Posted in Alfie Kohn, Indiana DOE, Testing

It’s Not Valid to Begin With!


Last week representatives from CTB/McGraw-Hill reported to the Indiana legislature about the technical problems with the state test, the ISTEP+…

ISTEP+ vendor apologizes, admits errors

CTB has agreed to pay for a third-party validity study and that the company’s $95 million, four-year contract with the state allows for penalties and fines.

…The Indiana Department of Education has since hired an outside consultant to review the validity of scores for tens of thousands of students.

Depending on the results, all or some of those tests could be thrown out.

ISTEP+ scores are used in part to determine teacher performance and compensation. And they determine each school’s A-to-F accountability grade. The accountability grade can be used to eventually close failing schools or allow more students to take vouchers without first attending public school.

Before the “outside consultant” can determine if the tests are valid let’s look at what “valid” actually means in the assessment world. Here is the definition of validity (click the quote to read about reliability).

[Note: in assessment there is more than one kind of validity: content validity, face validity, criterion-related validity (or predictive validity), construct validity, factorial validity, concurrent validity, convergent validity and divergent (or discriminant validity). The definitions below are generalized. Furthermore, to be valid an assessment must also be reliable, though reliability is not sufficient to make an assessment valid. Clear?]

…validity refers to the extent we are measuring what we hope to measure (and what we think we are measuring).

What, then, is the ISTEP+ supposed to measure? The following is from the 2012-2013 Indiana Assessment Program Manual.

ISTEP+ Grades 3-8

The purpose of the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus (ISTEP+) program is to measure student achievement in the subject areas of English/language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. In particular, ISTEP+ reports student achievement levels according to the Indiana Academic Standards that were adopted by the Indiana State Board of Education.

Appendix H of the program manual reports on the reliability and validity of the test. Unless you’re trained and interested in tests and measurements you’re not likely to care much about the discussion in this section of the Program Manual. However, for those who understand the statistics involved and are interested, this appendix explains how the state has determined that the test is reliable and valid.

The outside consultant hired by the state will determine whether the validity of the test has been compromised by the testing irregularities caused by the technical glitches.


The ISTEP+ purports to be a valid measure of student achievement with respect to the Indiana standards. Good testing practice dictates that it should be used only for determining student achievement. Other uses have not been validated and variables which would influence the test’s validity in other areas have not been taken into account. Therefore…

1. It’s not a valid measure of teacher effectiveness. It has never been validated for that purpose. (It’s also not a reliable measure of teacher effectiveness since reliability has never been determined either.)

2. It’s not a valid measure with which to “grade” schools (“A” to “F”).

All that’s ever been provided for the ISTEP+ is it’s (supposed) validity as a measure of student achievement. Using it for any other purpose is not valid. Period.


Back in 2000 Alfie Kohn wrote an article, Standardized Testing and Its Victims, in which he listed reasons why standardized tests are not just inadequate for evaluating students (and schools), but downright harmful. He lists some facts (in the original all facts are explained in more detail.

Fact 1. Our children are tested to an extent that is unprecedented in our history and unparalleled anywhere else in the world…Few countries use standardized tests for children below high school age—or multiple-choice tests for students of any age.

Fact 2. Noninstructional factors explain most of the variance among test scores when schools or districts are compared. A study of math results on the 1992 National Assessment of Educational Progress found that the combination of four such variables…accounted for a whopping 89 percent of the differences in state scores.

Fact 3. Norm-referenced tests were never intended to measure the quality of learning or teaching.

Fact 4. Standardized-test scores often measure superficial thinking…it appears that standardized-test results are positively correlated with a shallow approach to learning.

Fact 5. Virtually all specialists condemn the practice of giving standardized tests to children younger than 8 or 9 years old.

Fact 6. Virtually all relevant experts and organizations condemn the practice of basing important decisions, such as graduation or promotion, on the results of a single test. The National Research Council takes this position, as do most other professional groups (such as the American Educational Research Association and the American Psychological Association), the generally pro-testing American Federation of Teachers, and even the companies that manufacture and sell the exams. Yet just such high-stakes testing is currently taking place, or scheduled to be introduced soon, in more than half the states.

Fact 7. The time, energy, and money that are being devoted to preparing students for standardized tests have to come from somewhere. Schools across the country are cutting back or even eliminating programs in the arts, recess for young children, electives for high schoolers, class meetings…discussions about current events…the use of literature in the early grades…and entire subject areas such as science…

Fact 8. Many educators are leaving the field because of what is being done to schools in the name of “accountability” and “tougher standards.”

[NOTE: Remember, Kohn’s article was written in 2000, before No Child Left Behind became law! ISTEP+ is a criterion-referenced test, not a norm-referenced test. Criterion-referenced tests are “intended to measure how well a person has learned a specific body of knowledge and skills.” Furthermore, the ISTEP+ is a particular variation of a criterion-referenced test known as a “standards-referenced test” or “standards based assessment” because it measures the accumulation of knowledge of the Indiana Standards.

Nevertheless, Fact 3 can correctly be rewritten as: Criterion-based tests were never intended to measure the quality of learning or teaching.]

The main point of Kohn’s article is not simply to suggest that standardized testing is inappropriate as a high stakes measure, but to emphasize that those children who need the most help — children who come to school with fewer skills, i.e. children of poverty — are hurt the most by the emphasis on testing. He writes.

