"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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Medley #38

Testing, The NYT and Corporate "Reform," Gaslighting, Education is not Business

My last post of 2015.


The Counterfeit High School Diploma

The New York Times printed this editorial today. It's all the teachers unions' fault.
Teachers unions and other critics of federally required standardized tests have behaved in recent years as though killing the testing mandate would magically remedy everything that ails education in the United States. In reality, getting rid of the testing requirement in the early grades would make it impossible for the country to know what if anything children were learning from year to year.
This makes sense only if you believe, as the NYT editorial board apparently does, that yearly standardized testing is the only way to know if our students are learning.

"Teachers unions and other critics" don't claim that reduced testing would magically remedy everything that ails education. I'm a member of a teachers union as well as a critic of yearly standardized testing and I, for one, have never claimed that no-testing would solve everything. Neither have I heard anyone else suggest that, from the bloggers who write against so-called "education reform" to the leaders of America's largest teachers unions. Most, like me, blame a great deal of our education struggles on the high levels of child poverty in the U.S. Testing isn't the enemy, but it's being misused and overused. Most standardized testing tells us what we already know...that students who live in poverty achieve at lower levels than students who don't.

"Getting rid of the testing requirement in the early grades" isn't necessary because, federally required testing doesn't begin until third grade, the oldest of the grades traditionally considered "the early grades." Should we get rid of testing in third grade? The Finns don't test third graders and their students seem to do ok. However, simply getting rid of testing is not going to solve all the education problems in America.

Maybe, instead, we ought to fully fund our public schools, provide wraparound services for children who need them, and work to alleviate the effects of childhood poverty. The Chicago Teachers Union, a real union of professionals, not the imaginary "Teachers unions" that the NYT refers to, published ways to actually improve the lives of children. You can learn about the ways to help children by reading a summary of The Schools Chicago's Children Deserve. If you wish, you can read the entire document, HERE. The suggestions work for all children...not just those in my home town of Chicago.

Peter Greene has done his usual masterful job in his own response to the NYT editorial. He lets us know that the editorial tells us just what the Gates Foundation and Achieve (with a Board of Directors filled with a Who's Who of Corporate and Political America) want us to hear.

He writes...

NYT Spots the Problem
...There are other big chunks of wrong, well-worn and repeatedly gnawed on by commenters, like the old baloney that the teacher unions Common Core (they didn't-- they supported it and continue to do so) and the connected testing because they "did not want to be evaluated based on how much students learned," a statement which ignores the question of whether the Big Standardized Tests actually measure any such thing, and which also ignores the rich and detailed arguments about these points that are all over the interwebs.

So here's the big question? How did the New York Times editorial board get so very much wrong? Does the NYT not have Google? I mean-- here's my New York Times story. One of my oldest friends from here in our small NW PA town now lives in Manhattan, and when he got married years ago, his wedding announcement ran in the NYT. A fact-checker called to verify the name of the business that his mother runs here in our population 7000 town hundreds of miles away. That's the level of commitment to accuracy that I associate with the the NYT.

What's the problem? I think we can find it in these two sentences:

A recent study from Achieve, a nonpartisan organization that works with the states to raise academic standards....

An alarming study by the Education Trust, a nonpartisan foundation...

These are the sources that the NYT relied on? Seriously?

I suppose they are "bi-partisan" in the same way that The Tobacco Institute and most lobbying groups are "bi-partisan." In that sense, the NYT board just stopped short of flat out lying by saying that these two groups are impartial or unbiased. But the Education Trust is a Gates-funded advocacy group from the earliest days of the Core. And Achieve is the organization that "helped" the CCSSO and NGA write the Common Core to begin with-- no organization is more highly invested in the continued support and push of the Core Standards and the tests that are welded to them. And they earlier this month released a report that says-- well, it says pretty much exactly what this editorial says...

School Testing 2016: Same Tests, Different Stakes

Here, NPR, like the NYT, gets it wrong.

In the following text from a story about the new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, NPR shows the depth of their misunderstanding.
The arguments for annual student testing come down to accountability and equity. If we have accurate data on the academic progress of each and every student, testing advocates say, we'll be able to compare results and highlight gaps, whether between rich and poor kids or across states. That information, presumably, can spur effective, targeted action to improve.
Note my highlighting in that paragraph...Standardized testing doesn't offer "accurate data on the academic progress of each and every student." Everything which follows based on that assumption is wrong.

