Friday, June 6, 2014

Class of '14: An era of NCLB/RTTT & Testing

Dear Washington D.C.,
We tried to warn you what would happen to public education.  You were understandably distracted at the onset but there is no excuse for the politicization and privatization that followed.  The Class of '14 began school when you conceived a misguided and uninformed NCLB and continued their learning under the politics, quick fixes, and blind obedience to RTTT.   And, while there are many causes of the collateral damage wrought on the imagination and wonder of children and the innovation and integrity of the profession, we will look back and see that the root cause unwavering since 2002 was annual high stakes testing.

With respect yet regret,
Public Education

Because of annual testing…
·         Kids take high-stakes tests annually  (time, money, pressure)
·         Kids who do not yet speak English take two high-stakes tests annually to prove they don’t yet speak English well which hammers at their self-esteem and motivation
·         Kids with disabilities feel unnecessary pressure annually taking tests out of reach
·         Parents, students, the media, and others place far too much value and pressure on a once a spring one time test as an indicator of progress
·         Teachers feel pressure to align curriculum to and teach for the test which narrows the curriculum
·         Teachers feel pressure to align curriculum to and teacher for the test– minimizing innovation, using student interests, field trips, etc.
·         Teachers, psychologists, and administrators spend far too much valuable planning time on data analyses instead of child development and authentic progress
·         Principals feel the pressure to assign more time to core time to testing which eliminates time for art, music, p.e. recess...
·         Teachers feel more pressure to align and teach for the test because of it affects their evaluation
·         School and district “evaluation” (and the dreaded rankings) drive more pressure to focus on the tests and scores
·         The more high stakes testing, the more formative standardized-like testing that goes on duplicating high-stakes testing (and less new instruction)
·         Because of the volumes of data, decisions about grants and other school supports and the dreaded rankings are based solely on scores and not comprehensive quantitative and qualitative evaluations
·         Follow the money to testing corporations, text and technology corporations, and data warehouse corporations (and the scary monopolies that do all three)
·         The economic opportunity cost is staggering:  millions that could have been spent on professional development, staffing, technology, and more

Test students only at the end of year clusters or at transitions from primary to intermediate, intermediate to middle school, middle school to high school, and the junior year – and all of the above go away!

Standardized testing was designed to benchmark how a school is doing, how a cohort of students is doing over a few years period, and how a curriculum is doing (alignment with standards and gaps).   It was one of dozens of means of information to see how a child is doing on a percentile basis compared to others.

If it wasn’t for Rod Paige’s Texas Miracle which was no miracle that turned into George Bush’s NCLB whose regulations were developed in the shadow of 9/11 that labeled schools as failures and diverted more funds to private interests and charter school which eight years later became President Obama’s higher stakes by RTTT to compete for desperately needed funds… we wouldn’t be stifling children’s learning experiences and what I call “school the way it oughta be” in order to pass tests. 

Periodic testing is (potentially) valuable.
Annual testing is devastating.
One courageous decision could improve the quality and integrity of public education dramatically (and save millions of dollars, self-esteems, innovating lessons, music programs, quality teachers, and schools).  Test only (some students) in grades 5, 8, & 10. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Testing: Here's What. So What? NOW What? (19 suggestions)

Here’s What
Schools have always used standards, designed curriculum, taught kids, and assessed learning and acknowledged there is a lot of room for improvement. Still, SAT, ACT, and AP participation and scores are up as is college attendance and hundreds of thousands, millions of student success stories. 

But after the “Nation At Risk Report” in the ‘80s and other critiques going back to the late ‘90s, politicians and CEOs saw an Achilles heel that would advance their interests on the backs of kids and teachers while ignoring administrators and local school boards.  Well intended efforts to “level the playing field” and “a new civil rights movement” were about as sincere as billionaires using the momentum of sincere Tea Party activists and the same billionaires converting the original Peace Corps mission of Teach for America into a business model to bust unions and segregate and oppress kids. 
Since 1999, since 2009, and since last spring, many of us have written about the attack on public education in the form of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the most recent New York reform measures.  While trying to make them work and being supportive, protecting local norms and curriculum, and making the best of bad laws, this week the politicos and CEOs chicken little mantras came home to roost.    
So What?
After numerous position papers, calls for cost-benefit analyses, pleas to slow down, and cries for communication; the convoluted efforts of Race to the Top became the proverbial and overused perfect storm: unproven college and career ready standards, excessive standardized testing, and a rushed teacher and principal evaluation plan.  And, the storm hit this week when kids became collateral damage of tests that said, “You used to be smart – not so much now.” 
Yes, “We told you so.”  We told you so when NCLB was railroaded under the shadow of 9/11.  We told you so when we pointed out that RTTT was just the carrot version of the NCLB’s stick approach.  We told you so when we illustrated APPR was not “building the plane while flying it” but rather a train wreck about to happen.   We asked for information, explanations, test samples, and definitions. We asked for seats at the table, time, communication, and input. 
So, here we are.  We hold our students to high standards and we have the data and work products to prove it.  We hold ourselves to high professional standards.  Maybe we needed to be hit over the head with a two-by-four to get our attention to raising academic standards and meaningful professional evaluations even higher.  So, yes,  you got our attention but then kept hammering away distanced from practical, sustainable implementation.  And, all the while, you did nothing with unfunded mandates, out of date regulations, and diverted funds from our schools and championed segregated, regimented, uniformed, information regurgitated charter schools. 
Now What?  In order to be part of the solution that raises standards and expectations constructively, uses professional evaluation, and fair and meaningful testing, PLEASE enact the following.  The are hundreds of practitioners ready to advise and help. 

