Posted in David Berliner, DeVos, MLK, OECD, PISA, poverty, Public Ed, Stephen Krashen, Testing

The Myth of America’s Failing Public Schools

Betsy DeVos, who recently bought the office of U.S. Secretary of Education, spouts the same myth that’s been going around for decades…that American public schools are “failing.”

The Answer Sheet, in DeVos: Outcomes at U.S. schools are so bad, they probably can’t get much worse, reported

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Wednesday that U.S. public schools nationwide are in such bad shape that she isn’t “sure how they could get a lot worse.”

And, like other myth-spouters in the “education reform” movement, she invoked international tests, adding,

“I’m not sure how they could get a lot worse on a nationwide basis than they are today. I mean, the fact that our PISA scores have continued to deteriorate as compared to the rest of the world…

She’s wrong.

The U.S. is regularly in the “middle of the pack” when it comes to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international test administered by the OECD. In 2015 U.S. students were 31st, 20th, and 19th in Math, Reading, and Science respectively. This score, and previous, similar scores, have been used by politicians and policy makers to claim that America’s public schools are failing.

The problem that DeVos and others don’t understand, or just simply ignore, is poverty. American public schools accept everyone and test everyone. Not all countries do that. We don’t weed out our poor and low-achieving students as they get older, so everyone gets tested. To be fair, Secretary DeVos might not know this. She never attended a public school and never sent her children to public schools. In her experience, children who weren’t achieving academically might have been weeded out of her private schools. She probably never realized that they were then sent to public schools, where all students are accepted.

The fact is that students who come from backgrounds of poverty don’t achieve as well as students from wealthier backgrounds. And we, in the U.S. are (nearly) Number One in child poverty.

PISA

Putting PISA Results to the Test

According to a 2015 report by UNICEF, the U.S. has the second-highest child poverty rate (23.1%) among industrialized nations from the European Union and OECD; only Romania’s is higher (25.5%).

…the majority of children attending U.S. public schools – 51% – are growing up in low-income households, the highest percentage since the federal government began tracking the figure.

Poverty matters when it comes to achievement. Students who live in poverty in the United States come to school with issues that don’t affect wealthier students. Stress, for example...

Children growing up in poverty often experience chronic stress…chronic stress can affect the developing learning centers of the brain, with impact on attention, concentration, working memory and self-regulation.

In other words, the simple fact of growing up in poverty affects a child’s ability to learn. In addition, there are factors outside of school which contribute to low achievement.

David C. Berliner examined the impact of out-of-school factors on achievement. In Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success, Berliner wrote,

OSFs are related to a host of poverty-induced physical, sociological, and psychological problems that children often bring to school, ranging from neurological damage and attention disorders to excessive absenteeism, linguistic underdevelopment, and oppositional behavior.

These factors include conditions having an impact on developing fetuses, such as the medical care given to the mother, the mother’s general health, and any toxins ingested by the mother either through drug or alcohol abuse, or through environmental toxins in the environment. After the child is born things like low birth weight, inadequate medical care, food insecurity, environmental pollutants like lead poisoning, family stress, and other characteristics of high-poverty neighborhoods all have an impact on a child’s ability to learn.

To place all the blame for low achievement on public schools serving large numbers of students living in poverty is unfair to the schools, teachers, and students.

TEST SCORES REFLECT ECONOMIC STATUS

Mrs. DeVos probably doesn’t know that low test scores correlate exactly with high poverty (see here and here). Children from American schools where less than 25% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score high on the PISA test. In fact, they would rank first in reading and science and third in math among OECD nations.

On the other hand, American students from schools where more than 75% of the students qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch, score much lower. Because the U.S. has a much higher percentage of students in poverty than nearly all the other OECD nations, the overall U.S. average score is below the median.

We can show these results using graphs from PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid’.

The first graph shows where schools with various percentages of students in poverty would fall if only those schools were compared to other countries in the OECD.

This graph compares schools with various percentages of students in poverty to countries in OECD with similar poverty levels. The first side, for example, shows how students from schools with a poverty rate of less than ten percent compare to nations with a poverty rate of less than ten percent.

These two charts from PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid’ clearly show the impact that poverty has on American students’ test scores. In every case, students who attend schools with a given percentage of children in poverty 1) score higher than students who attend schools with lower percentages of children in poverty and 2) score higher than countries with similar rates of poverty.

At the very least we can say that the child poverty rate, over which schools have no control, has an impact on student learning. In his blog post, Why Invest in Libraries, Stephen Krashen, USC Professor Emeritus, wrote,

Poverty means, among other things, inadequate diet, lack of health care, and lack of access to books. Each of these has a powerful impact on achievement (Berliner, 2009; Krashen, 1997). The best teaching in the world has little effect when children are hungry, undernourished, ill, and have little or nothing to read (emphasis added).

FINDING SOLUTIONS

Can schools do nothing to overcome the impact of poverty on student lives? Not alone. However, with the help of legislators, taxpayers, and parents, support for students struggling to succeed can help.

Here are some suggestions – most of which cost money – to help raise student achievement. These ideas come from various sources, including The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids, Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous Evidence, and The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve.

Legislators should help by fully funding public education in order to

  • Develop age-appropriate Pre-K programs
  • Reduce class sizes
  • Provide a well rounded, age-appropriate curriculum
  • Include the arts, recess, and physical education in the curriculum
  • Eliminate unnecessary testing (this one saves money)
  • Recruit experienced and diverse staff including classroom teachers and specialists
  • Include non-teaching staff when needed, such as nurses, counselors, and social workers
  • Maintain high quality facilities
  • Introduce parental support programs

THE CHALLENGE TO POLICY MAKERS

When she looks at the U.S. international test scores, Secretary DeVos, and other policy makers see “failing schools.” This is wrong. The low average scores, and the even lower scores aggregated for low income students, indicate that economic inequity is overwhelming the infrastructure of our public school systems. Instead of blaming public schools, politicians and policy makers must take responsibility for ending the shameful rate of child poverty and inequity in America.

In his Southern Christian Leadership Conference Presidential Address, on August 16, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said,

…we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.

Special thanks to Meg Bloom, Phyllis Bush, and Donna Roof, all members of the Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education, for their help in preparing the presentation from which this blog post was adapted.

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Posted in David Berliner, Evaluations, ISTEP, Lead, poverty, reform, Testing, Uncategorized

Where Toxins Meet Testing

ISTEP

Indiana’s state test, the ISTEP, is misused in the same way many states misuse standardized tests. It’s used to grade schools on an A to F scale and it’s used to determine which teachers get bonuses, which are deemed unsatisfactory, and which are to be fired. (I suppose that it’s also possible that in some places it’s used to see how well students have learned the state standards, but I doubt the state really cares about that.) In addition, another test, the IREAD-3, is misused to retain third grade students who are struggling with reading.

