Posted in A-F Grading, EdWeek, PDK, Public Ed, Testing, Uncategorized

It’s Those Other Schools

How good are the public schools in your community? If you’re a parent/guardian of a school child, or a teacher in the local schools, chances are you think your schools are pretty good.

If you don’t work in a local school, or don’t have children who attend local schools, how do you judge the quality of your local schools? Should you rely on news media reports? How about state test scores, or state A-F grades?



In the annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Towards Public Schools, published last September, seventy-one percent, almost three-fourths of public school children’s parents/guardians, gave their local schools a grade of A or B. Parents of children who attend public schools are among the people who know the schools the best.

Local parents know that their children are more than test scores. They know the teachers, administrators, and staff. Their neighbors work in the cafeteria or on the custodial staff. They appreciate the hard work of school employees.

Why, then, do they ignore the same concepts when it comes to the quality of schools nationally? Only 24% give the nation’s schools a grade of A or B. Those same parents who understand that the news media, or test-based school grades don’t tell the whole story when it comes to their local community’s school, believe the opposite when it comes to schools nationally.


Earlier this month, another survey was published. In this survey it was educators who were asked about the quality of public schools. The results were reported in Education Week’s Educator Political Perceptions: A National Survey.

And, surprise! The educators responses were nearly identical to those of parents and guardians of public school students. American educators gave their local schools, the ones they worked in and knew the best, high grades, but nationally, not so much. Seventy-two percent gave their own school systems an A or B. Only 35% graded the nation’s schools as an A or B.

From Education Week

Across the board, educators give the public schools in their district better grades than those in the nation as a whole. While 25 percent assign A’s to public schools in their districts, just 3 percent allot that grade to schools in the nation as whole. Clinton and Trump voters assign similar grades both to their own schools and the nation’s schools. Compared to teachers and school-based leaders, district leaders are slightly easier graders of both their districts’ schools and schools in the nation as whole. For example, 34 percent of district leaders assign their districts’ schools an A as compared to 24 percent of teachers and school-based leaders.

In other words, the folks who have the closest contact with schools, either as parents or professionals, grade their local schools high, but their opinions about schools nationally are much lower.

Mathematically, of course, this doesn’t make sense. How can the majority of parents and educators “know” that the nation’s schools are poor, when that same majority “knows” that their local schools are excellent? Where are all the “failing” schools if not in local communities nationwide? Where are all the “excellent” schools, if not in other people’s local communities as well as ours?

There is, of course, a logical answer. People hear about all the “failing” public schools across the nation from the news media, pundits, and politicians. At the same time, they experience relief that their own public schools aren’t anything like “those other schools.

Those people whose children attend public schools and those who work in local public schools know more about how the schools are run. They see the work that goes into them. They are the stakeholders. They realize that schools are not perfect – no human institution is – but they understand that schools are more than the sum of their parts.

  • children are more than test scores
  • teachers are more than their students’ test scores
  • local schools are more than state grades

But, thanks to politicians, pundits, and policy makers, that understanding doesn’t seem to extend to the public schools of the nation, as a whole.


My own local schools, for example, are excellent. I know this is true because my children and grandchildren have attended them…and I have worked in them. I know the teachers, administrators, families, and children. I know that the teachers who work there spend more than just their contracted working hours in order to make the schools responsive to the needs of the children who attend them.

But you might live on the other side of the county (or state, or country)…and you might see that my local schools are not perfect. Sure, this school in the district received a grade of A from the state, and that one got a B, but there’s one on the other side of the district which got an F…and one with a D [and you might also notice that the school grades correspond to the neighborhood economic status!]. There are students who struggle, teachers and administrators who fail in their responsibilities, and administrators who have been out of the classroom too long. You might see my local schools’ A-F grades and conclude that, at least some of them, are failures.

If these were your local schools, what criteria would you use to determine their quality? Would you listen to the parents and teachers who know what goes on in the school? Or would you rely on the test scores and state A-F grades?

How do we really know how the nation’s schools are performing? Are student test scores the most reliable criterion upon which to judge a school?


Further Reading:

For a good discussion of the political perceptions in the Education Week Survey, see Curmudgucation’s The Teacher in the Next Room

Are America’s public schools “failing?” – The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools

The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools, Part 2

Posted in A-F Grading, Choice, DeVos, ESSA, Public Ed, Quotes, retention, special education, Teachers Unions, TeacherShortage

Listen to This #9


Sometimes They’re Right

America’s public schools are not “failing.” However, that doesn’t mean that they can’t improve. After reminding us how the nation’s public schools are the best in the world, Rob Miller goes on to remind us that many criticisms of public education are true. It’s up to us to make public education the “unequivocal BEST choice for America’s children.

From Rob Miller

…public education is an absolute right for every child in America, not just the privileged. No other school system anywhere in the world exceeds the United States in providing free access to education for everyone. And that, alone, makes us exceptional.