Standardized tests tell us which children come from homes with enough money and which children don't. The information based on the results of standardized tests isn't helpful enough to subject students to the annual overuse and abuse of testing. And it won't "spur effective, targeted action to improve" unless that action includes attention to reducing the level of childhood poverty in the U.S.
It has been a high-stakes year for high-stakes standardized tests.

The debate over renewing the big federal education law turned, in part, on whether annual testing would remain a federal mandate. Republicans initially said no, Democrats said yes. Ultimately the overhaul passed with tests still in place.

On the other hand, this fall President Obama addressed parents on Facebook and released a "Testing Action Plan." He wanted states to cut down "unnecessary testing" that consumes "too much instructional time," creating "undue stress for educators and students."

Meanwhile some parents, notably in New York state, opted out of the tests and made a lot of noise about it. The use of test scores in teacher evaluations was a big bone of contention. And many states dropped out of PARCC and Smarter Balanced, the two Common Core test consortia, in favor of giving their own state tests.

The arguments for annual student testing come down to accountability and equity. If we have accurate data on the academic progress of each and every student, testing advocates say, we'll be able to compare results and highlight gaps, whether between rich and poor kids or across states. That information, presumably, can spur effective, targeted action to improve.


The term Gaslighting comes from the 1944 classic movie Gaslight, staring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer which is billed as a "psychological thriller" (If you've never seen it, I recommend it). Gaslighting, which is what Boyer's character did to Bergman's character, is described in Wikipedia as,
...a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.[1][2] Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
Gaslighting and Turnaround Schools

In this article Peg with Pen relates Gaslighting to school "reform." It's a disturbing, but accurate story. [my emphasis]
I am currently working in a turnaround school. A turnaround school is a public school that has been deemed "failing" by policy makers. The policy makers inflict draconian, fascist measures on such schools in an effort to turn them around - aka - increase test scores. If they don't increase test scores they bring the hammer down harder by firing teachers, handing the school over to a charter, or closing the school, and so on.

Turnaround schools are not failing. Rather, the truth is that the policies are the failures. The racist, classist, sexist policies are based on lies and false realities meant to create compliant worker bees who do as they are told to increase test scores, while ultimately allowing the corporate reformers to push forward other measures which increase profit, increase the privatization of our public schools, and finally, increase the power of the privileged. That's it in a nutshell.

However, the factual process of turnaround in no way reveals to the public how this brutal takeover goes down. How to articulate the process has been at the forefront of my mind for the last five months as I found myself thrown head first into this madness. And indeed, it is a madness like no other - a combination of insane asylum and prison. As I tried to articulate it to a dear friend of mine, she said, "Peggy, you are being gaslighted." I had never heard the term gaslighting. I immediately began to read about it. I owe much gratitude to this friend who has given me a framework I can use to explain this process.


IN: Let's Try Solo Bargaining

Indiana State Senator Pete Miller, like many legislators and "reformers," doesn't understand that the "free-market" doesn't work with K-12 education. Education is not a business. Students are not products. Teachers are not the same as "corporate providers" or "sales staff."

Miller maintains that teachers in hard to fill positions ought to be paid more than teachers in positions where staffing isn't a problem because that's what the "market" would dictate.

However, paying teachers different amounts of money based on the relative scarcity of their positions would damage the collegiality needed for a close, collaborative staff. The "highest performing" teachers would want to save their best teaching ideas for themselves in order to be able to bargain higher paying contracts. The truth is, though, that good education comes when teachers collaborate, not compete, with each other.
[Indiana State Senator Pete] Miller's idea is that he wants the invisible hand of the market to control teacher pay, but Indiana, like most states with so-called teacher shortages, already has the invisible hand of the market shoved right in their face-- they have a shortage because they are ignoring what the hand is telling them, which is "Make a better offer!" Miller is involved in some negotiating of his own, telling the invisible hand, "Well, what if we just a make a better offer for only a few of them? What's the absolute minimum the market will let us get away with?"


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