Currently the state is struggling over the ISTEP. A committee looked into problems with the test and made recommendations. Last year’s tests were so screwed up that the legislature agreed to not hold schools and teachers accountable for the results. For the results to be so bad that even Indiana’s “reformist” legislature “pauses accountability,” you know it must be bad.

The committee was charged with coming up with something that didn’t have as many problems as the ISTEP. That task was not accomplished.

‘ISTEP’ Name May Change, But Test Itself May Not For 2 More Years

“We need about two-and-a-half to three years to get a new test that is sound, based on our standards, thought out and vetted clearly through the education system,” says Sen. Dennis Kruse, chair of the Senate committee on education. “That’ll [be] a better test at the end of that time.”

…Rep. Bob Behning, chair of the House committee on education, wants the board to extend that contract. If extended, it would leave ISTEP+ in place through the 2018-19 school year.

The test is a failure, yet it has high stakes consequences for schools, teachers, and students. So, according to the chairs of both the Senate (Kruse) and House (Behning) education committees, we should keep using it.

TEACHER BONUS PAY BASED ON SCHOOL’S FAMILY INCOME

In the area of teacher bonus pay, the results of the state testing shows exactly what one would expect. Those teachers who work in wealthy districts have students who score higher on the ISTEP, and therefore get larger bonuses. In an earlier post, I wrote 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.

And that’s just what happened here.

Indiana’s wealthiest districts get most teacher bonus pay

Data released Wednesday by the Indiana Department of Education shows Carmel Clay Schools leading the state in the most performance money per teacher at more than $2,400. Zionsville Community Schools came in second at more than $2,200, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Comparatively, Indianapolis Public Schools will receive nearly $130 per teacher. Wayne Township Schools will see among the lowest payments, at just more than $40 per teacher.

The amount of the “bonus” doesn’t prove that teachers in high-poverty schools aren’t as good as teachers in low-poverty schools. It is just more proof that family income determines school success.*

TOXIC ENVIRONMENTS

One (of many) out-of-school factors which contributes to lowered academic achievement of children in poverty is an environment filled with toxins. Pollutants such as mercury, PCBs, toxic pesticides, and air pollution are all factors contributing to the health and brain function of children living in high-poverty areas. The most prevalent problem is, of course, lead.

In 2009, David C. Berliner, Regents’ Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University, wrote in Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success

It is now understood that there is no safe level of lead in the human body, and that lead at any level has an impact on IQ.

The Centers for Disease Control sets the “safe lead exposure” levels and recently has suggested that the “safe” level should be lowered.

CDC considers lowering threshold level for lead exposure

The CDC adjusts its threshold periodically as nationwide average levels drop. The threshold value is meant to identify children whose blood lead levels put them among the 2.5 percent of those with the heaviest exposure.

“Lead has no biological function in the body, and so the less there is of it in the body the better,” Bernard M Y Cheung, a University of Hong Kong professor who studies lead data, told Reuters. “The revision in the blood lead reference level is to push local governments to tighten the regulations on lead in the environment.”

The federal agency is talking with state health officials, laboratory operators, medical device makers and public housing authorities about how and when to implement a new threshold.

…Any change in the threshold level carries financial implications. The CDC budget for assisting states with lead safety programs this year was just $17 million, and many state or local health departments are understaffed to treat children who test high.

In other words, according to the CDC, the “safe” level is whatever level the bottom 2.5% of American children exhibit. The actual “safe” level is much lower (in fact, the only “safe” level of lead in a child’s system is 0.00), but the cost of reducing lead levels in every child in America is too high.

Children attending schools in high poverty areas are exposed to lead at a much higher rate than in low poverty areas.

Children suffer from lead poisoning in 3,000 U.S. neighborhoods

A new study of public health records has discovered 3,000 neighborhoods in America where children suffer from lead poisoning. The study, by the Reuters news agency, found lead poisoning twice and even four times higher than what was seen in the recent contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

That exposure has an impact on school success. Again, Berliner…

The neurological damage caused by lead pollution has been common knowledge for about a century, but even over recent decades, tragic effects such as this have been documented in families and communities around the world. Even after some obvious sources of lead in the environment were finally banned, reducing the numbers of children showing effects, too many children in the United States are still affected.

MAKING A CONNECTION

Our overuse and misuse of testing during the last few decades has led to over identifying schools in high poverty areas as “failing” without any regard for environmental toxins. Take the case of East Chicago schools…

Turnaround Meetings for Gary and East Chicago Schools

“If the school does receive a sixth F, and we expect those grades to come out this winter, then the board can begin looking at what options it wants to if any, take,” said [State Board of Education chief of staff, Brian] Murphy.

At the same time, the schools being labeled as “failing” exist in an area where lead poisoning is ubiquitous.

East Chicago Lead Contamination Forces Nearly 1,200 from Homes

Both the EPA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development are trying to deal with the contamination and moving residents, but the two agencies aren’t exactly working together well. The mayor of East Chicago and the residents are also concerned about how the EPA handled the situation and worried about the long-term ramifications of lead exposure as well as the costs of moving.

Do legislators read newspapers? Are they aware that 1) lead poisoning causes learning problems and 2) the so called “failing” schools are in areas with a high lead exposure? Why hasn’t there been an outcry blaming the low test scores on the lead poisoning of East Chicago children? Can you guess how big a “bonus” teachers in East Chicago schools got this year?*

A Strange Ignorance: The role of lead poisoning in failing schools

“The education community has not really understood the dimensions of this because we don’t see kids falling over and dying of lead poisoning in the classroom. But there’s a very large number of kids who find it difficult to do analytical work or [even] line up in the cafeteria because their brains are laden with lead.”

As a consequence, teachers and school systems get blamed for what is beyond their control. The legislature can’t (or won’t) see the connection between the two situations, and children’s futures, and their future contributions to the state, are damaged by their environment.

Legislators and “reformers” should quit placing the blame on schools, teachers, and children through punitive legislation aimed at “fixing” low achievement. It’s the state’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for all citizens…including those who don’t have enough money to buy lobbyists.

