"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Superintendent as Educator -- John Kuhn Scolds Texas

Thanks to Anthony Cody for posting this...

John Kuhn, Superintendent of Perrin-Whitt CISD in Perrin Texas, talks about Texas education.

This is a MUST read!

John Kuhn Roars Back: Texans Rebel Against Testing

Superintendent Kuhn scolds the state government for their hypocrisy and their failure to protect the students of Texas. He holds the state accountable for not helping teachers do their job...and in fact, standing in the way of the very teachers who are blamed for the failure of the system. The same can be said for legislatures and Governors around the nation, and the federal legislature and executive as well.
[The state of Texas] has created a strict accountability system for teachers while NOT developing any system whatsoever to illuminate the progress of politicians in remediating out-of-school factors that devastate student test scores; factors like parental unemployment go unmeasured, racial income disparities--that's a gap no one tries to close--child homelessness is irrelevant, crime and incarceration rates for fathers are too unimportant to track, rates of drug use and child abuse and preventable illness do not matter because those are factors that lay squarely within the politicians' realm of responsibility, and they just keep getting worse. But they don't want to talk about the gaps in their data; they want to decry the status quo in classrooms and preserve the status quo in Austin.

If the teacher is the quarterback, Congress is the offensive line. Their performance impacts our performance, but they keep letting us get sacked by poverty, broken homes, student mobility, hunger, health care. And they just say "Oops" as that linebacker blows by them and buries his facemask in our chest. Then we get back to the huddle and they say, "You gotta complete your passes." We're aware of that. Make your blocks, legislators. Give us time to stand in the pocket and throw good passes. Do your job. It doesn't take a great quarterback rating to win games; it takes a team effort.

Have the elected officials in Austin made adequate yearly progress? Nobody knows, because they keep their achievement gaps swept safely under a rug so they can't be criticized, so they can't be held accountable for decades of zero progress. The human cost of their failures is staggering, but our politicians have seen fit to create an accountability system that holds least accountable those with the most power and influence.
I wish that more superintendents would be vocal advocates for public schools. Many are...but are quiet about it. Many are just too busy trying to keep their schools afloat because of budget cuts and restrictive state requirements. On the other hand, many are afraid to stand up for the children in their schools...for public schools.
You can keep your for-profit schools. I want a locally-elected school board that answers to me, to parents and local taxpayers, not to shareholders. I want a quality public education for ALL Texas children. I want adequate and equitable funding, so that families in every part of Texas can count on the consistent quality of our public school system like we count on the consistent quality of our interstate highway system, because we don't want to wreck our children any more than we want to wreck our cars.

Texas officials, you build your hateful machine that blames teachers for the failures of politicians; we'll still be here teaching when your engine of shame is laid upon the scrapheap of history. For now, we'll bravely take these lashes you give because we know that--no matter what you say--the only crime of the public school teacher in 2012 is his or her willingness to embrace and teach broken children. If that's a crime, then find us guilty. If caring for the least of these makes us unacceptable, then bring on your label gun. We're not afraid.
Nancy Flanagan in The Missing Link In Genuine School Reform had this to say...
For school leaders who need inspiration, take a look at Texas Superintendent John Kuhn, standing on the steps of the Capitol in Austin, pouring out his dreams for education.
Take a look below at this superintendent. Wouldn't it be nice to see your local superintendent standing up for your children or your students like this?

"Our achievement gap is an opportunity gap. Our education problem is a poverty problem. Test scores don't scream bad teaching. They scream about our nation's systematic neglect of children who live in the wrong zip codes." -- John Kuhn
Click here for more about John Kuhn.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

How Much Testing is Too Much?

Last week I spoke with a third grade teacher in a local school about testing. His class had just finished taking the Indiana IREAD test and he was about to start administering Acuity.

I remembered that it had only been a couple of weeks since ISTEP was given...the first part of ISTEP, that is...the second part will come later in the Spring...so I asked, "How much time do you spend testing each year?"

I knew that the current trend in education is to test students more than is necessary. I've been writing about excessive testing for a few years now -- since before I retired. Much of it is unnecessary, it's overdone, and the results are being misused.

His response, however, startled me. I wasn't prepared for the extreme amount of testing which is actually taking place in an average classroom in our district. He started adding up the hours...

Acuity is given four times a year at about four hours each time. He went on to tick off the other tests and how much class time is spent in either administering the test or other activities related to the test -- like sharpening pencils, or moving desks (for security purposes) etc. I couldn't keep up so I asked him to add it up for me and send it to me in an email.

Caveat: This is information from one teacher, at one grade level (third grade), in one school in our local district. I believe, however that other teachers at the same grade level in our district would have similar totals.
  • Acuity - 4 times a year @ 4 hours each = 16 hours
  • ISTEP - 2 times a year @ 3 hours each = 6 hours (this is longer than the actual testing minutes but involves sharpening pencils, moving desks, passing out special snacks and so on)
  • TRC - (Individual Reading assessments) - 3 times a year per student = 30 hours. The other students are, ideally, working on other tasks. I also generally take professional days* to complete these.
  • DIBELS - at least 30 minutes per week as they are ongoing -- a total of 20 hours (this is primarily done during computer lab but I would be helping them otherwise)
  • IREAD - Once a year @ 2 hours.

If we add up the group tests first -- Acuity, ISTEP and IREAD -- as well as the extra hours for miscellaneous preparation, we get a total of approximately 24 hours.

But he wasn't done. There is the obligatory test prep -- drilling kids on questions, teaching them how to fill in bubbles, and so on. He wrote...
Add another 25 hours for test prep. This would be test strategies, getting familiar with the format, but primarily a huge chunk of review for the tests or trying to quickly cover a topic in case it's on the test but we have not had the chance to teach it yet.
This gives us a total of about 49 hours of instructional time given over to standardized testing.

The students attend school for about 6.5 hours a day. Of that time there is 55 minutes for lunch and recess. They have one hour and 45 minutes worth of art, music and physical education a week. That's 1 hour and 45 minutes total...not for each...art, music and physical education each only once during the school week -- an average of 21 minutes a day. A 6.5 hour day, minus 55 minutes for lunch and recess each day, minus 21 minutes a day for the arts or physical education yields an instructional day of about 5 and a quarter hours.

A simple calculation will tell us that 49 hours of testing and test prep comes to about 9 and a third days...almost two full weeks of instructional time is spent on these tests.

That doesn't include the time spent by the teacher on testing individual students using TRC and DIBELS. At the very least, those tests take the teacher's time during which he could be working with students. Of course, students can do assignments and work on their own, but, while testing, the teacher is unavailable for questions. At worst TRC and DIBELS add another 10 days of testing. With that added in there's nearly a month of the school year's instructional time -- lost.

It also doesn't include regular classroom tests which are much more valuable to the teacher for assessing students progress such as chapter tests, comprehension tests on classwork, spelling tests, math fact drills, etc.

When are we going to say to our political leaders, most of whom don't have any educational expertise at all, that it's too much...

When he was a candidate (summer 2007) speaking to a group of teachers, Barack Obama said,
Don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of a year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles in a standardized test...You didn't devote your lives to testing. You devoted it to teaching, and teaching is what you should be allowed to do.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012 Medley #6

Teachers' Work Hours, Teacher Pay, Charters, War on Teachers, Cheating, Class Size, Status Quo, Testing, Taking Parents out of Public Education.

