Remedial College Courses and Real Problems

From a recent discussion on the Concerned4DCPS list about a recent NYT article on the numbers of students taking remedial courses at the college level. I have taken the opportunity to revise and extend my remarks. If you want to read these in chronological order, start at the bottom.


(From me:)

Judge in NY State Throws Out ‘Value-Added Model’ Ratings

I am pleased that in an important, precedent-setting case, a judge in New York State has ruled that using Value-Added measurements to judge the effectiveness of teachers is ‘arbitrary’ and ‘capricious’.

The case involved teacher Sheri Lederman, and was argued by her husband.

“New York Supreme Court Judge Roger McDonough said in his decision that he could not rule beyond the individual case of fourth-grade teacher Sheri G. Lederman because regulations around the evaluation system have been changed, but he said she had proved that the controversial method that King developed and administered in New York had provided her with an unfair evaluation. It is thought to be the first time a judge has made such a decision in a teacher evaluation case.”

In case you were unaware of it, VAM is a statistical black box used to predict how a hypothetical student is supposed to score on a Big Standardized Test one year based on the scores of every other student that year and in previous years. Any deviation (up or down) of that score is attributed to the teacher.

Gary Rubinstein and I have looked into how stable those VAM scores are in New York City, where we had actual scores to work with (leaked by the NYTimes and other newspapers). We found that they were inconsistent and unstable in the extreme! When you graph one year’s score versus next year’s score, we found that there was essentially no correlation at all, meaning that a teacher who is assigned the exact same grade level, in the same school, with very similar  students, can score high one year, low the next, and middling the third, or any combination of those. Very, very few teachers got scores that were consistent from year to year. Even teachers who taught two or more grade levels of the same subject (say, 7th and 8th grade math) had no consistency from one subject to the next. See my blog  (not all on NY City) herehere, here,  here, herehere, here, here,  herehere, and here. See Gary R’s six part series on his blog here, here, here, here, here, and here. As well as a less technical explanation here.

Mercedes Schneider has done similar research on teachers’ VAM scores in Louisiana and came up with the same sorts of results that Rubinstein and I did.

Which led all three of us to conclude that the entire VAM machinery was invalid.

And which is why the case of Ms. Lederman is so important. Similar cases have been filed in numerous states, but this is apparently the first one where a judgement has been reached.

(Also read this. and this.)

Network for Public Education Event in NYC, October 2014

(Another old post that never made it out… From October 2014)

Russ Walsh has what appears to be a concise write up on the NPE event yesterday which I could not attend but tried to follow online.

Here is his post:

Demeaning treatment of a Texas science teacher

(From Nov 2014; this somehow never made it out to the blogosphere… It’s not original from me)

What this teacher is going through is the sort of mindless edumalarkey that is driving many excellent teachers out of the classroom. She has asked that her story be publicized.

The Educational Delusional Scheme by Dr. Denise Gordon November 22, 2014

I write this short essay to disclose what is happening within my own science classroom, I write to expose the demeaning work environment that I and my fellow colleagues must endure, and I write to give purpose to my years of acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge in teaching science for the secondary student. I am not a failure; however, by the Texas STAAR standard assessment test, I am since this past year I had a 32% failure rate from my 8th grade students in April, 2014. The year before, my students had an 82% passing rate.

What happened in one school year? It does not matter that 2/3 of the student population speaks Spanish in their home. It does not matter their reading capability could be on a 4th grade level. It does not matter homework never gets turned in and parent phone calls bring little results.

What does matter was that my students were required to develop a yearlong research project by stating a problem, thinking of a solution, designing the experimental set up, collecting the required data, and formulating a conclusion. Some of the projects were good enough to enter into the regional science fair. From a selection of thirty-five projects, twenty-four were sent to the regional science fair. Some of these projects won ribbons and a chance to go to the state science fair competition. Five of my students were invited to participate in the elite Broadcom Master Science Competition. No other 8th grader in my school district achieved this accomplishment. Other yearlong projects involved entering the Future City Competition sponsored by the IEEE.

