April 29, 2013
Why the current wave of reforms, with its heavy emphasis on standardized tests, may actually be harming students
By John Tierney | Published April 25 2013 by Salon.com
It’s always hard to tell for sure exactly when a revolution starts. Is it when a few discontented people gather in a room to discuss how the ruling regime might be opposed? Is it when first shots are fired? When a critical mass forms and the opposition acquires sufficient weight to have a chance of prevailing? I’m not an expert on revolutions, but even I can see that a new one is taking shape in American K-12 public education.
The dominant regime for the past decade or more has been what is sometimes called accountability-based reform or, by many of its critics, “corporate education reform.” The reforms consist of various initiatives aimed at (among other things): improving schools and educational outcomes by using standardized tests to measure what students are learning; holding schools and teachers accountable (through school closures and teachers’ pay) when their students are “lagging” on those standardized assessments; controlling classroom instruction and increasing the rigor of school curricula by pushing all states to adopt the same challenging standards via a “Common Core;” and using market-like competitive pressures (through the spread of charter schools and educational voucher programs) to provide public schools with incentives to improve.*
Critics of the contemporary reform regime argue that these initiatives, though seemingly sensible in their original framing, are motivated by interests other than educational improvement and are causing genuine harm to American students and public schools. Here are some of the criticisms: the reforms have self-interest and profit motives, not educational improvement, as their basis; corporate interests are reaping huge benefits from these reform initiatives and spending millions of dollars lobbying to keep those benefits flowing; three big foundations (Gates, Broad, and Walton Family) are funding much of the backing for the corporate reforms and are spending billions to market and sell reforms that don’t work; ancillary goals of these reforms are to bust teacher unions, disempower educators, and reduce spending on public schools; standardized testing is enormously expensive in terms both of public expenditures and the diversion of instruction time to test prep; over a third of charter schools deliver “significantly worse” results for students than the traditional public schools from which they were diverted; and, finally, that these reforms have produced few benefits and have actually caused harm, especially to kids in disadvantaged areas and communities of color. (On that last overall point, see this scathing new report from the Economic Policy Institute.)
Read more: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/the-coming-revolution-in-public-education/275163/
April 27, 2013
By Robert Green
A slightly edited version of this Op-ed appeared in the April 25 edition of the Montreal Gazette
Should the grades students receive on their report cards be the product of the professional judgment of those trained in pedagogy and the evaluation of learning or the product of the public relations needs of schools, school boards and the education ministry (MELS)? While most Quebecers would surely prefer to leave the evaluation of learning to the trained professionals, the reality is that since the 2008 passing of Bill 88 report cards are increasingly subject to the corrupting influences of political interests.
This is because Bill 88 makes success rates for schools and school boards all important. The bill obliges both schools and school boards to sign contracts committing them to make measured improvements in specific areas, such as math or literacy scores. The problem for principals and school board administrators is that they are being asked to achieve these goals in a context of ongoing budget cuts. Those with ambition must find creative ways to meet their goals.
The inevitable result is pressure being put on teachers to inflate their marks, or even worse, marks being changed by administrators without the teacher’s consent. The Federation Autonome de L’Enseignment, one of Quebec’s large teacher federations has recently reported this to be a growing problem amongst its members.
Changing the marks given by teachers also happens at the ministry level with secondary four and five courses through two processes ‘moderation’ and ‘conversion’. Ostensibly ‘moderation’ is to address discrepancies between class marks and marks on standardized provincial exams while ‘conversion’ is to address problems with exams deemed to be unfair or invalid in some way. However, the end result is that these two processes grant MELS the ability to fix success rates wherever it wishes, irrespective of the professional judgment of teachers.
In both cases, the perception of the vast majority of teachers is that all this is about lowering standards to meet goals rather than addressing the fundamental problems having to do with under-funding and a provincial curriculum that has never had the support of teachers.
read more »
April 25, 2013
By Michelle Gunderson | Published by The Network for Public Education
Michelle Gunderson, Early Childhood Committee Chairperson of the Chicago Teachers Union explains how a group of parents, children, and educators held a ‘Play-In’ in the front hallway of the Board of Education of the Chicago Public Schools as a way of promoting appropriate curricula in the early grades. You can also read Michelle’s letter to Arne Duncan regarding the Play-In.
On April 17th parents, children, and educators gathered in the front hallway of the Board of Education of the Chicago Public Schools for a Play-In. Participants brought blankets to create play centers on the floor with legos, play dough, art projects, puzzles, games, music – and much laughter and a sense of joy. This painted the picture for our community of what an early childhood classroom should look like.
Our youngest children’s classrooms in Chicago have become increasingly focused on testing and developmentally inappropriate academic practice. Children need play. It is how they learn. It is how they thrive.
Our Play-In had a strong message – less tests, more play.
When taking action on any issue we need to analyze whether the action unites us, makes us stronger, and gives us power. We also need to design actions on a continuum so that people can find a comfort level in which they can enter a movement. Not everyone is willing to protest in the streets or get arrested the first time they enter a cause. Our Play-In helped build unity in which approximately 100 people participated, and was an action that everyone was comfortable entering. It is hard to make an informed argument against play. Our cause was just.