*The quality of instruction declines most for those who have least. Standardized tests tend to measure the temporary acquisition of facts and skills, including the skill of test-taking itself, more than genuine understanding. To that extent, the fact that such tests are more likely to be used and emphasized in schools with higher percentages of minority students (a fact that has been empirically verified) predictably results in poorer-quality teaching in such schools. The use of a high-stakes strategy only underscores the preoccupation with these tests and, as a result, accelerates a reliance on direct-instruction techniques and endless practice tests. “Skills-based instruction, the type to which most children of color are subjected, tends to foster low-level uniformity and subvert academic potential,” as Dorothy Strickland, an African-American professor at Rutgers University, has remarked…

*Standards aren’t the main ingredient that’s in low supply. Anyone who is serious about addressing the inequities of American education would naturally want to investigate differences in available resources. A good argument could be made that the fairest allocation strategy, which is only common sense in some countries, is to provide not merely equal amounts across schools and districts, but more for the most challenging student populations. This does happen in some states—by no means all—but, even when it does, the money is commonly offered as a short-term grant (hardly sufficient to compensate for years of inadequate funding) and is often earmarked for test preparation rather than for higher-quality teaching. Worse, high-stakes testing systems may provide more money to those already successful (for example, in the form of bonuses for good scores) and less to those whose need is greatest.

Many public officials, along with like-minded journalists and other observers, are apt to minimize the matter of resources and assume that everything deficient about education for poor and minority children can be remedied by more forceful demands that we “raise the bar.” The implication here would seem to be that teachers and students could be doing a better job but have, for some reason, chosen not to do so and need only be bribed or threatened into improvement. (In fact, this is the tacit assumption behind all incentive systems.) The focus among policymakers has been on standards of outcome rather than standards of opportunity.

To make matters worse, some supporters of high-stakes testing have not just ignored, but contemptuously dismissed, the relevance of barriers to achievement in certain neighborhoods. Explanations about very real obstacles such as racism, poverty, fear of crime, low teacher salaries, inadequate facilities, and language barriers are sometimes written off as mere “excuses.” This is at once naive and callous, and, like any other example of minimizing the relevance of structural constraints, ultimately serves the interests of those fortunate enough not to face them.

Finally, testing in Indiana, as in most other places around the country, has become the “end” of education, not just a method of measuring learning. For the state, scoring well on the test is the goal. This forces schools to emphasize them or be punished (as opposed to being offered more support). In the conclusion to an article titled, The Limits of Standardized Tests for Diagnosing and Assisting Student Learning the authors at wrote,

When standardized tests are the primary factor in accountability, the temptation is to use the tests to define curriculum and focus instruction. What is not tested is not taught, and what is taught does not include higher-order learning. How the subject is tested becomes a model for how to teach the subject. At the extreme, school becomes a test prep program – and this extreme already exists.

It is of course possible to use a standardized test and not let its limits control curriculum and instruction. However, this can result in a school putting itself at risk for producing lower test scores. It also means parents and the community are not informed systematically about the non-tested areas, unless the school or district makes a great effort.

To improve learning and provide meaningful accountability, schools and districts cannot rely solely on standardized tests. The inherent limits of the instruments allow them only to generate information that is inadequate in both breadth and depth. Thus, states, districts and schools must find ways to strengthen classroom assessments and to use the information that comes from these richer measures to inform the public.

In its ignorance and arrogance the State of Indiana has elevated the state assessments, including ISTEP+, as the prime measure with which to judge students, schools, teachers, administrators, and school systems.

The current uproar over the technical glitch debacle during the last ISTEP+ administration window is just a distraction from the real issue of our overuse and misuse of testing. It has become an argument over how best to misuse testing in our obsessive quest for data.

The whole discussion about the technical glitch during the ISTEP+ is irrelevant.

For more about testing see The Case Against High Stakes Testing


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!
Posted in Privatization, Stephen Krashen, Teaching Career

Weakening the Teaching Profession

I posted a list by Bonnie Lesley of “Texas Kids Can’t Wait” — of the steps being taken around the country to privatize public education.

One of her items — number 5 — dealt with the deprofessionalizing of educators.

Fifth, de-professionalize educators with alternative certification, merit pay, evaluations tied to test scores, scripted curriculum, attacks on professional organizations, phony research that tries to make the case that credentials and experience don’t matter, etc.

Among the obstacles standing in the way of privatizing public education are public educators. People become educators for a variety of reasons, but it usually has to do with one or more of the following. People become teachers

  • because they were inspired by a teacher during their student years and want to provide the same inspiration to others. Ask any teacher why they chose that career and they will usually name one of their own teachers as a major influence.
  • because they enjoy being around young people. They enjoy watching children grow — physically, academically and socially.
  • because, in the words of Christa McAuliffe, they want to “touch the future.”
  • because they want to give back to the community in some way

[People who go into teaching because “it’s easy,” “you get your summers off” or “it pays well,” are likely included in the nearly 50% of teachers who don’t last more than 5 years.]

In order to weaken public schools to the point where privatization is possible “reformers” understand that they must weaken the influence of those who devote their lives to working with children. This is done by

  • minimizing the value of experience and preparation. Lower (or remove altogether) the requirements for becoming a professional educator.
  • weaken the teachers unions by blaming them (and their members) for the economic ills of the nation.
  • place the entire responsibility for student achievement on teachers while minimizing or ignoring out-of-school factors which contribute to learning

Stephen Krashen explains it in more detail.

What the war on education is all about

Stephen Krashen – The goal of the war against teachers is to eliminate the concept of teaching as a profession, to be replaced by temps (e.g. Teach For America) and eventually be replaced largely by technology (ultimate goal of flipped classrooms). The reason is 100% financial — so that the .01% can grab nearly all of the money teachers earn as well as profit from electronic/virtual teaching.

The plan

1. Keep pressure on teachers by making their lives as difficult as possible and their task totally impossible. The common core standards and tests are a major part of this.

2. Continue to attack the teaching profession: The message will continue to be that the US is in economic trouble because of bad education, which is because of bad teachers.

3. The public, media, and politicians will have no sympathy for teachers’ pointing out how difficult teaching has become, This will be seen as whining, and teachers will then resign/quit in greater numbers.

4. Continue to stress the importance of teacher evaluation, This sends the message that teachers are not doing their job and that there are a lot of bad teachers out there who must be identified and fired.