My eighth graders had seven teams to compete and three came back with special awards. Another science competition for secondary students is eCybermission sponsored by the NSTA and the U.S. Army. My only team of girls who competed in this program won first place for the entire southern region of the eCybermission Competition.

Did any of my students get a thank you or congratulations from our school principal or the district about their science achievements? Sadly, the answer is a no. All I got was a call into the principal’s office at the end of the school year for the purpose of being pulled from teaching the 8th grade for the next school year due to my high failure rate on the state test. My students and I did receive two thank you letters from two community partnerships.

The Potters Water Action Group, represented by Richard Wukich and Steve Carpenter were thankful for our educational brochure that my students helped design for their water filtration project. Krista Dunham, Project Director of Special Olympics in Fort Worth, sent a thank you to my students for donating the soap box derby race money that my students organized and who built three scrap box cars for this worthy affair.

I am now being monitored on a weekly basis within my 6th grade classes and their posted grades. I am required to have a 15% failure rate. All assignments must be pulled from the district’s online teaching schedule; therefore, no soap box races or water brochures this year. I am not allowed to take any of my students off campus for data collecting.

Student project development does not flow well in the district school calendar, so I am being questioned by the principal about my scientific teaching philosophy. Action science with real world data is not on the district’s curriculum website. It does not matter that I have a Ph.D. in curriculum development. I must teach to the test since every three weeks all students will be taking a mandated district test. This means all teachers must review for the test, students take the test, and then we go over the test. That is three days out of fifteen teaching days dedicated to a test every three weeks.

Testing and retesting with documented lesson plans from the scheduled curriculum is what the district wants, but is it what the students need really to enjoy science?

Our test scores are posted online and evaluated by the administration. Our performance on these tests weighs heavily into our yearly professional evaluation. I have been placed on a “growth plan” due to the fact that I teach what my students should know rather than what the district has posted. I am somewhat a rebel or just set in my ways; however, this growth plan gives the new principal her leverage to remove me from this school. If I do not meet her standards on the growth plan at the end of the year, then I must be relocated to another school.

I teach my students math skills, writing skills, and research skills. I document this growth instead of monitoring their district test scores. I have been ordered to submit weekly announcements to the parent newsletter, but my submissions are deleted by the principal. I have been ordered to attend professional development at the level three tier within our district, but there is no level three offered because level three does not exist.

I have been documented that 100% of my students do not understand my lessons when I teach because I use “big” words. The 100% came from asking two or three students in the classroom by the principal when she did her bimonthly walk throughs. I have been pulled out of teaching class to be reprimanded on my poor teaching practices rather than wait for my planning time. I must lower my standards and give less work if I am to maintain a 15% failure rate. Is this what the parents want? Will this prepare the students for high school?

I can no longer incorporate the arts within my assignments since my activities do not come from the district’s website. The current push for STEM should be the banner to wave inside my classroom since I have been a secondary science teacher for the past thirty years; however, I could not and we should not trade the arts and music for pure technical science and math course work. Creative problem solving with visual displays or performing arts can be demonstrated instead of just technology and engineering skills. Language arts would implement the importance of writing and research instead of just writing a basic lab report.

When a student is allowed to decide on what he/she would like to study for their research project so many necessary skills are required. The student must speak and “sell” their project by presenting to outside judges at the regional science fair, designing skills are needed for the backboard, mathematical and technological skills are used for the data collection. The actual meaning of “science” comes from the Latin verb, scire, “to know” via knowledge gained by a study or a particular branch of study (Ayto, 1990). To know encompasses all topics of interest and that is why I teach science bringing in all areas of skills and interests for the student to develop. This is not found on the district curriculum website.