I got to choose private schools, but will vouchers really help other kids make it?

Indiana’s voucher program began as a way to “save poor children from ‘failing’ schools.” It was restricted by income, and parents had to try the public schools before they could get a voucher to send their child to a private school. It didn’t matter that it was the state, not the schools that was “failing” the students. All that mattered was that privatizers rationalize a way to give tax money to private schools and churches.

Once it was clear that private and parochial education didn’t provide better services for poor children, the argument changed.

The voucher program has been expanded to include middle class students, and students who have never set foot in public schools. Public dollars are being used to pay for religious instruction.

The call is now for “choice.” There’s no attempt to claim that private and parochial schools are better. The entire reason for the voucher program is now “choice.”

From Emmanuel Felton in The Hechinger Report

School choice by its very nature uproots its customers from their communities, increasing the proportion of Americans without any stake in what’s going on in public schools, the schools that will always serve the children most in need of attention.


Board members favor counting test scores more than growth

From Christopher Tienken quoted by Steve Hinnefeld

Whether you’re trying to measure proficiency or growth, standardized tests are not the answer…


Diploma rule a setback for Indiana schools, students

Federal law requires that students with special needs have an IEP, an Individual Education Plan. It’s required that the IEP describe a modified program appropriate to the student. Yet, now we find that the same Federal laws which require those accommodations for special needs students, requires that they, along with their teachers and schools, be punished for those accommodations.

Since charter schools and schools accepting vouchers enroll fewer special needs students than public schools, it is the “grade” of the public schools which will suffer because of this loathsome and abusive practice. It is the students who were told what they needed to do, and who did it, who will be told, “your diploma doesn’t really count.”

From Steve Hinnefeld

…students who struggle to earn the general diploma and likely wouldn’t complete a more rigorous course of study, the change seems to send a message that their efforts aren’t good enough. About 30 percent of students who earn a general diploma are special-needs students.


After Six Months, What Has Trump-DeVos Department of Education Accomplished?

The sooner this administration is history, the better.

From Jan Resseger

To summarize—Betsy DeVos has said she intends to “neutralize” the Office of Civil Rights, which can only be interpreted as weakening its role. DeVos is delaying rules to protect borrowers who have been defrauded by unscrupulous for-profit colleges. While DeVos promotes school accountability through parental school choice, her staff are busy demanding continued test-and-punish accountability from the states. And finally, the D.C. voucher program remains the only federally funded tuition voucher program, despite that DeVos has declared the expansion of several kinds of school vouchers to be her priority.


The deep irony in Betsy DeVos’s first speech on special education

From Valerie Strauss, in the Answer Sheet

We should celebrate the fact that unlike some countries in the world, the United States makes promises that we will never send any student away from our schools. Our commitment is to educate every student. Period. It’s but one of America’s many compelling attributes.

The irony in this statement is that it is the traditional public education system in the United States that promises a free and appropriate education for all students. There is no question that many traditional public schools don’t meet this promise, but the goal is aspirational and seen as a public good. And it is the traditional U.S. public education system that DeVos has labeled a “dead end” and a “monopoly,” while the alternatives to these traditional public school districts that she promotes don’t make the same promise.


FL: Third Grade Readers Lose

The attack on public education, and on eight year old children in particular, continues. Florida uses a “third grade reading test” that students must pass, else they face retention in grade. Just like Indiana…
Just like Ohio…
Just like Mississippi…
and Oklahoma…
and Arizona…
and Connecticut…

Another abusive “learn or be punished” policy.

From Peter Greene in Curmudgucation

What sucks more is that the final outcome maintains Florida’s power to flunk any third grader who refuses to take the test, regardless of any other academic indicators. In fact, the whole mess of a ruling would seem to suggest that Florida intends to ignore the part of ESSA that explicitly recognizes parental rights to opt out.

…the state had to explicitly declare that it doesn’t believe in the grades on report cards and that it values test-taking compliance above all else AND that it fully intends to ignore the opt-out portion of ESSA. So the face of education policy continues to be ugly, but at least they were required to show it without any mask or make-up.


Teacher Pay Penalty Driving Educators Away From Profession

8 steps to destroy public education…

  1. Schools are labeled “failing.”
  2. Teachers are demonized for not raising test scores.
  3. Tax money is diverted to private and charter schools creating a public school funding crisis.
  4. Funding crises yields a drop in teacher salaries.
  5. Fewer young people choose a career in education creating a teacher shortage.
  6. Fewer teachers means larger class sizes.
  7. Larger class sizes means lowered achievement, especially for poor students.
  8. Lowered achievement means more schools will be labeled “failing.”

This quote deals with step 5 in the process.

From Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute.

“We are moving into a world where fewer people are trying to enter teaching, in part because the profession has been degraded by misguided accountability measures and also because of the erosion of pay,” says Mishel.