When the legislature assumes its share of responsibility for “failing” to provide safe environmental conditions in our communities, and for “failing” to address the state’s child poverty rate, then…maybe…we can start to talk about “failing” schools.

~~~

East Chicago ANOTHER Race-Based Lead Poisoning

…with lead pipes it’s like a recall on a product, but nobody wants to go back to the manufacturer and say, “Hey, you’ve made a mistake. You’re poisoning people.” We’ll recall a vehicle, but we won’t recall a pipe that is lead…a lead pipe that people are consuming water through. It’s part of their daily consumption.

…We’ll also recall leaded paint. But we’re not recalling leaded pipes.

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*Data on the Teacher Performance Grants can be found on the Indiana Department of Education site. Click here to download a spreadsheet for each school district in Indiana. Pay special attention to the number of special education districts at the $0 end of the spreadsheet.

For demographic data on each school district see Indiana School District Demographic Characteristics. Note the family poverty rates for the school districts mentioned above: Carmel Clay=3.5%, Zionsville=3.1%, Indianapolis Public Schools=26.8%, and Wayne Township=14.7%.

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Posted in Article Medleys, BAT, Charters, David Berliner, Election, Indiana, library, poverty, Privatization, Teaching Career, Testing, vouchers

2016 Medley #15

Request for White House Conferences on Public Education, Indiana Election, Myths, Poverty, Vouchers, Charters, School Libraries, Experience, Testing

STANDING UP FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION

BATs Request a White House Conference on EDUCATION and EQUITY

It’s time to take the issue of public education equity to the nation. The US is one of only three advanced nations which spend more money on our wealthy students than on our poor students. Successful nations do just the opposite!

The Badass Teachers Association, representing a network of over 70,000 teachers and education activists throughout the United States, formally request a White House Conference on Education and Equity. Our organization stands firmly against the serious harm being perpetrated to public education by both corporate privatization and right wing fiscal starvation policies. The current political rhetoric strengthens our resolve to reclaim the rights of all children to a free public education.

Learn more *here*.

Our organization proposes that a White House Conference be initiated immediately. Like much of the American landscape, Public K-12 Education requires infrastructure overhaul that have been installed to insert barriers that inhibit authentic learning. We do not accept the mendacity that racial and ethnic minorities must fail due to a manufactured system that sets them up to do so.

LOCAL: INDIANA

Truth versus myth – Mike Pence’s education record

Mike Pence, Governor of Indiana, has spent the last four years fighting for education…not public education, but private education: vouchers and charters. The Indiana State Teachers Association highlights the falsehoods in his recent campaign commercial.

Gov. Mike Pence recently released a campaign commercial highlighting what he considers his positive record on education in Indiana. His wife, Karen, was the messenger.

One could argue that his commercial contains more electoral mythology than actual truth. Here are some facts clarifying Pence’s record on education…

Pre-K tops Ritz education priorities

A main target of Mike Pence’s anti-public education agenda has been Democratic State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz. Pence and his cronies in the State Board of Education and supermajority packed General Assembly have done everything they could to make her job all but impossible.

Here Ritz emphasizes the importance of early childhood education. Earlier Pence refused a federal grant for Early Childhood to the tune of $80 million. Now, because it’s an election year, he’s jumped on the early childhood bandwagon…

Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz on Tuesday outlined her 2016 education policy priorities with a spotlight on expanding pre-kindergarten to all Hoosier children.

She wants to make high-quality pre-K available within the boundaries of every school district in the state regardless of income of the child.

“Through a combination of leveraging federal dollars, reverting state allocations and eliminating wasteful spending in the state’s budget, the funds are there if the political will exists,” she said. “With less than 1 percent of the state’s annual budget, we can ensure more of our children are kindergarten ready.”

MYTHS AND LIES

Deconstructing the Myth of American Public Schooling Inefficiency

“Reform” propaganda focuses on “bad teachers,” public schools that are “failing,” and other myths about public education in order to encourage privatization. See also 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools by David C. Berliner and Gene V. Glass.

In this report, Rutgers University Professor Bruce D. Baker and Rutgers Ph.D. student Mark Weber address the common myth that U.S. public schools are inefficient – that is, spend way more money than do other nations and get worse results. They begin with a discussion of the typical presentations of data on U.S. educational efficiency, particularly those comparing the U.S. with other nations, as well as a discussion of key concepts, approaches, and research in the evaluation of educational efficiency. They then go on to present a more refined analysis of the data by adjusting for student characteristics, inputs such as class size, and other factors.

POVERTY

Same old story: Test scores reflect demographics

Just like always…test scores mirror family income.

There’s nothing new or surprising here, of course. It’s just another illustration of the well-known fact that test scores are largely an indication of socioeconomic status and only secondarily a reflection of school effectiveness.

PRIVATIZATION: VOUCHERS

On negative effects of vouchers

We were told that vouchers were the only way poor children could leave “failing” schools to attend “successful” private schools. Then the voucher program was expanded to children who weren’t so poor. Then the voucher program was expanded to children who were already in private schools.

Voucher programs are not a way to help children get a better education. They’re a way to take public money and drop it into the collection plates of religious institutions.

Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.

Another explanation is that our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate. Since the nineties, public schools have been under heavy pressure to improve test scores. Private schools were exempt from these accountability requirements. A recent study showed that public schools closed the score gap with private schools. That study did not look specifically at Louisiana and Indiana, but trends in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for public school students in those states are similar to national trends.

In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle. A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction. More needs to be known about long-term outcomes from these recently implemented voucher programs to make the case that they are a good investment of public funds. As well, we need to know if private schools would up their game in a scenario in which their performance with voucher students is reported publicly and subject to both regulatory and market accountability.

PRIVATIZATION: CHARTERS

Charter schools’ purpose forgotten

Why turn over public funds to private organizations if they don’t do better than real public schools? Wouldn’t it be better for us to support our already existing public education system?

If a charter school can’t perform better than a conventional public school, there is no point in having the charter school.

After all, Ohio embarked on the charter-school experiment to see if there is a way to improve on the dismal results being achieved in many urban and poor school districts, not simply to replicate their failure. The idea was that if student outcomes improved in charter schools, then the schools would continue. But if charters failed to improve on the performance of conventional schools, they would be closed.

Now, years after the experiment began, some schools are persistent failures, but instead of being shut down, they want to change the performance measuring stick so that they can remain in business.

LIBRARIANS

Latest Study: A full-time school librarian makes a critical difference in boosting student achievement

A school library without a certified librarian is like a classroom without a certified teacher. A school without a library is a travesty.

