7 obvious things in education that are ignored
This was written by educator Anthony Cody, who taught science for 18 years in inner-city Oakland and now works with a team of science teacher-coaches that supports novice teachers. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network. This post appeared on his Education Week Teacher blog, Living in Dialogue.
By Anthony Cody
I offer here a short list of seven things that have become obvious, from my position as a teacher. If only our education policies might be constrained by the requirement that they honor the obvious!
1. Children do not learn well when they are under stress. This single fact is enough to explain so many things. If we were to design an ideal learning environment, there would be great attention paid to relieving all involved of unnecessary tension. A recent study found that first grade students in classrooms affected by budget cuts suffer because of the stress their teacher experiences in trying to meet their needs. Children who live in poverty experience stress at home due to insecurity around food, housing, and violence in their neighborhoods and homes. The very least we should do to address their needs is to make their schools a refuge from stress.
2. Tests, and high stakes attached to them, are very poor levers for increasing learning. We have exit exams that have reduced graduation rates, especially for minority students, but failed to increase real learning.
This new study from the National Research Council found that when there are high stakes attached to tests, the scores on those tests tend to rise, but real learning, as measured on low stakes tests, has not increased. When you make people’s jobs and pay depend on those scores, they will figure out how to get the scores up. But the underlying learning is going to suffer, as instruction is narrowly focused on preparing for the tests.
3. It takes time to learn to be an excellent teacher. Therefore it is unwise to invest large amounts of resources in programs that target young college graduates and ask them for a short, two-year-long commitment. We need to make the teaching profession a solid one, with opportunities for growth, that attracts bright people who want to stay and build their careers. Our high-needs schools especially need such expert teachers, and are suffering due to high turnover. The answer to this turnover is not more poorly-trained interns to fill the empty classrooms. It should be careful investment in programs to improve conditions, increase collaboration and build stability.
4. Programs like the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) in California, that deliver smaller class sizes and time for teachers to collaborate together and do work like this, yield much stronger results. Programs like this require us to invest time, money and trust in our teachers and students. But teachers who engage in this work feel empowered, and I believe this is the best possible antidote to stress.
5. When unemployment levels are high, and opportunities are few, students struggle to see the purpose in their education. I do not have a study for this one, just my own observations after working in the Oakland schools for the past 24 years. Students are profoundly affected by the economic and social environment in which they live. There need to be visible, viable pathways to successful careers in order to keep students motivated and on track. There is a strong connection between the opportunities our students will find when they graduate and their level of engagement and motivation while they are in school. Teachers struggle to motivate their students when they are surrounded by communities that have been left to rot. We need to uplift our schools and our communities together. No school is an island.
6. The people in charge of education policy in this country are dangerously out of touch with these obvious things. We have policies that increase stress on students and teachers by raising class sizes and pressures to perform on tests. We are planning to expand our investments in testing and data systems at the same time we decrease funding for classrooms. School performance is treated as a phenomenon in isolation from the economic and social conditions that surround our students, and schools are expected to compensate for the economic decline these communities have endured.
7. Teachers, parents and students need to take a visible, public stand to turn education policy in a better direction. We are gathering together in Washington, DC, for the free Save Our Schools march and rally on July 30th. There will be a conference on the two days preceding as well, and registration is now open.
Multiple choice tests for Yearbook? Let’s get more creative
From Jack Eiselt, a sophomore at Myers Park High School:
Recently, as part of Pay for Performance, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has started making students in experiential classes take summative multiple choice exams. This cannot be justified for classes like Yearbook or Literary Magazine. I am on the school newspaper, the Hoofprint. The Hoofprint has won several awards and sends out seven, 16-page newspapers every school year. That could be four newspapers next year when we have to prepare for a test on information that in no way contributes to our product. Students in classes like these should be judged by the product they help create, not by testing them on information that does not add to the goal of the class.
CMS made this choice so it could judge any teacher’s performance on a standardized system. But this only makes the jobs of teachers of experiential classes more difficult.
Teaching to the test leads to the decline of creative thinking; these experiential classes let us express our talents and show our creativity. Students learn real-world skills that cannot be learned in other classes. On the newspaper staff, we learn how to meet deadlines and take on jobs we are expected to do. Yes, there are graded consequences for not meeting the terms of our jobs, but the greatest consequence is a reduced sense of being able to handle your assignment.
We would not experience this if a day-to-day lesson plan taught us random facts for a single test. Summative exams in experiential classes would only lessen our preparation for the world after high school. The real world is not learning large amounts of information to be tested once; it is fulfilling continuous duties to support a bigger idea. This is the epitome of Newspaper, Yearbook and Literary Magazine and this is what makes these classes enjoyable.
Experiential classes do not teach the way normal classes do. In fact, it should not even be called teaching. The teachers and advisers of these classes open their students’ minds to allow them to experience whatever they will be producing. Every day in the Hoofprint classroom on campus, we do not sit and listen to someone lecture while trying desperately to keep our eyes open. We ask what it is we have to do on any given day and we do it. The learning does not have to come from a lecture. The learning comes from experiencing it for ourselves. Instituting summative exams will not help in preserving this efficient learning method.
Trial and error was the original method for learning. The cavemen did not take a standardized test to see if they knew how to make fire. They just did it, and that is how experience works. This is why experiential classes have worked so efficiently for so long.
Math and science may require more dictation than other classes. However, if these classes were then put to the test through an experiential learning environment, rather than a summative exam, maybe we would not forget the things we learned within four months.
Experiential classes cannot come to this; they are the way they are for a reason: The learning method works. The things we learn in these classes are not something to forget over the summer, and we should not lose that to satisfy CMS’ need to assess teachers more efficiently.
Report: Test-based incentives don’t produce real student achievement
Incentive programs for schools, teachers and students aimed at raising standardized test scores are largely unproductive in generating increased student achievement, according to a new report researched by an expert panel of the National Research Council.
The report said that standardized tests commonly used in schools to measure student performance — including high school exit exams and tests in various grades mandated by former president Bush’s No Child Left Behind law — “fall short of providing a complete measure of desired educational outcomes in many ways,” according to a summary of the lengthy document.
The report, together with a number of other studies released in the past year, effectively serve as a warning to policymakers in states that are moving to implement laws, with support from the Obama administration, to make teacher and principal evaluation largely dependent on increases in students’ standardized test scores.
The practice doesn’t bring about the kind of student achievement policymakers say is necessary for the United States to compete with the highest-performing countries, according to the 17-member Committee on Incentives and Test-Based Accountability convened by the National Research Council, which is the research arm of the National Academies (including the National Academy of Sciences, the National Council of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine).
The panelists — who include experts in assessment, education law and the sciences — examined over the past decade 15 incentive programs, which are designed to link rewards or sanctions for schools, students and teachers to students’ test results. The programs studied included high-school exit exams and those that give teachers incentives (such as bonus pay) for improved test scores.
The panel studied the effects of incentives, not by tracking changes in scores on high-stakes tests connected to incentive programs, but by looking at the results of “low-stakes” tests, such as the well-regarded National Assessment of Educational Progress, which aren’t linked to the incentives and are taken by the same cohorts of students.
The researchers concluded that the effects of incentive programs tend to be “small and . . . effectively zero for a number” of such programs.