Blaming Unions for Bad Schools

From Walt Gardner

It’s so easy to scapegoat teachers’ unions for all the ills afflicting public schools (“State of the Teachers Union,” The Wall Street Journal, Jul. 6). The charge is that they are more interested in protecting teachers than in teaching students (“This is what teachers unions really protect,” New York Post, Jul. 6). Critics point to the success of charter schools, which are overwhelmingly non-union, as evidence.

But what these critics don’t admit is that states like Massachusetts and Minnesota, which have strong teachers unions, also post high test scores. Is that merely a coincidence or is it evidence that the critics are wrong? (Correlation is not causation.) Moreover, not all charter schools post positive results by any means.

Posted in A-F Grading, Article Medleys, DAP, ESSA, SBOE, vouchers

2017 Medley #22 – ESSA, A-F, and DAP, oh my!

ESSA, Private Schools, A-F, SBOE, DAP


Grad rates, grades to fall

A decision by the U.S. Education Department will result in thousands of Indiana students’ diplomas not being counted in graduation statistics causing dozens of schools to score lower on the A-F Grading System.

The fact that the USED can, with the backing of the federal ESSA law, lower the value of diplomas and thereby a school’s grade without any change in the actual achievement of the students is an indication that there is something wrong here.

The A-F grading system in Indiana has been wrong from day one. It’s been riddled with confusion and corruption. The original metrics weren’t adequate, said the State Board Of Education, so they “fixed” them. A former State Superintendent, Tony Bennett, manipulated them to increase the scores of favored schools. The mathematical manipulations have done nothing to improve student achievement or give patrons a better understanding of a school’s effectiveness. It has simply become a way to label schools and neighborhoods as “failing” (read “poor”).

This time, however, it’s the USED which is screwing things up.

As has been the case for the last couple of decades, the U.S. (under both Republican and Democratic administrations) seems hell-bent on making it more difficult for teachers and schools to do their jobs, and for students to learn. The only goal seems to be to humiliate students, schools, and neighborhoods where students struggle.

Local schools will see a drop in graduation rates – and related controversial A-F school grades – under a new interpretation by the U.S. Department of Education.

…McCormick lamented that the new Every Student Succeeds Act was supposed to be more flexible yet the feds aren’t bending.

She warned that some schools might see their graduation rates drop into the 30 percent to 40 percent level.

…[NACS Superintendent, Chris] Himsel said, “I don’t even pay attention to the A to F stuff. It’s so not related to what we do for kids it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

While…many have lost confidence in that system it is still reported in the media and can cause harm to districts – especially along borders with competing schools allowing transfer students.

But, of course, we can’t let those nasties at the USED damage Indiana’s favored private schools. They’ll still get public tax money for teaching religious doctrine, fixing church steeples, and expanding parochial school buildings, even if their students don’t “measure up.”

After unsuccessful first attempt, private voucher schools use new Indiana law to win reprieve from A-F consequences

Four private schools with repeated years of D and F grades from the state will get to accept new voucher students next fall.

The Indiana State Board of Education today approved Central Christian Academy, Turning Point School, Lutheran South Unity School and Trinity Lutheran School’s requests for waivers after a failed vote last month would have denied them.

The requests take advantage of a new Indiana law passed in April that allows the state board to consider such waivers for private schools that can still show their students have improved academically.

Today, six board members voted in favor of the waivers. Gordon Hendry and Steve Yager were still opposed. State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who also voted no last month, was out sick.

[Note: This method of ignoring “failure” for private schools while punishing the same “failure” in public schools is not unique to Indiana or voucher schools. It happens with charter operators, too. For another example, see Philadelphia: KIPP Gets Whatever It Wants, Despite Poor Performance.]


Test scores could get more important as state board looks to reverse course on A-F grades

To make a bad situation worse, the State Board of Education (SBOE) has decided that getting the right answer is more important than learning.

In an educationally indefensible reversal, the SBOE has chosen to give more weight to “proficiency” than to “growth” in figuring a school’s grade. The discussion was reminiscent of Betsy DeVos’s Confirmation Hearing (although at least the members of the SBOE appeared to understand the concepts), and members of the SBOE agreed with board member David Freitas who said that “Proficiency is more important than growth.”

This means that inadequate standardized tests, which are biased, advantage the wealthy, provide minimal feedback to classroom teachers, penalize non-standard thinkers, and use arbitrary, subjectively-set pass-fail cut scores, will become even more important leading to more teaching to the test, focusing on “the bubble-kids,” and outright cheating.

[emphasis added]

Board members Thursday, though, said they think it’s more important to know how students are doing on the ultimate goal: performing on grade level.

“Growth, to me, is much less important than proficiency,” said B.J. Watts, a sixth-grade social studies and science teacher in Evansville.

Board members Tony Walker, Byron Ernest and Kathleen Mote said they, too, would like to see more emphasis on achievement. Walker said that if schools receive an A letter grade, the public should be confident they are already high-achieving.

“Right now, you can be on the road to high-performing and get an A,” he said.