Simply put, students suffer when they don’t have adequate resources—and, in particular, we’ve found that student achievement suffers when schools lack libraries that are staffed by full-time librarians. “Nearly every public school in Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties has a library with certified staff, which has been proven to increase student reading and comprehension,” notes Kintisch. “In contrast, most public schools in Philadelphia do not employ a certified librarian, and more than 140 do not have a library.”

TEACHING EXPERIENCE

Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research

Teacher effectiveness grows with experience. It is common sense, and it’s fact.

Based on a review of 30 studies published within the last 15 years, the authors find that as teachers gain experience throughout their careers, their students’ achievement gains increase. Although the steepest gains in effectiveness are in the first few years of teaching, this improvement continues in the second and often third decade of their careers, especially when they work in collegial work environments.

Read the report *here*.

TESTING: A New Level of Third Grade Testing Punishent

FL: District Officials Lose Their Damned Minds

[Note: See the update following this]

In Florida, like Indiana and elsewhere, third grade students must pass a test to be promoted to fourth grade. The utter stupidity and abusiveness of this policy is part of America’s “Learn or be Punished” mentality developed by “reformers” who don’t know anything about children and education. It proves without a doubt (in my mind) that legislators who pass these sorts of laws don’t care about children (other than their own, perhaps), and are just interested in lining the pockets of their testing company campaign donors – because you know that’s who is bankrolling their election campaigns.

In addition, Florida education policy punishes students who attempt to opt out of the test. This would be an example of “choice,” except of course, parents are not allowed to “choose” something that “reformers” don’t like. Choose charter schools? Yep. Choose vouchers? Absolutely. Choose to opt your child out of a developmentally inappropriate high stakes standardized test? No way!

The result is that students in third grade whose parents choose to opt them out of the test – it’s the parents who decide because, let’s face it, most eight and nine year olds don’t know much about the opt out process – may be retained in third grade.

This year a third grader can have great grades, the recommendation of her teacher and principal, and the admiration of her peers– but if she didn’t take the BS Test, she will fail third grade.

Let me say that again. An eight year old child who had a great year in class, demonstrated the full range of skills, and has a super report card– that child will be required to repeat third grade because she didn’t take the BS Test.

This is what happens when the central values of your education system are A) compliance and B) standardized testing. This is what happens when you completely lose track of the purpose of school.

UPDATE:

FL: Dept of Ed Says, “Don’t Blame Us!” (w/Update)

Now comes word courtesy of the Gradebook at the Tampa Bay Times, talking to the Florida Department of Education–

“Our primary guidance to the districts is to follow the law,” spokeswoman Meghan Collins said Tuesday. “Obviously, the law says participation on the FSA (Florida Standards Assessment) is mandatory. But we never said you must retain a student who doesn’t have an FSA score.”

Collins also elaborated that there was no requirement to take the test before an alternative assessment could be used.

Collins also told Jeffrey Solochek at the Times that the department would not be sending out a letter of clarification. “We’ve already made ourselves plenty damn clear enough for supposedly educated people who can read and speak English,” she did not actually say, but I thought I’d paraphrase. “Local decisions are to be made locally, particularly if they are so glaringly dumb that the fallout will be terrible,” she only sort of approximately continued. This is, honestly, better than I expected, given that Florida is the state that once insisted a dying child take the Big Standardized Test.

 “I’m nervous about failing FCAT”
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Posted in Accountability, Charters, David Berliner, ESSA, Evaluations, ICPE-MCSCI, JohnOliver, NCLB, Ritz, Sagan, Testing

Videos 2015

Teaching, Testing, and Acountability: Poverty and Charters

Every now and then I’ll embed a video in my blog. Here I have chosen six – informative and inspiring – from 2015, comprising about 2 hours of video. I’ve added emphasis with boldface and italics.

February 1

What would happen if state and federal legislators actually listened to educators? Notice how many of the legislators in this video talk about “accountability.” The assumption is that before “reformist” type accountability (aka standardized tests used to rank students, teachers, and schools) we never knew how our children were doing in school.

So long as public education policy continues to be shaped by the interests of corporate profiteering and not the interests of our public school children we will resist these unjust testing laws.

Jia Lee…the only woman at the hearings, from a female dominated profession…tries to teach legislators about the damage done by runaway testing.

Watch her testimony in the video below and read more about the hearings in…Teachers Rally Against Standardized Testing At No Child Left Behind Hearing.

The sad thing is that, despite the fact that NCLB has been replaced, annual, high-stakes testing is still with us.

Jia Lee, a New York special education teacher, said the tests “can only measure right or wrong,” not complex questions. “I will refuse to administer a test that reduces my students to a single metric. … Teachers, students and parents find themselves in a position of whether or not to push back or leave.”

Jia Lee – Senate Hearings Reauthorization of NCLB Jan 2015 from nLightn Media on Vimeo.

February 22

In February several hundred pro-public education supporters went to Indianapolis to “Rally for Ritz”…a rally in support of Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Glenda Ritz. Superintendent Ritz was continually at odds with the appointed members of the pro-charter, pro-voucher, “reformist,” school board.

Bloomington mom, and chair of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County and South Central Indiana, Cathy Fuentes-Rohwer’s speech to the assembled crowd was memorable, calling for, and defining legislative accountability, not just school accountability. Click here for the complete text of the speech.

My child is not “college and career ready” because HE IS A CHILD

…Accountability is representing your constituents, not your donors

…Accountability is research driven education policy. Standards don’t educate kids, teachers do.

Accountability is seeing to it that every child has a school that has enough nurses, social workers, guidance counselors, gym, art, and music teachers, librarians, small class sizes, electives, hands-on projects, science experiments, theater, and band. Every. Single. Indiana. Child.

…no six year old should be on the losing end for equal educational opportunity

Legislators and “reformers” are all for accountability…for others.

May 4

John Oliver shows us just how inane and stupid our obsessive focus on standardized testing really is – test-pep rallies, school cheers – trying to convince children that high-stakes tests are “fun.”

Yet, we all know that high-stakes tests are inappropriate for our most vulnerable students…and they make the pain of the also inappropriate test-prep-standards-based education even more painful.

Official instructions for test administrators specify what to do if a student vomits on his or her test booklet…and something is wrong with our system when we just assume a certain number of kids will vomit. Tests are supposed to be assessments of skills…

[NOTE: NSFW Some images and language might be offensive…just like Pearson’s tests.]

October 24

JOHN MERROW vs. EVA MOSKOWITZ

Success Academy procedures hurt children. They are used by charter school chains to get rid of “undesirables” (aka, students who are difficult and/or expensive to educate or whose test scores don’t measure up) despite what Moskowitz says in this report.

The fact that the two schools highlighted at the beginning of this report – one public, one charter – share the same building, is part of the problem. “Dual occupancy” – two or more schools sharing one building – is a problem. Public schools and their buildings belong to the community which built them. Taking part of a building away from a public school and turning over part of a building to a privately run charter school is like stealing the community’s property for profit. We don’t turn over control of certain parts of public parks for privately run athletic teams. We don’t close of parts of public libraries and let for-profit book sellers “share the space.” Neither should we do that with public schools.