Gains that were detected were concentrated in elementary grade mathematics and “are small in comparison with the improvement the nation hopes to achieve,” according to the summary.
The researchers concluded not only that incentive programs have not raised student achievement in the United States to the level achieved in the highest-performing countries but also that incentives/sanctions can give a false view of exactly how well students are doing. (The U.S. reform movement doesn’t follow the same principles that have been adopted by the other countries policymakers often cite. You can read an analysis of that by educator Linda Darling-Hammond here.)
Current standardized tests “fall short” of measuring student performance in “important ways,” the summary said.
When incentives lead teachers to concentrate in class on material that will be on a test (a practice known as teaching to the test), understanding of untested material can decline, it said. Constraints on testing — including cost and test length — mean that only a subset of material can actually be tested, it said.
Thus, test results may gave “an inflated picture of learning”of material that a student is supposed to know.
The researchers said that more comprehensive evaluation methods should be developed. But they cautioned that policymakers should not make such an investment at the expense of improvements in other areas of education, including curriculum and instructional methods.
Other studies in the past year have also cast doubt on the effectiveness and reliability of the value-added method of teacher/principal evaluation, which takes student test scores and puts them into a formula that is supposed to factor out other influences and determine the “value” a teacher has brought to a student’s learning.
The method often ignores outside-school factors that can influence how a child does on a test, including lack of sleep, hunger and illness, but even formulas that are said to take these into account are not especially reliable, some experts have said.
So far, state and federal have ignored the evidence. Congress, as it figures out how it wants to rewrite No Child Left Behind — assuming it actually gets around to it — should not.
Watch your pockets, Delaware Health Resources Board, he is already sending out his messenger boy Selander to slander you, misrepresent you, lie about your motives, accuse you of making your decisions on premeses you never considered like “you hate jobs” you hate working people” “you hate sick people”…..he’s done it before with the whole “you hate kids, and your not committed to reform” lie.
Jack Markell has lied before and is lying again to protect his political agenda. Again he attacks an independent board just because he does not agree with them. He is a sick, sad politician with no respect for hard working volunteers……. or the truth.
Check out today’s paper for the latest “Markellian” ego trip……
May 29, 2011
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, health board at odds over proposed hospital
He supports an $18.5 million Middletown facility, but a review group recommends it be rejected
By MAUREEN MILFORD
The News Journal
A proposal by a health care company to build Delaware’s first free-standing inpatient rehabilitation hospital has turned into a showdown between the Markell administration and members of an independent board charged with scrutinizing and approving public health care developments.
In a rare move, a committee under the Delaware Health Resources Board, which has been reviewing an application from HealthSouth Corp. for an $18.5 million hospital in Middletown, decided Friday to recommend that the full board reject the proposal.
HealthSouth, of Birmingham, Ala., submitted the application for a “certificate of public review” in November for a rehabilitation hospital of 34 beds on Del. 299 at Del 1.
The hospital would provide care for medically complex patients who need 24-hour nursing care and daily contact with their physicians, said Cindy Kelleher, vice president of corporate development with HealthSouth.
The 48,155-square-foot hospital would serve patients who are no longer in crisis but need additional care after a hospital stay. That would include patients with traumatic brain injuries, she said.
Gov. Jack Markell has come out in favor of the hospital project, believing it would create jobs and provide the state with additional health care services, said Brian Selander, spokesman for Markell.
“I think the review committee voted against putting people to work, voted against expanding access to quality care and voted against recommending an opportunity that would be good for Delaware,” Selander said.
But review committee members said that despite an unprecedented level of political meddling — including the appointment of six newcomers to the 17-member board in early May by Markell — they were not convinced there’s a need for the hospital. The duty of the independent board is to foster cost-effective and efficient use of health care resources, including preventing excess capacity, board members say.
“It’s not part of the charge to the board to create jobs,” Joann Hasse, a public member who chairs the review committee, said after the vote.
The national and sometimes intense debate over state regulation and planning of major health care projects appears to have reached the First State. Some suggest this battle ultimately could lead to the demise of the Delaware Health Resources Board.
Used by states since the early 1960s, so-called certificate-of-need programs are designed to rein in health care facility costs while allowing for coordination of new construction and services, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Delaware Health Resources Board was created in 1978. Proponents of these programs say health care doesn’t respond to regular market forces because consumers do not shop for services, according to the state legislatures conference. Excess capacity usually leads to over-utili- zation, said S. Bernard Ableman, a public board member and chairman of the Delaware Health Resources Board.
“‘We’ve been hearing for years about how the free-market system is going to lower costs, and it hasn’t, has it?” said William O’Connor, a public member of the health resources board and a member of the review committee.
On the other side, opponents of these programs say there is little evidence that overcapacity leads to higher costs, according to the conference of state legislatures. In fact, such programs may keep prices high by restricting competition. This appears to be the stance of the Markell administration. Opponents say the programs are not consistently administered and certificate approval can be based on factors other than the interest of the community, such as politics or the prestige of the institution, according to the state legislatures council.
“There’s clearly a strong difference of opinion between the governor’s office and the three members of this review committee,” Selander said. “The governor believes wholeheartedly that putting people back to work and improving our quality of life needs to be the government’s top priority. This review board voted to say they don’t share that priority. The full committee still has a chance to show they disagree with the decision.”
The full board of 17 members is expected to vote on the HealthSouth application no later than July. Ableman said the full panel has never overridden a review committee’s recommendation in the nearly 20 years he’s served on the board.
HealthSouth said it’s still hopeful the full board will approve its hospital development for the 6.5-acre parcel it will lease.
“I’m disappointed,” with the recommendation, said Kelleher of HealthSouth. “But I believe at some point we’ll be able to develop in Middletown. We’ve had the support of the governor, the mayor of Middletown and legislators.”
From the beginning, HealthSouth was selling the project as economic development, O’Connor said.
“And we very early told them: ‘We’re not in that business,’ ” O’Connor said.
HealthSouth said the development would create up to 80 full-time jobs for professionals and generate 200 construction jobs during the building process.
Alan Levin, the state economic development director, said he wrote a letter to board chairman Ableman supporting the project because it will put people back to work and fill a health care need in the growing Middletown area. The way Levin sees it, competition drives down health care costs.
State Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf said she felt HealthSouth would fill a need for care for traumatic head injuries and home health care.
HealthSouth also hired powerful lobbyist Robert Byrd to develop community support.
Lawmakers spoke at a public hearing and review committee meeting in favor of the application for economic development reasons, committee members said. Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, D-Middletown, said all the lawmakers sent a letter of support for the proposal.
But the political interference into the board’s independence reached a new level in early May, according to review committee and board members.
Two members of the review committee — Thomas Mulhern and Christiaan Francke — received letters from Markell saying their terms had expired and would not be renewed.
“The letter came as a surprise. It was very unexpected, especially in the midst of a review committee. You don’t expect that to happen,” said Francke, who was a public member of the board and served six years.
Francke finished his term this spring.
Mulhern, administrator with Limestone Medical Center, served as chairman of the review committee. He had served on the board for more than six years.
Although Mulhern’s term had expired in January, he had been working since February on the HealthSouth application.
“I understand my term had expired. But I was surprised and disappointed after spending over three months on this application. I was disappointed with the timing,” Mulhern said.