Read more: http://www.networkforpubliceducation.org/npe-tool-kit/how-one-group-held-a-play-in-to-promote-appropriate-early-childhood-education/
April 20, 2013
By Enrico Uva,
Grade inflation is common. It knows no borders, occurring in public and private schools, at the elementary level and in Ivy League universities. It is a serious problem, and yet I have rarely heard a frank and open discussion about the matter. Here’s an insider’s look at both the consequences and causes.
A- The Consequences Of Grade Inflation
1. Within elementary and high schools, grade inflation leads to improper placement of students. Kids who have so far displayed only mediocre ability end up in difficult science and mathematics classes. Eventually they get turned off and some develop long lasting hangups towards science, whereas if they had been placed in a more appropriate level, they would have stumbled less and learned more, and they still would have been able to eventually enroll in more rigorous courses.
read more »
April 19, 2013
Teachers Catharine Hogan and Robert Green discuss the pressures to inflate grades that have resulted from Quebec’s Bill 88 with CJAD’s Tommy Shnurmacher:
Click here to listen
April 18, 2013
By Valerie Strauss | Published April 17, 2013 by The Answer Sheet blog
A 13-year-old eighth grader in upstate New York woke up on Sunday and decided that it would be funny if she designed a standardized test that made fun of standardized tests. (See below) After all, Sophia Stevens was getting ready to take one of the state’s new Common Core-aligned standardized tests on Tuesday, so the subject was on her mind.
Unfortunately, she said, she has plenty of occasions to think about standardized tests because kids have to take too many of them. She doesn’t like it, she said, “because teachers are always teaching to the test instead of teaching stuff that would interest us or that they are good at teaching.”
She designed a mini eighth-grade reading test, complete with tips on taking the test, a complete reading passage and multiple choice questions to answer. The reading passage begins:
Dear New York State,
I am not fond of your tests. They do not show you who I am, or who my teachers are. For example, if a student is a bad test taker, you would look at her test and think she is a bad student. What happens if a kid is just having a bad day? You would only see that one test and and think he was an unsatisfactory pupil. Imagine how stressed the teachers are having to rely on their students’ test scores as a form of evaluation.
Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/04/17/eighth-grader-designs-standardized-test-that-slams-standardized-tests/
April 17, 2013
By Valerie Strauss | Published April 15 by The Answer Sheet Blog
A group of teachers and their unions are filing a lawsuit against Florida officials that challenges the state’s educator evaluation system, under which many teachers are evaluated on the standardized test scores of students they do not teach.
The seven teachers filing the lawsuit include Kim Cook, who, as this post explains, was evaluated at Irby Elementary, a K-2 school where she works and was named Teacher of the Year last December. But 40 percent of that evaluation was based on test scores of students at Alachua Elementary, a school into which Irby feeds, whom she never taught. Really.
Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/04/15/lawsuit-stop-evaluating-teachers-on-test-scores-of-students-they-never-taught/
April 16, 2013
By Alan Singer | Published April 15 by The Huffington Post
I confess, I may be guilty of helping students improve their scores on standardized tests. Just last week I was helping my eight-year old grandchildren, third-graders scheduled to take the new common core based tests, with their math homework. When they were finished, I asked Gideon and Sadia if they had checked their work. Now Sadia values accuracy, so when she said she checked her work I just initialed it. But Gideon values speed over accuracy and even though he said he had checked his work, I thought it advisable to take a closer look at it. Of course I found a couple of careless errors. I gave it back to him and told him he had to check his work again — which he knew meant he had made mistakes.
If these homework assignments are factored into their grades for the school year, Gideon, who ultimately got the questions right on his own, will get “inflated” grades because of the help he received at home. I guess in the new world of high-stakes testing even for the youngest children that makes me a cheater, but I thought as a grandparent, I was supposed to help them with their homework.
I am writing this blog because justified accusations about changing student answers on standardized tests in Atlanta, Georgia have become a witch hunt and all teachers are now considered suspect of cheating. In Glen Cove, New York, a dozen teachers from two elementary schools are being investigated and face disciplinary action for such nebulous infractions as “violating test protocol and not following the proscribed guidance in the testing manuals” during the spring 2012 elementary school reading and math tests.
Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/new-york-standardized-tests_b_3080548.html
April 13, 2013
By Jason Kunin | Published April 13 2013 by The Bullet
Teachers in Ontario may not know it, but their actions in this coming week will have huge ramifications for unionized workers across Ontario and across the country. We stand poised either to hold the line against the austerity agenda and mounting attacks on workers, or pave the way for escalating attacks on the labour movement.
After a year that has seen the provincial Liberal government strip education workers of their collective bargaining rights and legislate strips to our wages and benefits that took decades of struggle to win, public secondary teachers in Ontario will be voting this week on whether to accept a peace deal that offers some minor improvements over the “contract” imposed four months ago by Bill 115 but which leaves most of the major strips intact.
The deal, which was hammered out over several weeks of negotiations, is being touted by the elected leaders of our union, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), as the best we can hope for.