5. Continue to push the idea that TFAs as just as good or better than experienced teachers.

6. Do not reward teachers for experience, for years of service. This will also encourage more experienced teachers to retire/resign, creating more room for lower-paid temps in the system.

7. Gradually increase the percentage of teachers who are temps as teachers retire and as they leave the profession because of frustration, This releases money because experienced teachers cost much more than temps. The result is more money for technology.

8. Continue to convince the public that all technology is wonderful. Use this to push flipped classrooms and glorify the Khan Academy. The role of teachers will then be diminished to the equivalent of TA’s. This reduces time spent in classrooms (lowers salaries even more), and lowers the status of teachers even more, as well as saving more salary money and increasing teacher frustration. Hire part-timers (no benefits) to serve as supplements to virtual teaching. This will be promoted as expanded opportunity for jobs, no teaching credential required. The public will accept this because they will have lost all respect for teacher credentials.

Look for even more attacks on teachers and teachers unions. This makes sure there is no sympathy for teachers when they complain and no public outcry when teachers leave the profession and are replaced with temps and part-timers.

Education researcher Richard Allington commented on Krashen’s list…

I would add that eliminating teachers as full-time employees would save states lots of money that now goes to support teacher pensions and health insurance. Make teaching worse than a blue collar job in terms, salaries, benefits, and autonomy and you won’t have to worry about any surplus of folks who want to become teachers.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!
Posted in Corporate Charters, poverty, Privatization, Public Ed, vouchers

Killing Public Education in Ten Easy Steps

While the public schools are struggling with inadequate funding, legislators in Indiana are considering forgiving loans to “failing” privately run charters*…and private schools are getting a significant increase through Indiana’s expanded voucher plan.

There’s an open movement to privatize public education (as well as just about everything else) in America. Those who favor privatization are clear that their goal is to remove public control. One of my posts about privatization got this response from “tiffany“…

Like all rational individuals, I do not support public schooling, I do not support charters which are a pitiful compromise, I do not support vouchers which are a frivolous waste of administrative time and resources. I support 100% private education and home education, because that is the only moral education. I support this the same way I support 100% private food service, hotel service, tanning service, and any other service provided by anyone. This is the only correct position – it’s not a conclusion, it’s the starting place for the discussion. Anything less than this is theft and therefore evil.

While not all pro-privatizers would consider all tax money as “theft” the purpose is clear…to remove public control of institutions and place it in private hands. Their point is, I think, that “the market” always does better than the government in everything.

To that end, the governors and legislators of states like Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and elsewhere have crafted legislation (or taken legislation crafted by ALEC) to “redistribute” public funds from public education to private schools and privately operated charter schools.

A reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog listed the steps being taken by pro-“reform” legislatures to destroy public education. Much of the following Surefire Plan to Destroy Public Education has been put into practice (and not just in Texas). Even with the widespread community and parent backlash in places like Chicago and New Jersey, the privatizers are making progress…pushing their agenda.

Obviously many people are in favor of privatization. Those of us who oppose it have less money to buy politicians. The election in Indiana of Glenda Ritz over privatizer-pet Tony Bennett shows, however, that a strong, hardworking group of people can overcome the privatization-based money bent on destroying public education.

Texas: The Surefire Plan to Destroy Public Education

What keeps many of us fighting 20 hours a day and digging into our own pockets to fund the work is our understanding that these bills are not the end game. We’ve read the web sites, beginning with Milton Freidman’s epistle on the Cato Institute’s website, that lay out the insidious plan we are seeing played out. We have also read Naomi Klein’s brilliant book, Shock Doctrine.

[emphasis added]

  1. First, impose ridiculous standards and assessments on every school.
  2. Second, create cut points on the assessments to guarantee high rates of failure. (I was in the room when it was done in the State of Delaware, protesting all the way, but losing).
  3. Third, implement draconian accountability systems designed to close as many schools as possible. Then W took the plan national with NCLB.
  4. Fourth, use the accountability system to undermine the credibility and trust that almost everyone gave to public schools. increase the difficulty of reaching goals annually.
  5. Fifth, de-professionalize educators with alternative certification, merit pay, evaluations tied to test scores, scripted curriculum, attacks on professional organizations, phony research that tries to make the case that credentials and experience don’t matter, etc.
  6. Sixth, start privatization with public funded charters with a promise that they will be laboratories of innovation. Many of us fell for that falsehood. Apply pressure each legislative session to implement more and more of them. Then Arne Duncan did so on steroids.
  7. Seventh, use Madison Avenue messaging to name bills to further trick people into acceptance, if not support, of every conceivable voucher scheme. The big push now as states implement Freidman austerity budgets to create a crisis is to portray vouchers as a cheaper way to “save” schools. The bills that would force local boards to sell off publicly owned facilities for $1 each is also part of the overall scheme not only to destroy our schools, but also to make it fiscally impossible for us to recover them if we ever again elect a sane government. Too, districts had to make cuts in their budgets in precisely the areas that research says matter most: quality teachers, preschool, small classes, interventions for struggling students, and rigorous expectations and curriculum. See our report: Click on book, Money STILL Matters in bottom right corner.
  8. Eighth, totally destroy public education with so-called universal vouchers. They have literally already published the handbook. You can find it numerous places on the web.
  9. Ninth, start eliminating the vouchers and charters, little by little.
  10. And, tenth, totally eliminate the costs of education from local, state, and national budgets, thereby providing another huge transfer of wealth through huge tax cuts to the already-billionaire class.

And then only the wealthy will have schools for their kids.

During the last presidential election Mitt Romney gave voice to the effect of privatization on America’s public education system. He said,

I want to make sure we keep America a place of opportunity where everyone has a fair shot. They get as much education as they can afford and with their time they’re able to get…and if they have a willingness to work hard and with the right values they ought to be able to provide for their family and have a shot at realizing their dreams. [emphasis added]

The phrase, as much education as they can afford has, as its corollary, the fact that those who can’t afford it won’t get it. So the Romneys, the Obamas, the Gates, the Emanuels and the Duncans will continue to attend expensive private schools while those who have no money will have to make do with whatever “they can afford.” That’s the definition of Romney’s “fair shot.”