The two slots held by Mulhern and Francke were among the six seats filled by members that Markell appointed in early May. Some of the vacant seats had been open for more than a year, Ableman said. Among the new members are Bettina Riveros, who is Markell’s policy adviser on health care and head of the Delaware Health Care Commission.
When asked about the changes, Ableman said while he’s a “devoted fan of Jack Markell,” he is troubled by the dismissal of Mulhern and Francke, who gave countless volunteer hours to the board.
“Most disturbing is the timing of the dismissal of these board members — at the very time they were at work on a five-member committee evaluating one of the most significant applications before the board — the establishment of a new hospital,” Ableman said. “This is akin to replacing five of the 12 jurors halfway through the trial. The statute creating it declares that ‘The Board is an independent public instrumentality,’ but the clear message from the timing of these dismissals is that we are not so independent after all, and good citizens will surely be discouraged from volunteering for future board and commission assignments.”
It appears Markell is trying to stack the deck in his favor, some board members said. O’Connor said the administration “interfered with the process.”
But Selander said the governor has the right to appoint members to boards and commissions across the state.
“This board has historically been opposed to — or less than thrilled with — the opportunity for greater competition, and the governor believes there is value in having members that share the belief that we should be expanding opportunities for quality health care and looking for ways to put people to work,” Selander said. “I would not be surprised if new members that filled open seats feel that competition can be a positive thing.”
Ableman said Selander is incorrect.
“During my service on the board since 1995, not one application has been denied, and a review of the hundreds of applications filed since the board was created in 1978 disclosed that only five were denied — with some of these at the request of the applicant,” Ableman said.
But Ableman said the board has imposed conditions on approvals, mostly to do with the charitable care and quality of service.
HealthSouth an ‘outsider’
For his part, Byrd said Delaware’s health care community is parochial and close-knit.
“This is the first time a real outsider has come to Delaware, and that makes it a challenge,” he said.
Bayhealth Medical Center in Dover and Broadmeadow Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Middletown publicly objected to the HealthSouth proposal.
Jason Sinclair, who is a financial analyst with Bayhealth, told the review committee that the HealthSouth development wouldn’t provide a level of service not already available in Delaware.
Richard Beck, who spoke on behalf of Broadmeadow, echoed those sentiments, saying the Broadmeadow facility has not had to turn patients away because it’s unable to accommodate people.
Sinclair and Sharon Kurfuerst, vice president of rehabilitation and orthopaedic services at Christiana Care Health System, called the review committee’s recommendation “fair.”
Christiana Care bought 108 acres on Del. 299 in 2008 for a hospital and offices. Christiana Care did not specifically object to the HealthSouth proposal but simply presented the review committee with its level of services.
Byrd said the process has been difficult because the application is “very sophisticated” and one that had not been seen by the board before.
“The board and staff have been challenged,” Byrd said.
To O’Connor, that’s not a fair criticism.
“They’re trying to make it out that we’re incompetents,” he said.
Teacher: Of 8,892 data points, which ones matter in evaluation?
This was written by Charles Duerr, who has taught for nine years at a Title 1 elementary school in Bellevue, Washington. A National Board Certified Teacher, Duerr read the following statement to the Bellevue School Board in response to the district’s recent bargaining proposals as well as the national movement to tie teacher evaluation to student standardized test scores.
By Charles Duerr
By year’s end I will have entered 8,892 data points into my district’s data collection systems — Gradebook and Reading 3D. This data is from homework, assessments, and report cards.
Which of these 8,892 data points are the important ones? I mean, which of these data points will count towards my evaluation? And what problem are you trying to address by including student assessments into teacher evaluations?
All of my assessments results are posted online. We have student scores, the District Data Analyzer, and reading progress all available for an evaluator to see. If my scores are consistently lower than my colleagues then that gives an evaluator an indication of where to look and to see that best practices are indeed implemented. This can happen currently.
As teachers we are expected to use research-based best practices. We are held accountable for our ability to implement these practices. It concerns me that policy makers are hoping to adopt a practice with mixed results at best and at worst creates a further narrowing of the curriculum, higher stakes testing, incentives for test manipulation or misrepresentation, and provides no new data to inform my practice than is currently available.
In my classroom I have a pronounced achievement gap. I have five students who are reading far below grade level. All speak a language other than English at home and receive free or reduced lunch. Those traits are not indicators of performance. I have similar students on track to make more than a year’s worth of academic growth in 2nd grade.
What is the factor that separates these students?
My five lowest readers do not read or complete homework with any regularity. Facing this I’ve scheduled interpreted conferences, recruited colleagues to translate letters or have them call home. Often there is no working number and notes home are never returned.
This is hardly surprising. One student lives alone with her father. Her brother is in jail. Her dad washes dishes at a local bar. He works late into the evening but comes home with food. They eat and go to bed. Another student lives with multiple families in a single house. He shares a room with his mother and father. They sleep together in the same bed. Both parents work at the same restaurant along with other families in this house. This student misses his dad and waits up until midnight or later to see him. In the mornings this student often doesn’t hear his own name: he is asleep at his desk.
My five best readers have homework averages of 100%. They have not missed a single assignment. I receive calls and emails from parents when their student doesn’t understand. Their reading level rises over the summer.
My lowest readers receive support from the ELL & Literacy Facilitators. They receive bi-weekly progress monitoring to track reading fluency and comprehension. I meet with them every day in a targeted literacy group for 30 minutes. One third of my entire literacy block is devoted specifically to these five students and they are still falling further behind their peers.
By all indications I’m an effective teacher. But I am not good enough to overcome the barriers some of my students face. I don’t know who is. But I know if next year I have 10 students who face the barriers of my lowest five then you’ll see a drop in my students’ performance. For this I’ll be held accountable. If this is the case what is the incentive to teach at a school which serves our community’s neediest families?
A pull-no-punches commencement speech for teachers
Here are excerpts from the commencement speech that renowned educator Linda Darling-Hammond recently gave at Teachers College, Columbia University, where she was awarded an honorary degree.
Darling-Hammond, didn’t pull any punches about how she views today’s school reform movement, which encourages new college graduates to teach in high-poverty schools with little training.
“Our leaders do not talk about these things,” she said. “They simply say of poor children, ‘Let them eat tests.’ ”
Darling-Hammond is a professor of Education at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. She was founding director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, and a former president of the American Educational Research Association. Darling-Hammond focuses her research, teaching, and policy work on issues of school restructuring, teacher quality and educational equity.
Here’s a taste of the speech, which was published in full in The Nation:
My first real glimpse of what Teachers College is and does occurred not in New York City but in a school in Washington, D.C., where one of my children had transferred into a first grade classroom to avoid the truly terrible teaching that was literally undermining her health in another school.
In her new school, Elena’s teacher, Miss Leslie, had created a wonderland of stimulating opportunities for learning: children experimenting and investigating in the classroom and the community, designing and conducting projects, writing and publishing their own little stories (one that my daughter wrote after the birth of her little brother was entitled “Send Him Back”). This teacher — who was in her very first year of practice — not only had created a classroom that any mother would want to send her child to, but she also had the skillful eye and knowledge base to figure out within weeks that Elena was severely dyslexic, to teach her to read without her ever being labeled or stigmatized, and to instill in my daughter a lifelong love of books and learning that has led to her being a literacy teacher working with special needs students today.