Survey: Teachers work 53 hours per week on average
A new report from Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, called Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession, finally quantifies just how hard teachers work: 10 hours and 40 minutes a day on average. That’s a 53-hour work week!
You can read the report at http://www.scholastic.com/primarysources/download.asp

Are Teachers Overpaid?
Since I first wrote this piece, I’ve continued to read and respond and grade and plan and attend meetings and communicate. I’ve now reached 358.75 hours of off-contract time. Now nearly nine weeks of time donated to my students and to my school.

Corporate Foxes in the IN DOE Henhouse: The Chain School Gospel of Jeb Bush, Jon Hage and Walmart
The East Indianapolis Charter Academy and the South Indianapolis Charter Academy, Charter Schools USA claimed, would be “feeder schools” for students to eventually enter the three other Indiana public schools the Florida for-profit company will be handed $2 million yearly to “turnaround.” “Feeder schools” is an appropriate term, for what these schools do is “feed” taxpayer’s money to Charter Schools USA (CS USA) and whatever other for-profit companies it brings to Indiana.

The war on teachers: Why the public is watching it happen by Mark Naison
All over the nation, teachers are under attack. Politicians of both parties, in every state, have blamed teachers and their unions for the nation’s low standing on international tests and our nation’s inability to create the educated labor force our economy needs.

Mass firings of teachers in so-called failing schools have taken place in municipalities throughout the nation and some states have made a public ritual of humiliating teachers. In Los Angeles and New York, teacher ratings based on student standardized test scores — said by many to be inaccurate — have been published by the press. As a result, great teachers have been labeled as incompetent and some are leaving the profession. A new study showed that teachers’ job satisfaction has plummeted in recent years.

What the latest revelations on test cheating really mean
The increasing focus and reliance on standardized tests to evaluate schools and teachers is resulting in cheating. That’s probably inevitable. But it’s also probably minimal. The bigger problem is a more serious type of cheating – one that’s perfectly legal and apparently acceptable. Students are being cheated of a broader education that emphasizes a balance of creativity, extracurricular activities, foreign languages, higher math and science skills and other opportunities due to the over-emphasis on testing for basic math and reading. In this sense, a fixation on testing cheats not only our students but also their communities and the future employers who will depend on their creativity and can-do problem-solving. And our democracy is certainly cheated when our youth are unprepared for healthy civic engagement.

No Surprise Cheating Is Widespread
...I'd like to ask why we are shocked when cheating occurs. After all, reformers demand a business approach to education, and yet cheating scandals are uncovered with increasing frequency in Corporate America. If you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.

Ignoring a reform that works
Two thirds of teachers are experiencing increased class sizes at their schools due to budget cuts, according to a recent national MET life survey . The problem is particularly evident for those who teach in urban areas with large numbers of at-risk students. In schools from New York to Arizona, Texas to California, class sizes in many schools have swelled to thirty or more, denying teachers a real opportunity to teach and children a real chance to learn.

The same survey showed that these worsening conditions have caused a sharp drop in teacher morale, which has fallen to the lowest level in 20 years. As a result, a growing number of teachers say they intend to quit the profession in the next few years. Swelling class sizes and budget cuts have also led to a growing pessimism, with nearly half of teachers saying that it is unlikely that student achievement will have improved five years from now.

What’s especially discouraging is that while class sizes are rising sharply throughout the nation, helping to damage teacher morale and our children’s opportunity to learn, Democratic and Republican elected officials seem unconcerned. In fact, both Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s proposed education budget and the GOP House bill to revise ESEA would sharply cut back on the amount of federal funds districts are able to spend on class size reduction.

‘There is no joy in education these days’
The Speaker of the House says that the status quo will no longer be an option. I could not agree more.

But here is the $64 thousand question: What is the status quo?

Is it the fact that Alabama’s K-12 education budget has gone down every year since FY 2007-08 and will be about $2.6 BILLION less in the coming fiscal year than in 2007-08?

Is it the fact that you have to go all the way back to FY 1998-99 to find another education budget as small as the one the legislature will pass this year?

Is it the fact that No Child Left Behind, the law proposed by president George W. Bush immediately after he took office and then passed in 2001 by Congress with a 90 percent favorable vote, set us down an impossible path to the land of Lake Wobegon where every child will be “above average?”

In Texas, a revolt brews against standardized testing
First, the state education commissioner, Robert Scott, said the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be. He also called “the assessment and accountability regime” not only “a cottage industry but a military-industrial complex,” and he attacked the Common Core Standards Initiative as being motivated by business concerns.

Then he agreed to postpone by a year a requirement that the results of each end-of-course exam account for 15 percent of a student’s final grade in that course.

CT Gov proposes to take the public & parents out of public education
The Connecticut Education Commissioner, Stefan Pryor, is a co-founder and former board member of Achievement First chain of charter schools. If the Governor’s bill passes, Pryor will have the power to take over any struggling school in the state, eviscerating the power of the local school governance council, made up of parents and staff, as well as the district’s elected school board. This proposal reveals clearly how the corporate reformers have no interest in parent empowerment or choice, but are intent on eliminating any public input which gets in their way of their ultimate goal: privatization of our public schools.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Next Phase in the Destruction of America's Public Schools: The Government Report

The Council on Foreign Relations just released a report which calls the failure to adequately educate our children "puts the United States' future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk." In other words, America's public schools are failing and the future of our country is at risk.

The report, titled U.S. Education Reform and National Security claims that we must
Make structural changes to provide students with good choices. "Enhanced choice and competition, in an environment of equitable resource allocation, will fuel the innovation necessary to transform results."
"Choice and competition" -- that means that we need to increase the number of charter schools and vouchers for private schools.

The report task force, chaired by former NYC Chancellor Joel Klein and Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, also says we must
Implement educational expectations and assessments in subjects vital to protecting national security.
...which means that we need to increase testing.

Simply put, the report follows the corporate line spouted by Klein, Bloomberg, Gates, Broad and Duncan -- more money for charters, more money for privatization, and more testing.

It's not surprising that the report "found" just what the corporate interests wanted it to find (this reminds me of the National Reading Panel report. See HERE).

Unfortunately, the news media won't dig deeper into the report and will inform everyone that the public schools have failed which puts the nation in jeopardy. Coupled with the current, regular dose of teacher bashing, the average American will have little trouble concluding that American teachers and their unions are leading the United States on a path of self-destruction.

Fortunately, there are voices (some from the task force itself) who are stating that American schools are not failing, American students are not the worst in the world, test scores do not equal education, teachers are not to blame for everything, and the public schools are not going to doom this nation.

Condi Rice-Joel Klein report: Not the new ‘A Nation at Risk’

Valerie Strauss takes a quick look at the report.
A new report being officially released today — by a Council of Foreign Relations task force chaired by Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice — seems to want very much to be seen as the new “A Nation at Risk,” the seminal 1983 report that warned that America’s future was threatened by a “rising tide of mediocrity” in the country’s public schools.

It’s a pale imitation.

The U.S. Education Reform and National Security report, to be sure, has some similar language and themes of a Nation at Risk. It says (over and over) that America’s national security is threatened because America’s public schools aren’t adequately preparing young people to “fill the ranks of the Foreign Service, the intelligence community, and the armed forces” (or diplomats, spies and soldiers).