If ratified, the deal would see us agree to many of the provisions we have spent the last year fighting against. These include a two-year wage freeze, a grandfathering of banked sick days, and delayed movement up the salary grid for younger teachers, who are already being told to accept a future of diminished expectations. To make this more palatable, we are being offered small improvements in maternity leave and some language around job security.
Read more: http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/804.php#continue
April 12, 2013
By Laura Casella | Published April 4 2013 by CJAD
If you are paying for private school, you probably expect a higher quality of education than what can be found in the public system. But a report shows some private schools are employing teachers who aren’t qualified for the classroom.
The most recent report by the Commission Consultation de l’Enseignement Privé, a provincial body that oversees private education in Quebec, finds that there are unqualified teachers in at least 40 private schools in Quebec. In some of those cases, more than half of the teaching staff, do not possess a teaching diploma.
Read more: http://www.cjad.com/CJADLocalNews/entry.aspx?BlogEntryID=10529562
April 10, 2013
Published Apr 10, 2013 by The CBC
A new report from UNICEF suggests the well-being of children living in Canada is lower than those growing up in many other wealthy countries.
Canada ranked 17th of 29 countries in an overall ranking compiled by the child-focused international humanitarian organization.
The report shows Canada’s standing hasn’t improved since a prior report in 2007. The first report was based on data from 2001-03, while the current one contains data from 2009-10.
“As a Canadian, I’m ashamed,” says David Morley, president of UNICEF Canada. He says Canada is “stuck in the middle of the pack against other wealthy countries, and that’s just not good enough.”
The overall ranking was based on five broad categories:
- Material well-being.
- Health and safety.
- Behaviours and risk.
- Housing and environment.
Each broad category includes data on detailed subcategories that measure specific areas.
Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2013/04/09/unicef-children-well-being-report.html
April 7, 2013
Letter by Gerald J. Conti, posted by Valerie Strauss | Published April 6, 2013 by The Answer Sheet
I came to teaching forty years ago this month and have been lucky enough to work at a small liberal arts college, a major university and this superior secondary school. To me, history has been so very much more than a mere job, it has truly been my life, always driving my travel, guiding all of my reading and even dictating my television and movie viewing. Rarely have I engaged in any of these activities without an eye to my classroom and what I might employ in a lesson, a lecture or a presentation. With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at Westhill.
A long train of failures has brought us to this unfortunate pass. In their pursuit of Federal tax dollars, our legislators have failed us by selling children out to private industries such as Pearson Education. The New York State United Teachers union has let down its membership by failing to mount a much more effective and vigorous campaign against this same costly and dangerous debacle. Finally, it is with sad reluctance that I say our own administration has been both uncommunicative and unresponsive to the concerns and needs of our staff and students by establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian…
Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/04/06/teachers-resignation-letter-my-profession-no-longer-exists/?wpisrc=nl_cuzheads
April 6, 2013
By Anthony Cody | Published April 4, 2013 by Education Week’s Living in Dialogue blog
No one in America has done more to promote the raising of stakes for test scores in education than Bill Gates.
Yesterday, Mr. Gates published a column that dances around the disaster his advocacy has created in the schools of our nation.
You can read his words there, but his actions have spoken so much more loudly, that I cannot even make sense out of what he is attempting to say now. So let’s focus first on what Bill Gates has wrought.
No Child Left Behind was headed towards bankruptcy about seven years ago. The practice of labeling schools as failures and closing them, on the basis of test scores, was clearly causing a narrowing of the curriculum. Low income schools in Oakland eliminated art, history and even science in order to focus almost exclusively on math and reading. The arrival of Arne Duncan and his top level of advisors borrowed from the Gates Foundation created the opportunity for a re-visioning of the project.
Read more: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2013/04/bill_gates_dances_around_the.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-FB
April 5, 2013
The opt-out movement is growing because high-stakes tests are wrecking our schools
By Kathy M. Newman | Published March 31, 2013 by The Pittsburgh Post
I am an English professor. So you can imagine how my pride was hurt when my 9-year-old son Jacob started bringing home low scores on his practice reading tests for the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment.
My husband and I have been helping Jacob with his test-prep reading homework every weeknight this year, and it has been a grim slog. At times I have found myself getting angry when Jacob has fidgeted, or when he has had trouble focusing. Sometimes I have gotten angry when he simply hasn’t been able to answer the questions.
Then one day this March it dawned on me. I am getting angry at my son about a test. A test that I do not like. A “high-stakes” test that will put so much pressure on Jacob that it probably will not reflect his true abilities. I also realized something else: Jacob does not love to read.
After doing some research and talking with other parents, my husband and I decided to “opt out” Jacob from the PSSA tests. We are opting him out because we do not like what high-stakes tests are doing to Jacob, to our family, to his teachers, to his school and, ultimately, to our entire education system.
High-stakes tests like the PSSAs are used to evaluate, close and punish public schools, including my son’s school, Pittsburgh Linden, a K-5 magnet school in Point Breeze. Linden’s Adequate Yearly Progress score is bound to Linden’s PSSA test results. According to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, every public school in the United States must be 100 percent proficient in reading and math (based on test scores) by 2014.