Shopping for Legislators

How School Privatizers Buy State-Level Elections

A fundamental struggle for democracy is going on behind the scenes in statehouses around the country, as a handful of wealthy individuals and foundations pour money into efforts to privatize the public schools.

The implications are huge. But the school privatizers, and their lobbyists in the states, have so muddied the waters that the public does not get a clear picture of what is at stake.

So it was fascinating when investigative reporter Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ripped the veil off a secretive organization and its hidden political activities by publishing a copy of the American Federation for Children’s “2012 Election Impact Report.”

The report, which was clearly meant only for members and donors, outlines how the American Federation of Children pours millions of dollars into state races around the country to back candidates who support school vouchers and other measures that siphon public money private schools.

Addendum to The Surefire Plan to Destroy Public Education

5a. Claim that “poverty is not destiny” and use that as an excuse to ignore the high levels of child poverty in America and it’s relationship to lowered achievement.

Krashen writes,

To the editor

Re: Obama wants faster Internet in US schools. Would you pay $5 a year for it? (June 6). Twenty-three percent of American children now live in poverty, the second highest among 34 economically advanced countries. In comparison, Finland has less than 5.3% child poverty. Poverty means poor nutrition, hunger, and inadequate health care; all of these have a profound negative impact on school achievement.

Instead of 99 percent of American students connected to the internet with the latest, but soon-to-be-obsolete technology, how about making sure that 100 percent of American children are protected from the impact of poverty?

Next-generation broadband and high-speed wireless are of little help when children are hungry or ill.

What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?

In recent years the “no excuses”’ argument has been particularly persistent in the education debate. There are those who argue that poverty is only an excuse not to insist that all schools should reach higher standards. Solution: better teachers. Then there are those who claim that schools and teachers alone cannot overcome the negative impact that poverty causes in many children’s learning in school. Solution: Elevate children out of poverty by other public policies.

For me the latter is right. In the United States today, 23 percent of children live in poor homes. In Finland, the same way to calculate child poverty would show that figure to be almost five times smaller. The United States ranked in the bottom four in the recent United Nations review on child well-being. Among 29 wealthy countries, the United States landed second from the last in child poverty and held a similarly poor position in “child life satisfaction.” Teachers alone, regardless of how effective they are, will not be able to overcome the challenges that poor children bring with them to schools everyday.

*References to charters generally imply corporate, for-profit charter schools. Quotes from other writers reflect their opinions only. See It’s Important to Look in a Mirror Now and Then.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!
Posted in Alfie Kohn, Article Medleys, David Berliner, Jonathan Kozol, poverty, Stephen Krashen, Valerie Strauss

2013 Medley #12

According to Arne Duncan, “Poverty is not destiny…” Jerry Bracey would respond, “Poverty is not an excuse. It’s a condition. It’s like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty.”

I accept that “poverty is not destiny,” however, while Duncan and the “reformers” are quick to give examples of high poverty children and schools which have succeeded, they ignore the effect that poverty has on the millions of children who are struggling. They use outliers as “proof” that poverty doesn’t matter when we (and they) know that it does.

Spouting phrases like “poverty is not destiny” is an excuse to ignore it…to ignore the fact that our legislators, governors, and presidents have failed to resolve issues like poverty. It’s much easier to find fault with America’s public schools than to take on the difficult issues facing the country.

We are a profoundly divided nation…and the greatest divide is economic. While politicians try to destroy each other…while lobbyists buy legislators…while the wealthiest individuals control more and more of this country’s resources…more than one fifth of our children live in poverty and attend underfunded schools. We know that there is a high correlation between a child’s family and his/her academic achievement, yet, instead of providing health care, counselors, transportation, and other wraparound services, such as those suggested by the Chicago Teachers Union, we close schools, which punishes students for living in poverty, and punishes teachers for dedicating their lives to helping at-risk children.

Politicians and policy makers don’t want to accept the fact that it is they who have failed, so they look for a place to lay the blame.

Privatizing hasn’t helped. Closing schools hasn’t helped. High-stakes testing hasn’t helped. The source of the problem is child poverty.

Valerie Strauss

The biggest scandal in America

Valerie Strauss is one of public education’s strongest voices…

There are many ramifications for this in the realm of public education. Because public schools are largely funded by property taxes, schools in high-poverty areas have fewer resources. Federal dollars appropriated to help close the gap don’t come close. Furthermore, if there is anything that education research has shown consistently and conclusively, it is that student achievement is linked to the socioeconomic level of families. Students who attend low-poverty schools do well on international test scores, as well as students in any other country.

Jonathan Kozol

Here is Jonathan Kozol’s speech at the Save Our Schools March in DC, 7/30/2011. No one over the last 40 years has spent as much time advocating for poor children as Kozol.

Stephen Krashen

Protecting Students Against the Effects of Poverty: Libraries

  • Children of poverty are more likely to suffer from “food insecurity,” which means slower language development as well as behavioral problems (Coles, 2008/2009).
  • High-poverty families are more likely to lack medical insurance or have high co- payments, which means less medical care, and more childhood illness and absenteeism, which of course negatively impacts school achievement. School is not helping: Poor schools are more likely to have no school nurse or have a high ratio of nurses to students (Berliner, 2009).
  • Children of poverty are more likely to live in high-pollution areas, with more exposure to mercury, lead, PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) and smog, all of which influence health and learning, and often impact behavior as well (Berliner, 2009, p. 23; Martin, 2004).
  • Children of poverty have very little access to books at home and in their communities, with less access to good public libraries and bookstores (Neuman and Celano, 2001).

Protecting children from poverty a better investment than the common core.

