Archives for category: Testing

Mike Klonsky wonders whether Arne Duncan’s patronizing comments about parents and critics of high-stakes testing helped Donald Trump win the election.

When 20% of the parents in New York opted out of the state testing, he sneered at them and said they were white suburban parents who found out that their child wasn’t so bright after all. This was rank condescension.

When Duncan used Race to the Top billions to bribe states into adopting Common Core, he continued to insist that Common Core was a project of the states. He became the nation’s leading cheerleader for Common Core, and he ridiculed the critics. The critics were vociferous, especially in the Midwest.

Throughout his time in office, Duncan celebrated the successes of charter schools, wherever he could find them, and barely noticed public schools. Last month, before Massachusetts voted on Question 2, Duncan turned up in Boston to argue that expansion of charters was unquestionably a good thing. Despite his ringing endorsement, Question 2 was soundly defeated in almost every district in the state.

I don’t know whether Duncan helped Trump win by making public school parents angry, but he most certainly paved the way for the full-throated privatization that Trump is now pressing. Who would have thought that Arne Duncan and Donald Trump would be on the same team, cheering for more school choice, more charters, more privatization? Trump took it to the next level and threw in vouchers. Once you endorse school choice and launch an assault on the very principle of public education, it is hard to walk it back.

Politico reports on speculation that Eva Moskowitz is high up on the Trump list as a potential Secretary of Education.

Hedge fund manager John Paulson gave Moskowitz $8.5 million for her charter chain. He was also a major supporter of Trump.

Would she want to leave her charter empire, where she is paid handsomely? As Secretary of Education, she could spread the gospel of privatization far and wide.

While Moskowitz has found herself on the defensive at home, Success is still seen as a national charter model by many influential reform leaders. That’s based in large part on loyal, vocal support for her from the families of her student body, which is overwhelmingly poor, black and Latino — groups among whom opposition to Trump in the election was particularly strong.

(Success staff seemed to be mourning the results last week; the network’s social media staff posted a Langston Hughes poem about equality in America on its Twitter feed the morning after the election.)

Politics aside, Moskowitz might chafe at the constraints of the post, which is viewed among education observers largely as a bureaucratic position without all the power the title would suggest. This would be particularly true if a Trump administration set about relinquishing some federal power back to the states.

And while Trump has pledged to “get rid of” the Common Core, Moskowitz is a strong supporter of the set of standards introduced by President Obama. An enormous part of her schools’ renown is Success students’ high scores on Common Core-aligned exams.

Jonathan Lash, the president of Hampshire College, wrote recently that grades and test scores are of little value. Hampshire College doesn’t use standardized test scores when it admits students, and once admitted, it does not give grades.

He wrote:

A few years ago I was speaking to a group of parents whose children had just started Hampshire College. A father asked a question that was on many minds: “How can your college be rigorous without grading student work?” Before I could respond, another parent stood up and asked, “May I answer that?” I nodded with interest.

“I run a company,” he said, “and I have a few thousand employees in multiple locations. They’d be mystified if our managers started to give them grades. We manage by setting goals, evaluating progress, and mentoring employees on how to improve their performance. What would a letter grade tell them?”

At the college where I serve as president, we do evaluate student work; we just use a higher-quality method. Our students receive written evaluations not only on every assignment, but also for every course and learning activity. These evaluations are designed to be formative teaching tools.

Myra Blackmon, veteran journalist, writes that people from all backgrounds in Georgia joined to defeat Amendment 1, the governor’s plan to change the state constitution to allow the state to take over low-scoring schools and turn them into charter schools. Whatever their race or their place, Georgians didn’t want to give up local control of their public schools.

Now that the ALEC plan for state takeover has gone down to defeat, Blackmon has some positive ideas for helping the 127 schools that were picked for state takeover.

First, we can use the same techniques to insist the Legislature fully fund the Quality Basic Education formula that promises equitable and sufficient funding for all schools. Changing the formula will do no good if we don’t know what would happen if we actually funded the one we have had in place for decades. We must also insist that money that would have been spent on the Opportunity School District be used to help those 127 schools on the original target list.