Merrow said it all when he said…

In the end, how charter schools conduct their business is basically their own business.

November 22

What kind of future are we building for our nation?

Policy makers regularly talk about how important it is to have good schools, but there’s no follow through on their part. They blame schools for low achievement, but don’t accept their responsibility for the high levels of poverty in the nation, the main cause of low achievement.

Schools…the education of our citizens…is not a high priority for this nation, despite the rhetoric. Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” If that’s true, then the nation is in jeopardy.

The late Carl Sagan had this to say more than 25 years ago…

…we have permitted the amount of poverty in children to increase. Before the end of this century more than half the kids in America may be below the poverty line.

What kind of a future do we build for the country if we raise all these kids as disadvantaged, as unable to cope with the society, as resentful for the injustice served up to them. This is stupid.

December 19

This is the latest and longest of the videos I posted this year. It’s an important one because, despite ESSA, many teachers and schools around the nation are still judged by the test scores of their students, a practice which Dr. Berliner says is invalid. He also discusses the fact that outgoing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wanted to carry the process one step further and evaluate schools of education by the test scores of their students’ students.

We’re using standardized achievement tests incorrectly. They are invalid as a measure of teacher competence, school quality, and teacher training program effectiveness. The discussion of whether or not to use this year’s ISTEP tests to evaluate teachers and schools is irrelevant. We shouldn’t be using any standardized student achievement test to evaluate teachers or schools.

Student achievement tests measure only student achievement.

David C Berliner’s presentation is titled Teacher evaluation and standardised tests: A policy fiasco. You can read about the video presentation by Dr. Berliner at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education web site and watch the hour-long video below.

Teachers and teacher preparation programs are perfect targets to take legislators minds off of all the poverty and inequality that make some of America’s education systems an international embarrassment. Blaming teacher education programs and the teachers they produce for disappointing standardized achievement test scores appears to me to be a diversion, of the type used by successful magicians. Blaming institutions and individual teachers directs our gaze away from the inequality and poverty that actually gives rise to those scores. In the same way a magician can divert attention of an entire audience when they make a person or a rabbit disappear.

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Posted in Accountability, David Berliner, ISTEP, Testing

Berliner in Australia: The Testing Fiasco

MISUSE OF ISTEP

On December 15 I wrote that, instead of “pausing accountability” and waiting a year to use ISTEP to label teachers and schools, we ought to stop using it altogether because, there is no

proof that the ISTEP has been developed to include measuring the effectiveness of schools and teachers, in addition to measuring student achievement.

DAVID BERLINER

By coincidence, the following day, Diane Ravitch reported on a talk given by David C Berliner titled Teacher evaluation and standardised tests: A policy fiasco. You can read about the video presentation by Dr. Berliner at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education web site and watch the hour-long video below.

Berliner discusses the worthlessness of evaluating teacher competence and teacher training program effectiveness with standardized achievement tests. His impetus for writing the paper was the call by Arne Duncan for the evaluation of teacher training programs based on their students’ students’ test scores.

Berliner maintains that the tests are invalid measures of teacher quality. To use them to measure the quality of teacher training institutions and programs is even worse.

He lays the blame for low test scores on America’s high child poverty levels..

Teachers and teacher preparation programs are perfect targets to take legislators minds off of all the poverty and inequality that make some of America’s education systems an international embarrassment. Blaming teacher education programs and the teachers they produce for disappointing standardized achievement test scores appears to me to be a diversion, of the type used by successful magicians. Blaming institutions and individual teachers directs our gaze away from the inequality and poverty that actually gives rise to those scores. In the same way a magician can divert attention of an entire audience when they make a person or a rabbit disappear.

He lists 14 points which explain why using test scores to evaluate teachers and teacher training programs is invalid.

Effects of Poverty vs. Effects of Teachers

The first point is that “reformers” who insist on using standardized test scores for evaluation of teachers and teacher training programs confuse the effects of poverty with the effects that teachers have on their students.

When using standardized achievement tests as the basis for inferences about the quality of teachers and the institutions from which they came it is easy to confuse the effects of sociological variables on standardized test scores for the effects that teachers have on those test scores. [14:15 on the video]

Blaming Teachers is Inconsistent with our Moral Code

Point 2 – We don’t hold pastors responsible when parishioners kill themselves or others. We don’t hold parents responsible for the actions of their adult children.

The logic of holding schools of education responsible for student achievement does not fit into our system of law or into the moral code subscribed to by most western nations. [19:48]

Clients Don’t Always Comply

Point 3 – Medical schools and dental schools aren’t held to the same standard. Poverty will result in lower life expectancies, poorer dental health, and poorer health in general, yet we don’t blame doctors for their patients’ illnesses, or dentists for their patients’ oral problems. We don’t tell them that “poverty is no excuse” or “poverty isn’t destiny.” We don’t close hospitals or dental offices which treat the poor and we don’t blame health professionals who work with poor people.

Professionals are often held harmless for their lower success rates with clients who have observable difficulties in meeting the demands and the expectations of the professionals who attend to them. [20:09]

Berliner added,

No one is proposing Heal for America so recent college grads can spend two years in an inner city emergency room.

Competent Teaching can Occur Independent of Learning

Berliner fourth point is that practicing good medicine is the goal of medical care, even when diseases can’t be cured. The same is true for teaching and learning.

People accept the fact that treatment in medicine may not result in the cure of a disease. Practicing good medicine is the goal, whether or not the patient gets better or lives! It is equally true that competent teaching can occur independent of learning, although this appears to be too difficult a concept for our Secretary of Education.[23:48] [emphasis added]

We don’t have to use invalid measures just to evaluate teachers. Other methods are available. See, for example, Linda Darling-Hammond’s Creating a Comprehensive System for Evaluating and Supporting Effective Teaching and PARS, from Montgomery County, MD (note: the latter is no longer in use because the legislature requires that tests be used to evaluate teachers!).
Berliner said,

There are other quite acceptable sources of data besides standardized achievement tests for judging the efficacy of teacher education programs and their graduates.

Is Teaching to the Test Good Instruction?

What is good instruction? Berliner says, in point 5, that there is a confusion about good instruction because of the reliance on standardized tests. Is success in raising test scores good instruction?

My government’s reliance on standardized achievement test scores as the only acceptable source of data about teacher quality, will inevitably promote confusion between what we mean by successful instruction on tests, and what we mean by good instruction, about some values we hold about what teaching and learning should be like. [27:20]

Tests Are Not Sensitive to Teachers’ Effects

The effect of teachers on student achievement tests is actually very small. Berliner’s 6th point begins at 37:14 and continues for several minutes. He says,