But it takes a very different view of the public education system than the authors of “A Nation at Risk,” who sought to find ways to improve public schools and treat the system as a civic institution. The new report seems to look at public schools as if they are the bad guys that need to be put out of business, with a new business taking over, funded with public dollars.
Best part of ‘schools-threaten-national-security’ report: The dissents

Again Valerie Strauss...in a later post she tells about the dissents to the report from members of the task force.
...there is no consensus among professional educators, academic scholars, or engaged citizens about the net impact of charter schools, vouchers, or other forms of privatization, because empirical evidence is mixed. The report leans heavily toward one side in this contested set of issues, however, thereby encouraging a policy course that could do more harm than good.
The report leans heavily towards the corporate line, ignoring the fact that most charter schools are no better than regular public schools, voucher plans have not helped to improve student learning, testing has not improved learning, teachers are not the cause of the economic mess we're in, teachers unions do not produce poorer schools, and on and on and on.

Dissents from the status quo Council on Foreign Relations report

Parents Across America reports on the dissents to the report as well...
While touting the privatization of schools in New Orleans, the report fails to note that many high-need students have been rejected from charters there, that school exclusion rates are extraordinarily high, and that the Southern Poverty Law Center had to sue on behalf of special education students who were unable to gain admission to public schools. Meanwhile, New Orleans remains the lowest-ranked district in the low-performing state of Louisiana. Similarly, the report neglects to mention the many studies that have failed to find positive outcomes of voucher systems when similar students are compared. Finally, the report ignores the fact that our highest-achieving states have all built high-quality systems without charters, vouchers, educational management companies, or other forms of privatization...
Ignoring the facts about American education

Finally, Stephen Krashen states the facts which the report ignored. The problem is poverty. Krashen reminds readers that evidence is necessary to prove a point and that the evidence does not show that America's public schools are failing.
Sent to the Seattle Times, March 20

The Rice-Klein task force (“Education woes linked to national security,” March 19) ignores the facts about American schools. There is no evidence that American schools are failing. Middle-class American students in well-funded schools score at the top of the world on international tests; our overall scores are unspectacular because we have the highest percentage of children living in poverty among all industrialized countries.

This means that the major problem in American education is not a lack of standards. The major problem is poverty, which means food deprivation, lack of health care, and little access to books. The most ambitious standards, the highest quality teaching and the fanciest technology will have little impact when students are hungry, ill, and have little to read.

Stephen Krashen
Professor Emeritus
University of Southern California

Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential;
Coles, G. 2008/2009. Hunger, academic success, and the hard bigotry of indifference. Rethinking Schools 23 (2);
Rothstein, R. (2010). How to fix our schools. Economic Policy Institute, Issue Brief #286. http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/ib286;
Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership 55(4): 18-22;

Original article: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2017790002_apuseducationnationalsecurity.html
The attack on public schools continues -- this time the attackers claim that the public schools are a danger to the safety of the nation. Policy makers are looking for someone to blame for their inability to deal with the pervasive poverty and economic uncertainty under which so many people live (22% of all American children live in poverty, the highest among the world's developed nations). Public education, public school teachers, and the public sector in general are the targets.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Coming Soon to a City Near You

First it was Los Angeles...then New York. Eventually Chicago will follow the Tribune's suggestion (see below) and release teacher evaluation information to the press. Your city might be next.

Gregory Michie, who teaches in the Department of Foundations and Social Policy at Concordia University Chicago, wrote Climate of disrespect for teachers gets worse for the Answer Sheet blog in the Washington Post. His article is a response to an editorial in the Chicago Tribune calling for a publication of teacher ratings like was done in New York and Los Angeles. Michie wrote,
Despite the evidence that value-added models are inconsistent, volatile, and inappropriate for assessing individual teachers, some districts and states (including Illinois) have still decided to adopt them as part of their teacher evaluation systems. It’s bad enough that they’re buying into an error-prone approach. But publicizing the results is beyond the pale. What possible purpose does that serve except to further disrespect and demoralize an already thoroughly bludgeoned teaching force?
The Tribune editorial, titled Grading Teachers: Illinois parents, demand this vital data, was published on March 3, not long after New York released the data for 18,000 teachers. What follows are my comments on the editorial. Read the editorial for yourself (I have not reproduced it all here). I have not linked my responses to references, however, I have included resources at the end which support my comments.

A Priceless Gift
March 3, 2012

New York City officials recently delivered a priceless gift to schoolchildren and their parents: They released ratings for about 18,000 public school teachers that showed which ones helped students excel academically and which ones didn't.
The editorial begins with a misconception as a basis for everything which follows. The assumption in this paragraph is that the ratings for the teachers show which of those teachers help students "excel academically." The ratings might show which ones get higher test scores, but even if that's true, it's not necessarily the same thing.

Wealth of Information
That wealth of information helps stakeholders understand the concept of "value added," and it is the gold standard for teacher accountability. Illinois needs to do this.
The "wealth of information" is invalid and unreliable. If this is the "gold standard" for teacher accountability then there's a serious problem. Good evaluation tools exist for teacher evaluations and I would encourage schools and districts around the country to find a system which works for them. Using student test scores to evaluate a teacher, even the so-called "Value-Added model" (VAM) is not a good measure. There are too many variables which the VAM doesn't address. There is too large a margin of error for the process to yield meaningful results. Standardized achievement tests were not designed to evaluate teachers, so they are not valid for that purpose. The large margin of error shows the unreliability of using the tests.

How it Works
Briefly, here's how the system works: If a student scores higher than 60 percent of his classmates in math one year, but higher than 70 percent the next, then that leap of 10 points is the "value" added by the math teacher. A teacher's rating is based not just on how high her students perform, but on whether they perform better, relative to other kids, than they have in the past.
Do students, their circumstances or their environment never change?

Here are some variables which might change from one year to the next:

Family: a death of someone, incarceration (or return), economic status, divorce, marriage, birth of another child, family illness.

Student: Personal illness (child was healthy during test week last year, but has a cold or other illness this year), mental health issues (as students grow things change, puberty, relationships), physical condition (maybe the child has a toothache this year, or they changed meds for ADHD or some other condition).

Classroom (other than the teacher): Student relationships with peers change, disruptive peers who might not have been in the class last year, loss of a friend who might have moved, condition of the building (a/c not working, not enough heat, noisy radiators, poor air quality).

Teachers are an important in-school variable for student success, but students and their environments are not identical from year to year.

Some True Facts
  • The best-ranked teachers are scattered across the city, in schools large and small, wealthy and poor, The New York Times reported.
  • There's a lot of teacher variation within the best schools. At one elite New York elementary school, just over half the teachers were above average, and the other half were average or below average.
  • Teaching bright students truly doesn't guarantee a teacher a high ranking. Even if high-achieving kids performed well on tests, some teachers were rated below average because the kids were expected to perform even better. That is, the students didn't progress much.
These may all be true, however, the fact that the rankings are invalid and unreliable remains unchanged.

The Teachers Union
New York teachers union leaders fought hard to keep these so-called "value added" rankings from public scrutiny. They argue that the margin of error can be huge. That the scores rely on outdated information. And that standardized tests don't accurately measure a child's true grasp of a subject.

But a New York judge wisely ruled last year that such concerns, though legitimate, were outweighed by the potential benefits of releasing this information. The public "has an interest in the job performance of public employees, particularly in the field of education," Justice Cynthia Kern of the Manhattan state Supreme Court wrote.
I agree that the "public has an interest in the job performance of public employees" however it's interesting that no other public employees personnel ratings are being considered for public display. It's also important that if the public is to see the ratings they should be accurate. These are not. The judge, it seems, was not so wise after all.

The Rating System Relies on Test Scores
Value-added is not the only factor in judging a teacher's performance. A teacher's in-class abilities and mastery of curriculum also needs to count significantly.
But they don't. 40% of a teacher's rating should be based on the test scores, however, the other 60% of a teacher's rating is ignored if the 40% is below the requirement. The rating system says that if the teacher is not successful in the 40% based on the test scores, then they cannot get a satisfactory rating. In other words, the 40% counts for 100%.
But value-added ratings are a powerful indication of a teacher's effectiveness...
No, they're not.