Re: CCSS and State Testing
1.      Declare a one-year moratorium on State testing
2.      Implement State testing only in transition grades 3, 5, 8, and 10 beginning in 2014-2015
3.      Utilize transition year testing as benchmarks for student and cohort progress in multi-year clusters and review of curriculum implementation and alignment 
4.      Analyze 2013 tests and result for validity, reliability, and grade level match
5.      Provide opportunities for teachers and principals to analyze all test questions, results, and standards for alignment and gaps
6.      Utilize 2013-2014 to field test state test alignment with common core standards and fair testing practice
7.      Provide an extensive comment period reviewing PARCC assessments and other testing options

1.      Declare a one-year moratorium on the 40% tested subject and local assessments component of APPR
2.      Utilize 2013-2014 to concentrate on rubric application confidence and inter-rater reliability
3.      Utilize 2013-2014 for school districts and BOCES regions to field test local assessments
4.      Provide irrefutable evidence for the use of Value-added measures or declare the application ceased
Re:  RTTT, CCSS, State Testing, APPR, and State Reform Efforts
1.      Report a complete expenditure review of RTTT funds
2.      Provide a cost-benefit analysis of all components of CCSS, APPR, and state testing
3.      Provide irrefutable evidence of privacy assurances on all aspects of data collection
4.   Develop a revised timeline leading to 2014-2015 implementation with bi-weekly communications to the field

Re:  The Future
  1. Slow down, go back to the drawing board
  2. Talk, no make that LISTEN to practitioners, implementers, local policy makers, and parents
  3. Get it right, fair, reliable, valid, and useful
  4. Let the professional (not temporary) educators lead the way

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Testing: Fire, Aim, Ready (but not so much the ready part - yet)

Analyze, compare, contrast, synthesize, assess, critique, review, contemplate, determine, argue, cite, evaluate, formulate, speculate, and comment on NYS education reform implementation and cite which scenario offers the best description.
  1. Imagine getting a message from Congress and some high rollers telling NASA in 1968: “We’ve changed our minds.  The Moon is out; we’re going to Mars instead and we’re adding passengers. There are no specs yet but the university guys will get them to the engineers soon.  First test run is on schedule but let ‘em know their jobs aren’t on the line until the second test run.  And, the bar is raised and we’ll still meet that “by the next decade” promise.  Oh, one more thing, your funding has been cut, too.”
  2. Imagine getting a letter from your travel agent.  “We have been informed that before you can drive in Europe, you are going to have to pass the driving test in each country you visit.  Trainings are offered in each of the Embassies upon your arrival or you can get the manual now but they’re not translated.  If you drive and have an accident or get a ticket, the car rental agency could lose its license.  Oh, one more thing, the fares went up.”
  3. Imagine getting an email from the Road Runners Club. “Our corporate sponsors are getting complaints that there are far too many runners all official races and the average time per age group is increasing annually.  Therefore, for next month’s race, we are changing the race course to include more hills and increasing the distance.   Sorry, new maps aren’t available. Training Team fundraising group and Club coaches will not be eligible next year if composite times increase.  Oh, one more thing, due to reduced funding there are fewer water stops and less security.”
  4. Fire, Aim, Ready
  5. Dear College Bound Student:  When you arrive this Saturday for the SAT test, you will be taking the ACT. 
  6. All of the above.
Raising the bar?  High expectations?  Every student means every?  Rigorous standards?  Benchmark assessments?  No problem.  But don’t make kids and teachers collateral damage due to accelerated, unmapped, make-up-the-rules-as-you-go-along implementation.