I want the student to be creative, to write, to sing, to explore, to draw, to decipher, and to act in order to gain “knowledge” through the sciences.
I firmly believe students should have a choice in their own curriculum of study, final assessment should come from a variety of skills displaying the student’s individual growth, and what is taught inside the classroom should be applied to help the local community and school partnerships.

My principal has cut my fifteen year commitment with community partnerships for the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens, Botanical Research Institute of Texas, and the Fort Worth Science & History Museum by not approving any of my bus requests. Action science does not exist. Science education lies only in the classroom and on the district’s website. This is the educational delusion I must work in; a science classroom that is data driven to the point of paralysis and where students no longer experience real world problem solving projects.

Retirement is my ticket out of this madness, but what will be the student’s ticket out?

A Concise Primer on Privatization from Marion Brady

This is a concise primer, written by Marion Brady, on how the 1/100 of 1% have been privatizing our schools and getting away with it. -GFB

Advice column for pundits and politicians

Privatizing public schools: A primer for pundits and politicians


When, about thirty years ago, corporate interests began their highly organized, well-funded effort to privatize public education, you wouldn’t have read or heard about it. They didn’t want to trigger the debate that such a radical change in an important institution warranted.

If, like most pundits and politicians, you’ve supported that campaign, it’s likely you’ve been snookered. Here’s a quick overview of the snookering process.


The pitch


Talking Points: (a) Standardized testing proves America’s schools are poor. (b) Other countries are eating our lunch. (c) Teachers deserve most of the blame. (d) The lazy ones need to be forced out by performance evaluations. (e) The dumb ones need scripts to read or “canned standards” telling them exactly what to teach. (f) The experienced ones are too set in their ways to change and should be replaced by fresh Five-Week-Wonders from Teach for America. (Bonus: Replacing experienced teachers saves a ton of money.) (g) Public (“government”) schools are a step down the slippery slope to socialism.




Education establishment resistance to privatization is inevitable, so (a) avoid it as long as possible by blurring the lines between “public” and “private.” (b) Push school choice, vouchers, tax write-offs, tax credits, school-business partnerships, profit-driven charter chains. (c) When resistance comes, crank up fear with the, “They’re eating our lunch!” message. (d) Contribute generously to all potential resisters—academic publications, professional organizations, unions, and school support groups such as PTA. (e) Create fake “think tanks,” give them impressive names, and have them do “research” supporting privatization. (f) Encourage investment in teacher-replacer technology—internet access, I-pads, virtual schooling, MOOCS, etc. (e) Pressure state legislators to make life easier for profit-seeking charter chains by taking approval decisions away from local boards and giving them to easier-to-lobby state-level bureaucrats. (g) Elect the “right” people at all levels of government. (When they’re campaigning, have them keep their privatizing agenda quiet.)




If you’ll read the fine-print disclaimers on high-stakes standardized tests, you’ll see how grossly they’re being misused, but they’re the key to privatization. The general public, easily impressed by numbers and mathematical razzle-dazzle, believes competition is the key to quality, so want quality quantified even though it can’t be done. Machine-scored tests don’t measure quality. They rank.

It’s hard to rank unlike things so it’s necessary to standardize. That’s what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) do. To get the job done quickly, Bill Gates picked up the tab, got the CCSS “legitimized” by getting important politicians to sign off on them, then handed them to teachers as a done deal.

The Standards make testing and ranking a cinch. They also make making billions a cinch. Manufacturers can use the same questions for every state that has adopted the Standards or facsimiles thereof.

If challenged, test fans often quote the late Dr. W. Edward Deming, the world-famous quality guru who showed Japanese companies how to build better stuff than anybody else. In his book, The New Economics, Deming wrote, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Here’s the whole sentence as he wrote it: “It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it—a costly myth.”


Operating the weapon


What’s turned standardized testing into a privatizing juggernaut are pass-fail “cut scores” set by politicians. Saying kids need to be challenged, they set the cut score high enough to fail many (sometimes most) kids. When the scores are published, they point to the high failure rate to “prove” public schools can’t do the job and should be closed or privatized. Clever, huh?