One day, I asked Miss Leslie how she had learned to do this miraculous work as a brand-new teacher. And she told me that she had learned to be this kind of teacher at Teachers College, Columbia University. She listed the courses she took in the Curriculum and Teaching department and the Special Education program that built her knowledge base and described what she learned with intensive supervision in a carefully designed clinical placement.
It was then that I knew that a profession of teaching was possible, and I learned much more about what is possible in building a profession from my colleagues here and in our partner schools when I later came to teach at TC. I became persuaded that policy-makers needed to understand how to enable all educators to acquire the knowledge and skills that could truly allow al children to learn — rather than to try, as so many have, to manage teaching through mind-numbing, and ultimately futile, prescriptions for practice.
As scientific managers were looking to make schools “efficient” in the early twentieth century — to manage schools with more tightly prescribed curriculum, more teacher-proof texts, more extensive testing, and more rules and regulations — they consciously sought to hire less well-educated teachers who would work for low wages and would go along with the new regime of prescribed lessons and pacing schedules without protest. In a book widely used for teacher training at that time, the need for “unquestioned obedience” was stressed as the “first rule of efficient service” for teachers.
No wonder that obedience was prized, when the scientific managers’ time and motion studies resulted in findings like the fact that some eighth-grade classes did addition “at the rate of 35 combinations per minute” while others could “add at an average rate of 105 combinations per minute.” Thus schools were to set the standard at 65 combinations per minute at 94 percent accuracy. One speaker at an NEA [National Education Association] meeting in 1914 observed that there were “so many efficiency engineers running hand cars through the school houses in most large cities that the grade-school teachers can hardly turn around in their rooms without butting into two or three of them.”
During that decade, precisely 100 years ago, nationally distributed tests of arithmetic, handwriting and English were put into use. Their results were used to compare students, teachers and schools; to report to the public; and even to award merit pay — a short-lived innovation due to the many problems it caused.
Does any of this sound familiar?
In the view of these brilliant managerial engineers, professionally trained teachers were considered troublesome, because they had their own ideas about education and frequently didn’t go along meekly with the plan.
As one such teacher wrote in The American Teacher in 1912:
We have yielded to the arrogance of “big business men” and have accepted their criteria of efficiency at their own valuation, without question. We have consented to measure the results of educational efforts in terms of price and product—the terms that prevail in the factory and the department store. But education, since it deals in the first place with human organisms, and in the second place with individualities, is not analogous to a standardizable manufacturing process. Education must measure its efficiency not in terms of so many promotions per dollar of expenditure, nor even in terms of so many student-hours per dollar of salary; it must measure its efficiency in terms of increased humanism, increased power to do, increased capacity to appreciate.
We live in a nation that is on the verge of forgetting its children. The United States now has a far higher poverty rate for children than any other industrialized country (25 percent, nearly double what it was thirty years ago); a more tattered safety net — more who are homeless, without healthcare and without food security; a more segregated and inequitable system of public education (a 10:1 ratio in spending across the country); a larger and more costly system of incarceration than any country in the world, including China (5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its inmates), one that is now directly cutting into the money we should be spending on education; a defense budget larger than that of the next twenty countries combined; and greater disparities in wealth than any other leading country (the wealthiest 1 percent of individuals control 25 percent of the resources in the country; in New York City, the wealthiest 1 percent control 46 percent of the wealth and are taxed at a lower level than in the last sixty years). Our leaders do not talk about these things. They simply say of poor children, “Let them eat tests.”
And while there is lots of talk of international test score comparisons, there is too little talk about what high-performing countries actually do: fund schools equitably; invest in high-quality preparation, mentoring and professional development for teachers and leaders, completely at government expense; organize a curriculum around problem-solving and critical-thinking skills; and test students rarely—and never with multiple-choice tests. Indeed, the top-performing nations increasingly rely on school-based assessments of learning that include challenging projects, investigations and performances, much like what leading educators have created here in the many innovative New York public schools.
Meanwhile, the profession of teaching and our system of public education are under siege from another wave of scientific managers, who have forgotten that education is about opening minds to inquiry and imagination, not stuffing them like so many dead turkeys—that teaching is about enabling students to make sense of their experience, to use knowledge for their own ends, and to learn to learn, rather than to spend their childhoods bubbling in Scantron sheets to feed the voracious data banks that govern ever more decisions from the bowels of the bureaucracy.
These new scientific managers, like those of a century ago, prefer teachers with little training — who will come and go quickly, without costing much money, without vesting in the pension system and without raising many questions about an increasingly prescriptive system of testing and teaching that lines the pockets of private entrepreneurs (who provide teacher-proofed materials deemed necessary, by the way, in part because there are so many underprepared novices who leave before they learn to teach). Curriculum mandates and pacing guides that would “choke a horse,” as one teacher put it, threaten to replace the opportunities for teachable moments that expert teachers know how to create with their students.
The new scientific managers, like the Franklin Bobbitts before them, like to rank and sort students, teachers and schools — rewarding those at the top and punishing those at the bottom, something that the highest-achieving countries not only don’t do but often forbid. The present-day Bobbitts would create “efficiencies” by firing teachers and closing schools, while issuing multimillion-dollar contracts for testing and data systems to create more graphs, charts and report cards on which to rank and sort … well, just about everything.
And the new scientific managers cleverly construct systems that solve the problem of the poor by blaming the teachers and schools that seek to serve them, calling the deepening levels of severe poverty an ‘excuse,’ rewarding schools that keep out and push out the highest-need students, and threatening those who work with new immigrant students still learning English and the growing number of those who are homeless, without healthcare or food security.
Are there lower scores in under-resourced schools with high-need students? Fire the teachers and the principals. Close the schools. Don’t look for supports for their families and communities, equitable funding for public schools or investments in professional learning. Don’t worry about the fact that the next schools are — as researchers have documented — likely to do no better. This is the equivalent of deciding that if the banks are failing, we should fire the tellers. And whatever you do, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
But public education has a secret weapon — a Trojan horse, if you will: the members of the profession like yourselves who have mastered a strong body of professional knowledge, who hold a strong ethic of care and who are determined to transmit this knowledge and this commitment to others throughout the education system.
Teachers of Year fight test-based assessment
Here is a letter that eight New York State Teachers of the Year wrote to the state Board of Regents about their decision to evaluate teachers based on student standardized test scores.
Starting in the fall, 40 percent of the evaluations of teachers and principals in New York public schools will based on student test scores. State officials had reached an agreement on assessment with union officials but then unilaterally changed it.
I previously ran a letter sent to the Regents by a group of assessment experts who said that such test-based evaluation methods are not reliable and should not be used.
Here the teachers explain why test-based evaluation is unfair and it offers stark examples of problems students and teachers face.
Dear Chancellor Tisch, Vice-Chancellor Cofield and Board of Regents,
It is with sadness, pain and frustration that we write this letter. We, the undersigned New York State Teachers of the Year, are deeply concerned about recent changes to the State Education Department’s Annual Professional Performance Review system. These changes, while politically popular, will neither improve schools nor increase student learning; rather, they will cause tangible harm to students and teachers alike.
The changes to APPR will kill the spirit of collaboration that developed from NYSED [New York State Education Department] and NYSUT [federation of unions] working together. Evaluating teachers based on test scores is a huge paradigm shift. The fact that NYSUT was willing to work with NYSED to develop a fair evaluation process shows good will on the part of teachers across the state. To unilaterally change the terms of a jointly crafted law at the eleventh hour poisons the atmosphere. Without buy-in from practitioners in the field, this reform effort is unlikely to succeed.