The major reason for our unspectacular school achievement is our level of child poverty, now 23%, the second highest child poverty level among 35 “economically advanced” countries. Poverty has a devastating impact on school performance. When we control for poverty, American children’s international test scores are near the top of the world.

There is no evidence that more rigorous standards and increased testing improve school performance.

There is strong evidence that that protecting children from the effects of poverty will increase school performance: Strengthening food and health care programs, and providing better support for libraries and librarians is a much better investment than the common core.

Alfie Kohn

Poor Teaching for Poor Children … in the Name of Reform

Those who demand that we “close the achievement gap” generally focus only on results, which in practice refers only to test scores. High-quality instruction is defined as whatever raises those scores. But when teaching strategies are considered, there is wide agreement (again, among noneducators) about what constitutes appropriate instruction in the inner city.

The curriculum consists of a series of separate skills, with more worksheets than real books, more rote practice than exploration of ideas, more memorization (sometimes assisted with chanting and clapping) than thinking. In books like The Shame of the Nation, Jonathan Kozol, another frequent visitor to urban schools, describes a mechanical, precisely paced process for drilling black and Latino children in “obsessively enumerated particles of amputated skill associated with upcoming state exams.”

Not only is the teaching scripted, with students required to answer fact-based questions on command, but a system of almost militaristic behavior control is common, with public humiliation for noncompliance and an array of rewards for obedience that calls to mind the token economy programs developed in prisons and psychiatric hospitals.

David C. Berliner

Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success

…despite their best efforts at reducing inequalities, inequalities do not easily go away, with the result that America’s schools generally work less well for impoverished youth and much better for those more fortunate. Recent test results from America’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and from the international comparisons in both the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Program on International Student Assessment (PISA) all show this pattern. Figure 1 (following), from TIMSS 2007, illustrates how closely linked school scores are to the school’s enrollment of low-income students. Comparing the scores of schools in 58 countries in the TIMSS pool against only wealthier American schools, instead of overall averages, makes the link clear. Looking first at the American schools with the lowest levels of poverty—where under 10% of the students are poor—we find that the average scores of fourth grade American students are higher than in all but two of the other 58 countries.6 Similarly, in American schools where under 25% of the students are poor, the average scores of fourth grade American students are higher than all but four of these other countries.

And others…

Hunger, Academic Success, and the Hard Bigotry of Indifference

Research on young children in several U.S. cities found that food insecure children were two thirds more likely to experience developmental risks in expressive and receptive language, fine and gross motor control, social behavior, emotional control, self-help, and preschool functioning. These outcomes held even after controlling for potential confounding variables such as caregiver’s education, employment, and depressive symptoms. Other data from a study of 1,000 poor families identified associations between food insecurity and children’s behavior problems, such as temper tantrums, fighting, sadness, depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

Map: How 35 countries compare on child poverty (the U.S. is ranked 34th)

UNICEF’s data is important for measuring the share of children who are substantively poorer than their national average, which has important implications for the cost of food, housing, health care and other essentials. Its research shows that children are more likely to fall below this relative poverty line in the United States than in almost any other developed country.

Does America Really Care About Its Children?

I’m really not interested in hearing politicians on either side of the aisle talk about “reform” when they can’t even keep per pupil spending at least constant (and that’s not even counting for inflation!). And I’m especially uninterested in hearing billionaires tell us their latest wacky schemes to “reform” our schools when the money that’s not being spent on our children is winding up in their pockets.

More on Poverty…

No school can make up for years of neglect before a child reaches school age. No school can correct the damage done by lead poisoning or poor nutrition as the child grows. No school can teach a child who has been traumatized by violence. Closing public schools and opening militarized charter schools – such as our new Secretary of Education did in Chicago – do not solve the problem caused by years of social indifference. “Better” tests don’t improve teaching and learning. You don’t fatten the cow by weighing her with a better scale.

Schools need to be included as part of the solution to the problems of generational poverty, crime and malnutrition – absolutely…but someone has to carry the ball back to the children’s homes…and someone has to deal with the other 18 hours a day that the children are not in school.


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!
Posted in Evaluations, Teaching Career, Testing, Value-Added

Depersonalization, De-professionalization, Demoralization

Ani McHugh, a high school teacher of the year from Delran, New Jersey wrote a letter to the Burlington County (NJ) Times which describes the heart of education “reform” as the depersonalization of both teachers and students.

Ani wrote,

Depersonalization is at the heart of education reform

For decades, newspapers have published letters from people who describe teachers as lazy, greedy and ineffective — and responses from teachers who defend their work ethic, their passion and their profession as a whole.

The problem, though, is one that’s older and more deeply rooted than much of this banter addresses. It’s one on which the current educational “reform” movement thrives: depersonalization.

To label all teachers as anything is ignorant at best, just as to label all members of any group of people based on commonly-accepted stereotypes is dangerous, derisive and wildly offensive. Are all lawyers corrupt? Are all Irish people drunks? Are all Muslims terrorists? You get the point. It’s dangerous.

Yet this kind of depersonalization is the foundation of the “reform” movement. Students have no identity in the eyes of reformers. Instead, they’re numbers in a database that are examined for the sole purpose of evaluating teachers, who are also nameless, faceless statistics.

In New Jersey, teachers will be evaluated using student growth percentiles, which track students’ scores on flawed standardized tests to check for yearly “progress.” Consider this: A student performs well on high-stakes tests for two straight years. Then, he experiences a death in the family, has problems at home, is plagued by a serious illness, or begins to abuse drugs or alcohol. Would his ability to focus, to try and to care about a meaningless multiple-choice test be affected? Probably. Would his test score that year go down? Probably.

Yet reformers, who have no interest in this student or knowledge of his struggles, would blindly, categorically and authoritatively blame the child’s teacher, who obviously failed to do his or her job because the student didn’t show adequate “growth” from the year before.