Although teachers may have profound affects on individual students, they do not affect standardized achievement test scores much at all. [43:28]…Teachers are not affecting test scores very much, yet the test scores are used as ways to blame teachers, schools of education in New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and dozens of other cities.

Teachers’ Effects Aren’t Permanent

Not only is the teacher effect on student test scores small, but what there is of it doesn’t last – his 7th point.

Teachers affects on standardized achievement test scores fade quickly. [43:50]

Student Achievement Tests Aren’t Validated for Anything Other Than Student Achievement

I wish Dr. Berliner’s paper was available to read. Because of lack of time, he rushed through points 8 through 14. Here they are…

8. Observational measures of teacher competency and achievement tests of teacher competency do not correlate well. [44:18]

9. Different standardized achievement tests, both purporting to measure reading or math or science at the same grade level, will give different estimates of teacher competency. [45:40]

10. The administration of standardized achievement tests at different times of the year, will yield different estimates of teacher effectiveness. [46:13]

11. No standardized achievement tests have provided proof that their items are instructionally sensitive. [46:32]

12.Teacher effects show up more dramatically on teacher made tests than on standardized achievement tests because the former are based on the enacted curriculum, while the latter are based on the desired curriculum. [47:46]

13.The opt-out testing movement invalidates inferences about teachers and schools that can be made from standardized achievement tests results. [49:56]

14.Assessing new teachers with standardized achievement tests is likely to yield many false negatives. [50:17]

He concludes…

Standardized achievement tests are remarkably insensitive to teacher effects. [51:24]

In other words, standardized achievement tests aren’t changed much by classroom teachers. Other variables are more important, especially those outside of school.

[This explains why] Teach for America’s new and grossly untrained teachers do not seem any worse on standardized achievement test given to poor children than do experienced teachers. The tests are simply too insensitive to instructional quality, while being highly reactive to the income, social class, quality of the neighborhood, and the home lives that are presented by the students of Teach for America instructors, as well as the better trained and more experienced instructors. [53:33]

STOP MISUSING TESTS

We’re using standardized achievement tests incorrectly. They are invalid as a measure of teacher competence, school quality, and teacher training program effectiveness. The discussion of whether or not to use this year’s ISTEP tests to evaluate teachers and schools is irrelevant. We shouldn’t be using any standardized student achievement test to evaluate teachers or schools.

The incompetence comes from those who insist on and/or pass laws requiring schools, states, and state departments of education, to misuse already questionable measures of student achievement. That’s not accountability. It’s irresponsibility.

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Posted in Darling-Hammond, David Berliner, Evaluations, Public Ed, Ravitch, Testing

What’s the Alternative?

As if to prove my point, a friend of a friend on FaceBook (who we’ll call TM) responded to my post, An Open Letter to Indiana Educators on the Occasion of ISTEP 2014 by saying…

TM: I’ve read this article several times, and I just don’t get it. What’s his point? That he doesn’t like testing? That he doesn’t like to be evaluated? What’s his alternative?

“I JUST DON’T GET IT”

I write my blog for myself. It gives me a place to vent about the abuse and misuse of testing and about the privatization of public education and public educators. It gives me a place to “find my voice.”

I’m a former musician and while I don’t play musical instruments any longer, I still think of myself as a musician at heart. I’m a retired teacher…and for me that means that I’m not employed by a local school system any longer. I still teach a few hours a week as a volunteer at a local elementary school, but I’m no longer earning a living at it. Because of that, I still think of myself as a teacher.

But I’m not a professional writer.

So maybe TM doesn’t “get it” because my post was written poorly. I can accept that. I’ll be the first to admit that my punctuation isn’t always correct…that my wording isn’t always clear…that words are sometimes misspelled…and that I’m more than a bit verbose.

“WHAT’S HIS POINT? THAT HE DOESN’T LIKE TESTING?”

Perhaps what TM doesn’t “get” is how teachers actually feel about the intrusion of testing into the classroom. We’re not talking about one standardized test a year…though, IMHO, even that would be too much in today’s testing environment. It’s the fact that the tests aren’t being used in the way that they were designed. To quote Linda Darling-Hammond in Rise Above the Mark,

The problem we have in this country with testing today is that, number 1 — we’re using the wrong kinds of tests, and number 2 — we’re using the tests in the wrong kinds of ways.

That’s a great summary statement of what’s wrong with the standardized testing mania in the U.S. today.

So, to TM, I answer — I’m not against testing. I don’t hate testing. Teachers use testing all the time. What I’m against is the incorrect and inappropriate use of testing.

Teachers use tests to see if our lessons are effective and if students are learning. Standardized tests were developed to be diagnostic, but that original and somewhat legitimate use has been perverted beyond all recognition. Standardized tests are now used to determine curriculum, rank and retain students, grade and punish schools, and evaluate educators. Tests should not be used for things that they weren’t intended for. As someone once said, that’s like measuring temperature with a teaspoon.

There are so many more issues with testing in the U.S. public schools and I really don’t want to go into all of them in this post. There’s a reason that the topic cloud in the right-hand column of this blog shows that there are nearly 200 posts about testing. I would suggest that you read some of those if you want a deeper understanding of my objections to the way testing is used. Click the link below.

bloom-at.blogspot.com/search/label/Testing

“WHAT’S HIS POINT? THAT HE DOESN’T LIKE TO BE EVALUATED?”

I was paid to teach for 35 years. During that time I was evaluated at least a dozen times. I also served on evaluation committees consisting of teachers and administrators. We worked on developing good evaluation tools for evaluating teachers’ performance. Since I’m a teacher I understand that constructive feedback is important for all learners (and teachers are or ought to be life-long learners). The best evaluations I had were those in which my performance as a teacher was analyzed and evaluated by someone (most often a principal) who understood the act of teaching. The best evaluations were not criticism free, (and not all my evaluations were stellar) but they were filled with comments which made me aware of how I came across as a teacher and how I could improve.

So, again, to TM, — Evaluation helped me grow as an educator…it wasn’t simply a grade on a page. Good evaluations were detailed and substantive…with suggestions and analysis.

Furthermore, standardized test scores are influenced by much more than what goes on in the classroom. There are out of school factors which carry much more weight in the scores of standardized tests than teaching does. The teacher is the most important in-school influence on student learning, but that influence is not as great as are out of school factors. Read Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success by David C. Berliner, Arizona State University. Using standardized tests to evaluate teachers doesn’t take into consideration all the outside influences which have a greater effect on student achievement than the teacher does.

…and no, VAM is not currently a valid way of incorporating outside factors into a teacher’s evaluation.

“WHAT’S HIS ALTERNATIVE?”

I’m not going to make any assumptions about TM’s motives in asking his questions, however, it’s common for “transformers” (*definition below) to claim that those of us who are against the current test and punish status quo don’t have any alternatives. That’s wrong.

What we don’t have is a large enough platform. The “transformers” own the media and the political system.

The amount of tax revenue redistributed from public schools to private enterprise through charter schools and vouchers is enormous. The amount of money dumped into the support and promotion of charters and private schools by private investors like Bill Gates, the Walton Family Foundation, the Broad Foundation and others, is huge compared to the amount of money teachers and supporters of public education have to spend on the defense of public education.