We believe in appropriate use of data to improve student achievement. Likewise, we believe that schools should develop rigorous systems to evaluate teachers and support professional growth; however, to allow 40% of a teacher’s evaluation to hinge on a single standardized test score risks great harm to our schools and the people therein. We could quote the research of educational experts like Diane Ravitch, Richard Rothstein and Jonathon Kozol as to why poverty and parental support affect test scores significantly more than any curricular changes a school can provide. We could refer to myriad child psychologists who have documented the deleterious effects of high-stakes testing on our nation’s youth. We could call upon assessment experts who insist that standardized tests were not developed to evaluate teacher effectiveness. And we could examine the last decade of educational results that followed No Child Left Behind: rampant gaming of the system to provide the appearance of growth, narrowing of the curriculum, excessive teaching to the test and virtually no change in the achievement gap. All of the above would lead the reasonable person to be skeptical about using standardized tests as the engine for school reform. Worse yet, we fear that the competition generated by this approach will reduce the collaboration necessary for true school improvement.
To illustrate the challenges of the new APPR system, we offer these stories from our schools:
1) Andrew has a severe learning disability. He is a hands-on learner who struggles on written exams. His resource teacher, counselor and mother thought he would be best-served taking a challenging science course, even though everyone knew he would fail the Regents exam. When 40% of a teacher’s evaluation depends on that test score, will schools still make this sort of humane, pedagogically sound decision?
2) Jason missed two days of school this week for golf sectionals. He is a weak student and will struggle to pass the Regents exam. He will miss yet another day next week and perhaps more days if he advances to the state tournament. These golf matches were scheduled during school hours by officials representing New York State. Does the coach or sectional committee bear any responsibility for Jason’s performance on the Regents exam?
3) Tranh moved to America in January to live with his uncle. He speaks very little English and missed half a year of instruction. Who is accountable for his standardized test scores?
4) Simone will miss school all next week because her parents are taking the family on vacation. She will miss five days of instruction for this illegal absence. Will her teachers get an asterisk placed next to Simone’s test scores?
5) Emily finally told her doctor and her parents that she is struggling with depression. She is starting counseling and medication. Needless to say, her grades are suffering. As Emily’s life hangs in the balance, how do we find the strength to show her compassion when we know her poor grades will negatively affect our evaluation?
6) Trudy is a veteran teacher. She volunteered to teach a class of at-risk learners because she has the skills to do so. Her passing rate on the Regents exam will be significantly lower than her peers teaching the stronger students. Under the new APPR, what motivation will teachers have to take on the most challenging students?
7) Marcia teaches art, Beth teaches Special Education and Craig is a Guidance Counselor. There are no standardized assessments attached to their jobs. They are gifted educators, but they—like many others in our profession—will not feel the same pressure as those teachers who have a high-stakes exam attached to their course. How do we deal with the divisiveness caused by this inequality?
8) Diane teaches 4th grade. She worked diligently to prepare her students for the ELA. She went to workshops to learn about standards and her passing rate suggests great skill as a teacher. Last spring, the cut scores were changed without warning. Suddenly both Diane and her students seem less-skilled. How do we ensure that the vagaries of testing don’t harm people like Diane and her students?
All of the above issues are real and will take time to work out. That’s why the new APPR system must be implemented slowly and thoughtfully. Increased time would allow schools to grapple with these thorny issues. Forcing schools to implement a plan without proper preparation will produce anger, stress and confusion, none of which will help kids.
We fully understand the desire to improve accountability. Using external assessments for a small part of a teacher’s evaluation, as agreed to by NYSUT, seems fair and reasonable. Changing the law without warning seems less so. On behalf of our colleagues across the state, we ask you to please reconsider the original plan that was agreed upon by all stakeholders. This collaborative approach would ultimately provide the most benefit to our students.
Jeff Peneston 2011 New York State Teacher of the Year
Debra Calvino 2010 New York State Teacher of the Year
Vickie Mike 2009 New York State Teacher of the Year
Rich Ognibene 2008 New York State Teacher of the Year
Marguerite Izzo 2007 New York State Teacher of the Year
Stephen Bongiovi 2006 New York State Teacher of the Year
Elizabeth Day 2005 New York State Teacher of the Year
Patricia Jordan 1993 New York State Teacher of the Year
Great find here: this is why Duncan has no respect, he does not earn respect from our professionals. Governor Markell worships this man…..so sad…..
I really can’t add anything to this but to say, I agree.
A letter from David Reber, who teaches high school biology in Lawrence KS.
I read your Teacher Appreciation Week letter to teachers, and had at first decided not to respond. Upon further thought, I realized I do have a few things to say.
I’ll begin with a small sample of relevant adjectives just to get them out of the way: condescending, arrogant, insulting, misleading, patronizing, egotistic, supercilious, haughty, insolent, peremptory, cavalier, imperious, conceited, contemptuous, pompous, audacious, brazen, insincere, superficial, contrived, garish, hollow, pedantic, shallow, swindling, boorish, predictable, duplicitous, pitchy, obtuse, banal, scheming, hackneyed, and quotidian. Again, it’s just a small sample; but since your attention to teacher input is minimal, I wanted to put a lot into the first paragraph.
Your lead sentence, “I have worked in education for much of my life”, immediately establishes your tone of condescension; for your 20-year “education” career lacks even one day as a classroom teacher. You, Mr. Duncan, are the poster-child for the prevailing attitude in corporate-style education reform: that the number one prerequisite for educational expertise is never having been a teacher.
Your stated goal is that teachers be “…treated with the dignity we award to other professionals n society.”
How many other professionals are the last ones consulted about their own profession; and are then summarily ignored when policy decisions are made? How many other professionals are so distrusted that sweeping federal legislation is passed to “force” them to do their jobs? And what dignities did you award teachers when you publicly praised the mass firing of teachers in Rhode Island?
You acknowledge teacher’s concerns about No Child Left Behind, yet you continue touting the same old rhetoric: “In today’s economy, there is no acceptable dropout rate, and we rightly expect all children — English-language learners, students with disabilities, and children of poverty — to learn and succeed.”
What other professions are held to impossible standards of perfection? Do we demand that police officers eliminate all crime, or that doctors cure all patients? Of course we don’t.
There are no parallel claims of “in today’s society, there is no acceptable crime rate”, or “we rightly expect all patients — those with end-stage cancers, heart failure, and multiple gunshot wounds — to thrive into old age.” When it comes to other professions, respect and common sense prevail.
Your condescension continues with “developing better assessments so [teachers] will have useful information to guide instruction…” Excuse me, but I am a skilled, experienced, and licensed professional. I don’t need an outsourced standardized test — marketed by people who haven’t set foot in my school — to tell me how my students are doing.
I know how my students are doing because I work directly with them. I learn their strengths and weaknesses through first-hand experience, and I know how to tailor instruction to meet each student’s needs. To suggest otherwise insults both me and my profession.
You want to “…restore the status of the teaching profession…” Mr. Duncan, you built your career defiling the teaching profession. Your signature effort, Race to the Top, is the largest de-professionalizing, demoralizing, sweeter-carrot-and-sharper-stick public education policy in U.S. history. You literally bribed cash-starved states to enshrine in statute the very reforms teachers have spoken against.