Second, we must advocate for allowing the state Department of Education to do its job. As state School Superintendent Richard Woods outlined in a recent piece, the state DOE has the knowledge and expertise to help struggling schools improve their performance. In recent years, however, the governor and the Legislature have regularly bypassed the DOE and its elected head, imposing new rules and ignoring any input from the one department of state government that has the personnel, experience and reach most likely to help solve our problems.

Third, we must insist on appropriate assessment of school performance. The College and Career Ready Performance Index is being misused to “grade schools” as passing or failing when it was designed to simply measure growth. Further, the CCRPI wrongly relies almost entirely on the results of the Georgia Milestones standardized tests.

Throwing money at schools doesn’t help them, but neither does starving them of resources they need. New funding should be used wisely to reduce class sizes, to hire experienced teachers, give them the supplies and support they need, and retain them, and to make sure that children have a full and rich curriculum, including the arts.

Getting the politicians out of the way of educators is a swell idea. For some reason, state legislators think they should tell educators how to do their job; they are wise enough not to do that to any other profession.

Blackmon points out that the Georgia tests have changed frequently and have never been useful for teachers or students.

Despite the hundreds of millions of our tax dollars invested in the Georgia Milestones, the tests have never been validated as reliable measures of education. That is, they have never been put through the statistical process that guarantees that the questions actually measure what they are intended to. For the last two years, at least portions of the test results have been completely unusable; the tests themselves have changed annually and the results provide no diagnostic information to help teachers zero in on what students need. The test is used punitively when a more effective use would be to provide individual data that would allow schools to tailor instruction to student needs.

Last, she suggests that all the energy that went into defeating Amendment 1 should now be channeled to help the schools and school boards do a better job for the children.

Such common sense is rare these days and much needed.

Arthur Camins writes that in the wake of the election, with a public deeply divided, it is time to unify and organize around our public schools. Although the future of K-12 education was not part of the national election, it appeared on many state ballots, where significant majorities rejected privatization and voted to support their public schools.

He writes:

For many of us, our hopes and dreams are bound up with our expectations for our children. For that reason, it is ripe with potential for organizing to pressure our government to be more responsive to the needs of folks without privilege and to regain social trust.

Take a deep breath because now it is the time for a protracted struggle to revitalize the struggle for democratic, equitable education. Now is the time to reassert an ethos of citizen’s responsibility for one another in education policy and practice. Now is the time to reassert an ethos of improvement for all over the restrictive idea of improvement for a few. Now is the time to utilize the revitalizing power of collaboration instead of the divisiveness of competition as the primary lever to advance the academic, social and emotional learning of all students. Now is the time to advance the broad promises of education to prepare every student for life, work, and citizenship.

Several decades of a myopic bipartisan focus on the imposition of test-based accountability and punishment systems has failed to significantly narrow race and class-based opportunity and achievement gaps. Several decades of effort to create privately-controlled, but taxpayer-funded, charter schools and to provide tuition vouchers for private schools to compete with democratically funded public schools have increased segregation without achieving widespread improvement. Several decades of purposeful ideological propaganda and on-the-cheap silver-bullet solutions have undermined public confidence in democratic government as a problem-solving mechanism.

Public education remains as a commitment to the commons. Obviously, most of what we do is outside the commons. But the commons must be strengthened, preserved, transformed to represent the community’s commitment to its children, all of them.

Nicholas Tampio, a professor of political science at Fordham University, says that it is time for a clean sweep of the rancorous education problems in New York state. The state has had a massive parent-student opt out of standardized testing based on the Common Core for two straight years; more than 200,000 (or about 20%) of the eligible students did not sit for the tests. There is near unanimity that the rollout of the Common Core under former Commissioner John King (now Secretary of Education) was badly botched. Governor Andrew Cuomo formed a commission that recommended a revision of the Common Core standards to respond to teacher and student complaints.