The “transformers” pay for privately run schools, they invest in politicians who then do their bidding in the executive offices and legislatures of the states and the nation. Teachers don’t have those kinds of resources. Most of us are too busy trying to keep our heads above water in the classroom.

However, let’s just assume that money wasn’t an object and the “transformers” and their minions in state and national government gave me the power to change things. What’s my alternative?

So, once more to TM, here’s what I would do to improve education in the U.S. This includes my preferences for testing and evaluation.

1. Lower class sizes…with the lowest class sizes in the schools where students need the most help. We know that class size matters.

2. Children need a well rounded curriculum. The last few years have seen math and reading push out other subjects like social studies, health, physical education and the arts. Those things, as well as libraries, are being pushed out to a greater degree in the lowest performing schools. If they weren’t important then high performing schools, and elite private schools wouldn’t have them as part of their curriculum. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his children to the University of Chicago Lab School — the same school that he and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attended. Take a look at their fine arts program as an example.

3. Good schools need to provide services to their students. Students who live in poverty (and the U.S. has those in abundance — around 23% of our children) need services to counteract the effects of that poverty. Things like full time social workers, school nurses, counselors, and psychologists are essential. If we’re going to allow almost a quarter of our children to live in poverty then we need to support them in the classroom.

4. Public schools need to provide age-appropriate early childhood education. Children in Kindergarten don’t need to take standardized tests. They need to play, to be read to, to engage in physical activity appropriate to their age. Read about developmentally appropriate educational practices for young children at the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

5. Public schools need to be supported. Right now we are one of only three “advanced” nations who spend more money on our wealthy students than our poor students. Instead, we should be investing more money where it’s needed the most.

No more leaky roofs, asbestos-lined bathrooms, or windows that refuse to shut. Students need to be taught in facilities that are well-maintained and show respect for those who work and go to school there.

6. Use tests sparingly and in the manner for which they were developed. You don’t get a blood test to determine if your bone is broken…achievement tests, such as they are, should be used for measuring student achievement. Period. They should not be used to determine student placement. They should not be used to determine the fate of schools. They should not be used to determine the pay of educators. That’s not why they were developed.

Additionally, student achievement can be evaluated in other ways.

Good teacher observation, documentation of student work, and performance-based assessment, all of which involve the direct evaluation of real learning tasks, provide useful material for teachers, parents, and the public. Many nations that do the best in international comparisons, like Finland, use these techniques instead of large-scale standardized testing.

7. Teacher evaluation should be a joint venture between a school’s administration and it’s teachers. Montgomery County (MD) Peer Assistance and Review Program is an example of an evaluation system which works. It was developed and run by professionals. Fortunately it’s being explored and introduced in other places. See:

8. Fully fund Pre-K through 12 education. There’s no reason for a nation as wealthy as the U.S. to underfunded schools. Where will the money come from? Eliminate most of the standardized tests and all of the money spent on test-prep. Instead of a competition for funds — with winners and losers — like Race to the Top, distribute the $5 billion federal dollars to schools/school systems based on need.

You want more alternatives to obsessive testing and the “transformation” of America’s public schools? Read chapters 21 through 33 of Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools by Diane Ravitch.


*transformers – In her book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools Diane Ravitch says that privatizers and so-called “reformers” don’t actually want to “reform” public education but to “transform it into an entrepreneurial sector of the economy.” She says that corporate executives “believe in transformative change and disruptive innovation” which might work for business (though that is debatable) but not for education. The “reformers,” politicians, pundits and policy makers who seem hell-bent on destroying America’s public schools are “transformers” not reformers.

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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.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Posted in Article Medleys, David Berliner, Gerald Bracey, Jim Trelease, John Kuhn, Jonathan Kozol, KenRobinson, Public Ed, Quotes, Ravitch, Teaching Career

2013 in Quotes

This is the 151st and last post of 2013 for this blog. Here are some of my favorite quotes from it’s pages during the past year. The quotes are my words, unless otherwise (and often) noted. Go to the links provided for the original context of the quotes.

JANUARY

2013 Medley #2

“I’ll say it until the day I die: I am proud to be an American public school teacher. I am proud of the great kids of this country. I am proud to be a part of a system that produces such fine young men and women.” — Jersey Jazzman

FEBRUARY

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words – Feb.2013

If we privatize public schools now, then the public oversight will be lost and our descendents will have a hard time recovering it. Public schools don’t belong to the parents of children attending them today. They belong to us all…everyone who has ever attended…everyone who has ever paid taxes…everyone who has ever been a part of the community.

Teachers’ Low Job Satisfaction – Let the Bashing Continue

“The American teacher stands on the front lines of poverty and inequity that our fellow Americans refuse to acknowledge, on the front lines of the real social condition of our nation–not the advertised one–and we stand together. When we look over our shoulders, there’s no one there backing us up. The rest of the army is off pretending there is no fight to be had here, no excuses to be made, no hardships to decry, no supply lines to worry about, that things in American society are just hunky-dory outside of the fact that the teachers just don’t care enough…” — John Kuhn, Superintendent of superintendent of Perrin-Whitt Consolidated Independent School District, Perrin, Texas

MARCH

A Superintendent’s Voice

“…History will recognize that the epithets they applied to your schools said more about leaders who refused to confront child poverty than the teachers who tried valiantly to overcome it. History will recognize that teachers in these bleak years stood in desperate need of public policy help that never came. Advocacy for hurting children was ripped from our lips with a shush of “no excuses.” These hateful labels should be hung around the necks of those who have allowed inequitable school funding to persist for decades, those who refuse to tend to the basic needs of our poorest children so that they may come to school ready to learn.” — John Kuhn

APRIL

Can You Buy Your Way to a Better Education?

“People agree with everything I say,” Kozol continued. “They say, ‘Yes, it is unfair they don’t get as much per pupil as our children.’ Then they say, ‘Tell me one thing. Can you really solve this kind of problem by throwing money at it?’ And I say, ‘You mean, can you really buy your way to a better education? It seems to work for your children.'” — Jonathan Kozol

MAY

Myths Taken as Reality

When something is repeated often enough it becomes “common knowledge” even if it’s not completely true. “Reformers” and others who have the destruction of America’s public education system as part of their agenda, repeat the myth that “American schools are failing” over and over again. They have done that so often that it’s accepted as truth. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.

Thank a Teacher

“Bail out the bankers and bankrupt the school teachers — we will still teach…I will never follow the lead of those who exclude the kids who need education the most so that my precious scores will rise. I will never line up with those whose idea of reform is the subtle segregation of the poor and desperate. I want no part of the American caste system.” — John Kuhn

JUNE