You imply that teachers are the bottom-feeders among academics. You want more of “America’s top college students” to enter the profession. If by “top college students” you mean those with high GPA’s from prestigious, pricey schools then the answer is simple: a five-fold increase in teaching salaries.
You see, Mr. Duncan, those “top” college students come largely from our nation’s wealthiest families. They simply will not spend a fortune on an elite college education to pursue a 500% drop in socioeconomic status relative to their parents.
You assume that “top” college students automatically make better teachers. How, exactly, will a 21-year-old, silver-spoon-fed ivy-league graduate establish rapport with inner-city kids? You think they’d be better at it than an experienced teacher from a working-class family, with their own rough edges or checkered past, who can actually relate to those kids? Your ignorance of human nature is astounding.
As to your concluding sentence, “I hear you, I value you, and I respect you”; no, you don’t, and you don’t, and you don’t. In fact, I don’t believe you even wrote this letter for teachers.
I think you sense a shift in public opinion. Parents are starting to see through the façade; and recognize the privatization and for-profit education reform movement for what it is. And they’ve begun to organize –Parents Across America, is one example.
. . . No doubt some will dismiss what I’ve said as paranoid delusion. What they call paranoia I call paying attention. Mr. Duncan, teachers hear what you say. We also watch what you do, and we are paying attention.
Working with kids every day, our baloney-detectors are in fine form. We’ve heard the double-speak before; and we don’t believe the dog ate your homework. Coming from children, double-speak is expected and it provides important teachable moments. Coming from adults, it’s just sad.
Despite our best efforts, some folks never outgrow their disingenuous, manipulative, self- serving approach to life. Of that, Mr. Duncan, you are a shining example.
The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the state must spend an additional $500 million on public education in 31 historically under-funded districts next year.
The narrow 3-2 decision comes after Republican Governor Chris Christie’s more than $1.3 billion in education cuts to all districts.
Christie’s cuts were the impetus that led the Education Law Center to file suit against the state, arguing that the cuts represented “a deprivation of the constitutional right to a thorough and efficient education to all at-risk children throughout the State.”
The state argued that the fiscal plight of the state was reason enough to restrict funding.
Associate Justice Jaynee LaVecchia delivered the court’s majority decision saying that Governor Chris Christie’s education cuts needed to be reduced as they represented a “real, substantial, and consequential blow to the achievement of a thorough and efficient system of education.”
“We order that funding to the Abbott districts in FY 2012 must be calculated and provided in accordance with the (School Funding Reform Act) SFRA formula. In making the calculation for FY 2012, the formula must adjust to correct the State’s failure to provide SFRA’s statutory level of formula funding to those districts during FY 2011,” the court’s decision stated.
While criticizing the court for deciding how taxpayer money is to be spent, Christie said he would not fight the order, instead leaving it up to the legislature to decide where to find the money.
“I intend to comply with the Supreme Court’s order,” Christie said at a news conference after the decision. “The constitutional ball is now in the Legislature’s court.”
Over the weekend, The New York Times published a startling expose of Bill Gates’ successful efforts to shape education policy in the United States.
Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates poses on April 4, 2011 in Paris. (Photo: Miguel Medina, AFP / Getty Images)
As I showed in my recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Gates is one of a small group of billionaires that is promoting privatization, de-professionalization, and high-stakes testing as fixes for American public schools. I called this group “the billionaire boys club,” which includes Gates, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.
The Times article documents how Gates has put almost everyone concerned with education policy in his debt: advocacy groups and think tanks of left and right, education journals, public television programs, leaders in academia, local school districts, and state education groups. In addition to what is reported in the Times, Gates has significantly influenced the policies of the U.S. Department of Education, especially its signature program “Race to the Top,” which encourages more privately managed charter schools and recommends that states judge teacher quality by student test scores.
Gates appears to mean well, but he has obviously—and repeatedly—gotten bad advice.
About a decade ago, he decided that the biggest problem in U.S. education was the size of high schools, and he proceeded to spend $2 billion to persuade school districts to downsize their high schools. He told the nation’s governors that the American comprehensive high school was “obsolete.” Districts lined up to get grants from his foundation to break up their high schools, and more than 2,000 of them converted to small schools, with mixed results. Some fell into squabbling turf wars, some succeeded, but Gates’ own researchers concluded that the students in large schools got better test scores than those in his prized small schools. So in late 2008, he simply walked away from what was once his burning cause.
The main effect of Gates’ policy has been to demoralize millions of teachers, who don’t understand how they went from being respected members of the community to Public Enemy No. 1.
Now, he has thrown his support behind the idea that America has too many bad teachers, and he is pouring billions into the hunt for bad teachers. As the Times article shows, he has bought the support of a wide range of organizations, from conservative to liberal. He has even thrown a few million to the teachers’ unions to gain their assent. Unmentioned is that Gates has gotten the federal government to join him in his current belief that what matters most is creating teacher evaluation systems tied to student test scores.
Gates seems not to know or care that the leading testing experts in the nation agree that this is a fruitless and wrongheaded way to identify either good teachers or bad teachers. Student test scores depend on what students do, what effort they expend, how often they attend school, what support they have at home, and most especially on their socioeconomic status and family income. Test scores may go up or go down, in response to the composition of the class, without regard to teacher quality. Students are not randomly assigned to teachers. A teacher of gifted children, whose scores are already sky-high, may see little or no gains. A teacher of children with disabilities may be thrilled to see students respond to instruction, even if their test scores don’t go up. A teacher in a poor neighborhood may have high student turnover and poor attendance, and the scores will say nothing about his or her quality. But all will get low marks on state evaluation systems and may end up fired.
So far, the main effect of Gates’ policy has been to demoralize millions of teachers, who don’t understand how they went from being respected members of the community to Public Enemy No. 1.
As a nation we now have a toxic combination of a failed federal policy—No Child Left Behind—which made testing the be-all and end-all of schooling, and Bill Gates’ misguided belief that teacher quality can be determined by student test scores. In the years ahead, American students will undergo more and more testing, the testing industry will fatten, and the quality of education will suffer. To save their necks, teachers will teach to bad tests, school districts will drop the arts, and shrink the time available for subjects like history, geography, civics, science, and foreign languages to make time for more testing. And there will be more cheating scandals as test scores determine the lives and careers of teachers and principals, and the survival of their schools.
What is most alarming about the Times article is that Bill Gates is using his vast resources to impose his will on the nation and to subvert the democratic process. Why have we decided to outsource public education to a well-meaning but ill-informed billionaire?
Budget Mix-Up Provides Nation’s Schools With Enough Money To Properly Educate Students
WASHINGTON—According to bewildered and contrite legislators, a major budgetary mix-up this week inadvertently provided the nation’s public schools with enough funding and resources to properly educate students.
Sources in the Congressional Budget Office reported that as a result of a clerical error, $80 billion earmarked for national defense was accidentally sent to the Department of Education, furnishing schools with the necessary funds to buy new textbooks, offer more academic resources, hire better teachers, promote student achievement, and foster educational excellence—an oversight that apologetic officials called a “huge mistake.”