I challenge those members of the SBOE to define grade level. Anyone who has been teaching for more than a few years has seen the definition of grade level change. What was third grade in 1997 isn’t third grade in 2017.

It’s perhaps beneficial that expectations for what students can do should rise as humans grow and knowledge increases and changes. However, there is such a thing as “development.” Students develop at different rates. Humans are not the same. Using a measurement to help identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses is different than using that same measurement to classify a child as “successful” or “failing.”

Meeting students where they are, academically and physically, and helping them reach challenging, yet achievable goals, is called Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP).

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) defines DAP as

…an approach to teaching grounded in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education. Its framework is designed to promote young children’s optimal learning and development.

DAP involves teachers meeting young children where they are (by stage of development), both as individuals and as part of a group; and helping each child meet challenging and achievable learning goals.

This applies to older children as well, since the human brain doesn’t reach full development until sometime in the 20s.

Our obsession with testing…our obsession with trying to make all students learn at the same rate is not developmentally sound and it’s a statistical impossibility.

Punishing students, their teachers, or their schools, for not being “developmentally equal” to others is insane. Stop it!

Posted in A-F Grading, Evaluations, IREAD-3, ISTEP, retention, Testing, vouchers

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Test – 2017

ISTEP is still doing damage to Indiana students, teachers, and schools. The promise to end the mess that is the State of Indiana’s testing program was just political deception in order to assuage voters during the last election cycle. The election is over and we have elected the same folks who have been dumping education “reform” policies on the children of Indiana for the last dozen years. They have grown the importance of ISTEP into a bludgeon to punish low income children, their teachers, and their schools. The pretense of the test being a tool to analyze children’s progress has all but disappeared.

Public outcry against the test inspired former Governor Pence to form a team to find an alternative, but it was led by political appointees and some educators on the panel had their voices overruled by the sound of cash clinking into test-makers’ (aka political donors) wallets. Others gave up, apparently thinking, “This is the best we’ll get.”

Nevertheless, the recommendations of the panel were for a shorter test with quicker turnaround. The recommendations also called for a two year window to plan for the changes…in the meantime, the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad test continues.

ISTEP will involve too many hours of student instructional time – twice during the school year (thrice for third graders who are also subject to being punished by IREAD-3 for not learning quickly enough). ISTEP will still be responsible for teacher evaluations and A-F school grades even though it was designed only to evaluate student knowledge. So much for any rules of testing which say that tests should only be used to evaluate what they were designed to evaluate – in this case student achievement.

Maybe we ought to try education policies which have actually been shown to be effective. Let’s do this instead…

  • End the A-F Grading system for schools. A letter grade does not reflect the climate or quality of a school.
  • Stop using tests to evaluate teachers. There are other, better professional evaluation tools out there (see this report, by Linda Darling-Hammond, et al.)
  • End IREAD-3 and any student evaluation process by which students are retained in grade. Retention doesn’t work. Intensive early intervention does. See here, here, and here.
  • If standardized tests must be used, use those tests which can return student achievement information in a timely manner so teachers can use the information in their instruction.
  • Better yet, don’t use standardized tests at all. With the millions of dollars saved by not purchasing standardized tests, provide early intervention funds to schools with significant numbers of at-risk students.
  • Your suggestion here: __________
Posted in A-F Grading, ALEC, Article Medleys, DeVos, Evaluations, NewYear, Religion, Teaching Career, Testing

2016 Medley #34: Happy New Year

Happy New Year, Real Life Classrooms,
Religion in Public Schools, ALEC,
School Grades, Betsy DeVos


This is the 93rd and last post to this blog of 2016.

It’s common to wrap up a year in “top ten” lists and such. But a calendar year is a human construct built around the cycle of seasons, and good and bad things happen every year. We all have successes and failures…triumphs and tragedies…joys and sorrows.

A lot has been made recently of the number of celebrities who died in 2016, and it’s true that there were famous people who died this year, just like every year. However, science blogger Greg Laden makes it clear that of the last 7 years, 2016 has had the fewest celebrity deaths.

It’s true that some of the celebrity deaths in 2016 were to people who were “too young to die” (Christina Grimmie, 22 and Anton Yelchin, 27) – artists who were just beginning to make their mark on popular culture. On the other hand, there were many who had lived long, productive lives (Elie Wiesel, 87, Noel Neill, 95 and Abe Vigoda, 94).

My point is not to minimize the importance of anyone’s loss at the death of a friend, relative, or cultural icon, but to suggest that 2016 is like any other year, with its share of sadness and tragedy.

The Guardian suggests that the emotional response to 2016 celebrity deaths is exacerbated by technology

There may not, in fact, have been an unusual number of celebrity deaths this year, but they seem to have been much more salient than before. Part of this must be the result of the growing reach and responsiveness of digital media. Technology makes it possible to observe and react to a distant readership almost as accurately and immediately as an actor can respond to their audience in a theatre. Sudden emotional impulses are amplified with astonishing speed across the internet just as they can be in a crowd. Each apparently solitary smartphone user is really sharing other people’s emotion as well as their own.