Reformers oversimplify the learning process and ignore the very basic fact that children and teachers are individuals. They stereotype students by categorizing them with others to whom they’re “similar” based solely on single test scores. They insist that teachers’ lessons address diverse learning styles, yet devalue diversity by forcing all students to pass the same flawed standardized test.

But most alarming is that reformers, who recognize that many people know little about public education but will leap to attack it, use empty jargon that sounds reasonable to promote their dangerous agenda.

In this culture, good teachers will flee the profession because their intellect, individuality, vision and judgment are devalued. They’ll become dispensable — and easily replaceable — because the curriculum will be narrow, prescribed and designed by non-educators so that those who can follow a script can teach it. Public schools, a cornerstone of our society, will be replaced by for-profit charters that make rich corporations richer at taxpayers’ expense.

Good teachers are invaluable, and the profound ways in which they influence their students are immeasurable. Calling teachers lazy, greedy and ineffective is no different than promoting any other stereotype that lumps all people with a commonality into one group, and evaluating teachers based on a testing system that strips any type of human characteristics away from our children promotes this same kind of injustice.

— Ani McHugh

The national trend of depersonalizing educators and students has allowed “reformers” to de-professionalize public education.

In state after state teachers have lost employee rights such as collective bargaining. The call for improved teaching has been accompanied by lowered standards for entrance into the teaching profession. In Indiana you don’t need teaching credentials to be a public school teacher, you don’t need administrative training or substantial years of teaching experience to be either a principal or superintendent. This “fast-track” of educator preparation is not going to improve teacher or school quality.

The evaluation of teachers based on student test scores has been shown to be invalid and unreliable, yet it continues. The strongest correlation with achievement levels based on standardized tests is a child’s family income, yet the number of states employing VAM measures continues to increase.

The de-professionalization of education — the constant blame heaped upon teachers for things outside of their control, the denial of teachers’ expertise, the loss of employee rights, the micromanagement of classrooms…have all contributed to the lowest morale among educators in decades.

Is this the way to improve public education? Do “reformers” really want to improve public education?


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!
Posted in Public Ed

An Education Declaration to Rebuild America

On June 11, the Campaign for America’s Future and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign released An Education Declaration to Rebuild America printed below.

Please take a few minutes to read the seven core principles that frame the Declaration’s vision followed by a “supports-based reform agenda” that rejects test-and-punish and rejects today’s system where opportunity depends “on zip code or a parent’s ability to work the system.” Click here to sign the Declaration.

An Education Declaration to Rebuild America

Americans have long looked to our public schools to provide opportunities for individual advancement, promote social mobility and share democratic values. We have built great universities, helped bring children out of factories and into classrooms, held open the college door for returning veterans, fought racial segregation and struggled to support and empower students with special needs. We believe good schools are essential to democracy and prosperity — and that it is our collective responsibility to educate all children, not just a fortunate few.

Over the past three decades, however, we have witnessed a betrayal of those ideals. Following the 1983 report A Nation at Risk, policymakers on all sides have pursued an education agenda that imposes top-down standards and punitive high-stakes testing while ignoring the supports students need to thrive and achieve. This approach – along with years of drastic financial cutbacks — are turning public schools into uncreative, joyless institutions. Educators are being stripped of their dignity and autonomy, leading many to leave the profession. Neighborhood schools are being closed for arbitrary reasons. Parent and community voices are being shut out of the debate. And children, most importantly, are being systemically deprived of opportunities to learn.

As a nation we have failed to rectify glaring inequities in access to educational opportunities and resources. By focusing solely on the achievement gap, we have neglected the opportunity gap that creates it, and have allowed the resegregation of our schools and communities by class and race. The inevitable result, highlighted in the Federal Equity and Excellence Commission’s recent report, For Each and Every Child, is an inequitable system that hits disadvantaged students, families, and communities the hardest.

A new approach is needed to improve our nation’s economic trajectory, strengthen our democracy, and avoid an even more stratified and segregated society. To rebuild America, we need a vision for 21st-century education based on seven principles:

  • All students have a right to learn. Opportunities to learn should not depend on zip code or a parent’s abilities to work the system. Our education system must address the needs of all children, regardless of how badly they are damaged by poverty and neglect in their early years. We must invest in research-proven interventions and supports that start before kindergarten and support every child’s aspirations for college or career.
  • Public education is a public good. Public education should never be undermined by private control, deregulation and profiteering. Keeping our schools public is the only way we can ensure that each and every student receives a quality education. School systems must function as democratic institutions responsive to students, teachers, parents and communities.
  • Investments in education must be equitable and sufficient. Funding is necessary for all the things associated with an excellent education: safe buildings, quality teachers, reasonable class sizes, and early learning opportunities. Yet, as we’ve “raised the bar” for achievement, we’ve cut the resources children and schools need to reach it. We must reverse this trend and spend more money on education and distribute those funds more equitably.
  • Learning must be engaging and relevant. Learning should be a dynamic experience through connections to real world problems and to students’ own life experiences and cultural backgrounds. High-stakes testing narrows the curriculum and hinders creativity.
  • Teachers are professionals. The working conditions of teachers are the learning conditions of students. When we judge teachers solely on a barrage of high-stakes standardized tests, we limit their ability to reach and connect with their students. We must elevate educators’ autonomy and support their efforts to reach every student.
  • Discipline policies should keep students in schools. Students need to be in school in order to learn. We must cease ineffective and discriminatory discipline practices that push children down the school-to-prison pipeline. Schools must use fair discipline policies that keep classrooms safe and all students learning.
  • National responsibility should complement local control. Education is largely the domain of states and school districts, but in far too many states there are gross inequities in how funding is distributed to schools that serve low-income and minority students. In these cases, the federal government has a responsibility to ensure there is equitable funding and enforce the civil right to a quality education for all students.