“Obviously, we did not intend for this to happen, and we are doing everything in our power to right the situation and discipline whoever is responsible,” said House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), expressing remorse for the error. “I want to apologize to the American people. The last thing we wanted was for schools to upgrade their technology and lower student-to-teacher ratios in hopes of raising a generation of well-educated, ambitious, and skilled young Americans.”
“That’s the type of irresponsible misspending that I’ve been focused on eliminating for my entire political career,” Ryan added.
Ryan went on to tell reporters that the $80 billion budget slip-up will “unfortunately” help schools nationwide to supply students with modernized classrooms and instructional materials. Struggling to control his frustration, Ryan said he prayed the costly mistake would not allow millions of American students to graduate with strong language skills.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called for a full investigation into how the nation’s schools were able to secure the necessary funds to monitor teachers and pay salaries based on performance.
“The fact that this careless mistake also ended up financing new teacher training programs, allowing educators to become more than just glorified babysitters, is disgraceful,” Reid said. “Now we are left with a situation where schools can attract talented professionals who really want to teach our children, which will in turn create smarter and more motivated students who wish to one day make a contribution to society.”
“In all my years in government I have never seen such a shameful error,” Reid added. “Our appropriations process has gone horribly awry, and I for one demand to know how it happened.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) echoed congressional leaders and vowed to do “everything in [his] power” to resolve the costly error that led to schools updating their curriculums to emphasize math, science, and language arts, and provided students with instruction on how to use newly purchased computers to aid their research.
“Once these kids learn to read and think critically, you can never undo that,” Boehner said. “In 20 years, we could be looking at a nightmare scenario in which vast segments of our populace are fully prepared to compete in the new global marketplace.”
“It could take a whole generation to cancel out the effects of this,” Boehner added.
Congressional leaders also stressed that providing the nation’s students with an adequate education that prepared them for college or supplied them with a solid grasp of basic knowledge could also have a devastating impact on the economy by creating a new class of citizens uninterested in settling for fast food meals and useless plastic knickknacks.
“And politicians will be adversely affected as well,” Boehner said. “What will our nation do if the next generation knows that all we care about is our own selfish interests and pandering to the wealthy elite? Is that the future you want? Not me.”
Imagine if America could actually turn around its 5,000 lowest-achieving public schools and within five years — as the Obama administration proposes to do through Race To The Top (RTTT) and similar grant programs. It would unquestionably be a huge victory — both for millions of America’s most disadvantaged students and as a guide to turning around thousands of other low-achieving schools.
But how likely is it that RTTT and the other programs (referred to collectively hereafter as “RTTT”), would, as currently framed, accomplish these goals? Not at all likely.
RTTT is based on requiring each grantee to implement one of four specified approaches (“models”) for turning around a school: “Turnaround,” “Transformation,” “Restart” and “Closure.” For RTTT to succeed, I believe that its models would have to satisfy four common-sense conditions: 1) Availability — of enough skilled and knowledgeable staff to properly implement the models in all the 5,000 urban, rural and suburban schools nationwide; 2) Effectiveness — in reliably and dramatically improving the targeted schools and student learning; 3) Fairness — in discharging government workers; and 4) Democracy — in preserving public control of public schools.
As Congress now drafts the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), it must decide whether to continue to mandate that, to receive a grant, states and districts have to implement only the four RTTT models. To act responsibly, Congress should do so only if it finds that the administration has shown substantial evidence that the models satisfy the above four conditions. I believe the administration has not.
Indeed, on several key components, the evidence is to the contrary. Thus, Congress needs to include a fifth approach in the ESEA that addresses the current models’ major deficiencies.
For starters, the administration deserves great credit for finally halting our wasteful practice of reinventing- the-wheel in school reform. The administration no longer leaves schools to try to figure out all the complexities of turnarounds on their own. Instead, it has wisely recognized that certain strategies do substantially help schools improve and required adoption of some of them in the “Transformation” and “Turnaround” models.
However, other key “model” components are seriously flawed.
- Automatic Replacement of Principal — Both the “Turnaround” and “Transformation” models demand automatic replacement of all principals, except those hired recently to implement an RTTT model. Yet, to have a fair and reliable process of removing only unpromising leaders, principals must get the chance to work long enough to have had a major impact and be objectively evaluated and found wanting before being shown the door. No such prerequisites exist, meaning RTTT can result in the automatic firing of principals even though they’re making important gains to turn around their schools.
- Moreover, it is currently impossible to find enough well-qualified turnaround replacement principals for thousands of low-achieving schools. While the U.S. has some, “the supply of principals capable of doing the [turnaround] work is tiny…” — wholly insufficient to meet the need. Instead, as expert Vincent Tirozzi notes, “‘What we’re seeing is a principal shuffle — Principal A moving to School B, B to C and other permutations[.]” This is especially problematic in rural areas which, as Senator Michael Enzi (Wyo.) observes, can find it difficult to recruit principals at all. To mandate turnaround without a skilled and knowledgeable turnaround leader (or, at least, offering skillful, intensive mentoring support — rarely available) is to doom the turnaround to failure.
- Automatic Removal 50 percent or plus of Staff — The “Turnaround” model also requires “screen[ing] all existing staff and rehir[ing] no more than 50 percent.” This requirement to automatically remove at least half the staff apparently rests on Secretary Duncan’s “belief” that it “can be [a] key to creating the new climate and culture needed to break the cycle of educational failure [.]”
- But even if such drastic action “can be” a key to turnaround, where is the Department’s evidence showing how often it “will be” a key — 10 percent, 25 percent, 75 percent of the time? The Department offers no evidence that this extremely disruptive and arbitrary 50 percent firing requirement would frequently make a critical difference. Nor has it shown it would be possible to minimize failed disruptions by accurately predicting in advance which ones would succeed. In some cases, replacing half the staff will cut deeply into the fiber of the school and actually leave things worse off than they were before.
- On the other hand, research and experience show that, with proper leadership and support, it is possible to turn around schools without wholesale staff removal. For example, principal Anthony Smith utilized every one of his teachers in his landmark transformation of a failing Cincinnati high school. His initial instinct “‘to get rid of all the teachers because … they didn’t know what they were doing [was] 100 percent wrong …. They knew what they were doing, they were working hard, just working hard in the wrong direction.'”
- Finally, this requirement’s implicit assumption is unfounded. It is widely recognized that there are not large numbers of highly skilled and knowledgeable replacement teachers available to serve the lowest-achieving schools, especially in impoverished urban and remote rural areas.
- Conversion to Charters/Other Privatization — The third model, “Restart,” requires converting a traditional public school to a charter school or other private management. This is no way to dramatically improve traditional public schools – charter schools overall are no more effective than regular schools. Indeed, the comprehensive and in-depth 2009 study of “Charter School Performance” by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes shows charters collectively are worse: in 37 percent of charters, students learned significantly less than in regular public schools, in only 17 percent more, and in 46 percent, similarly. Further, charter providers ordinarily do not operate in rural areas.
- Moreover, charter schools are inherently undemocratic. The citizens cannot control the operation of charter schools through their elected officials because, though publicly funded, charters are privately managed. Rather than preserving “local control” of public schools, charters undermine it.
- Closure – The fourth model is to close a school, provided students can be transferred to another “higher achieving [school] within reasonable proximity [.]” Yet, in impoverished urban areas few, if any, significantly higher achieving schools are likely to exist. In rural areas, there may be no other proximate school, period. Thus, “closure” is rarely an available option.
Further, Chicago’s experience under Renaissance 2010 – the apparent basis for the four models – reinforces that closure is not widely viable, and can even be dangerous. There, mandatory school closings triggered strong parental opposition and disruption.
“Violence escalated [and] for the most part [the transferred students ended up] at campuses that were just as bad and then progressed at the same predictably low levels.” And, of course, closing a school does nothing to turn it around.
In short, the administration has not shown that certain essential components of its RTTT models are “available”, “effective,” “fair” and “democratic;” indeed, as to key components, there is strong evidence to the contrary. Thus, there is no likelihood that the four models, as currently written, will succeed in turning around the 5,000 lowest-achieving schools in the next five years, (nor any reasonably foreseeable period thereafter.) On these bases, Congress could entirely remove the deficient requirements on staff replacement, conversion and closure from RTTT grants.
At the same time, there may be a small number of schools nationwide with enough replacement resources available to implement the “Transformation,” “Turnaround,” and “Closure” models and in which their implementation would be effective. And the administration may be so invested in preserving the four models that it may not be worth it politically for Congress to try to remove the seriously flawed provisions from RTTT.
At a minimum, Congress needs to enact a fifth turnaround model that does not contain the current widely impracticable, inflexible, and otherwise seriously deficient RTTT requirements.
What’s needed in the ESEA reauthorization is an approach that builds on the strategies that do substantially help schools improve — one supported by evidence of success. To facilitate this approach, the federal government needs to accept responsibility for helping to greatly increase the number of skilled turnaround leaders. We’ll look at these in the next column.
The trouble with “innovation” in schools
This was written by Gregory Michie, who teaches in the Department of Foundations, Social, Policy and Research at Concordia University Chicago. He is the author of “Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students” and co-editor of “City Kids, City Schools: More Reports from the Front Row.”
By Gregory Michie
I was sitting among a large crowd of students and teachers at the Chicago Public Schools Video Fair. It was 1998 — four years before No Child Left Behind was signed into law, but already three years into Chicago’s own march toward test-driven “accountability.”
I listened as a high-level district administrator stepped to the podium to congratulate a group of my seventh graders on winning the festival’s top prize. Their video, which they’d made in my media studies class, was a portrayal of how racist attitudes are passed on from adults to children.
I don’t recall all of the administrator’s words, but I remember her commending the students, recognizing our school’s media studies program, and ending with, “I’m sure participating in this program is really raising the students’ reading scores!”
Applause followed, but I left feeling deflated. I believed the media studies course was beneficial for many of our school’s seventh and eighth graders. At its best, it gave them space to voice their opinions on issues, to become more critical consumers of media messages, and, broadly speaking, to become more literate. Maybe even more importantly, it provided an outlet for the kids to express themselves creatively.
But none of that seemed to matter much when held up against the new priorities. It became clear to me that afternoon that we’d taken a few more steps down a perilous, narrow path in Chicago. We’d reached a place where the value of any classroom project or school program would ultimately be judged by whether it boosted reading or math scores on the yearly standardized tests.
Flash forward 13 years and many miles down that same path. Both the media studies class at my former school and the CPS Video Fair are long gone and buried. Their demise reflects what many of the teachers in my current graduate classes — especially those in city schools that serve poor students — describe as their daily reality: more top-down control of what is taught (and at what pace), less support for teacher and student creativity, less time for the arts and other non-tested subjects, and a laser-like focus on moving scores higher.
An irony in all this is that one of the favored words of the business-minded reformers who continue to push a results-driven, corporate model of school change is “innovation.” Of all the buzzwords that zip through current conversations about school improvement, it may be the most repeated. It peppers the language of Race to the Top, and charter school cheerleading, and teacher recruitment pitches. If you’re not talking about innovating, you’re probably not getting heard.
But the word, like so many others in education, has been hijacked. The “new reformers” have appropriated it as a descriptor for policy proposals and practices they advocate, and as an antonym for almost anything else. Charter schools? Innovative. Regular public schools? Definitely not. Competing for education funding? Innovative. Assuring that adequate monies go to schools that most need them? Passé. Evaluating teachers based on test scores? Innovative. Collective bargaining? Old school.
Corporate reformers have come to own the word so completely that they’re able to promote even the most wrongheaded ideas and still be portrayed by many media outlets as innovators. Bill Gates says we should crowd more students into the classrooms of the “top 25 percent of teachers” in order to save money. Does any school-based educator believe that that’s a good idea? The film Waiting for Superman , a favorite of the innovation crowd, puts forth an image of student learning that is as ill-conceived as it is crude: the empty-vessel head of a cartoon student is opened up and a pile of information is poured in. It’s all about efficiency — more head-filling, less fact-spilling. But hey, that’s innovation!
Since many of the practices, values, and terminology (”Are you tracking me?”) of the new reformers have been borrowed from the business world, it’s also important to remember that what corporate CEOs celebrate as innovative isn’t necessarily fair or just. Bob Herbert’s final column for The New York Times in March lamented the growing wealth gap in the U.S., and highlighted the fact that General Electric, which racked up $14.2 billion in profits in 2010, paid zero federal taxes. With so many families struggling to make ends meet, how can this be? According to The Times’ own reporting, G.E. implements “an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting (italics mine) that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”
I’m all for fresh ideas, but just because a notion is novel or different doesn’t mean it’s good for teachers and kids. The trouble with many of the current “innovations” in education is that they do nothing to challenge the broader policy framework that prizes higher test scores above all else — in fact, they often embrace it. So teacher and student creativity will continue to be squashed at every turn. And the poorer the kids in a given classroom or school, the more likely that is to be true.
That, for me, is the most troubling aspect of where we appear to be headed. The Obama administratin’s plan for reauthorizing NCLB would allow most schools to escape the pressure cooker of annual yearly progress-chasing that has marked the past decade, and that’s a good thing. But for the 10 percent of schools at the bottom of the test-score pile — mostly schools of the urban poor — the heat would be turned up even higher: more testing, more “data-driven” instruction, and more sanctions, while creativity, divergent thinking, and the arts continue to get left behind.
I think about the seventh and eighth graders I taught in Chicago — kids like Ramon, who daydreamed in poetic verse but had a hard time sitting still, or Josefina, a recent immigrant who struggled with English but found her voice when a video camera was in her hands. What place is there for kids like them in the schools we’ve made? How will they discover their gifts, pursue their dreams? And if they become alienated by their schooling experiences — which seems likely — where will they turn?
It depends on who you ask, I suppose. Michelle Rhee, former D.C. schools chancellor and one of the rock-star “innovators” in education, famously told Time magazine in 2008:
“The thing that kills me about education is that it’s so touchy-feely. People say, ’Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning.’ I’m like, ’You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.”
On the other hand, Sir Ken Robinson, professor emeritus at the University of Warwick and author of Out of Our Minds, argues in two widely circulated talks from the TED conference that schools too often end up stifling kids’ creative spirits. “Creativity is as important in education as literacy,” Robinson says, “and we should treat it with the same status.”
We should — but with the continued reliance on annual testing in the administration’s Blueprint for Reform, it may not happen anytime soon. That means too many kids in our poorest neighborhoods will continue, even if their test scores rise, to receive what can only be called an impoverished education. And no matter what the new reformers say, there’s nothing innovative about that.