It’s not just emotions that are shared in this way. It’s memories as well. The generations of middle-aged people along with all their children and grandchildren have experienced a kind of collectivisation of childhood. This was a historic shift. Before the mass media, childhood memories were shared among very small groups, and anchored to particular places. But for the last 60 years, children in the west, and increasingly elsewhere, have grown up in front of televisions, and many of the most vivid characters of their childhood and adolescence were actors or singers.

Each year is also filled with events which elicit our emotional responses…events like: family occasions (births, weddings, etc), sporting events, and – dare I mention it – political contests.

The path of humanity through history is a path of emotional responses to events in our lives. Joy and sorrow are natural human responses and each is balanced by the other.

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.


“Reformers” are often strangers to public school classrooms, either because they haven’t been in one since childhood, or because they were never in one at all. Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan never attended and never taught in a public school. His only experience with public education was as the CEO of Chicago Public Schools – where he got no first hand classroom experience and as a parent of public school children after he was already appointed Secretary of Education.

The new nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is likewise devoid of any public education experience. She never attended a public school. She never taught in a public school. Her children never attended a public school. How is she qualified to lead the federal department charged with supporting America’s public schools?

Real schools are peopled with real children and real teachers…real support personnel and real administrators. Their voices need to be guiding public education in the US.

Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Children

I teach first grade in the Chicago Public Schools. I know my job well, and I am actually very good at it (according to all the Christmas cards from children I just opened). And this is what I can tell you, in spite of the politics and policy of education that get harmfully thrown around – the most important part of this job is to keep children safe, and care for them deeply so they can live the lives they were meant to live.

The Only Subjects That Matter

I’m an English teacher, but I will argue till your ears are blue that history is the single most important subject of all and the root of all other education.

6 Ways in Which Teaching Is Nothing Like the Movies

It doesn’t work that way in real life. Maybe your kids do love you. Maybe most of them look forward to your class and work hard and achieve things they never thought were possible. But it’s not all of them, dammit! There’s always that one who fights everything you do. And there are always six or seven who sit quietly in the back of the class, and you never know whether they’re learning or sleeping or secretly plotting your violent overthrow. Yeah, sometimes the bad kid ends up being your greatest ally, just like in the movies. Other times he takes his pants off in your class. Mysteriously enough, often it’s both.


Can students pray in public schools? Can teachers say ‘Merry Christmas’? What’s allowed — and what’s forbidden.

How do you handle religion in your classroom? Many teachers don’t understand what is and isn’t allowed in the classrooms.

“Can students pray inside their public school buildings? Can teachers say “Merry Christmas” to their students? Can religious music be played in public schools? Yes, yes and yes. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about what is allowed and not allowed when it comes to religious expression in public schools…”

Students are allowed religious expression in public schools unless it disrupts the education process. In other words, they can pray before they eat, before tests, at recess, and at other times during the day. They can talk about their own religious beliefs. They can even share them with others. What they can’t do is disrupt the class with religious preaching or interrupt the education of others or themselves. Adults in the school are not allowed to direct religious expression.

The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that kids can’t pray in school. What the Court has done — and continues to do — is to strike down school-sponsored prayers and devotional exercises as violations of religious liberty.

As a result of those decisions, school officials may not impose prayers, or organize prayer events, or turn the school auditorium into the local church for religious celebrations.

See also: Religion in the Public Schools: A Road Map for Avoiding Lawsuits and Respecting Parents’ Legal Rights


ALEC politicians cut backroom deals to float voucher legislation in several states

Follow the money…from private schools, from charter school edupreneurs, to politicians’ campaign coffers.

State politicians across the nation are skirting ethics laws and making backroom deals with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to trade their votes away in 2017 to corporate special interests pushing voucher legislation.


Opinion: What school grades really say

Students are not widgets. They cannot be standardized. Using the same bar to measure two students from diverse backgrounds is unfair, unrealistic, and unproductive. Using student tests to compare schools is equally unreasonable. Tests were made to measure student achievement, not school or teacher quality.

…factors outside of the school have a dramatic impact on academic performance, making so-called accountability measures such as school grades useless as a determinant of school and teacher quality. If we were serious in Indiana about improving educational opportunities and outcomes for all Hoosier students, we would stop focusing on standardized tests and school grades and listen to the professionals who work most closely with our children on a daily basis—their teachers. If we would allow teachers to do their work without interference and arbitrary judgements, what we would see would not be the same in every classroom or for every child, and that is as it should be. Education is a people business, not a product business, and it is time we start trusting our people.

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

School grades still reflect student demographics

How long will it be before “reformers” admit that standardized tests measure family income?

It was true five years ago and it’s still true today. The grades that Indiana assigns to schools say more about the students the schools serve than how effective the schools are.