Los Angeles, New York and now, Chicago -- Misinformation
New York is not the first big-city district to have its teachers rated. The Los Angeles Times crunched Los Angeles school district numbers and released about 11,500 teacher rankings in 2010. The newspaper's website was swamped by parents seeking that information. No surprise there.
It's not a surprise that parents are interested in the ratings. Nor is it surprising that so few parents understand the lack of validity and reliability of the ratings. The Chicago Tribune, instead of editorializing in favor of such a flawed evaluation system, should explain to their readers why standardized tests need to only be used for the purpose for which they were constructed, and why huge margins of error reduce the reliability of those tests.

Vital Data
Illinois parents need this same vital data. A sweeping state school reform law already requires districts to take student academic growth into account in a teacher's evaluation...
The data is inaccurate, not vital. The "sweeping state school reform law" is misguided if it includes ranking teachers by student test scores.

Merit Pay
A value-added system will help Illinois educators do a better job identifying and rewarding the most highly effective teachers with, we can hope, markedly higher salaries. The information also can help schools replace educators who simply aren't advancing their students' academic performance.
This is a simplistic call for merit pay, which we know doesn't work.

No teacher should be afraid of a fair evaluation. Teachers who are not performing should be given opportunities to improve or, failing that, should be removed from the classroom. The so-called Value-Added Model, however is not a fair way of evaluating teachers. There are too many variables over which teachers have no control. The VAM claims to eliminate these variables, but it doesn't. Evaluations based on student test scores, using the current VAM are invalid and unreliable.

Comment on my comments: It's interesting that teachers are being told what to teach and how to teach. Then, they are being blamed because the results are not what the "reformers" want.


Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success by David Berliner
Value-Added Evaluation Hurts Teaching: The harm behind the hype by Linda Darling-Hammond
Reporting of Teacher Performance by Walt Gardner
NY principal: Teacher scores inaccurate at my school by Elizabeth Phillips and Valerie Strauss
How to Demoralize Teachers by Diane Ravitch
NYC releases teachers’ value-added scores — unfortunately by Valerie Strauss

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It's the Chopsticks!

At last...the answer! It's the chopsticks!
To be globally competitive, we should all begin to use chopsticks because chopsticks produce better education outcomes as measured by the international gold standard of education the OECD’s PISA, which tests 15 year olds in math, reading, and sciences, and TIMSS, which assess 9-10 and 13-14 year olds math and science abilities. The top five performers in the 2009 PISA math (Shanghai, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan) all use chopsticks, so do the top five in TIMSS math in 2007 (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and Hong Kong), in 2003, and 1999. And PISA and TIMSS scores are what drive nations’ economic growth and back their global competitiveness.
Check out the rest of the article titled, Pass the book, but which one? by Yong Zhao. And just in case you were concerned, later in the article he reminds us that
correlation does not mean causality.

Placing Blame Where it Belongs

Walt Gardner has a blog post, Blame it all on the Teachers Union, in which he rebuts the claim that all the ills of today's "crisis in education" are the fault of America's teachers unions.

He discusses Juan Williams' essay in the Wall Street Journal (complete essay available only with subscription).
Williams says that when schools are free of unions, they succeed because they can fire ineffective teachers, implement merit pay, lengthen the school day, enrich the curriculum and deal with classroom discipline.
Gardner responds,
First, if teachers unions are responsible for low student achievement, then students in states where teachers unions are weak should do much better than students in states where teachers unions are strong. This is not the case. In Massachusetts and Minnesota, where teachers are heavily unionized, students post the highest scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation's report card. Conversely, in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, which have few teachers union members and virtually no union contracts, students have the lowest NAEP scores
Teachers in the highest scoring states (and nations) are all or mostly all members of teachers unions. How, then does it follow that unions are somehow "responsible" for the problems in public education? This question has been asked before...and I would still like to hear the answer to that...

Williams also states that teachers unions obstruct any attempts to change the status quo.
[Williams] claims that teachers unions are "formidable opponents willing to fight even modest efforts to alter the status quo." Their obstructionism is responsible for the one million high school dropouts each year and for a graduation rate of less than 50 percent for black and Hispanic students.
As Diane Ravitch has said many times, the status quo is No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Charter schools, standardized testing, mayoral control, standardized testing, using student scores to evaluate teachers, standardized testing, public humiliation of teachers and schools, standardized testing...all that continues unabated and we're still waiting for the improvement. The "reformers" own the status quo, not the teachers unions.

Now, let's back up for a moment and look at what Gardner didn't respond to in Williams' comments.

1. Williams said that when schools are free of unions they succeed because they can fire ineffective teachers.

I know that Juan Williams isn't going to read this, but I'd like to know where he gets that information. Firing teachers -- and administrators -- has been tried. Schools have been closed, teachers and administrators fired or replaced, and still the students who were struggling continue to struggle. A cheer arose from the corporate reformers (including Arne Duncan and Barak Obama) when the entire staff of Central Falls High School in Central Falls, RI, was fired. Did their achievement improve?

Did the achievement improve for the students in NYC who have been shuffled around from school to school following closings and firings and re-openings as charter schools? Not according to the all-important test scores.

And, do I need to repeat it again and again? Incompetent teachers can be fired if administrators would do their jobs. Unions exist to protect teachers rights. If teachers get good evaluations year after year, and then an administrator suddenly decides that they are not good enough to be in the classroom, that conclusion needs to be justified and proven...just like teachers have to justify the grades they give students. Teachers are entitled to due process...just like other citizens.

2. Williams said that when schools are free of unions they succeed because they can implement merit pay.

Someone should inform Williams of the facts.

Teacher performance pay alone does not raise student test scores
Rewarding teachers with bonus pay, in the absence of any other support programs, does not raise student test scores, according to a new study issued today by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development in partnership with the RAND Corporation.
3. Williams said that when schools are free of unions they succeed because they can lengthen the school day.

Some studies show that increasing the school day results in improvements, however charter schools in Illinois, which usually have a longer school day than regular public schools, did no better on the most recent round of achievement testing.

I think that the first answer to this comment is that a longer school day needs more study.

The second answer is to respond with some questions. Why might teachers be against a longer school day? Is it because they are asking for something in return for working more hours? Would your *attorney bill you more if you asked him to work more hours? Would your doctor charge you more if you scheduled two appointments instead of just one? Would your trash company not raise your rates if you demanded two pick ups a week? Would the cab driver turn off the meter if you suggested he drive around for an extra hour on your trip to the hotel or airport? Would you ask for more money if your employer asked you to work an extra 5 - 8 hours a week?

Are teachers somehow immune to the demands of increased hours on their schedule? If we need to work more hours, then we should be paid for them...just like doctors, lawyers, cab drivers, and trash haulers.

*Maybe teachers should start charging by the client hour like attorneys. Let's see minimum wage in Indiana is $7.25 per hour. So...$7.25 per hour, for 8 hours a day, for each "client." Let's start with a small class...like 25 students. The school year in Indiana requires that students have 180 school days...so, here's the math.

$7.25 * 8 hours * 180 days * 25 students = $261,000 for 1 school year.

Maybe I should come out of retirement...

