for better solutions:

• Our school systems need more public investment, not philanthropic experimentation; more democratic governance, not disenfranchisement; more guidance from the profession, the community, and researchers, not from those looking to privatize and profiteer; and more attention to legacies of systemic injustice, racism, and poverty, not neoliberal, market-based initiatives that function merely to incentivize, blame, and punish.

• Our teachers and leaders need more, better, and ongoing preparation and support, more professional experience and community connections, and more involvement in shared governance and collective bargaining for the common good, not less.

• Our vision should be that every student receives the very best that our country has to offer as a fundamental right and a public good; not be forced to compete in a marketplace where some have and some have not, and where some win and many others lose.

The offer for “help” is alluring, and is reinforced by Hollywood’s long history of deficit-oriented films about white teachers saving poorer black and brown students from suffering, as if the solution consisted merely of uplifting and inspiring individuals, rather than of tackling the broader system of stratification that functions to fail them in the first place. Today, more than ever before, the “help” comes in the form of contingent financing for education, and the pressure to accept is intense: shrinking public resources, resounding claims of scarcity, and urgent calls for austerity make it seem negligent to turn down sizable financial incentives, even when such aid is tied to problematic reforms.

The growing number of funders includes high-profile foundations and obscure new funders (including but not limited to the Arnold Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bradley Foundation, Broad Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, City Fund, DeVos family foundations, Gates Foundation, Koch family foundations, and Walton Family Foundation), and for the most part, have converged on what counts as worthwhile and fundable, whether leaning conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat (see, for example, the platform of Democrats for Education Reform). Such funders may be supporting some grassroots initiatives, but overall, mega-philanthropy in public education exemplifies the 21st-century shift from traditional donating that supported others’ initiatives with relatively smaller grants, to venture financing that offers funding pools of unprecedented size and scale but only to those who agree to implement the funders’ experiments. Belying the rhetoric of improving schools is the reality that such experiments are making struggling schools look less and less like the top performing schools for the elite, and do so by design, as with the following:

• The Portfolio Model. 



Exemplified in the early 2000s by the turnaround-school reforms in Chicago Public Schools and Race to the Top, and increasingly shaping urban districts across the country today, the “portfolio model” decentralizes decision making, expands school choice, holds schools accountable through performance measures like student testing, and sanctions failing schools with restructuring or closure, incentivizing their replacements in the form of charter schools. This model purports that marketizing school systems will lead to system improvement, and that student testing carries both validity and reliability for high-stakes decisions, neither of which is true.



Instead of improving struggling schools, what results are growing racial disparities that fuel gentrification for the richer alongside disinvestment from the poorer. The racially disparate outcomes should not be surprising, given the historical ties between mass standardized testing and eugenics, and even today, given the ways that “norm referencing” in test construction guarantees the perpetuation of a racialized achievement curve. Yet, the hallmarks of the portfolio model are taught in the Broad Superintendents Academy that prepares an increasingly steady flow of new leaders for urban districts, and not surprisingly, that has produced the leaders that have been ousted in some of the highest profile protests by parents and teachers in recent years. This is the model that propels the funding and incubation of school-choice expansion, particularly via charter schools, through such organizations as the NewSchools Venture Fund and various charter networks whose leaders are among the trainers in the Broad Academy. Imposing this model on poorer communities of color is nefarious, disingenuous, and must end.


• Choice, Vouchers, Charters. 



The expansion of school choice, including vouchers (and neo-voucher initiatives, like tax credits) and charter schools, purports to give children and parents the freedom to leave a “failing” school. However, the research on decades of such programs does not give any compelling evidence that such reforms lead to system improvement, instead showing increased racial segregation, diversion of public funding from the neediest of communities, neglect of students with disabilities and English-language learners, and more racial disparities in educational opportunity. This should not be surprising: choice emerged during the Civil Rights Movement as a way to resist desegregation; vouchers also emerged during this time, when the federal government was growing its investment into public education, as a way to privatize public school systems and divert funding to private schools for the elite; and charter schools emerged in the 1990s as laboratories for communities to shape their own schools, but have become the primary tool to privatize school systems.



Yes, choice and vouchers give some students a better education, but in many areas, students of color and low-income students are in the minority of those using vouchers. Yes, some charters are high performing, but overall, the under-regulation of and disproportionate funding for charter schools has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in waste (and even more in corporate profits) that could otherwise have gone to traditional public schools. The NAACP was right when it resolved that privatization is a threat to public education, and in particular, called for a moratorium on charter-school expansion; and the NAACP, MALDEF, ACLU, and other national civil-rights organizations have opposed voucher expansion. Diverting funds towards vouchers, neo-vouchers, and charters must end.


• Teacher Deprofessionalization. 



The deprofessionalization of teaching—including the undermining of collective bargaining and shared governance, and the preferential hiring of underprepared teachers—is foregrounded in charter schools (which often prohibit unionization and hire a disproportionate number of Teach for America teachers), but affects the teaching force in public schools, writ large. The mega-philanthropies are not only anti-union, having supported (sometimes rhetorically, sometimes resourcefully) the recent wave of anti-union bills across the states; but more broadly, are anti-shared governance, supporting the shift toward top-down management forms (including by for-profit management at the school level, and unelected, mayor-appointed boards at the district level). 



The weakening of the profession is also apparent in the philanthropies’ funding of fast-track routes to certification, not only for leaders (like with New Leaders for New Schools), but also for classroom teachers, like with the American Board for Certification of Teaching Excellence, and more notably, Teach for America (TFA). TFA accelerates the revolving door of teachers by turning teaching into a brief service obligation, justified by a redefining of quality teacher away from preparedness, experience, and community connectedness to merely being knowledgeable of subject matter (and notably, after the courts found that TFA teachers did not meet the definition of “highly qualified,” Congress would remove the requirement that every student have a “highly qualified” teacher in its 2015 reauthorization of ESEA, thus authorizing the placement of underprepared teachers in the neediest of schools). 



Parents are being lied to when told that these “reforms” of weakening unions and lessening professional preparation will raise the quality of teachers for their children. Yes, some teachers and leaders from alternative routes are effective and well-intended, but outliers should not drive policy. Students are being lied to when told that choosing such pathways is akin to joining the legacy of civil-rights struggles for poorer communities of color. Not surprisingly, the NAACP and the Movement for Black Lives have called out how initiatives like TFA appeal to our desire to serve and help, but shortchange the students who need and deserve more.

We, as a nationwide collective of educators of color and educational scholars of color, oppose the failed reforms that are being forced by wealthy philanthropists onto our communities with problematic and often devastating results. These must end now. We support reforms that better serve our students, particularly in poorer communities of color, and we will continue to work with lawmakers, leaders, school systems, and the public to make such goals a reality.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, reports that the NYC Department of Education plans to award $6 million to testing giant Pearson, despite the pandemic and looming budget cuts.

She notes:

Of that six million dollars, $1.7 million is for a one -year extension of Pearson’s controversial assessment to test four-year-old children for their “giftedness” – a standardized exam which many experts say has little reliability or validity, and is highly correlated with race and class.

She reviews the long history of failure associated with Pearson tests.

Evidently, Pearson’s lobbyists are better that its tests.