This Just In: New Data Confirms Old Data

“When people have said ‘poverty is no excuse,’ my response has been, ‘Yes, you’re right. Poverty is not an excuse. It’s a condition. It’s like gravity. Gravity affects everything you do on the planet. So does poverty.'” — Gerald Bracey

An Open Reply to President Obama

…even though you, Mr. President, have said that we have too much testing, your Race to the Top program requires teachers to be evaluated using student test scores. Standardized tests used to evaluate student achievement were not made to evaluated teaching and learning. I don’t know if you learned anything about tests and measurements when you were in law school, but if you did you would know that tests should only be used for that for which they were developed. If you develop a test for use as a measure of student achievement, then that’s what it should be used for…and only that.

JULY

Reading Aloud: Still the Most Important Part of Reading Instruction

“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children…It is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.” — from Becoming a Nation of Readers, quoted in The Read Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease

The Schools America’s Children Deserve

Money doesn’t solve all the problems by itself. It must be spent wisely. One of the things about the “increase” in school funding in a lot of places, or the “huge amount of the state budget directed at public education” in some states is that the money is being spent on testing and test prep materials. The students don’t get the full benefits of increased revenues…but the testing industry does.

Talking Education: Educate Yourself

Our teachers are drowning in a sea of standards and testing, scripted curricula and increasing class sizes, accusations and blame. Is it any wonder that many of them have neither the time nor the energy to fight back against the billions of dollars worth of insults and abuse hurled against them as a profession?

AUGUST

Make a Positive Impact on Students

Teachers touch the future by relating to their students. Our students will learn from us and remember us for the kind of people we are, not for the homework we assign, the lectures we give, or the standardized tests we administer. Content knowledge, pedagogy and assessment are important, of course, but in order to make a positive impact on students’ lives, which is after all the main reason we are in this profession, teachers must build positive relationships with them.

Fighting Myths with Facts

Myth #4) Poverty is just an excuse.

False: Poverty matters.

“Thousands of studies have linked poverty to academic achievement. The relationship is every bit as strong as the connection between cigarettes and cancer.” —- David Berliner, Our Impoverished View of Ed. Reform, Aug. 2005

Test Scores: Punishing Teachers

The myth of the bad teacher resonates with the general public in part because nearly everyone has been to school and has seen teachers teach. Everyone remembers a “bad” teacher — often defined as “a teacher my parents or I didn’t like” (This is not to deny that “bad” teachers exist, but many, if not most, are weeded out in the first 5 years of their career where nearly 50% quit or are “counseled” out). The memories of their childhood and/or young adulthood in school leads people to believe that teaching is simply providing information and being nice to children. The problem with this is that the memories are distorted by the fact that they are childhood memories complete with the lack of judgment and experience that comes with childhood.

SEPTEMBER

Share the Responsibility

You can’t make children learn just by raising or changing “standards,” increasing test cut scores, belittling and de-professionalizing teachers, while at the same time ignoring out-of-school factors. Spending millions on test-prep, test administration, and test result analysis is not investing in education. No amount of testing, and union bashing is going to help students who come to school hungry, sick, cold, terrified, and/or homeless.

Retention: Punishing Children

The fact is that as a nation, we don’t really care about student achievement. We care about test scores. If we really cared about student achievement we wouldn’t be closing schools whose students are struggling. We wouldn’t be evaluating teachers using test scores and punishing those teachers who work with the most difficult to educate students. We wouldn’t be rewarding “successful” schools with more funding, and we wouldn’t be replacing experienced educators with trainees.

OCTOBER

Duncan Shows His Ignorance – Again

Arne Duncan, remember, has no experience in educating children. His stint as CEO of Chicago Public Schools was focused on closing public schools and opening privately operated charters. Duncan’s college degree is in Sociology, the study of human social behavior, not education. His college and previous professional experience is in basketball. His closest brush with actual teaching was watching his mother tutor students. He never taught in a public school. He never even attended a public school.

It’s therefore understandable that he knows nothing — absolutely nothing — about the process of teaching and about what goes on in the classrooms of America’s public schools. He apparently doesn’t know that teachers are constantly evaluating their students. Standardized tests are, of course, not the only way that student evaluation occurs (and by this statement I am making an unfounded assumption that standardized tests do, indeed, evaluate student learning). Teachers give tests, quizzes and homework, lead discussions and observe student behavior and work…and in doing so, gain an understanding of a student’s progress.

Growing Poverty Affects Schools

“Every dollar that fattens the educational industrial complex–not only the testing industry and the inexperienced, ill-trained Teach for America but the corporations now collecting hundreds of millions of dollars to tell schools what to do–is a dollar diverted from what should be done now to address directly the pressing needs of our nation’s most vulnerable children, whose numbers continue to escalate, demonstrating the utter futility and self-serving nature of what is currently and deceptively called ‘reform.’” — Diane Ravitch

NOVEMBER

2013 Medley #23

“The United States is one of few advanced nations where schools serving better-off children usually have more educational resources than those serving poor students, according to research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Among the 34 O.E.C.D. nations, only in the United States, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students.” — Eduardo Porter, New York Times

Ken Robinson Nails it!

“Education doesn’t go on in the committee rooms of our legislative buildings. It happens in classrooms and schools. And the people who do it are the teachers and the students and if you remove their discretion it stops working…” — Sir Ken Robinson

Yet Another National Shame

“I ask you, where is the label for the lawmaker whose policies fail to clean up the poorest neighborhoods? Why do we not demand that our leaders make ‘Adequate Yearly Progress’? We have data about poverty, health care, crime, and drug abuse in every legislative district. We know that those factors directly impact our ability to teach kids. Why have we not established annual targets for our legislators to meet? Why do they not join us beneath these vinyl banners that read ‘exemplary’ in the suburbs and ‘unacceptable’ in the slums?” — John Kuhn

DECEMBER

2013 Medley #27

Politicians, policy makers and pundits claim that it’s the schools and teachers who are to blame for low achievement. They do this in order to redirect the blame away from themselves and the inadequate safety nets provided for people living in poverty, the loss of jobs, and the inability of our leaders to deal with the effects of poverty.

The facts that nearly 25% of the nation’s children live in poverty and that approximately 50% of all school children are poor, are ignored when talking about academic achievement even though the correlation is clear.

President Bush II referred to the “soft bigotry of low expectations” when he was pushing for passage of No Child Left Behind. What we have now is the “hard bigotry of neglect and denial” towards our children who live in poverty.

2013 Medley #28

The failure of policy makers to deal with the side-effects of poverty (low birthweight of infants, drug and alcohol abuse, toxicity in cities, lack of health care, food insecurity, violence, lack of mental health services, mobility and absenteeism of children in school, lack of high quality preschools, lack of summer programs for children) is the number one problem affecting education in America.

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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.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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