4. Williams said that when schools are free of unions they succeed because they can enrich the curriculum.

I didn't know that teachers were against enriching the curriculum. In my experience it's been states and school districts who have cut the arts and asked teachers to focus on reading and math in order to get more students to pass "the test." Where are teachers unions asking that their schools offer less curricular offerings?

Oh...maybe teachers want to be paid for more work...if that's it, see #3 above.

5. Williams said that when schools are free of unions they succeed because they can deal with classroom discipline.

What unions are against dealing with classroom discipline? If anything, unions ask school systems to provide teachers with more support for classroom discipline. Both the NEA and the AFT have extensive resources on classroom and school discipline. Why does Williams think that unions are against dealing with classroom discipline?

Gardner concludes,
I don't know why Williams chose to perpetuate hoary myths at this time, but his charges will only set back the cause he claims to espouse. Teachers unions are not saintly, but neither are they evil. Bringing about change first requires the acknowledgement of reality.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Shocking News -- Teacher Morale Lowest it's been in Decades

It's official. The job satisfaction of American teachers has dropped to the lowest point in decades. (Hint: A Nation at Risk was published in 1983.) According to the 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, about a third of our public school teachers are considering a job change.

Does this surprise anyone who is familiar with what's been happening to public schools since A Nation at Risk?

Dennis Van Roekel, NEA President who has been buddying up to the public school killers in the US DOE,
described this finding as “shocking” and said it was clear evidence that ill-conceived economic policies are having devastating consequences on teachers and students across the country.
He's right, of course, but shocking? Only if you haven't been paying attention. I'm guessing that DVR's comment is more a political statement than actual shock. He knows full well that the corporate reformers and the religious right have been working to privatize public education for decades...the latter for conservative religious reasons, the former out of greed. They've joined together to kill the profession of teaching by removing collective bargaining and teachers' job security -- by taking away their professionalism and autonomy. They have made the job of teaching so stressful that only the most selfless, dedicated teachers, or the most self-destructive, would continue to beat their heads against the corporate wall day after day. They have targeted teachers...in Wisconsin, even after teachers agreed to the State's unreasonable demands...in New York, where public employees were attacked and when the smoke cleared only the teachers were the ones who paid the price...and in Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and elsewhere. Governors and legislators who get their instructions from the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, Bill Gates or ALEC, focus their sights on public schools with increased funding to charters and private schools, while increased "accountability" and decreased funding go to public schools.

Yet it seems that only teachers are accountable. In NYC and Los Angeles, the daily newspapers have listed the teachers and their students' test scores. All the talk from Arne Duncan, the US DOE and President Obama about "not teaching to the test" is just so much hot air. Race to the Top forces states to require teaching to the test or lose funding. Teachers know that they must teach to the test of lose their jobs. The irony is that teachers are being held accountable for teaching what they are being forced to teach. Anthony Cody had this to say in March Madness Begins in Our Schools: It's Test Prep Time...
Sarah Puglisi asks a very potent question:
If a very bad curriculum is mandated script style and it produces poor state test results, say in the adoption of an awful math program and then the insistence of following it lock step, why would the teacher be slammed in value-added measuring in her evaluation when in fact she's following "orders"?
This uncovers the real trouble. While it is supposed to "hold teachers accountable" for results, this system actually DESTROYS genuine accountability, by taking responsibility and agency away from teachers. This system is bound to fail, but meanwhile, our students are being robbed.
Teachers are being forced to teach a certain way and then punished when it doesn't work. With no say in what or how to teach is it any wonder that teacher morale is low? Walt Gardner explains in Killing Teacher Morale Is Easy
Teachers (and their unions) have been made scapegoats for all the ills afflicting public schools. The unrelenting criticism makes them feel unappreciated. It's important to remember that teachers do not choose the profession for fame, fortune or power. They do so because they want to help young people reach their full potential.

It's hard to come away with anything encouraging from the MetLife Survey. I say that after careful consideration because the conditions that are responsible for teacher dissatisfaction today will only get worse in the years ahead. With approximately 2.2 million teachers expected to retire in the next decade, efforts to recruit top talent to the classroom will be a daunting challenge. This will be especially so because 200,000 or more new teachers in math and science alone will be needed. Who will want to make teaching in a public school a career?
(Let's see a show of hands -- Who decided to become a teacher because it was an easy way to get rich?)

Where is the accountability for those who are responsible for 22% of American children living in poverty? Where is the accountability for those who have drained the funding for public education (and, indeed, for the rest of the economy)? Where is the accountability for those who lie about the success of our students and the quality of our teachers?

Lily Eskelsen, NEA's Vice President, reports on the survey, too...
Survey findings reinforce what educators have been saying for years, NEA Vice-president Lily Eskelsen said. Positive working conditions enhance the quality of teaching and learning in all schools. Those conditions come when teachers are given resources, support and opportunities to collaborate and grow.

“We must work to address issues around job satisfaction and turnover rates in high needs schools,” Eskelsen said. “In what other profession are novices assigned the most challenging work, often without adequate resources and support, and expected to flourish?

She added that to have effective teachers in every classroom, there must be adequate induction, mentoring, teacher teams, and professional development.
Yes, teacher morale is lower than it's been in decades.
  • if you had no job security
  • if your job evaluations depended on factors beyond your control
  • if you were demonized daily by the media and politicians
  • if your professional expertise was ignored because you weren't a billionaire
  • if your private personnel information (valid or invalid) were published in the newspaper
  • and if you still had to put in your 50 hours a week just to keep your head above water...
...how would you feel?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What Teachers Would Like to Say

Yes...this explains a lot!

ruralteacher, a blogger who
was born in small town. Went to school in that same small town. Now I teach in that same small town.
The number one thing that ruralteacher would like to say out loud, but feels like s/he cannot is...
My name. In my small town, if I ever attached my name to this blog, I’m not sure what would happen. Perhaps I would be praised, and perhaps I would be called to the Principal or Superintendent’s Office and politely asked to stop. The stories I tell are MY stories, but there are others that could be impacted if my identity were known. This is the FEAR that teachers live with – fear of speaking up and out because we, quite honestly, have mouths to feed, kids to put through college, and mortgages and taxes to pay. It’s gotten so bad that many of us don’t speak up at Faculty Meetings or Union Meetings – we just put our heads down, dance faster, work harder and wonder how long til we can retire because teaching has become WORK...
ruralteacher has 9 additional things that s/he would like to be able to say out loud...

You can read the complete list (with nothing edited out and without my interrupting comments) at Top 10 Things I Wish I Could Say Out Loud by rural teacher
10. The State Tests, SATs, ACTs and any other High Stakes Test that you take will NOT predict your future success in life. If anyone tells you that your success in life – as a productive citizen who is well-adjusted- depends on a TEST score, they are LYING TO YOU! Your life, your child’s life will be measured in many ways, but I can guarantee you that NO ONE is going to care what score you or your child got on a 3rd grade State Assessment...
9. I did NOT become a teacher to have my summers off! ...My summers are spent cleaning up last year and preparing for next year....I am in my classroom unpacking supplies, rearranging the room, organizing materials, throwing out what didn’t work, washing the cupboards, dusting the shelves, and planning the ‘big picture’ for my new students. Sometimes, I’m at endless training sessions by choice or at the demand of my school district...
In addition, the amount of time which teachers spent working during the school year makes up for some of the time off. The average teacher works about 50 hours a week which more than makes up for the time "off" during the summer.
8. I only get paid for 10 months of work. As my school district continually points out to me: I am a 10 month employee. I get a salary for 10 months’ work that I must spread over 12 months of living.
Twenty years ago (or more) I was in the post office in our small town. I was talking to the postmaster (who has long since retired) about my job as a teacher. He said something about vacation days. I said that we get no paid vacation. When I was teaching I was paid for 185 days of work. That was all. Summer, Spring and Christmas "vacations" were just days off...no pay. He refused to believe me.
7. Having tenure does not mean I have my job “for life” no matter what I do. All that being “tenured” guarantees me is due process and some representation in the event that I am accused of something that would warrant my dismissal as a teacher. Actually, with a contract, there are very easy ways for an administration to terminate me whether I have tenure or not: consistently being late, not completing report cards, any failure to complete my “job duties”, and now in NY two years of an “ineffective” student test score rating...
6. Going to school sick is better than writing plans for a substitute. I actually have LOTS of accumulated sick time simply because it’s MUCH easier to go to school and get through the day with a pounding headache or a cough than it is to try to write plans for a sub....my plans have to actually include so much step by step detail that it’s just easier to go to school...
There were days when I was so sick that I would get in my car, drive the 45 minutes to Monroeville Elementary, add step by step details to my plans, drive the 45 minutes back home, and fall back into bed.