Principles are only as good as the policies that put them into action. The current policy agenda dominated by standards-based, test-driven reform is clearly insufficient. What’s needed is a supports-based reform agenda that provides every student with the opportunities and resources needed to achieve high standards and succeed, focused on these seven areas:

  1. Early Education and Grade Level Reading: Guaranteed access to high quality early education for all, including full-day kindergarten and universal access to pre-K services, to help ensure students can read at grade level.
  2. Equitable Funding and Resources: Fair and sufficient school funding freed from over-reliance on locally targeted property taxes, so those who face the toughest hurdles receive the greatest resources. Investments are also needed in out-of-school factors affecting students, such as supports for nutrition and health services, public libraries, after school and summer programs, and adult remedial education — along with better data systems and technology.
  3. Student-Centered Supports: Personalized plans or approaches that provide students with the academic, social, and health supports they need for expanded and deeper learning time.
  4. Teaching Quality: Recruitment, training, and retention of well-prepared, well-resourced, and effective educators and school leaders, who can provide extended learning time and deeper learning approaches, and are empowered to collaborate with and learn from their colleagues.
  5. Better Assessments: High-quality diagnostic assessments that go beyond test-driven mandates and help teachers strengthen the classroom experience for each student.
  6. Effective Discipline: An end to ineffective and discriminatory discipline practices, including inappropriate out-of- school suspensions, replaced with policies and supports that keep all students in quality educational settings.
  7. Meaningful Engagement: Parent and community engagement in determining the policies of schools and the delivery of education services to students.

As a nation, we’re failing to provide the basics our children need for an opportunity to learn. Instead, we have substituted a punitive high-stakes testing regime that seeks to force progress on the cheap. But there is no shortcut to success. We must change course before we further undermine schools and drive away the teachers our children need.

All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.


Greg Anrig
The Century Foundation

Kenneth J. Bernstein
National Board Certified Social Studies Teacher

Martin J. Blank
Director, Coalition for Community Schools

Jeff Bryant
Education Opportunity Network

Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige
Co Founder, Defending Early Years Foundation

Anthony Cody
Teachers’ Letters to Obama, Network for Public Education

Linda Darling-Hammond
Professor of Education, Stanford University

Larry Deutsch, MD, MPH
Minority Leader (Working Families Party), Hartford City Council

Bertis Downs
Parent, Lawyer and Advocate

Dave Eggers Writer

Matt Farmer
Chicago Public Schools parent

Dr. Rosa Castro Feinberg, Ph.D.
LULAC Florida State Education Commissioner; Associate Professor (Retired), Florida International University

Nancy Flanagan
Senior Fellow, Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA); Blogger, Education Week; Teacher

Andrew Gillum
City Commissioner of Tallahassee, Florida
National Director of the Young Elected Officials Network

Larry Groce
Host and Artistic Director, Mountain Stage, Charleston, West Virginia

William R. Hanauer
Mayor, Village of Ossining;
President, Westchester Municipal Officials Association

Julian Vasquez Heilig
The University of Texas at Austin

Roger Hickey
Institute for America’s Future

John Jackson
Opportunity To Learn Campaign

Jonathan Kozol Educator & Author

John Kuhn
Superintendent, Perrin-Whitt School District (Texas)

Kevin Kumashiro, Ph.D.
Incoming Dean, University of San Francisco School of Education; President, National Association for Multicultural Education

Rev. Peter Laarman Progressive Christians Uniting

Chuck Lesnick
Yonkers City Council President

Rev. Tim McDonald
Co-Chair, African American Ministers In Action

Lawrence Mischel Economic Policy Institute

Kathleen Oropeza
Co-Founder, Fund Education Now

State Senator Nan Grogan Orrock Georgia Senate District 36

Charles Payne University of Chicago

Diane Ravitch
New York University, Network for Public Education

Robert B. Reich
Chancellor’s Professor, University of California at Berkeley; Former U.S. Secretary of Labor

Jan Resseger
United Church of Christ, Justice & Witness Ministries

Nan Rich
Florida State Senator

Hans Riemer
Montgomery County Council Member; Montgomery County, MD

Maya Rockeymoore, Ph.D.
Center for Global Policy Solutions

David Sciarra Education Law Center

Rinku Sen
President and Executive Director, Applied Research Center

Theda Skocpol
Harvard University, Director, Scholars Strategy Network

Rita M. Solnet
Co Founder, Parents Across America

John Stocks
Executive Director, National Education Association

Steve Suitts
Vice President, Southern Education Foundation

Paul Thomas, EdD Furman University

Dennis Van Roekel
President, National Education Association

Dr. Jerry D. Weast
Former Superintendent, Montgomery County (MD) Public Schools; Founder and CEO, Partnership for Deliberate Excellence

Randi Weingarten
President, American Federation of Teachers

Kevin Welner
Professor, University of Colorado Boulder School of Education; Director, National Education Policy Center

Posted in Corp Interest, Duncan, Gates, Michelle Rhee, Ravitch

Buying American Education

Diane Ravitch posted this letter…and suggested it be reposted everywhere.

This is an extraordinary letter. Please read it. Send it to your friends. Send it to everyone on your email list. tweet it. These are questions that should be answered by the Secretary, under oath, in public hearings.

American education is being radically reconstituted and centralized, with little or no democratic deliberation. The public hears bland assurances about “high standards for all,” “college and career readiness for all,” and other unproven claims and assertions about sweeping changes that have not been subject to trial or open debate or careful review.

Here’s the author’s posting of the letter. There’s an interesting irony in that the author is a teacher at the University of Chicago Lab School, the school which Arne Duncan attended on his way to becoming the CEO of Chicago Public Schools and the Secretary of Education without ever teaching in or attending a public school.