A change in the grading system this year was a step in the right direction, but not a big enough step to make the grades fair or credible. Schools that get high grades are still more likely than not to serve few students from poor families. Those that get low grades are almost certainly high-poverty schools.

Op-ed: Indiana fails test on teacher bonuses

We know – and have known for a long time – that standardized test scores measure family income. So when you base a teacher “bonus” plan on student standardized test scores you get a plan that favors teachers of the wealthy over teachers of the poor.

Perhaps the legislators and policy makers who put this plan into action were ignorant of the facts of testing. Perhaps they did so because they collected campaign contributions from pro-test groups and testing corporations. Whatever the reason, they shouldn’t be shocked at the result.

The policy is so flawed that the result was highly predictable. Gov. Mike Pence and his minions in the legislature boasted in 2013 that this would reward highly proficient teachers and sort out (shame?) the less effective.

In effect, it undermined the poorer districts and gave to the wealthy, shattering inner-city morale and contributing to a teacher shortage. It was a business model designed to make schools compete for resources, ignoring two important premises: (1) that excellent teaching is a collaborative effort, and, (2) competition creates winners but also losers. When it comes to our youth and their right to an education, we cannot afford to have losers.


Letter: DeVos unfit for education post

Among the people who were considered by President-elect Donald Trump for the position of US Secretary of Education…

Michelle Rhee is unqualified to be US Secretary of Education. She taught for three years, was the chancellor of DC Public Schools for one term, and put in place procedures that led to widespread cheating.

Tony Bennett is unqualified to be US Secretary of Education. As State Superintendent of Public Instruction in Indiana, he manipulated test score data to favor political donors and charter school owners. He also allegedly used government resources for his own campaign purposes.

Williamson Evers is unqualified to be US Secretary of Education. He never taught in a public school. He was never an administrator in a public school. His only public school activity has been to cause damage. He is a self-proclaimed “education expert” for no reason.

Luke Messer is unqualified to be US Secretary of Education. His only education experience is as a legislator making rules for schools without having to live with the consequences as an educator. He is an attorney.

As unqualified as those four candidates are, they are all infinitely more qualified than the ultimate nominee for the position. Betsy DeVos is unfit to have anything to do with America’s public schools. Not only does she have no experience, unlike some of the names above, but she has actively worked to destroy public schools as an act of faith. She has promoted charter schools while demanding that they be allowed to function with no public accountability. She has worked to transfer public funds into private pockets. You want to see how well her policies have worked for public schools? Take a look at Detroit.

On Nov. 23, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would nominate Betsy DeVos to serve as secretary of education in his administration. From what we have seen in her home state of Michigan, DeVos is unfit for the Cabinet position. Her family has heavily funded a failed push for constitutional change to allow for vouchers, which allow taxpayer money to go to private schools.

Vouchers drain our public schools of the money they so badly need. DeVos also supports the rapid expansion of charter schools and online schools with minimal regulation. We’ve seen in Ohio with the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow how minimally regulated charters steal our children’s education and enrich business people.

Meet Betsy DeVos: Your New US Secretary of Education

Meet Betsy DeVos: Alphabetical Listing

Posted in A-F Grading, Article Medleys, EdTech, Evaluations, Testing

2016 Medley #32: Still Testing After All These Years

Testing, Teacher Evaluations, EdTech,
A-F Grading System, Classroom Grades


In America we misuse standardized tests. We grade school systems, schools, teachers, and students, and no amount of “tweaking” testing programs will change the fact that using tests as a high stakes measurement is inappropriate.

The overuse and misuse of testing hasn’t improved education in the US, so why do we continue to do it? The answer is simple. Money.

When we decide to focus on student learning instead of trying to make a buck off of children’s education, or solve social problems with test scores, we might begin to improve education in America.

No comparing school grades to previous years

Tests measure income, pure and simple. We’ve known it for years, and it hasn’t changed in years.

…there’s still a strong correlation between grades and family income. Nearly all schools in Hamilton County — one of the lowest-poverty areas in the country — get A’s and B’s. And of the 89 Indiana schools that got F’s, over half were in the urban districts of Indianapolis Public Schools, Gary and South Bend.

Teacher bonus inequity shouldn’t be a surprise

When you have a teacher evaluation plan based on standardized tests, like Indiana’s, you reinforce the economic segregation of public schools by rewarding teachers for working in high income areas.

Schools in areas of high poverty need good teachers, but where’s the incentive for teachers to work in those schools?

Why is the US one of only three countries in the OECD who spend more money on the education of wealthy children than of poor children?

Indiana used to provide more resources for high poverty districts…one of the few states who did…until last year’s legislature turned that around.

Here in Indiana we pay teachers extra for good test scores. Guess which teachers get the big bonuses?