I started my teaching career as a substitute. That experience taught me that being a substitute teacher is one of the hardest jobs in public education. Classroom teachers are child-watchers. They learn about their students through interaction and conversation as well as instruction and assessment. Much of that knowledge about their students is not written down...indeed, writing it down would be impossibly tedious especially in this age of large class sizes. This is what makes classroom teachers so valuable when it comes to analyzing student achievement (and, I might add, this is what more "reformers" don't understand). A good substitute doesn't have this knowledge. The step by step instructions which classroom teachers leave for substitutes includes more than just a daily schedule and a list of assignments. It includes details about students...who needs extra help, who has behavior issues, who needs an extra pat on the back, who is having trouble at home, who is helpful...all those things that can't be measured by standardized tests. A sub has to be able to take in all that information as well as the actual lesson plans during the 30 minutes between the time she arrives and the time the students arrive.

Yes, it's often easier to go to work when you're sick...
5. The Principal’s Office and the Superintendent’s Office are STILL scary places to be! When I get the phone call or the email or the written note that the Principal or Superintendent wants to see me – I tremble a little. I start to wonder if a parent has a concern that he or she didn’t address with me...Worst are the ‘direct, explicit instructions’ to do or not do something that I know would be good for kids. If I don’t follow those instructions – I am insubordinate and could be fired.
The last comment in this item is the most important. Every day, teachers are asked to do things which they know are not in the best interest of their students. If they don't do them they can get fired (yes, they can get fired. Mr. Statistician, I'm talking to you!). If they do them they are betraying their professional responsibility.
4. The Board of Education, the Governor, the President are taking advice and making decisions about your child’s education from people who have never taught a day in their lives! All the talk about EDUCATION REFORM in the US is being framed and led by people who have little to no experience as classroom teachers in any capacity. The ideas that are gaining momentum – more testing, using test data to rate teachers, privatizing schools, creating MORE charter schools – are NOT based on anything that educators know about child development, developmentally appropriate practices, or what we have learned about LEARNING.
The Secretary of Education of the United States has never taught in a public school (or anywhere else, for that matter). He attended private schools as a child. He is responsible for the current administration's education policy. President Obama, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and the other candidates for US President, have never taught in the public schools of the US. Neither has Joel Klein, former chancellor of NYC schools or NYC Mayor Michael Bloomburg.

Bill Gates, Eli Broad and Oprah Winfrey, billionaires who throw money at "reformers", have never stood in front of a classroom (except perhaps as a "guest") and been responsible for the education of children.

Michelle Rhee taught for three years...
3. The “experts” you see on TV during things like NBC’s “Education Nation” or in the movie “Waiting for Superman” do NOT have children’s best interests at heart. Sadly, many of the ‘experts’ are simply folks who have a whole heck of a lot of money and have decided to use it to shape education policy so that they can get richer. It’s interesting when you start to follow the money – from the approved test vendors to the pockets of the politicians. These ‘experts’ are looking to grab a piece of the pie in the form of MORE MONEY FOR THEM on the backs and lives of your children. They are shaping policies that have no basis in what may actually be good for students, but instead in what is good to add to their piles of money.

2. Even though, as a teacher I am vilified in the press, I still LOVE teaching! Teaching and being a teacher is MY LIFE. The smiles, the hugs, the drawings, the ‘aha moments’ that I get to see MAKE MY DAY! I am so lucky to have a career that I truly love- when I am left to do what I do best – TEACH!! I never imagined doing anything else with my life. I haven’t gone on to be an administrator because I honestly love being with my students every day. I would miss it terribly if I couldn’t do it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Taking Back Our Classrooms in North Carolina

From the Advancement Project via Schools Matter.

Taking Back Our Classrooms: The United Struggle of Teachers, Students, and Parents in North Carolina Against High-Stakes Testing

March 5, 2012

North Carolina students, parents and teachers say the state’s use of high-stakes testing as its primary means of evaluating students and schools is ineffective, counterproductive, and denies young people the quality education they deserve, according to a new report.

Released today by Advancement Project, Advocates for Children’s Services and the North Carolina NAACP, Taking Back Our Classrooms: The United Struggle of Teachers, Students and Parents in North Carolina Against High-Stakes Testing shares the experiences of more than 100 teachers, students and parents across five counties – Wake, Durham, Buncombe, Mecklenburg, and Guilford – and the results of a statewide survey of 600 teachers. The report offers their collective recommendations for structuring an accountability system which reflects the realities of classrooms across the state.

Key recommendations include:
  • Establishing classroom-based assessment and accountability for students, teachers and schools by offering multiple methods of evaluating students with different learning styles and incorporates peer reviews into teacher evaluations.
  • Equipping students to be active and engaged participants in society by focusing on the development of “life skills” and encouraging them to challenge ideas.
  • Focusing on early interventions for literacy as a basis for all learning.
  • Providing meaningful professional development opportunities for teachers around classroom management.
  • Establishing a system for evaluating implementation of reform efforts and identifying disparities in access to quality education.
Attached files
Taking Back our Classrooms Executive Summary (1.42MB PDF)
Taking Back our Classrooms Report (14.60MB PDF)
Taking Back our Classrooms Action Kit (1.57MB PDF)

xposted at NEIFPE

2012 Medley #5

Poverty, the Economy, Politics,
Accountability, Evaluations, Testing.

Income More Important Than Race in Achievement Gap
...we should be grateful that the subject is given such prominence. After all, critics insist that any such explanation is nothing but an excuse. They minimize the implications for schools that more than one in five children now live in poverty...almost a ten percent increase over 2008...To put this data into human terms, the increase brings the total number to 15.5 million children. As a result, the U.S. retains the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world...

Are public schools unfairly blamed for America’s economic woes?
...schools are being blamed for the economic failures of the communities in which they are located and for the educational failures of their students. Their teachers are publicly pilloried as overpaid, selfish and a drain on a national economy that requires schools to be run with the efficiency of American business.

My reaction: “What? American business? Efficient?” Whose failing enterprises left 10 miles of waterfront in Youngstown a wasteland of rusting steel, rotting lumber and old tires? And took three quarters of the jobs away from the largest auto producing center in the nation? And left the majority of its adult males without employment? And created a 150-mile stretch of Amtrak from Newark to Baltimore with at least 500 abandoned factories and warehouses that have never been rebuilt? And that was just in he ‘80’s and ‘90’s!