The Honorable Tom Harkin
Chairman, Subcommittee on Labor,
Health and Human Services, and Education
Senate Appropriations Committee

June 3, 2013

Dear Chairman Harkin,

I was very saddened to hear that you have decided not to run for reelection as a United States senator. You have always represented the most honest branch of the Democratic Party and the long proud legacy of Midwestern prairie populism extending from James B. Weaver, to Williams Jennings Bryan, to Bob LaFollette, the Farm-Labor party, Paul Simon, George McGovern, and Tom Daschle. We could also count the comedian turned senator from Minnesota in this, but he needs a few more years of “seasoning.” I am sure that you are mentoring him in the tradition. Your friend and my senator, Dick Durbin, shares this tradition, but I am worried that he has cozied up too closely with the Chicago plutocrats to be an effective spokesperson for “the small fry.”

I write because you hold a very important position in congress that has oversight over Education. I am a history teacher, a historian, a leader of history teachers, and a critic of the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top Mandates. I have thirty years of teaching under my belt, including service to the people of the great state of Iowa at Malcolm Price Laboratory School in Cedar Falls where I taught high school students and trained pre service history teachers at the University of Northern Iowa.

Your friend and colleague, senator Grassley, has sent you a letter expressing his concerns about the Race to the Top mandates and the Common Core Curriculum Standards, so I will not belabor the concerns that he has already expressed to you,

I would like to encourage you to call our Secretary of Education before your committee and ask him some hard questions about the way that the RTTT mandates were constructed. His responses to the concerns that many citizens have from all points on the political spectrum have been exceedingly evasive. He typically claims that those who are opposed to the RTTT mandates and the Common Core Standards are hysterical wing nuts who fully embrace Glenn Beck’s conspiracy theories about attempts to create a one world government:

In fact, despite the claims of a recent Washington Post story (, critics of the RTTT mandates and the CCS come from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. In the national education debate, the status quo agenda that is being pushed comes from the corporate middle of both parties that is backed by many of those who have been the biggest beneficiaries of the current economic “recovery” in Seattle, Silicon Valley, and Manhattan (and Westchester County) and large foundations.

I humbly recommend that Mr. Duncan be called before your committee to answer some serious questions under oath about corporate and investor influence on Education policy. Mr. Duncan told a committee of congress that he did not want to “participate in the hysteria” surrounding the RTTT and the CCS. Because he is a public servant, it is his duty to serve the people of the United States. Part of his job is to be accountable to the public.

I recommend a few questions that any populist or progressive senator would have asked in the 1890s or early twentieth century:

  1. How many of your staffers have worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation? Who are they, and why did you hire them?
  2. What role did these staffers and Bill Gates have on the formulation of the RTTT mandates?
  3. How much classroom teaching experience do the principal authors of the RTTT mandates have, individually, and as a group?
  4. Why are these individuals qualified to make decisions about education policy?
  5. Were you, or anyone who works within the Department of Education in contact with any representative or lobbyist representing Pearson Education, McGraw-Hill, or InBloom before or during the writing of the RTTT mandates?
  6. What is the Broad Foundation? What is your connection to the Broad Foundation? What education policies does the Broad Foundation support? How do these policies support public education? How do these policies support private education? What was the role of the Broad Foundation in the creation of the RTTT mandates?
  7. How many individuals associated with the Broad Foundation helped author the report, “Smart Options: Investing Recovery Funds for Student Success” that was published in April of 2009 and served as a blueprint for the RTTT mandates? How many representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation assisted in writing this report? What was their role in authoring this report? How many representatives of McKinsey Consulting participated in authoring this report? What was David Coleman’s role in authoring this report?
  8. Do you know David Coleman? Have you ever had any conversations with David Coleman? Has anyone on your staff had any conversations with David Coleman? Did anyone within the Department of Education have any connection to any of the authors of the Common Core Standards? Did anyone in your Department have any conversations with any of the authors of the Common Core Standards as they were being written?
  9. Have you ever had any conversations with representatives or lobbyists who represent the Walton Family Foundation? Has anyone on your staff had any conversations with the Walton Family Foundation or lobbyists representing the Walton Family Foundation? If so, what was the substance of those conversations?
  10. Do you know Michelle Rhee? If so, could you describe your relationship with Michelle Rhee? Have you, or anyone working within the Department of Education, had any conversations with Students First, Rhee’s advocacy group, about the dispersal foundation funds for candidates in local and state school board elections?

This is just a start. Public concerns about possible collusion between the Department of Education and education corporations could be addressed with a few straightforward answers to these and other questions.

Every parent, student, and teacher in the country is concerned about the influence of corporate vendors on education policy. What is represented as an extreme movement by our Education Secretary can be more accurately described as a consumer revolt against shoddy products produced by an education vendor biopoly (Pearson and McGraw Hill). Because these two vendors have redefined the education marketplace to meet the requirements of RTTT, they both need to be required to write competitive impact statements for the Anti-Trust Division of the Department of Justice.

Senator Harkin, I have a simple solution to this education mess. You represent a state with a great education system. In Iowa, there are great teachers in Cumming, Hudson, and West Des Moines. Most teachers across the country are dedicated, talented, and creative. They, and not Pearson, McGraw Hill, or InBloom , have a better sense about what is good for kids. Allow teachers to create national rubrics to evaluate authentic assessments and allow teachers to do their jobs and grade these assessments. We can save billions of dollars in a time of austerity if we do this. You have control over the disbursement of RTTT funds. These funds should go to teacher assessments, not assessments designed by people with little or no classroom experience. Likewise, these assessments should be graded by teachers, not by temporary employees or computers under the control of for profit corporations.

Let’s invest in our teachers to insure that this investment stays in our communities and states. Education vendors are not loyal to kids, parents, or states. They seek profit, and they will invest their proceeds wherever they can make the most money. It is time for some common sense. We need education policy for the small fry, not education policy for plutocrats.

I would love to speak to you and to your committee on these issues.

The very best to you,

Paul Horton, History teacher, The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (former History Instructor, The University of Northern Iowa, Malcolm Price Laboratory School, Cedar Falls, Iowa)

Stop the Testing Insanity!