…The results, released last week, are what you’d expect. The biggest awards go to suburban districts where there are few low-income families. In Carmel Clay Schools, one of the lowest-poverty areas in the nation, the average award is estimated to be $2,422 per teacher…

At the other end of the scale, teachers in Indianapolis Public Schools will get an average of $128.40 In Indianapolis Wayne Township, they will get $42.50 In Kokomo, $39.79. In East Chicago, zero.

…To say this is unfair doesn’t begin to describe it. No one can argue with a straight face that teachers employed in wealthy districts deserve huge bonuses but teachers who dedicate their lives to helping poor children should get a slap in the face. Yet that’s the program the legislature gave us.

The new standardized testing craze to hit public schools

Changing the medium over which tests are administered doesn’t remove the damage caused by high stakes. And it further exacerbates the differences between schools in wealthy districts and schools in poor districts.

Parents Across America’s report on the dangers of EdTech suggests six questions parents can ask, including: which devices and programs are being used, how much time children spend on electronic devices, and what kind of data is being collected. Parents should also ask whether assessments are mostly multiple choice, how often they are administered, if some students (e.g., students with disabilities or English learners) are tested more frequently, and who controls the data and how it is being used.

Armed with detailed information, parents can fight back against technology misuse and overuse.

A failing grade: Folly of state’s school-assessment system apparent at even a cursory glance

Why stop at grading teachers based on test scores when you can misuse standardized tests even further by grading schools? Indiana jumped on the Jeb Bush bandwagon to grade schools in 2011 and while the A-F grading system hasn’t done anything to improve schools we keep using it.

The A-F Grading System continues to show us that wealthy students score higher on the tests than poor students. Did we need to spend $800 million on testing over the last 30 years to learn that?

Under Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent Tony Bennett in 2011, the state board threw out the descriptive labels and adopted a letter-grade system, a practice championed by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Indiana’s new approach was broken from the start. It was revealed in 2013 that Bennett privately ordered staff to change the metrics so that dozens of school grades improved. A charter school operated by one of the state superintendent’s biggest campaign donors saw its grade boosted from a C to an A.

In spite of repeated problems and unsuccessful efforts to develop a valid grading formula, Indiana policymakers have refused to give up on their quest to attach grades to schools.


Beyond Grades: How Am I Doing?

During my 35 years of teaching (20 of those in gen-ed classrooms) I consistently struggled with grades. I would keep track of student scores, average them out, and then, at the end of the “grading period” figure out what grade all those numbers represented. More often than not I would comment to myself that “I really would like to say more” about a child’s learning than just a letter grade and a quick general comment on a report card, but with the time constraints of the structure of education in the US, I was rarely able to do more than just write down the grade and move on to the next.

Since I’m retired, I can now admit that sometimes I would “embellish” or “fudge” on grades because of the child’s effort, actual learning, or some other reason, and in that way I would rationalize to myself that the grade reflected the actual progress of the child. It would be nice if teachers had time to actually analyze their teaching and their students’ learning.

I wonder how they figure grades in Finland?

Parents believe grades have some meaning, primarily because we have tried to convince them that they do over the past 150 years. We all know better. We need to tell parents we were wrong, We need to show them there are better ways to report on learning.

Click here for part one of this series by Russ Walsh.

Posted in A-F Grading, Article Medleys, DeVos, Finland, library, Politics, Privatization, Teaching Career, Testing, vouchers

2016 Medley #30

Politics, The Teaching Profession,
Privatization, Testing, Libraries


My Letter to President-Elect Trump

Your entertainment for today consists of a teacher from Oklahoma, with no political or diplomatic experience, who has never traveled abroad, yet claims he is qualified to be the next US Secretary of State. How is this possible? If Betsy DeVos is qualified to be the US Secretary of Education, with no public education experience as a student, a teacher, an administrator, or a parent (has she ever even visited a public school classroom?), then the qualifications for other Cabinet positions should have similar requirements.

Maybe I could be appointed as the Attorney General. I’m not an attorney…never written a brief…never even appeared in court (although I have watched Lawyer shows on TV). Sounds like I’m perfect for it.

I know you are a busy man so I will get right to the subject of my letter. I would like to formally announce my strong interest in your administration’s open cabinet position as U.S. Secretary of State.

I think you will find my qualifications and experience to be exactly what you are looking for.

Meet Betsy DeVos: Your New US Secretary of Education

There are so many articles and blog posts being written about the nomination of Betsy DeVos for US Secretary of Education (see above), that I thought it would be nice to collect them in one place. This is undoubtedly not all of them, but so far (as of noon ET on Nov. 29) I have listed about 80 and arranged them by date.

Full disclosure: Most of them are opposed to her selection as Secretary of Education. Someone else will have to collect those posts and articles which are in favor.

A collection of articles and information, sorted by date, about President-elect Trump’s choice for US Secretary of Education. Check back frequently for additional articles.