But as Tampio reports, the “revised” standards are almost identical to the original Common Core. The original errors of the standards for early childhood education remain age-inappropriate, continuing the expectation that kindergarten children will be able to read “emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.”

Tampio says it is time for the New York Board of Regents to steer the ship of state. They are in charge. The new chancellor knows that the Common Core is riddled with problems, as are the tests. Tampio says it is time to get a new Commissioner of Education and to dump the Common Core.

Rachel Klein, the education editor of Huffington Post, reports on a recent study by Mathematica Policy Research that found that teachers and low-income and in upper-income schools are no different in effectiveness.

This study is very important because a central tenet of the corporate reform movement is that “bad teachers” cause low test scores, and that low-scoring schools are overrun by “bad teachers.” We have heard this claim from the mouths of Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and every other corporate reformer. This is why Race to the Top required every state applying for a share of $4.35 billion in federal funds had to agree to evaluate teachers based in large part on the test scores of their students. Think tanks, states, and the U.S. Department of Education have poured time and energy into the pursuit of the best way to find and fire those “bad teachers.” Another of Arne Duncan’s bad ideas was the “turnaround” model, which involved firing half, or most, or all of the school staff, since in his mind the staff caused low scores.

The study used the “reformers'” favorite methodology–value-added measurement–to look for differences in teacher effectiveness.

Klein writes:

Teachers shouldn’t be held responsible for the big gap in the achievement levels of rich and poor students, new data suggests.

By looking at the effectiveness ratings of teachers who work with students from varying socioeconomic classes, Mathematica Policy Research determined that rich and poor children generally have access to equally impressive educators. The research, which was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, stands in the face of arguments that a more equitable distribution of teachers could substantially move metrics of educational attainment.

Affluent students outperform their low-income peers on meaningful educational benchmarks. They have higher high school graduation rates and higher standardized test scores. Policymakers have said in the past that teachers might influence this gap. Indeed, previous data shows that low-income students tend to have less access to experienced teachers.

“We know from past research that there is a very large gap in achievement between high- and low-income kids, and we also know some teachers are quite a bit more effective than others,” said Eric Isenberg, senior researcher for Mathematica. “So we were interested in exploring whether there’s a link between those two things ― if achievement gaps could be explained by low-income kids having less effective teacher than high income kids.” .

The study looked at effectiveness ratings for English language arts and math teachers in 26 districts over the course of five years. These teachers worked with students in the fourth through eighth grades.

Researchers used a value-added model to measure the effectiveness of a teacher. This statistical model is controversial in the education world ― Isenberg called it an “imperfect measure,” but he said it’s the best available option. This statistical technique is used to isolate how students’ test scores change from year to year, and how much a teacher is contributing to these changes.

Although researchers did not work with a nationally representative sample of school districts, “the study districts were chosen to be geographically diverse, with at least three districts from each of the four U.S. Census regions,” the report says. About 63 percent of the students in the studied districts qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and the districts’ achievement gaps tend to reflect those at the national level.

Overall, researchers only found small differences in the average effectiveness ratings given to teachers working with low-income and affluent students. The average teacher of a low-income student rates around the 50th percentile, while the average teacher of a more wealthy student rates around the 51st percentile.

As Linda Darling-Hammond once wrote: “You can’t fire your way to Finland.”

In Finland, teaching is a highly prestigious profession. Entry into teachers’ colleges is very competitive. Teachers must have five years of education before they can teach. Once they are professionals, they have broad autonomy, and they collaborate with their peers to make school wide decisions. There is no standardized testing until the end of high school. There is an emphasis on the arts, play, technology, and collaborate learning. Children have a recess after every class. Teachers are professionals. They are not judged by test scores because there are no test scores.

The policies of the Bush-Obama era have failed and failed and failed. It is time to think anew.

I discovered this wonderful article on Twitter. It was published in 2013, but it remains timely.

Albert Einstein’s great breakthrough came when he put known measures to one side. The notion that time and space were regular and linear was entrenched in science, and had led to an impasse which prevented it from making sense of the universe. By seeing that time and space might flex led to the Theory of Relativity, and led Einstein into a realisation that philosophical steps must be taken if breakthroughs were to be made. This philosophical context for his science led him to see that “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”.

My wife and I recently took our children out of their local primary school to travel in the former Transkei for seven weeks. We thought that this would be a wonderful experience for them, experiencing life on the road in a completely different culture. Their school was programmed to see it differently. Its Ofsted rating could be adversely affected by the absence, and by the prospect of a six-year-old and four-year-old performing slightly less well in their assessments. The scientific culture of measurement risks so narrowing the concept of education that the system becomes unable to see any benefits (which cannot be directly measured) of such a trip.

Social or ‘impact’ investors, such as Panahpur with whom I work, try to achieve their purpose by blending the art of achieving their social goals with the science of managing their funds. They make financial investments for social, as well as financial returns.

The key challenge of doing this is understanding if, and how, the art of achieving social ‘returns’ can be measured in any scientifically robust way.

Successive governments have all but admitted defeat when it comes to the state’s ability to solve certain intractable social problems. There is a general recognition that charities, faith groups and other civil society organisations have an important role in reaching the parts that the statutory social services cannot reach. But to deliver their potential, they require access to capital. Contracting them to provide services has often led to a repeat of the problems of state provision, with a focus on inputs rather than outcomes. All this has led to the emerging world of social impact bonds and payment-by-results (PBR).

We invested in the first social impact bond at HMP Peterborough directly and have invested others subsequently indirectly. PPBR is a popular idea now, which might direct capital to those who can actually solve these problems. If charities and civil society organisations can do what the state cannot and help people to transform their lives, so the argument goes, then let’s pay them when they deliver.

But most charities lack the balance sheet strength to provide services at risk. Which means that PBR leaves private sector providers as the only realistic option. These private sector providers have fiduciary duty to extract all financial value they can from these contracts and return it to shareholders. So PBR contracts can become a proxy for privatisation. The extent of the privatisation of social services resulting from this and other trends is well documented in Social Enterprise UK’s report, ‘The shadow state’ and can be easily seen through the experience of the Work Programme.

All this is complex enough before one brings Einstein into it. But he would recognise that the intractable social problems that increasingly take the lions share of social service budgets can only be solved through the complex, time consuming and uncertain process of human transformation. Dysfunctional and deeply disadvantaged and distressed individuals need to turn their lives around, one by one. Graham Allen MP, through his work on early interventions, has demonstrated that the most cost-efficient interventions will occur during the first three years of an at-risk persons life.

The truth is that, in the context of gnarly social problems, building the link between inputs and outcomes is often impossible. What these social problems require are long term interventions, in the context of an uncertain rehabilitation journey and a chaotic client group. It needs persistence and, ultimately, love. Can one really measure the outcomes of particular interventions? Can a time-bound, tightly contracted and assessed financial confection achieve this deep change?

There is no question that the social impact bonds – for example, with offenders at HMP Peterborough or with children at risk of being taken into care in Essex – offer an exciting new opportunity to create significant positive social change by aligning the state, investors and the taxpayer.

But perhaps we need a deeper discussion, where we have the humility to accept that the relationship between inputs and outcomes of many things that society needs cannot be directly measured. And where we allow ourselves to make the philosophical leap that delivering and measuring social outcomes is not necessarily linear and regular.

Should we do this, we’d be led inexorably to a need to rediscover the notion of common values. Inevitably, in the context of the available evidence and budgets, we need to agree that some things should lead to taxpayer savings through better long term outcomes for the most distressed people in society because they are the right thing to do.

If we can do this, we might be able to direct capital with appropriate rigour to the best placed organisations to deliver long term change. If we cannot, we risk PBR just being the latest in a line of contracting methodologies that fail to address the root causes of our problems. Or, as Einstein might say, we may be doing what we can count but we may well not be doing what actually counts.

James Perry is chief executive at the social investment foundation, Panahpur. James is speaking at the Oxford Jam session If It Can’t Be Measured, It Doesn’t Exist on Thursday (today) at 4pm

Helen Ladd, Professor of Public Policy and Economics at Duke University, and her husband Edward Fiske, former education editor of the New York Times, have written a comprehensive review of England’s radical experiment in school autonomy. The United Kingdom has been thrashing around in search of a managerial solution to school problems. It introduced a national curriculum for Schools in England, Wales, Northern Ireland in 1988, defining what every student should know in every grade, soon followed by national tests. (Wales soon delinked from the national curriculum.) Dissatisfied by the results, England is now embarking rapidly on radical decentralization of its schools.

What began as a limited program under a Labor government seeking “third way” reforms to encourage wealthy investors to take charge of some secondary schools has mushroomed under a Conservative government into a full-blown effort to devolve governmental responsibility for most of the nation’s state-run schools.

In their study released by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Ladd and Fiske assess the prospects and downsides of this approach.

“While the growth of charter schools from two in Minnesota in 1992 to nearly 7,000 across the country today has been stunning, this transformation of the educational landscape in the United States pales in comparison to what has happened in nearly half the time in England.

“Authorized by legislation in 2000 and officially launched in 2002, academies are England’s answer to charter schools. They are former state schools funded by the central government and granted significant operational autonomy. There are now 5,302 academies. Free schools, introduced in 2010, are academies by another name, created by teachers, charities, parents, or religious groups. There are now 304 free schools. The former Conservative prime minister David Cameron and his education secretary, Michael Gove, pledged in March 2016 to make all of England’s 20,000 government-funded schools into academies or free schools to give parents more choice and school administrators more freedom. Their target date for this complete transformation was 2022. Cameron’s successor, Theresa May, and her education secretary, Justine Greening, have so far stood behind this pledge.

“England’s academies and free schools stand out for not only their rapid growth but also their substantial autonomy. While oversubscribed charter schools in the United States must employ lotteries for admission, academies and free schools have control over whom they admit. The result, according to an analysis summarized by The Guardian, has been significant segregation of students by class as well as academic achievement.

“In “England Confronts the Limits of School Autonomy,” Helen F. Ladd and Edward B. Fiske provide a detailed analysis of the evolution of school choice in England and address the obstacles in the way of full implementation of Conservative Party ambitions as well as its likely drawbacks. Ladd, a professor of economics and public policy at Duke University, and Fiske, a former education editor at The New York Times, ground their working paper in interviews conducted last spring in London with 24 government officials, school leaders, and researchers; and in numerous government reports and academic studies. The result is a rich depiction of dramatic change and a cautionary statement about the impact of full school independence on community input and student interests.”

Mercedes Schneider writes about the recent events in Minnesota, where Campbell Brown and her reform organization (Partnership for Educational Justice) filed a Vergara-style lawsuit against teacher tenure, claiming that tenure has some relation to low test scores and therefore violates the civil rights of students of color who get low test scores.

This same claim cost millions of dollars to litigate in California after a lower court judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the Vergara case, but was then overturned in two appeals by higher courts. The billionaires behind corporate reform desperately wanted to have tenure declared a violation of civil rights, and they spent freely to promote that idea. The unions representing teachers wasted dues defending teachers’ right to due process.

But the outcome in Minnesota was different because the judge hearing the case couldn’t find a connection between tenure and test scores!

On October 26, 2016, the Minnesota teacher tenure lawsuit prodded by Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ) hit a roadblock when Ramsey County (MN) Judge Margaret Marrinan tossed out the PEJ-supported (instigated?) Forslund vs. Minnesota suit on the grounds that the suit “failed to establish a link between low academic achievement and the due process provided by the tenure laws,” as the Star Tribune reports.

There is something to be said for common sense.

Rumor hath it that Brown will file suit in other states. Here is hoping that she runs into more judges who are wise and know that she is peddling anti-teacher nonsense.