Ok - so it is what it is.  Time to unpack the results - district, school, subject, item analyses - and see what / if they tell us about alignment, gaps, and the standards. 



Sunday, July 28, 2013

CC$$, Conservative/Liberal Catch-22, or Challenging Curriculum Student Success

Politics makes strange bedfellows and as we’ve read in other blogs. Conservative and liberal politicians and usual suspects find themselves in an educational/political/governance/institutional catch-22.  As Diane Ravitch pointed out recently, more prominent within the conservative ranks, the anti-big government, states’ rights, deregulation advocates (and those come in conservative and liberal packages) are in quite a quandary over the Common Core State Standards.  Support the standards or denigrate them?  Tough choice.
For the CC$$ advocates, conservative and liberal, federal oversight reveals these assumptions:
  • “Follow the money” and watch those profit lights go off for publishers and data warehousers
  • “I stand for high standards, results, and accountability” campaign slogans
  • Spending all this money on education helps them sleep at night and they can ignore poverty, social issues, and other measures that might actually help education
  • Standards fit into their obsession with quick fix Broad/TFA scripted teaching, an efficient business model, and narrow definition of professional as “one who increases test scores”
  • Standards are one more way to control children (behavior and thinking) and to justify regimented, uniformed, drill-and-test schools.
For the CCSS haters, federal oversight reveals these assumptions:
  • More evidence for their ‘states rights’ mantra (and we all know what is underneath that)
  • Fear that big government might indoctrinate kids or worse, teach kids to think for themselves
  • Standards drive standardization and in the wrong hands (like now) that's a very bad thing
  • Standards can drive a narrow curriculum and in the wrong hands (like now) that's a very bad thing
  • Standards are just a lofty sounding means to impose more testing and putting a score on a teacher (agggh).  
What is really too bad is that no one is asking or listening to the professionals who have been at this for a very long time like NCTM, NCSS, NSTA, NCTE, or others  but I doubt legislators or CEOs have asked them what they think.  And, little attention is being given to the standards as opposed to their (ab)use and the politics. 
The National Council of Teacher of English perspective on Common Core is right on target.  While supporting the standards, NCTE poses the essential questions of “who?” “what?” “how?” and “why?” rather than a blanket endorsement.
“Be it further resolved that NCTE and its members publicly critique and oppose any Common Core State Standards or all state standards that conflict with NCTE policies; engage in public dialogue and debate regarding implementation policies of Common Core State Standards and other state standards; and  critique and oppose implementation policies when they adversely affect social and educational equity.”
Superman, the Lone Ranger, and self-proclaimed education rock stars may sell tickets to documentaries and offer the stuff of stump speeches and corporate annual meetings but for this policy maker and practitioner, well, I’m listening to the English teachers and what the standards say about literature, writing, argument, elements of fiction...      

Friday, June 28, 2013

Random Thoughts on Ed Reform

1.      The word “education” does not appear in the Constitution but education is all about the Constitution
2.      Don’t blame high expectations and standards for high-stakes and excessive testing
3.      High-stakes test scores and ranking teachers are a politician’s low-hanging fruit
4.      Charter and voucher advocates convince themselves they are addressing civil rights
5.      Follow the money, literally
6.      Campaign managers love test scores, anything that can be counted and saying words like “STEM” and "accountability"
7.      School funding formulae (and some people's opinions about education) developed before Brown v. Board of Education, Title IX, PL 94-142 / IDEA, and Plyler v. Doe should be abolished and rewritten
8.      The war on poverty was so 20th century (except for a decade that will remain nameless)
9.      Not one State or federal reform plan has taken serious, substantive, comprehensive, sustainable action on Readiness for Kindergarten
10.  "Why did TFA let its mission become a business model?" (or there was a reason the Peace Corps did not pretend to be Doctors Without Borders)
11.  Those in ivory towers, State houses, and on the Beltway (even when they get it right) just don’t get implementation (I know, I know.  Some would add "district offices" to that list).
12.  Some privatizers are afraid kids may learn to think and shape their own opinions so they wait for “gotcha” moments, malign teachers and public schools, and never let go   
13.  Those envious of China do not understand (or accept) why China is envious of American education
14.  How ironic that some educators are stuck in the 20th century factory thinking while reformers and critics ignore 20th century inclusion and access
15.  There's nothing wrong with 6th Century B.C.E. skills (eg. Socratic Seminar)
16.  Reform as it is being played out is the real "soft bigotry of low expectations"



Friday, June 21, 2013

Graduation Gift - An Insurance Policy

They say – you know – the infamous “they” say that most people won’t remember a graduation speech a few days or weeks after hearing it.  “Sorry” (to the speakers behind me on the stage).  As for me, that is perfectly ok if you don’t remember this speech because I expect there will be a time when you will in the future. 
You see, in about ten or twenty years, when you are filming a compelling but controversial documentary – arguing a case in front of the Supreme Court – saving a life from a burning building – writing a letter to the editor - filing a patent for your latest invention – or teaching middle school social studies - - and when all of you are pursuing your dreams there will be a moment when you recall this speech. 
Why?  Because this speech is about the insurance policy included in your envelope with your diploma - the most valuable insurance policy you will ever acquire, require or aspire.  
What does it insure?  It promotes domestic tranquility. It establishes justice. It promotes the general welfare and secures the blessings of liberty. 
It protects you - your freedom in this country - and your rights.  It protects your right to free speech and to an absolutely necessary free press. 
For over two centuries, this insurance policy - the Constitution of the United States – a document you have studied in depth - has fulfilled, protected, and reflected the struggle and the dream for freedom and justice of once-immigrants and citizens dating back to the 18th century. 
It has survived through years of prosperity, divisiveness, and rebellion in the 19th and 20th centuries.  And, it prevails in the 21st century where all of you – citizens and aspiring citizens alike - can learn and lecture, promote and protest, declare and debate, and pursue the American Dream with your insurance policy in hand.
Since graduation speeches often offer advice, I am compelled to note that like your education and like your diploma and what it represents;  this insurance policy offers no absolutes – no apps that do the work for you – and no single right answers. My advice?  Never forget that insuring your freedom and your rights requires thinking – taking responsibility - learning - figuring things out – and showing up. 
Just as your talents were nurtured and your curiosities piqued for the past thirteen years - just as you leave the nest of your families, the daily embrace of school, and your towns and village - as you enter a world of opportunities and a future of unknowns –– no matter what road you travel - hold on to this insurance policy while you continue to define yourself, your voice, and your future.  

Congratulations, Class of 2013.




Saturday, June 8, 2013

Reform "WarGames"-style

tick, tick, tick....
The opening scene of "WarGames."  Two men in the missile silo.  The alert comes in.  One man refuses to comply launching a missile, the other pull out his gun and orders, “Turn your key.”
A subsequent scene shows the furniture being removed from the silo and the men replaced by robotics.  All missiles would all be controlled centrally based on running infinite global conflict scenarios of data into the WOPR.
Enter Matthew Broderick, a high school kid searching for games, only to find out he has accidentally started the clock ticking for the WOPR to fire missiles on Russia. 
While the silo metaphor may be sadly accurate for too many classrooms, too many teachers are being replaced by robots.  And, instead of leaders and practitioners making vital system-wide decisions, the President and Governors have turned the schools over to their State’s version leadership and decision-making to the WOPR.   
The movie script in the Department of Education’s war room might read something like this.  “Here’s the plan…

·         Dismantle local schools to create highly centralized, county-wide and state-wide districts.
·         Eliminate school boards and replace the last superintendent standing with a CEO.
·         Create schools whose mission is economic efficiency, good behavior, and satisfactory test scores.
·         Hire short term teachers with strong mission and short education career paths.
·         Digitally link the teachers to their students and their colleges, especially the actual education majors.
·         Design a sure-fire low cognitive E.D. Hirsch curriculum and deliver scripts to teachers.
·         Deliver the lessons with the 360-degree rubric-based Eyeball videotaping the class room.
·         Stream the video to the education version of the WOPR to be scored instantly.
·         Test the kids online based on the scripted curriculum of the low cognitive facts also to be scored instantly by the WOPR.
·         Link the scores to teachers and link the teachers to the colleges they attended.
·         Identify the teachers with the high test and high eyeball scores and give them a reward.
·         Identify the teachers with the low test and low eyeball scores and terminate them.
·         Identify the colleges graduating the teachers with the low composite scores and send their names to the legislature to be unaccredited.

Reform "WarGames" Style?  Mega-districts, Teach for Awhile teachers, CEOs, no local democratically elected boards, and a WOPR of a curriculum to test score to teacher score model.

And, principals? Their job is to weed out the student applicants whose profile would be high cost or too at risk of failing; spruce up the bait-and-switch school brochure; stroll through the neighborhood recruiting parents who will be involved; and keep the lights on for another day and maybe a merit bonus.

And somewhere in the hundred-thousand student district, a rebellious innovative teacher is locking her classroom door in order to teach 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 as the principal shouts, “Turn your key!” ... and the teacher next door turns on his computer and hears, “Good Morning Dave.”  (sorry about the mixed movies metaphors).

Learning? Fade out.