When Finnish Teachers Work in America’s Public Schools

“Reformers” frequently claim that the US is “behind” the rest of the world in education. Finland, because of the high scores of its students on international tests, is often held up as an example of good education…until anyone suggests that we do the same sorts of things that the Finns do in education: no standardized testing, no privatization, 15 minutes of recess for every hour of school, teacher collaboration, and an investment of time. Then, “we can’t” duplicate it because education in the US is too decentralized and the population too diverse.

That is true. We also have four times the child poverty rate, less effective social safety nets for our children, and the future of our country, based on our interest in educating everyone in a free, uniform, public education system, is a low priority.

Learning about the Finnish school system is an eye-opening experience for anyone who understands public education in the United States. The experience of these teachers, who came to the US from Finland, was certainly eye-opening to them. They “don’t recognize this profession.”

“I have been very tired—more tired and confused than I have ever been in my life,” Kristiina Chartouni, a veteran Finnish educator who began teaching American high-school students this autumn, said in an email. “I am supposedly doing what I love, but I don’t recognize this profession as the one that I fell in love with in Finland.”

In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.

Todd Gazda, Superintendent, Ludlow Public Schools (MA) has written an insightful piece about turning lemons into lemonade. The end of the piece, however, is where his comments really had an impact on me.

…it seems that every time those discussions arise the end results rarely align with what educators in the field believe is important to improve our system.

American educators are kept out of the room when public policy for public education is discussed. A mere three out of the eleven US Secretaries of Education (DeVos included) have had K-12 experience as a teacher. Most decisions are made by state legislators, governors, and school board members, only a few of whom have likely had public school experience. Medical decisions are made with the input of medical professionals. Legal decisions are made by those with experience in the US Legal System. Why is it different with education?

…all that educators are looking for is an accountability system that gives a fair and accurate picture of the health of a district. I still assert that standardized testing alone will not accomplish this goal and that we need a more comprehensive accountability system that takes a holistic approach based on more than test scores…


The Essential Selfishness of School Choice

Steven Singer, edu-blogger at Gadflyonthewallblog, has presented as good a case as I’ve ever read against school “choice.”

We have a large, functioning, public school system in the US which serves every child. If there are problems we need to fix them, not just throw the system away.

…school choice is essentially selfish. Even in cases where kids do benefit from choice, they have weakened the chances of everyone else in the public school system. They have increased the expense and lowered the services of children at both types of school. They have allowed unscrupulous profiteers to make away with taxpayer money while taxpayers and fiscal watchdogs are blindfolded. And when students return to their traditional public school after having lost years of academic progress at a substandard privatized institution, it is up to the taxpayers to pay for remediation to get these kids back up to speed.

Choice advocates talk about children being trapped in failing schools, but they never examine what it is about them that is failing.

Almost all public schools that are struggling serve impoverished students. That’s not a coincidence. It’s the cause. Schools have difficulty educating the poorest children. Impoverished children have greater needs. We should be adding tutoring, counseling and mentor programs. We should be helping their parents find jobs, providing daycare, healthcare and giving these struggling people a helping hand to get them back on their feet.

But instead we’re abandoning them.

See also

The Problem with Choice

We should improve our public schools, not close them.

If parents truly want choice, this is where we as parents and educators need to concentrate our efforts. In Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the statement that “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children” should be taken literally and used to fix public education for all, not to give choice only to the wealthy and the fortunate.

If we want true education reformation, we need to make sure the public tax dollars are being used correctly to create an actual choice movement within the public school system itself: Increase money being spent on public education to improve ALL schools, regardless of location; increase teachers’ salaries to create a true competition for quality teachers; increase public school autonomy so that principals and teachers can use their knowledge and experience to innovate and create the right learning environment for their students.

Scores drop when students move to private, magnet schools

What’s the purpose of “choice?”

The Indianapolis study suggests more choice won’t boost achievement and may hurt it. But Waddington notes that families choose schools for a variety of reasons. Some may find a private or magnet school a better fit. Evidence from Indiana’s voucher program suggests parents choose private schools for religious instruction, raising questions about whether the state should support sectarian education.

Berends and Waddington said the Indianapolis study provides more evidence that the key to improving student achievement doesn’t lie with a particular type of school. They said research suggests we should get past the “horse race” question of whether public, charter or private schools are better and seek a better understanding of the characteristics that make some schools more effective than others.


Recent Research Shows Vouchers Fail Children

The two most recent studies indicate that students do worse with vouchers.


Feds say Indiana can drop its A-F system. But does it want to?

We’re still misusing standardized tests. Standardized tests are developed to evaluate the achievement of students, not teachers. Not schools. Not school systems. Not nations.

If Indiana wants to make changes to its A-F school grading system, new rules from the U.S. Department of Education announced today could make it much easier.

The question is: Does Indiana want to make a change? And what would an overhauled school rating system look like?


The value of reading and our neglect of libraries

Does your neighborhood public school have a library for its students? Did you know that there are schools in the US, the richest nation in the world, without a library or a full-time librarian for its students?

Isaac Asimov was right in 1995 and his insight is still valid: “When I read about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.”

See also: