Diane Ravitch Addresses the NCTM, Makes Most of the Points I’ve Been Making

Here is the text of her speech:

“WILL CURRENT SCHOOL REFORMS IMPROVE EDUCATION?”

By

DIANE RAVITCH

 

New York University

 [SEE Dr. Ravitch’s website at http://www.dianeravitch.com/]

 

OPENING SESSION OF THE ANNUAL MEETING OF THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF TEACHERS OF MATHEMATICS [NCTM]

PHILADELPHIA, PA

APRIL 25, 2012

I am very happy to speak to you today. I have been an admirer of NCTM for twenty years, ever since you took the lead in shaping professional standards for the teaching of mathematics. What was notable about your efforts then and since is that you recognize the importance of putting practitioners in charge. You recognize that those who teach the subject are the greatest experts in determining what is needed to teach it better and what is needed to kindle students’ motivation.

 

Today, students in fourth and eighth grades are learning more mathematics than they were twenty years ago, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. NCTM can take pride in that accomplishment.

 

As a member of the NAEP governing board for seven years, I was always astonished by how demanding the math tests are. Whenever I hear politicians or pundits criticizing American students and teachers, I would like to invite them to take the tests themselves. And be sure to publish the results.

 

I am not a mathematician – I am a historian. One thing our fields have in common is that we believe in evidence. We may speculate, we may theorize, we may even make predictions, but ultimately we must present the evidence. We believe that facts matter. As my math teachers always said, “Getting the right answer is important, but not nearly as important as showing how you got there. Show me your work.”

 

American education is now at a critical juncture. We have a full-blown and powerful reform movement that offers solutions without any evidence. Schools across the nation are adopting remedies that are not only unproven but in some cases have been tried and failed.

 

As a historian of American education, my specialty is writing about the rise and fall of education reforms and fads. Over the twentieth century, reform movements came and went with frequency. By contrast to the many reforms of the past century, the current reform movement is unusual because it did not start with educators. Its leaders are entrepreneurs, economists, foundation leaders, think tank commentators, journalists, and people from the high-tech sector, the big corporations, and Wall Street.

 

I prefer to call it the corporate reform movement because it uses the language of corporate America. It relies on a strategy of competition, choice, testing, and accountability. It believes that teachers must be incentivized with rewards and punishments tied to test scores. It views test scores as profits and losses. It seeks a return on investment in the form of higher test scores. It believes that schools with low scores should be closed in the same way that a chain store would be closed and reopened with a new name. It likes the idea of firing staff that don’t get higher scores. And, of course, it assumes unquestioningly that standardized tests are reliable, valid, infallible measures of not only student performance, but teacher quality and school quality.

 

The corporate reform movement has developed a narrative that is compelling. The media repeats it again and again. They say that American public education is failing.

 

They say that dropout rates are at a crisis point. They say that our international test scores are a national embarrassment. They blame this dire situation on bad teachers and on public education itself. They propose to replace the current system with consumer choice, including privately managed charter schools, whether managed by non-profits or for-profits. Some corporate reformers advocate vouchers, so that students can leave public schools and enroll in private and religious schools with public dollars. They promote for-profit virtual charter schools, which allow students to take their lessons at home on a computer. Providing choice and competition, they argue, will spur innovation. They endorse the idea that teachers should be evaluated by test scores of their students. They recommend incentives and sanctions. They favor merit pay based on test scores. When schools have low test scores they advocate firing the staff and closing the school.

 

Their ideas are now the basis of federal education policy. Their ideas are moving forward like a juggernaut, pushed by bipartisan support and billions of public and private dollars. Many public schools in low-income, high-minority districts like Philadelphia, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Indianapolis, the District of Columbia, and others are being handed over to private control, in keeping with the ideology of corporate reform. Free of government regulation, free of democratic governance, the reformers claim, the free market will accomplish miracles.

In assessing the corporate reform movement, what matters most is evidence, and up to this point, evidence is sorely missing for the reforms it advocates.

 

The two mainstays of the corporate reform movement are the federal law No Child Left Behind and the federal program Race to the Top. When introduced, both were presented as the great levers of school reform. NCLB has been federal policy for a full decade. I think of Race to the Top as NCLB 2.0, because it too relies on test-based accountability and on carrots and sticks to get ever-higher test scores.

 

Consider the origin of NCLB. When Governor George W. Bush ran for president, he said that there had been a “Texas miracle.” He said that the strategy for improving schools was straightforward. Test every child every year; publish the results; reward those that improved; embarrass those that did not improve. Over time, he said, test scores would go up, the dropout rate would go down, and the graduation rate would improve. It was a good story, and Congress bought it. Overwhelming majorities passed NCLB in 2001, and it was signed into law in January 2002.

 

But now we know. The law refers to “evidence-based” strategies, but the law itself was not evidence-based. There was no Texas miracle. On NAEP assessments, Texas—like other states–has shown improvement, but it is not a national leader. It is not a model for the nation. In fact, Texas State Commissioner of Education Robert Scott recently complained that standardized testing had spun out of control; he said it had gotten to be the “be-all and end-all” of education. He said it had become what he called “the heart of the vampire,” and that it was growing because of a “military-industrial complex” that was all about making money, not doing what was right for students or education. In the past few weeks, about 400 of the 1,000 school boards in Texas have passed resolutions against high-stakes testing, and the number is growing.

 

But now the whole nation is stuck with NCLB, and the children who were left behind in 2002 are still left behind.

 

NCLB set an impossible target. It requires that all students must reach proficiency on state tests by the year 2014. No state will meet that goal. No nation in the world has ever achieved 100% proficiency.

 

In trying to reach the target, states and districts are spending billions of dollars on tests and interim assessments and test prep materials; schools have narrowed their curriculum; some have reduced or eliminated the arts or physical education, history and foreign languages; teachers are teaching to standardized tests; college professors complain that their students don’t know how to read or think critically, they want to know what will be on the test.

 

As we get closer to 2014, the consequences of setting an unrealistic goal have been harsh indeed. More than half the public schools in the nation have been labeled failing schools because they haven’t made adequate yearly progress. Schools that repeatedly slip off track are subject to an escalating series of sanctions, ending in firing the staff and closing the school or handing it over to a charter operator. In Massachusetts, the highest performing state in the nation, 80% of the schools are failing schools. In Illinois, New Trier High School failed to make adequate yearly progress this year, because special education students didn’t improve enough. New Trier, the highest performing high school in the state of Illinois, is a failing school. If nothing changes, by 2014 nearly every school in the United States will be a failing school.

 

As the number of failing schools continues to grow every year, so too has the public perception that American education is a failed enterprise. Now we are seeing something that has never happened before in American history. Schools are being closed because of their test scores. Most of the schools that close enroll disproportionate numbers of children who are poor, who have disabilities, and who don’t speak English.

 

No Child Left Behind is the death star of American education, set to label almost every school a failure; Race to the Top is NCLB 2.0.

 

Race to the Top dangled $5 billion before cash-starved states to persuade them to expand the number of privately managed charter schools, to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students, and to agree to fire principals and staff in the lowest performing schools. NCLB was all sticks and no carrots. Race to the Top is a combination of sticks and carrots. Carrots and sticks are for donkeys, not professionals.

 

But let’s look at what we know so far.

 

The record on charter schools is mixed. According to the pro-charter advocacy group, Center for Education Reform, there are nearly 6,000 charter schools enrolling close to two million students; the number is rising fast because of Race to the Top. There have been many studies of charter schools. By their nature, charters vary widely. Some get high scores, some get low scores. On average, however, charters do not get different results than regular public schools. The most widely cited national study was conducted by economists at Stanford University in 2009 and funded by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation. It found that students in 17% of charters got higher test scores than those in a matched traditional public school; 37% got worse scores; and in 46%, the scores were no different. In most studies, the typical finding is “no difference.”

 

Some charters get higher test scores by excluding students with special needs or limiting the enrollment of English language learners. Some have very strict discipline policies and suspend or expel students who are troublemakers. Some of the most highly praised charters are known as “no-excuses” schools because of their tough discipline policies. Their ability to remove difficult students maintains order, safety, high scores, and also peer effects—the good result of being surrounded by other well-behaved students. Meanwhile, the public schools cannot refuse those who are rejected or expelled by the charters.

 

New Orleans is often held up by charter advocates as definitive proof that a charter district will get great results. Hurricane Katrina wiped out the public schools of New Orleans. The public schools were replaced by a system in which 70% of the students are enrolled in charters. It is impossible to compare pre-Katrina’s public schools to post-Katrina’s charter schools because a large number of students left New Orleans and never returned. But even without undisputed longitudinal data, this much is clear: New Orleans ranks 71st out of 72 districts on Louisiana state tests. It is a very low-performing district in a very low-performing state. And the New Orleans charter district has the benefit of many millions of dollars poured into the charters of New Orleans by foundations and charters that want to prove the superiority of charters.

 

Aside from New Orleans, the funding for charters inevitably comes right out of the budget for public school districts. The public schools have fixed costs that don’t go down when students leave. Consequently, public schools in some districts are in deep financial distress. A decade ago the public schools of Inglewood, California, were hailed, in the national media and by President George W. Bush, as a great success story, a high-performing district of low-income students. Now the Inglewood district is on the verge of a state takeover and close to bankruptcy; it lost 1/3 of its students to charter schools. Teaching staff has shrunk. In the regular public schools, class sizes are between 40 and 50. The future of public education in the district is in doubt. No wonder parents are bailing out.

 

The public school district of Chester-Upland, here in Pennsylvania, is out of money. The district collects $13,500 for each special education student but must pay the local charter school nearly $24,000 for each special education student it enrolls. The survival of the district is up in the air, especially since the Governor is hostile to public schools and has thus far refused to save the district. In Upper Darby in Pennsylvania, the superintendent has proposed cuts to the arts, physical education, and library services to make up for the state funds diverted to nearby charter schools.

 

Typically, charter schools enroll a very small proportion of students. In New York City, they enroll 3%. In California, they enroll 5%. What sense does it make to jeopardize the education of 95% of public school students so that charters can open for the other 5%? What exactly is the federal government trying to prove? In New York City, many charters have wealthy hedge fund managers on their board who supplement public spending with extra funding so that they have smaller classes, the latest technology, and small classes. Even when charters are sponsored by a billionaire hedge-fund manager, they insist on getting free public space or sharing a building with a public school with less resources.

 

How does this competition improve public schools? To the extent that charters exclude the students who are likely to get low scores, the public schools will enroll disproportionate numbers of those students, making comparisons unfair.

 

The worst of the current corporate reforms are the online charter schools, also known as virtual academies. The largest of them are for-profit corporations. They hire lobbyists to get favorable state legislation, and then locate their headquarters in the poorest district in the state so as to get the maximum state payment for each student. They spend millions to recruit students. The students sit at home in front of a computer with their parent as their learning coach. Their virtual teachers are mostly recent college graduates who monitor 100 or more computer screens. According to investigations by the New York Times and the Washington Post, the online academies get abysmal results. They have a high attrition rate: Typically 50% of the students drop out in their first year, returning to the district public school but leaving the state’s tuition with the corporation. Studies in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Colorado have reported that students in the virtual academies have low test scores and low graduation rates. The Colorado Virtual Academy has a graduation rate of 12%, compared to a statewide graduation rate of 78%. But the schools are very profitable. The CEO of K12, the largest of them, was paid $5 million last year. CEO was founded by former junk bond king Michael Milken and former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett. It trades on the New York Stock Exchange.

 

An organization of conservative state legislators called the American Legislative Exchange Council – or ALEC – has drafted and circulated model laws to promote virtual academies. Nearly 2,000 state legislators belong to ALEC. The co-chair of its Education Task Force is an executive of Connections Academy, another large for-profit virtual charter chains. ALEC promotes legislation to advance privatization in all its forms, not only online virtual academies, but charter schools and vouchers. And of course, ALEC has drafted model laws to roll back collective bargaining, teacher tenure, and test-based evaluation of teachers.

 

Then comes the issue of vouchers. Two states—Indiana and Louisiana–have recently adopted sweeping voucher legislation, and Wisconsin expanded its voucher program. The best evidence we have for the efficacy of vouchers comes from Milwaukee, which has had a voucher program for low-income students since 1990. Twenty-one years is a good long demonstration of vouchers. Advocates say that vouchers enable poor students to escape failing schools. But studies have found little difference between the academic results of voucher schools and public schools. On the last round of state tests, the scores of low-income students in vouchers schools were no different from the scores of low-income students in Milwaukee’s public schools. On the 2011 NAEP for urban districts, Milwaukee was one of the lowest scoring districts in the nation. The other two districts that have vouchers—Cleveland and the District of Columbia—are also at the bottom nationally on NAEP tests of reading and math. And, despite much boasting about test score gains in the District of Columbia, DC has the largest black-white achievement gap in the nation. The gap between black and white students in DC is more than double the gap found in other urban districts by NAEP.

 

On merit pay, the evidence is not mixed, it is clear. Merit pay has been tried again and again since the 1920s. It has never been successful. Economists at the National Center for Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University determined to conduct a rigorous study of merit pay, starting in 2007. They wondered if the reason merit pay had always failed in the past was that the bonus wasn’t big enough. So they offered a bonus of $15,000 to an experimental group of teachers and compared them to a control group. At the end of three years, the economists could find no difference between the two groups. But later that same week, the U.S. Department of Education released $500 million for experiments in performance pay, with another $500 million to be added later. Evidence doesn’t matter.

 

As it happened, in 2007, Mayor Bloomberg in New York City launched a merit pay plan. After a negotiation with the teachers’ union, he established a school-wide plan, so the entire school would share a bonus if scores went up. A committee at each school would decide how to divvy up the money. The program was ended in 2010 after the RAND Corporation concluded it made no difference. So just a few months ago, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would create a new merit pay program, and this one would be based on the same one that failed in Nashville.

 

Only six weeks ago, Mathematica Policy Research released a four-year study of merit pay in Chicago. It found that merit pay may have increased teacher retention rates, but made no difference in student achievement. Merit pay has an unbroken string of failures, but no one seems to care.

 

The Common Core State Standards are a centerpiece of the current push for school reform. There is no evidence about their efficacy, because they have never been implemented anywhere. They may be good, they may be bad, who knows? They may make a difference, they may make no difference. How can one judge an initiative without field trials? Would the FDA release a new drug without field trials? When I worked on history standards in California many years ago, we had an iterative process. Teachers implemented the standards and told us what was working and what wasn’t working. We learned from teachers that some material was placed in the wrong grades; some grades had too much coverage; some was too hard, and some was too easy. We made changes. Standards must evolve to remain relevant and valuable. The Common Core State Standards will be tried out simultaneously in 45 states. Someday we will have evidence to know whether they made a difference, but no such evidence exists today.

 

The corporate reform movement has strongly advocated the idea that teachers should be evaluated by the test scores of their students. Race to the Top pushed this idea, and many states have written new laws to impose it. Typically, 40-50% of a teacher’s evaluation will depend on whether their students get higher or lower test scores. Where did that number — 40-50%– come from? No one knows. Certainly the legislators in Florida and Tennessee and other states had no evidence for choosing this number. It must have come out of someone’s hat. The now conventional claim that students will learn more if their test scores are used to determine whether their teacher gets fired or promoted has very little — if any — evidence to support it.

 

I know of no district or state that can show that its schools improved because it uses value-added assessment to measure teacher quality. Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford has studied and written about this process extensively, and she says that the teacher ratings tied to value-added assessments are inaccurate, unreliable and unstable. A teacher who is rated ineffective one year is likely to be effective the next year, and vice versa. She reports that Houston fired its Teacher of the Year. She says that those who teach special education students and English language learners are likely to get lower ratings.

 

In January, the New York City Department of Education took the bold step of releasing the ratings of thousands of teachers to the media, in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit. Teachers in grades 4-8 were given a single number from 1-100. The Department warned that the margin of error was huge: 35 points in math, and 53 points in English Language Arts. A teacher of math rated at the 50th percentile might actually be at the 15th percentile or the 85th percentile, while a teacher of reading might be at the -3rd percentile or the +103rd percentile.

 

Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post published a story and a picture of a teacher identified as “the worst teacher in New York City.” Reporters camped outside her door, and she had to call the police to get them away. They went to her father’s home and said, “Do you know your daughter is the worst teacher in the city?” It turned out that the woman teaches English to new immigrant students who cycle in and out of her class all year. The scores were meaningless.

 

Gary Rubinstein, who teaches math at Stuyvesant High School, dug down into the ratings and determined that there was no correlation in the same teacher’s rating from year to year; that there was no correlation if the teacher taught the same subject in different grades; and that there was no correlation between a teacher who taught both reading and math. That raises the interesting question of whether the same teacher might get a bonus in one subject and fired in the other.

 

In 2010, the Los Angeles Times blazed a new trail in creating value-added ratings and publishing them for all to see. At the time, many researchers — including prominent economists who support value-added assessment — criticized the public release of the ratings. They asked how a teacher could be expected to improve if there was no confidentiality in their conversation with their supervisor. But the Los Angeles Times was proud of what it had done.

 

The best commentary about the misuse of value-added assessment — and the public release of these ratings — came from mathematician John Ewing, who is now president of Math for America. Ewing described value-added modeling as “mathematical intimidation,” where data are employed to create an appearance of objectivity where none exists. He wrote, “Most of those promoting value-added modeling are ill-equipped to judge either its effectiveness or its limitations. Some of those who are equipped make extravagant claims without much detail, reassuring us that someone has checked into our concerns and we shouldn’t worry. Value-added modeling is promoted because it has the right pedigree — because it is based on ‘sophisticated mathematics.’ As a consequence, mathematics that ought to be used to illuminate ends up being used to intimidate. When that happens, mathematicians have a responsibility to speak out.”

 

The newspaper, said Ewing, gave the customary caution that teachers should be judged by multiple measures, but its own ratings relied only on standardized test scores. The reporters concluded that experience, education and training had nothing to do with a teacher’s ability to raise test scores. The Times identified an elementary school teacher who was National Board Certified, had written a textbook and had glowing reviews from her principal. Based on the Times methodology, she was identified in print as a bad teacher. When the reporters confronted her, she asked them what she could do to improve. Ewing described this shameful encounter between the journalists and a teacher as reminiscent of the browbeating that occurred during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

 

Certainly teachers should be evaluated, but there is no evidence that changes in student test scores are an appropriate measure of teacher quality, and there is quite a growing body of evidence saying that value-added modeling is fraught with complications and problems. How a teacher performs in the classroom is best determined by other professionals and not by test scores and not by legislators and politicians. The best evaluation systems involve an experienced principal and experienced peer reviewers, like the one now in use in Montgomery County, Maryland. Non-educators look for a simple metric, but there is no simple metric to gauge teacher quality. As any test expert will tell you, tests should be used only for the purpose for which they were designed. A test of fifth grade reading measures whether students are reading at a fifth grade reading level, not teacher quality.

 

The main result of the corporate reform movement, of No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top seems to be the massive demoralization of teachers. The Metlife Survey of the American Teachers, released a few weeks ago, found a dramatic decline in teachers’ job satisfaction since 2009, from 59% to 44%. It also reported that nearly a third of teachers say they are thinking of quitting. This would be a disaster.

 

It is not just the particulars of the corporate reform movement that are shaky. The basic premise of the corporate reform movement — the claim that American education is declining and in crisis — is factually wrong.

 

Do schools need to improve? Of course they do, but the crisis narrative is exaggerated.

 

The latest federal data for dropouts — fall 2011 — show that graduation rates for people between the ages of 18 and 24 are at the highest point since they were first recorded in 1972, for whites, blacks, and Hispanics, for low-income, middle-income and high-income groups. Surely they should be higher than they are now, but they are not declining and they are not at a crisis point. We won’t raise them by adding more tests and making school less engaging but by giving students the experiences and tools that encourage them to stay in school and receive a diploma.

 

What about those terrible international test scores? We are only in the middle; shouldn’t we be number one? We have not declined from first place; we were never in first place.

 

When the first tests were administered in the mid-1960s, twelve nations participated; we came in twelfth out of twelve, dead last. Over the past 50 years, we have typically scored in the bottom quartile or no better than average. Yet, somehow our nation grew and prospered and became the largest economy on the earth. Maybe those scores are not predictors of our economic future.

 

But there’s another point to consider. The latest international assessment, the Program on International Student Assessment or PISA was released in December 2010. It showed that American schools where less than 10% of the students are poor were first in the world, with scores higher than those of Finland, South Korea, and Japan. In American schools where 25% of the students are poor, scores were equal to those of the highest performing nations. As the proportion of poor students rises, the test scores fall. If we reduced poverty, we would see scores rise across the board.

 

Last year, I wrote an article in the New York Times about politicians who made claims about “miracle schools.” They pointed to schools that had seen truly incredible gains in test scores in only a year or two and to schools where, they said, despite abject poverty, nearly 100% of the students graduated and went to college. One school in an impoverished neighborhood in New York City saw its proficiency rate jump from 34% in one year to 83% the next year. In other schools, the transformation occurred by firing the principal, replacing the staff, and starting over. When you do this, said the politicians, scores go through the roof, and nearly every single graduate is accepted into college.

 

The subtext of these claims was that it wasn’t necessary to do anything about poverty because the right kind of school could overcome poverty.

 

I enlisted two allies — Gary Rubinstein, the brilliant high school math teacher I cited earlier and Noel Hammatt, a researcher in Louisiana, to analyze the miracle schools. We learned that the remarkably high graduation rates were the result of high attrition rates, and that students were graduating from miracle schools with remarkably low scores on state tests. In one miracle school in Chicago, the students’ test scores were lower than those of the average Chicago public school. The school whose scores had jumped by 49 points in one year saw an equally steep decline in their test scores in the next few years. A Miami high school hailed as a successful turnaround in 2010 was targeted for closure in 2011 because it had consistently failed to make AYP.

 

Why do politicians play these games? In part, they do it to prove that there are simple answers to hard questions. They do it to prove that whatever their policy is, it’s working, even if they don’t know why and even if it is not true. I guess they think no one will notice and the press won’t ask probing questions.

 

A 49-point jump in test scores should be grounds for skepticism, not celebration. And no one has yet explained the magic that happens simply by firing everyone in a school and starting over. And no one, to my knowledge, has yet found a school where 95% of the students are poor, yet 95% graduate and 90% who graduate go to college. To think that schools can cure all the ills of society defies not only evidence but the experience of other nations that have gone to great lengths to make sure that all children are healthy and well-nourished.

 

Of course, schools provide a route out of poverty, but they are not all by themselves an anti-poverty program. The great sociologist W.E.B. DuBois said in 1935 that schools can teach necessary academic skills but they cannot create jobs or furnish homes or cure the ills of society.

 

There is something to be said for evidence. One piece of missing evidence in current school reform efforts is the major study produced a year ago by a 17-member panel of social scientists assembled by the National Research Council. The study was called “Incentives and Test-Based Accountability.” It concluded that tying bonuses and punishments to test scores is a failed strategy. It said that this approach leads to score inflation, gaming the system and teaching to the test. Our policymakers have chosen to ignore the findings of this distinguished panel of social scientists.

 

So, I conclude with a simple plea: We need evidence-based decision-making and evidence-based policy. We must be guided by knowledge, not by ideology. We must recognize what schools can do and must do, and what social policy must accomplish. We must seek to improve our schools in ways that support the work of educators and avoid policies intended to frighten them into compliance.

 

I see four straightforward lessons as I review the research about educational change:

 

First, the most successful nations in the world, such as Finland, South Korea, and Japan, have built strong public school systems, not systems with large degrees of private management.

 

Second, the most successful nations in the world have diligently improved the education profession, by requiring that recruitment into teaching is rigorous, that preparation to teach is intensive, and that support is available for those who are in the classroom. They have principals who are master teachers, and superintendents who are experienced educators.

 

Third, the most successful nations in the world take care to ensure that all students have a balanced and rich curriculum that include not only reading and mathematics, but the arts, history, civics, foreign languages, science, and physical education.

 

Fourth, the most successful nations in the world pay attention to the health and welfare of children, families and communities.

 

And so I call upon you as mathematicians to help your students think clearly. Help our politicians and policymakers analyze what works and what doesn’t work. Use your skills of analysis and logical thinking to change the narrative that is tearing down public education.

 

Write, blog, speak up, join with others to stop the assault on the public sector, on which 90% of our nation’s students depend. Stand up for professionalism, stand up for your students, and stand up for the future of public education.

Principal Rightly Slams Coporate Junk that Masquerades as Standardized Testing

Principal Rightly Slams Coporate Junk that Masquerades as Standardized Testing

The Valerie Strauss of the “Answer Sheet” has hauled in another good op-ed article this week. She found a principal who had the intelligence and integrity and good writing skills to eviscerate most of the reasons given for the current DEformista educational leadership these days. I hope to read more from this person, whose name is Sharon Emick Fougner, principal of Elizabeth Mellick Baker School in Great Neck, N.Y.

A quote from Ms. Fougner that particularly caught my eye:

What is even more detrimental is that neither these children — nor their parents or teachers — will ever have access to their test booklets in order to understand how or why the child arrived at an incorrect answer. No benefit is extended to the child from all of these hours of testing if there is no thoughtful, comprehensive feedback. Likewise, I am unable to provide you and your department with clarification and examples regarding my initial list of concerns, as I am not permitted to speak about the content of the exams, or retain a test booklet for commentary. I find it disingenuous that you want teachers and principals to receive feedback, but want none yourself. It would seem that those of us who have spent our lives doing this work would have much insight to offer you.”

Among other things, the crisp writing here explains in detail why this principal’s criticisms of the overall poor quality of the test itself, seemed so … vague. The reason is that IF SHE HAD TRIED TO BE MORE SPECIFIC IN ANY WAY by keeping a copy of the booklet to review, or merely making a copy of or notes about any test item, or even to discussing any of the items orally or in writing, as in this op-ed,  she could end her career. 

Late in my teaching career, I did something I figured was generally frowned on, but I thought was a good and principled thing to do.

What was my crime?

I carefully read the math questions and classified them according to the mandated city curriculum of the day by making pencil checkmarks on a copy of said curriculum.

Oh! The horrors! Arrest that man! Take away his pension! Publicly embarrass him!

One day my adorable class of 7 or 8th grade black, white, asian, and latino public school with mostly fairly well-involved parents were taking one of these standardized NCLB-mandated annual tests. This is a process that drags on for days of almost non-stop inactivity. My students — even the very slowest among them — generally finished each section in about one-quarter to one-half the time allotted for each section. During the remainder of the time (which could be 5 to 35 minutes depending on the section, they had to sit there, bored, doing — NOTHING.

No, you may not go on to the next section.

No, you may not talk, even to yourself.

No one may turn around or stretch or make faces.

They may not write.

They may not draw.

They they may not read.

They certainly can’t call up their friends on their personal electronics (a double-edged sword that I only caught the beginnings of, thank my lucky asteroid!)

They may not even put their heads down and go to sleep.

Teachers are instructed to go around to students, reminding them to re-read every single question in the current section of the days-long test, to re-check their thinking and their work, and change answers or not as they see fit, but in any case, to re-check their work.

And if your homeroom is good and compliant you have to go around quietly in the last portion of the time allotted quietly whispering in your students’ ears:

“No you cannot go to the bathroom unless it’s an emergency, and if it really is, you’ll have to walk with the other proctor to the bathroom.”

“No, sorry, you cannot take out a book and read it. Just sit there quietly and space out for a few minutes by zoning into space, and then look at your test questions again. Thank you. Yes, I know, they certainly do give us too much time, and yes, honey, this sure is boring to have to do for four to eight weeks every single school year. Teachers mostly don’t like it, either, sweetie, we know just about everybody has finished long ago, even the kids who get extra time on normal classroom activities. Nothing I can do. ”

Today, if I were still teaching, I might also quietly suggest, “Honey, if you don’t like this, and you know a lot of your teachers think this is a scary waste of time, and I myself agree, your parents go to PTA meetings, right? Have you discussed this with your parents? Are they on any official or unofficial PTA policy boards?”

so many folks love to have multiple-choice tests: checking them takes no time a-tall. It’s the making up of the questions that’s hard, and involves a lot of trial and error; and during that process of field-testing a multiple-choice item, it needs to be kept secret, since it’s so difficult to come up with good ones. Or else the testing companies do what all big companies do: hire cheap labor and try to automate the process. So they hire a bunch of people who are literate but desperate for work, and they pay them so many pennies or dollars per test item, most likely. Obviously, the more test items these folks who are now  “associates” or “independent contractors” or “consultants” (but we don’t use legal terms like  ’employees’ for solid $$ reasons, and it’s no longer polite to call them ‘low-paid unorganized hacks for hire’). the more money these poor souls earn, but it’s not much. The really big bucks go to shareholders and directors of groups like Kaplan, CTB-McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and so on, who have swallowed up nearly the entire educational publishing industry in this country. (Something like what happened to bookstores.)

In any case, that’s what was behind the Sleeveless Pineapple story of a few days ago. The article Valerie Strauss has here shows some other reasons why the current approach is all wrong.

To sum up the problem:

(1) First of all, there is no such thing as a perfect question, be it multiple-choice or essay. I’ve seen and written some good ones, and I’ve seen and written some bad ones. None of them ever do more than give you a peek at what the child knows and understands.

(2) There are quite a few teachers who for years have been coming up with way better questions for assessing student understanding than what is in most standardized publisher-driven stuff. But the current edu-DEform racket ignores anything coming from a teacher who is in the classroom.

(3) All of the actual questions on these standardized tests are kept secret, so that students and teachers and parents never get the opportunity to see what exactly Johnny or Susie messed up on, or whether the questions the students missed were merely poorly written.

(4)  Panels that I or my former colleagues sat on, often rejected or voted to strongly reword most of the proposed commercially-created NCLB questions we were asked to review and critique. But even though we threw out most of what they wrote, they managed to come up with even more crappy questions that get used year after year. Guess they found another panel that wasn’t as picky as us? Or they stopped having teachers review them? These secret NCLB  tests are still crappy. These writers must never have taught this course in the first place, or they are simply lazy, or idiots. I can only guess which option it is — and none of them are very good now, are they?

(5) Released questions from DC’s Comprehensive Assessment Program do not inspire any confidence either; see my previous columns in this blog. Do a search for “released questions” or “DC-CAS”.

(6) The coverage of the curriculum is extremely spotty. By my own count, and according to what the local testing honchos state, there are in math often dozens of questions on a single topic in the curriculum (out of a list of nearly a hundred topics to be ‘covered’ during the year. As a partial consequence, many, many topics listed in the yearly curriculum are not addressed with even a single question.

(7) As the writer of this op-ed states, many questions are ambiguous at best. Based on the released DC-CAS items, I conclude that this defect happens here in DC as well. Assuming that this suburban Long Island principal writes is true, this sort of stupidity is now even getting worse than it was when I was teaching. This really does sound like child abuse.

(8) Forcing kids to be motionless for hour after hour, day after day, is not really what we want our kids to be doing with their time. Is it? They don’t make kids in progressive and expensive private schools do this sort of thing. Why should the public school kids have to do it, then?

(9) The local DC not-quite-NCLB pre-tests, which are manufactured by a competing or allied company and which are supposed to be used by teachers to create even more data and more instruction, are of even worse quality here in DC than the actual NCLB end of year tests. They create entirely erroneous data.

(10) Garbage In, Garbage Out. Much of the incoming data is useless, yet it’s supposed to be used to ‘guide instruction.’ It’s analogous to saying “If those pigs over there are flying under their own power, then I have $20 billion in gold ingots in my closet.’

Back to my little story.

One day, one of my homeroom students was out sick on several days of April testing week. (My homeroom class at this school this year generally had excellent attendance.) While my students were quietly working away on the test and being model citizens, I decided to take the question booklet (no, not the answer sheet! Why would I do that? I was genuinely interested in how well the test matched what I had been teaching. That’s all. I was not about to answer his/her questions for him/her!)

I took a well-worn copy of our district-wide mandated curriculum, which I had just spent a summer analyzing, and I read every single math item on the NCLB test, one by one. After reading each question, I then put a check mark next to the curriculum topic or standard or whatever they are calling it these days that best matched the question — in my opinion. And I think my opinion was pretty good since, as I said, I’d been analyzing it all one summer.

I wrote nothing else.

In case you are wondering, I only did this inspection  this at times when my students were engrossed in actual test taking, generally from about 10% of the way in to the time of the session, up to about 55% of the time allotted. I would then put it back into the carefully-alphabetized and sorted testing material during the last 45% of of each section. (For me, it doesn’t take long. Repeat: I didn’t write down answers; I just noted what skills or standards were being tested for each question.

That year, testing was quite easy, because my students were wonderful. Much of the time, it was quite easy for one proctor to watch the class while the other one might go to the rest room or run off a few photocopies and come back.

What I found shocked me.

I kept the list with the little tickmarks with me when I retired (I hope), and later turned that data into a spreadsheet, which I published a couple of years ago now on this blog, IIRC. The curriculum standard that deals with computation was hit over and over and over again with question after question. Now, many folks think that that’s all math is: computation. That’s actually not true It’s an important part, but there is much more as well.

I found that more than half the curriculum wasn’t addressed by any question whatsoeve. Many topics in statistics, data analysis, probability, measurement, geometry, and graphing, that were listed for teachers to teach, weren’t tested.

It’s good to see someone writing so eloquently and clearly about this. I wish more teachers and administrators in DC would speak up — but I’m not surprised that they are all in fear of losing their jobs. As hundreds of them are about to do, starting today.

Thanks, Ms. Fougner, and my apologies for running on.

Reform the Tests! As they are, they don’t test anything important!

A brilliant article by Marion Brady, reprinted by Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post.

Brady points out that what we are actually testing with NCLB, RTTT and so in is worse than useless. What needs to happen is that the tests themselves need to be drastically changed in ways that actually teach higher-order thinking skills. I only quote a small  excerpt to try to get you to read the entire, well-reasoned article:

” If higher order thinking skills are tested, teachers will teach them. Those who don’t know how will quickly learn.

 Of course, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Educational Testing Service, and other test manufacturers aren’t going to volunteer to test student-initiated higher order thinking skills. Neither are the politicians they help elect and re-elect going to make them even try to do so unless they think voters give them no alternative.

So voters should give them no alternative. Unless politicians and test manufacturers can make a convincing case for not teaching the young to think, they should be told what they’ve been telling teachers who say standardized tests are a waste of time and money: “No excuses!”

It’s likely that nothing short of binding agreements between states and test manufacturers will yield the new tests. To that end, in appropriate legal language, contracts should make clear that (a) every test question in every subject will evaluate a particular, named thinking skill, (b) every test will evaluate a balanced mix of all known thinking skills, and (c) a panel of experts not connected to test manufacturers or politicians will preview all test items to assure contract compliance. No excuses.

Fairtest, Parents Across America, United Opt Out National, and other state and local organizations have strategies in place to try to persuade. Petitions and referendums invite signers. Parents, grandparents — indeed, all who care about kids and country — should get on board.

 No more multimillion dollar checks for tests that no one but manufacturers are allowed to see. No more tests the pass-fail cut scores of which can be raised and lowered to make political points. No more kids labeled and discarded, every one with a brain wired to do all sorts of amazing things. If storing trivia in short-term memory doesn’t happen to be one of those things, that shouldn’t put them out of school and on the street.”

Federal Department of Education is Looking for Information on NCLB Cheating

The US Department of Education is doing a formal Request for Information, asking the public to share what they know about problems with cheating on standardized tests that are used to determine closings of schools and firings of teachers.

The problem is that they then plan to have a panel of “external experts” to review all of this information, sanitize it, and present their results to the public as fact. Obviously the results of the ‘investigation’ will depend on who’s on that panel of experts.

Here are the pertinent paragraphs:

“First, the Department is issuing this request for information (RFI) to collect information about the integrity of academic testing. We pose a series of questions to which we invite interested members of the public to respond. Second, the Department will host a symposium where external experts can engage in further discussion and probe these issues in greater depth.Show citation box

“Third, the Department will publish a document that contains a summary of the recommendations that were developed as a result of the RFI and the symposium, as well as other resources identified by external experts participating in the symposium.”

If you would like to participate, here is the link to the Federal Register.

Let me remind you that CTB McGraw-Hill has a number of forensic data-crunching packages (so to speak) that could be purchased by school districts that already are purchasing their tests. I don’t know exactly what detection methods they have, and they wouldn’t discuss details with me, but if you are interested in finding out one possible method, then read the first chapter of Freakonomics by Dubner and Levitt.

And let me remind you that DCPS (for one) has been steadfast in refusing to purchase such forensic packages.

It’s called stonewalling.

In Georgia, a serious investigation by the state bureau of investigation got to the bottom of it, and got lots of confessions. A serious investigation by the FBI here in DC and other cities would be a good start.

This Federal Register RFI, unfortunately, sounds to me like another attempt at a whitewash. It is not serious, I predict.

Published in: on January 19, 2012 at 4:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Summary of Atlanta Public Schools Findings on Massive Cheating

Here is a summary of what the Atlanta investigation found.

PDF_-_Summary_of_CR_983551a

Thanks to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for this.

Here is the  text of the overview of the report. I put in bold-face a couple of sentences.

Thousands of school children were harmed by widespread cheating in the Atlanta Public School System (APS). ln 30 schools, educators confessed to cheating. We found cheating on the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) in 44 of the 56 schools we examined, and uncovered organized and systemic misconduct within the district a s far back as 200l. Superintendent Beverly Hall and her senior staff knew, or should have known, that cheating and other offenses were occurring. Many of the accolades, and much of the praise, received by APS over the last decade were ill-gotten.

We identified 178 educators as being involved in cheating. Of these, 82 confessed. Thirty-eight of the 178 were principals, from tvvo-thirds of the schools we examined. The 2009 erasure analysis suggests that there were far more educators involved in cheating, and other improper conduct, than we were able to establish sufficiently to identify by name in this report.

A culture of fear and a conspiracy of silence infected this school system, and kept many teachers from speaking freely about misconduct. From the onset of this investigation, we were confronted by a pattern of interference by top APS leadership in our attempt to gather evidence. These actions delayed the completion of this inquiry and hindered the truth–seeking process.

(Here is the source)
Published in: on July 6, 2011 at 5:04 am  Comments (5)  
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A written interview with me…

A certain journalism student felt I was worthy of being interviewed about education in DC and spoke to me by phone a week or so ago. The same student then asked me some follow-up questions which I responded to in writing. Here goes:

————–
Q1) Last year, middle and high school test scores continued their climb over the past decade as proficiency levels were 3.2% and 4.1% higher in reading and math respectively.  However, elementary scores dipped 4.4% and 4.6% in reading and math proficiency.  Is there any specific reason for this?
A:I don’t really know for sure. It could be the test itself was significantly different and produced different results, but since I am no longer in the classroom I didn’t get a chance to even peek at it while students were taking it. It also could be that instruction was worse. But the results, taken at face value, don’t seem to indicate that “IMPACT” was a rousing success, do they?

However, I think your description of the scores could be more accurate. I think you are trying to say something like this: in grade 3, in 2010, about 43% of all regular DCPS students scored proficient or advanced in reading on the DC-CAS, while in 2009 in the same grade, it was about 49% who scored proficient or advanced. And in math, the proportion of 3rd graders scoring proficient or advanced in 2010 was only 39%, when it was 47% the year before. However, in the 10th grade, the proportion of all regular DCPS students scoring proficient or advanced rose from about 31% in 2009 to 34% in 2010, and in math, the corresponding proportion rose from 41% to 44%.
Q2) Do you think that elementary schools should be doing anything differently as a result of these “poor” results?

A: I think they should STOP teaching to the test because the test is worse than useless. They should ignore IMPACT, ignore NCLB, and just teach. Of course, this will happen when pigs fly, or when Obama, Duncan, Gates, and the others who are deforming American public education come to their senses.
Q3) Do you think it was irresponsible of Michelle Rhee to leave DCPS in October in the middle of the school year, especially in light of these scores?

A: It makes a mockery of all of her claims of it all being for the children. What’s important to Michelle Rhee is her career.
Q4)  In your first interview, you mentioned some positive things about common course standards, could you elaborate more on this and give specifics?

A: I honestly don’t recall what I said when I spoke to you. Common core curricula can be good or they can be bad. I understand part of the impulse for it, especially when I can visit a pre-calculus class where many students cannot solve the equation x=3y+2 for y. However, I don’t think that’s a problem with the curriculum itself; probably, it’s because students are forced to take mathematics courses they aren’t ready for, and teachers are forced to pass students or else they will get fired or receive low evaluations, and students are not held accountable for not doing any homework, for not coming to class, for sleeping in class. And, of course, students almost never see WHY they should learn most of this stuff (especially math).

Right now, curriculum in the US seems to be written by textbook publishers, some of which do a decent job and some of which produce content that is worse than execrable. If common core standards are to be used to dictate exactly what each teacher must do and say each day and precisely what is to be the lesson that each child learns — as is happening in a number of school districts — then I think that’s horrible. If teachers and other educators who deeply understand children, how they learn, and the various disciplines and how they relate to each other, are actually asked to carefully delineate which are the important dozen or so topics that should be learned each school year, leaving the details up to the schools and the teachers, then the idea has merit. But I don’t think that’s what is happening. Last time I checked, the various states that signed off on the ‘common core’ (not common course) curricula did NOT have broad involvement by teachers and other educators or experts. And unfortunately, I haven’t looked carefully at the CCS for math, so I can’t really comment intelligently. I do know for a fact that our current math standards in DC are a joke.

I had an education that most definitely did NOT have a common core. In fact, it had a lot of breaks in it. I went to school for part of elementary school in Montgomery County, MD, most of grades K-6. But for a full year (starting in January ’59and ending in January ’60, IIRC) I went to a French school in Paris, France, where they definitely did things quite differently than we did here. Then I went to JHS in Washington, DC, followed by two years at a New Hampshire boarding school (Phillips Exeter), followed by half a year of what they call Premiere at the same French school, followed by another half year of Terminale, at the conlusion of which I took their baccalaureat exam in the mathematics section. (There, one decides on a secondary ‘major’ at around the 10th grade, kind of like they do at Hogwarts.)

All of those different schools and systems that I attended emphasized different things and de-emphasized or ignored different things. I learned math stuff in France that I still have no earthly idea why they had us learn; and I find myself being asked to teach stuff in mathematics in the US that is virtually useless as well. Which one has the best curriculum? I don’t know. What I really did NOT like abhout the French system is that it was really lock-step, with very little room for exploration of ideas. I remember asking questions in my science and math classes — classes where I really did understand what was going on (unlike in my French literature and philosophy classes where I was completely lost) — and was gently (or not) reminded that “ce n’est pas au programme” — i.e., you are bringing up a topic that is not in the prescribed national syllabus and we are not going to discuss it.
Q5) Do you have any predictions for the results of this year’s DC-CAS?
A: I have no clue. It seems to me that most of the changes in scores at any given school, from year to year, are (a) somewhat random and (b) depend a lot on how well the teachers learn how to predict what will be on the test and figure out more or less effective ways of prepping their kids. Of course, prepping for this execrable test is truly wasting the students’ time. Will the test be harder this time? Will they grade it more leniently this time? Oh, yes, they don’t include all of the questions in students’ final score! Scoring these NCLB tests is a very political decision: which questions will be included in the final score and which will be quietly omitted; where does one draw the line between “below basic” and “basic”; how many points do various answers receive to ‘brief constructed responses’ and so on. It’s all really a con game and needs to be stopped, because it’s not helping to improve the education of our youngsters. All it’s doing is demoralizing parents, students and teachers, and enriching a small group of educational profiteers.

Published in: on March 27, 2011 at 7:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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End the Race to Nowhere

An article describing how some parents and children in Pennsylvania chose to opt out of No Corporation Left Behind.

A book describing how the testing industry doesn’t produce any information that is actually of any value.

A web page on organizing to change the mess education is in.

Latest issue of Rethinking Schools magazine. It also includes an article from which I am printing a few sentences, as follows:

“The corporate reformers’ larger goal, to borrow a phrase from the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a political lobby financed by hedge fund millionaires that is a chief architect of the current campaign, is to “burst the dam” that has historically protected public education and its $600 billion annual expenditures from unchecked commercial exploitation and privatization.

“This is not some secret conspiracy. It’s a multisided political campaign funded by wealthy financial interests like hedge fund superstar Whitney Tilson and rich private foundations like Gates, Broad, and Walton. And it’s important to keep this big picture in mind, even as we talk about specifics like merit pay and charters, because these issues are the dynamite charges being put in place to burst the dam.

“What is really new and alarming are the large strides that those promoting business models and market reforms have made in attaching their agenda to the urgent need of poor communities who have, in too many cases, been badly served by the current system.”

 

Published in: on March 25, 2011 at 10:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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More Problems With DCPS Curriculum and DC-CAS

Upon taking a closer look at the DCPS standards and the DC-CAS, I submit that they should probably both be ignored by any teacher who actually wants to do right by students. If you are doing a good job teaching the things that students should actually know, it won’t make much difference on their DC-CAS scores. Conversely, if you teach to the DC-CAS, you are short-changing your students.

Case in point: Standards in Geometry and Algebra 1 ostensibly covered on the 10th grade DC-CAS. Recall that all 10th graders at this point in DCPS have supposedly finished and passed Algebra 1, and are enrolled in at least Geometry by 10th grade.

I have prepared a little chart giving the standards (or learning objectives) for Geometry: the ones listed in the DCPS list of learning standards, and the number of questions that I found on the page of released DC-CAS questions that supposedly address that standard. There is almost no correlation at all. In fact, if you threw a dart at the topics and chose them randomly, you would do a better job than the test-writing company did.

Published in: on March 23, 2011 at 12:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Modest Proposal: NRFEL

I have a modest proposal.


The lower a student performs on the various tests, obviously the more resources it takes to get that student up to par (however you define “par”).

Obviously, right now, regular public schools, especially those in low-income areas, have disproportionately large percentages of those such low-performing, high-needs students.

The current, popular accusation is that the school teachers in those inner-city schools are deliberately sabotaging the learning of those students (and causing that low performance), under union protection.

It is charged that if schools were privatized in general, and/or if teacher union organizations were smashed, then freed-up non-union public schools, and also charter and private and parochial schools, would do a better job.

But today, let’s be honest. All of those high-performing schools are selective. And/or, they put out the low-performers, and the ones they consider ‘rotten apples.’

There has to be some place for housing the kids who are put out of, or simply not allowed in to, more-exclusive schools (be they charter, boarding, magnet, ritzy private, ritzy public, etc., etc…). And guess where that is?

Right. The regular, comprehensive public schools. Especially in poor rural areas and the inner city, there are lots of kids with lots of serious deficiencies, which take a LOT of work to overcome. But many of these schools are totally overwhelmed — I’ve seen it. I’ve seen schools in total chaos, where much of the time, nearly no teaching and learning can possibly take place. Or else it takes an absolute Superman or Wonder Woman to accomplish some teaching in one corner of the school, and only with lots of administrative support, which is denied to the rest of the school…  I’ve seen that, too.

OK,  If those other schools do so much better, let’s try a truly randomized experiment to see if that’s really true. Or else let’s give all of our kids the opportunity to go there.


But what if we turn that on its head? And actually use the ONE positive proposal that Michele Rhee, ever came up with?

Here it is: In four words, it’s this:

USE A REAL LOTTERY.

Use a real lottery for all.

I will call my proposal the Non-Revokable Full-year-long Exchange Lottery (NRFEL for short).

Under NRFEL, in every officially designated ‘failing’ public school, all of the low-performing students would be placed in a lottery. Based on the outcome of the lottery, those students would be selected either to :


(1) stay at their regular school, or

(2) to attend a randomly-selected high-performing school; said school would be either…

(a) located within a two-hour bus ride of the home of the student, or

(b) be a boarding school located anywhere in the USA.

Important terms:

(3) All this would be for no extra taxpayer dollars. Yup.

(4) None of these exchange students could be denied entry, for any reason.

(5) None of these exchange students could be subsequently be put out by the receiving school, FOR ANY REASON until the end of the school year, and the students and their parents would know that. (6) Re-assessments would take place exactly once a year, during the summer break, to discern whether the exchange should continue. If the student then is performing adequately, he or she would return to his or her original school. Let me repeat: those high-performing schools would include ALL high-performing schools within a 2-hour bus ride. Oh, and they also include ALL boarding schools in the nation. For no additional money.

Don’t worry about overcrowding the receiving schools. NRFEL takes care of that. as follows.

(7) Each student in each high-achieving school is also placed in a lottery.

(8) Every school that receives one of the low-achieving or handicapped students from a ‘failing’ would simply send back one adequately -performing student, chosen at random in this second lottery. It could be worked out later whether there would be exact, one-for-one exchanges, or whether all students being moved would be put into a general “pool”.  This is a 1:1 exchange ratio: one kid in, one kid out. So class sizes, overall, wouldn’t rise. But there might be need for physical therapists, mental health and social service professionals, reading and math specialists, as well as security guards in some cases. None of which the school district shall be liable for funding.

A very good question arises: what if the receiving school receives so many low-achieving students that it is overwhelmed and enters the category of “failing school” because they are unable to work enough of a miracle in one year? Well, then they can enter the lottery the next year on the other side of the tracks (so to speak).


One aspect I haven’t decided on yet for NRFEL is whether there should also be a similar randomized exchanges of teachers and staff and administration between high-achieveing and low-achieving schools. So I will put this is up for debate. Perhaps this feature could be a separate experiment in geographical region. (Imagine teachers and staff at Sidwell, Holton-Arms, and BCC randomly exchanging places with teachers at schools in deepest Anacostia or inside the near-DC PG County Beltway area.)


I know what you are thinking: NCLB has something like this, but often there is no room in the ‘receiving schools’. In fact, this has happened a lot in DCPS already. NRFEL takes care of this. First, it’s random, so it’s not merely selecting the kids with the most-motivated parents. Second, it’s ALL schools, no matter what denomination, ownership status, or jurisdiction. The exact numbers of exchange students and their distribution could be debated in committee hearings. I propose that each geographical region (think, Washington Metro Area, or Greater Washington, or Delmarva Peninsula, or Greater New York) would take a census of all youth, and their academic levels, to decide how to allot those students among high-and-low-achieving schools. After all, just about all of our public school students have to take lots of standardized tests. What better possible use could we make of this data? NRFEL’s goal is equalizing educational opportunity for all youth, and isn’t that supposedly what America is based on?
Let me emphasize one thing. None of these receiving schools would have the right or capacity to send any of these students back, nor to expel them. They would have to keep them and deal with them for a full school year, whether they are sick, incarcerated or hospitalized, or truant, or  whether they come to school each and every single day and join the rugby or football or hockey or computer-tech club at their new school. For no extra expense, remember.


What ever could we use to ‘persuade’ parochial and private schools to go along? Public charter schools and magnet schools are funded by public money anyway, so they would have to comply. But think of this: private and religious schools get substantial benefits and subsidies from society and government. I will just mention one public subsidy for these schools: tax exemption!


(BTW: have you recently noticed the bill for tuition at the high-flying local private schools?)


Oh, and the low-performing schools can’t put their high-performing return-exchange students out, either. Though those schools might just find that those students will hold their own pretty well, forming substantial fractions of the school’s student government, athletic teams, and other clubs, not to mention their honor roll…


Waddaya say?

Duncan Thinks Students Don’t Take Enough Standardized Tests

Just when you though too much time in the school year is already being taken up by testing, Arne Duncan is planning even more.  Sheesh. When will the madness end?

An excerpt:

“Dr. Stephen Krashen offered a cogent rebuttal to Duncan on the Answer Sheet,where he pointed out:

The plan presented in the Department of Education’s Blueprint for Reform calls for an astonishing amount of testing, far more than we have now with No Child Left Behind. The only people I know who support the testing plan have spent very little time in schools, haven’t read the Blueprint, or just aren’t listening to real education professions or students. Or all three.

We are about to make a mistake that will cost billions and make school life (even more) miserable for millions of teachers and students. The only ones who will profit are the testing companies. We should be talking about reducing testing, not increasing it.

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2011/01/the_trouble_with_tests_you_can.html

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