Whose uncontrolled financial speculation led to the more recent troubles of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and the American International Group, along with the disappearance of $7 trillion Dollars in wealth once owned by individuals, pension funds, banks and insurance companies? Are 28 percent of the homes in the United States under water because of union teachers? Can they also be blamed for the 44 percent black unemployment rate in the city of Milwaukee?

Dear Mr. President
If only the policies your administration advocates were...supportive of teachers and what we see as the best interest of our students.

There are words - Secretary Duncan saying to Roland Martin of NBC
The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.
...and the Secretary and you approving of the firing of all the teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. Things like these do not give us confidence that your administration has the best interest of students at heart, and give us great pause in thinking that you really care about teachers.

Education as "Politically Contested Spaces"
Every choice made by an administrator, a teacher, and a student is a political choice. Humans are always in a state of politics, a negotiation of power. To deny this is to push our political nature beneath the surface (that which shall not be spoken) and relinquishing the power to the status quo.

Who is Accountable for Teaching Contexts?
The people supporting school closures and turnarounds act as if all teachers were being given the same level playing field to work from, and were simply not good enough thus justifying mass firings. We all know this is simply not the case.

Some principals are supportive and helpful, while others are vindictive and cruel. Who is accountable for this? Some schools put special education as a priority while others warehouse students with special needs in the “resource rooms”. Who is accountable? Some schools are given funding for arts, music, and gym class every day, while others can only afford one part-time position music OR art. Who is accountable? Some schools invest in small class sizes while others have huge split classes squeezing 40+ students into one room. Who is accountable? Some schools have a full-time social worker and nurse, while many only have a social worker and nurse one day a week at best. Who is accountable? Some schools rely on far too many untrained and uncertified teachers meaning a cohort of children will not be prepared well. Who is accountable? Many schools have excessive teacher turnover. Who is held accountable for the terrible teaching conditions which drive teachers away?

...So let’s hold the people who distribute the resources accountable! Let’s grade our politicians and chief financial officers! “Ineffective” does not even begin to describe the rating they should get....

Phony Stories About Schools
Most find it unbelievable that there was no past golden age of schooling, or that our economy didn't tank because of school failure. (Were GM workers less skilled than Japan's in the 60s? Do the Chinese have a more technologically sophisticated workforce than the USA? Be honest Mr. Gates et al—you went to China for cheap labor.)

What makes folks so susceptible to an almost entirely phony story? Aside from widespread ignorance about statistics. I remember how annoyed I was in the '70s to hear reporters note that, alas, after so much effort, half the kids were still reading below grade level—which was statistically how grade level was defined.

Vince Marsala: Politicians are Wrecking Our Schools
...a successful school vision has an involved community, students, and parents, a stable, experienced staff, adequate resources, and a balanced curriculum. As conservative and liberal politicians continue dragging education back and forth to earn votes and the media's praise, teachers, principals and their professions are being unfairly bashed, and their students are being thought of solely as test scores. When Mercutio died in Romeo and Juliet, he yelled," A plague o' both your houses!" Many educators would say the same to both political parties today.

Evaluating Teacher Evaluation
Using VAMs for individual teacher evaluation is based on the belief that measured achievement gains for a specific teacher’s students reflect that teacher’s “effectiveness.” This attribution, however, assumes that student learning is measured well by a given test, is influenced by the teacher alone, and is independent from the growth of classmates and other aspects of the classroom context. None of these assumptions is well supported by current evidence.
Most importantly, research reveals that gains in student achievement are influenced by much more than any individual teacher. Others factors include:
  • School factors such as class sizes, curriculum materials, instructional time, availability of specialists and tutors, and resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, and more);
  • Home and community supports or challenges;
  • Individual student needs and abilities, health, and attendance;
  • Peer culture and achievement;
  • Prior teachers and schooling, as well as other current teachers;
  • Differential summer learning loss, which especially affects low-income children; and
  • The specific tests used, which emphasize some kinds of learning and not others and which rarely measure achievement that is well above or below grade level.
However, value-added models don’t actually measure most of these factors. VAMs rely on statistical controls for past achievement to parse out the small portion of student gains that is due to other factors, of which the teacher is only one. As a consequence, researchers have documented a number of problems with VAM models as accurate measures of teachers’ effectiveness.

Report: Test-based incentives don’t produce real student achievement

This is a report which was released last May. It's worth reading again. Pay close attention..."The report, together with a number of other studies...serve as a warning to policymakers..."
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.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What We Know

A KWL chart is a simple graphic organizer which we can use to guide research and learning.

We use the KWL chart by simply filling in the columns. The first column, What I Know, is used to activate prior knowledge and organize what we already know. The second column, What I Want to Know, sets our learning goals. The third column, What I Learned, is the place to record what we have learned about our research.

I decided to try applying the KWL chart to current controversies in public education. I only got as far as the What I Know...

A. We know that standardized tests don't measure what children learn.

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." -- Albert Einstein

Measuring What Matters Least
Test results don't necessarily indicate achievement, but rather, tend to be much more accurate indicators of the size of a student's house or the income of the student's parents. Research has indicated that the amount of poverty found in a community, and other factors that have absolutely nothing to do with what happens in the classroom, account for the great majority of differences in test scores from one area to another.
Standardized tests don't measure:
the ability to listen, appreciation, artistic ability, assimilation of ideas, attitude, beauty, character, clear thinking, commitment, constructing an argument, cooperation, curiosity, diligence, discernment, discovery, effort, encouragement, enthusiasm, ethical reflection, exploration, foresight, good will, higher order thinking skills, honesty, honor, humility, humor, imagination, integration of information, integrity, initiative, insight, intuition, irony, joy, judgment, kindness, leadership, motivation, musical ability, nuance, optimism, organizing information, originality, patience, perceptiveness, perseverance, personality, potential, respect, responsibility, self-control, social sensitivity, spontaneity, strength, teamwork, tolerance, understanding, virtue, vision, wisdom
Also see:
Misconceptions of Achievement Testing
What's Wrong With Standardized Tests?
Standardized Testing and Its Victims

B. We know that standardized tests shouldn't be used for teacher evaluations.

A Dangerous Obsession by Linda Darling-Hammond
Recent research shows that test score gains are highly unstable and error-prone for measuring individual teachers, and that making high-stakes decisions based on these tests causes schools to reduce their teaching of important content and skills not measured by the tests. As a group of leading researchers warned last week before the New York Regents voted on such a scheme, we can expect teaching and curriculum to be narrowed further as teachers focus more intensely on these tests, and we can expect teachers to seek to avoid serving special education students, new English learners and others whose learning is poorly measured by the tests.
Evaluating Teacher Evaluation by Linda Darling-Hammond, Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, Edward Haertel and Jesse Rothstein
Using VAMs [Value-Added models] for individual teacher evaluation is based on the belief that measured achievement gains for a specific teacher’s students reflect that teacher’s “effectiveness.” This attribution, however, assumes that student learning is measured well by a given test, is influenced by the teacher alone, and is independent from the growth of classmates and other aspects of the classroom context. None of these assumptions is well supported by current evidence.

Most importantly, research reveals that gains in student achievement are influenced by much more than any individual teacher. Others factors include:
  • School factors such as class sizes, curriculum materials, instructional time, availability of specialists and tutors, and resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, and more);
  • Home and community supports or challenges;
  • Individual student needs and abilities, health, and attendance;
  • Peer culture and achievement;
  • Prior teachers and schooling, as well as other current teachers;
  • Differential summer learning loss, which especially affects low-income children; and
  • The specific tests used, which emphasize some kinds of learning and not others and which rarely measure achievement that is well above or below grade level.

C. We know that teachers aren't in it for the money and so-called "merit pay" schemes don't work.

Teacher performance pay alone does not raise student test scores
Rewarding teachers with bonus pay, in the absence of any other support programs, does not raise student test scores, according to a new study issued today by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development in partnership with the RAND Corporation.

D. We know that Poverty is not an excuse. It's a condition and it has implications for learning.

Stephen Krashen questions whether our schools are broken
Reduce poverty to improve education, not vice-versa

The fact that American students who are not living in poverty do very well shows that there is no crisis in teacher quality. The problem is poverty. The US Department of Education insists that improving teaching comes first: With better teaching, we will have more learning (higher test scores, according to the feds), and this will improve the economy. We are always interested in improving teaching, but the best teaching in the world will have little effect when students are hungry, are in poor health because of inadequate diet and inadequate health care, and have low literacy development because of a lack of access to books. Also, studies have failed to find a correlation between improved test scores and subsequent economic progress.

The relationship is the other way around: “We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.” (Martin Luther King, 1967, Final Words of Advice).

E. We know that class size matters.

The 7 Myths of Class Size Reduction -- And the Truth
The Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the United States Department of Education has concluded that class size reduction is one of only four, evidence-based reforms that have been proven to increase student achievement through rigorous, randomized experiments -- the "gold standard" of research.
Also see:
Class Size: Counting Students Can Count

F. We know that teachers unions aren't responsible for poor schools.

Do Teacher Unions Hinder Educational Performance?: Lessons Learned from State SAT and ACT Scores
"Do teacher unions hinder educational performance?" Focusing on two of the best-known standardized tests, the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT), the authors examine whether interstate variation in standardized test performance is negatively linked to interstate variation in teacher unions. They find a significant and positive relationship: that is, the presence of teacher unions appears to be linked to stronger state performance on these exams. These findings challenge the position that teacher unions depress student academic performance, and in so doing invite further empirical scholarship on this topic from a range of academic disciplines.
Also see:
Five myths about America’s schools

G. We know that most charter schools are no better than regular public schools. Some are better, but many are worse.

The Myth of Charter Schools by Diane Ravitch
Some fact-checking is in order...only one in five charter schools is able to get the “amazing results” that it celebrates. Nothing more is said about this astonishing statistic. It is drawn from a national study of charter schools by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond...Known as the CREDO study, it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school. The proportion of charters that get amazing results is far smaller than 17 percent. Why did Davis Guggenheim [Waiting for Superman] pay no attention to the charter schools that are run by incompetent leaders or corporations mainly concerned to make money? Why propound to an unknowing public the myth that charter schools are the answer to our educational woes, when the filmmaker knows that there are twice as many failing charters as there are successful ones? Why not give an honest accounting?

H. We know that American public education is not failing. American economic policy is failing.

Poverty is the problem that must be solved... Our Schools Are Not Broken...
Studies show that middle-class American students attending well-funded schools outscore students in nearly all other countries on these tests. Overall scores are unspectacular because over 20% of our students live in poverty, the highest percentage among all industrialized countries. High-scoring Finland, for example, first on the PISA science test in 2006, has less than 4% child poverty.

Reduce poverty to improve education, not vice-versa
See also:
Protecting Students Against the Effects of Poverty: Libraries

Saturday, March 3, 2012

AR - Reading Incentive or Reading Chore?

Accelerated Reader is a Reading Incentive Program which started out encouraging kids to read...and has grown into a massive data collection project.

Susan Ohanian explains how it works in Accelerated Reader: The Data Softshoe.
With the Business Roundtable and the U. S. Department of Education preaching that teachers can’t manage what they don’t measure, Renaissance Learning™, offers Accelerated Reader, reading management software that promises teachers an easy way to let computers measure and keep track of what students read. This means that students must choose books in a computer-determined Zone, say, Grade 3.5 to 4.0. The student reads the book and takes a computer-delivered multiple choice test. The test results dictate the reading Zone allowed for her next book choice. Zones are determined by a readability formula that counts syllables and sentence length—resulting in the information that The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Color Purple are both written at a 4.0 reading level.

They call this science.

Schools label existing library books according to the AR system and limit new purchases to books in the AR system. In many libraries, books are then shelved by AR numbers instead of by the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress system. This means that in an AR-arranged library, the 2.6 Zone books hang out together, so Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy sits next to High interest/low readability titles also clocking in at 2.6--such as Nuclear Submarines and Keeping Cholesterol Low, not Junie B. Jones and Her Big Fat Mouth (2.3) or Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook (3.0).

More often than not, librarians disappear; replaced by paraprofessionals who make sure the computers deliver the tests on schedule. The teacher’s role is reduced to that of data tracker. Here’s how AR describes it:
AR systematically gathers student-level information on daily practice. The software produces reports, which helps teachers track individual progress and consequently make instructional decisions based on the data they receive.
The “information” is student scores on multiple choice test; no enjoyment, insight, or curiosity.
Many schools require students to get a certain number of points, which encourages students to choose books with high point totals rather than books matching their interests. This has the effect of teaching students that reading is done for a reward, not that reading is a valuable learning tool or a fun activity.

Jim Trelease, author of the Read Aloud Handbook has this to say about Accelerated Reader...
Believe it or not, high reading scores have been accomplished in communities without computerized incentive programs, places where there are first-class school and classroom libraries, where the teachers motivate children by reading aloud to them, give book talks, and include SSR/DEAR time as an essential part of the daily curriculum. And the money that would have gone to the computer tests went instead to building a larger library collection. Unfortunately, such instances are rare. Where the scores are low, oftentimes so is the teacher’s knowledge of children’s literature, the library collection is meager to dreadful, and drill and skill supplant SSR/DEAR time.

Here are some serious negatives to guard against:
  • Some teachers and librarians have stopped reading children’s and young adult books because the computer will ask the questions instead.
  • Class discussion of books decreases because a discussion would give away test answers, and all that matters is the electronic score.
  • Students narrow their book selection to only those included in the program (points).
  • In areas where the “points” have been made part of either the grade or classroom competition, some students attempt books far beyond their level and end up frustrated.
Before committing precious dollars to such a program, a district must decide its purpose: Is it there to motivate children to read more or to create another grading platform?
Is this focus on reading for points rather than reading for pleasure or knowledge the fault of Accelerated Reader and Renaissance Learning? Award winning author Susan Straight (Highwire Moon, A Million Nightengales) wrote about Accelerated Reader for the New York Times Sunday Book Review a couple of years ago.
Librarians and teachers report that students will almost always refuse to read a book not on the Accelerated Reader list, because they won’t receive points. They base their reading choices not on something they think looks interesting, but by how many points they will get. The passion and serendipity of choosing a book at the library based on the subject or the cover or the first page is nearly gone, as well as the excitement of reading a book simply for pleasure. This is not all the fault of Renaissance Learning, which I believe is trying to help schools encourage students to read. Defenders of the program say the problem isn’t with Accelerated Reader itself, but with how it is often implemented, with the emphasis on point-gathering above all else. But when I looked at Renaissance Learning’s Web site again this summer, I noticed the tag line under the company name: “Advanced Technology for Data-Driven Schools.” That constant drive for data is all too typical in the age of No Child Left Behind, helping to replace a freely discovered love of language and story with a more rigid way of reading.
Parents, how is AR used at your child's school? Is it an incentive program used to open up the world of words to your child or is it adding stress to the already pressure filled data gathering which is the driving force behind America's public education system? Is it helping them enjoy reading for reading's sake, or just another chore?