The privatizing machinery is in place. Left alone, it’ll gradually privatize most, but not all, public schools. Those that serve the poorest, the sickest, the handicapped, the most troubled, the most expensive to educate—those will stay in what’s left of the public schools.


Weapon malfunction


Look at standardized tests from kids’ perspective. Test items (a) measure recall of secondhand, standardized, delivered information, or (b) require a skill to be demonstrated, or (c) reward an ability to second-guess whoever wrote the test item. Because kids didn’t ask for the information, because the skill they’re being asked to demonstrate rarely has immediate practical use, and because they don’t give a tinker’s dam what the test-item writer thinks, they have zero emotional investment in what’s being tested.

As every real teacher knows, no emotional involvement means no real learning. Period. What makes standardized testslook like they work is learner emotion, but it’s emotion that doesn’t have anything to do with learning. The ovals get penciled in to avoid trouble, to please somebody, to get a grade, or to jump through a bureaucratic hoop to be eligible to jump through another bureaucratic hoop. When the pencil is laid down, what’s tested, having no perceived value, automatically erases from memory.


Before you write…


If you want to avoid cranking out the usual amateurish drivel about standardized testing that appears in the op-eds, editorials, and syndicated columns of the mainstream media, ask yourself a few questions about the testing craze: (a) Should life-altering decisions hinge on the scores of commercially produced tests not open to public inspection? (b) How wise is it to only teach what machines can measure? (c) How fair is it to base any part of teacher pay on scores from tests that can’t evaluate complex thought? (d) Are tests that have no “success in life” predictive power worth the damage they’re doing?

Here’s a longer list of problems you should think about before you write.



America’s schools have always struggled—an inevitable consequence, first, of a decision in 1893 to narrow and standardize the high school curriculum and emphasize college prep; second, from a powerful strain of individualism in our national character that eats away support for public institutions; third, from a really sorry system of institutional organization. Politicians, not educators, make education policy, basing it on the simplistic conventional wisdom that educating means “delivering information.”

In fact, educating is the most complex and difficult of all professions. Done right, teaching is an attempt to help the young align their beliefs, values, and assumptions more closely with what’s true and real, escape the bonds of ethnocentrism, explore the wonders and potential of humanness, and become skilled at using thought processes that make it possible to realize those aims.

Historically, out of the institution’s dysfunctional organizational design came schools with lots of problems, but with one redeeming virtue. They were “loose.” Teachers had enough autonomy to do their thing. So they did, and the kids that some of them coached brought America far more than its share of patents, scholarly papers, scientific advances, international awards, and honors.

Notwithstanding their serious problems, America’s public schools were once the envy of the world. Now, educators around that world shake their heads in disbelief (or maybe cheer?) as we spend billions of dollars to standardize what once made America great—un-standardized thought.

A salvage operation is still (barely) possible, but not if politicians, prodded by pundits, continue to do what they’ve thus far steadfastly refused to do—listen to people who’ve actually worked with real students in real classrooms, and did so long enough and thoughtfully enough to know something about teaching.


Note: I invite response, especially from those in positions of influence or authority who disagree with me.

Marion Brady

View this on Basecamp

Some criticism of the Charter School Gravy Train

The writers of ‘Schools Matter’ have a couple of articles on how the CEOs of many charter schools use the lax regulations to make big bucks for themselves, at the expense of their students. The links are here and here.


Definitely worth looking at and pondering.

Valerie Jablow: Waste and Attrition in DC

Valerie Jablow is a parent on Capitol Hill (DC) and has a blog (EducationDC) where she delves into factual stuff – like the actual statistics concerning numbers of children in DC, in DCPS, and in the DC charter schools; as well as wasteful spending by the Mayor and DC City Council.

Here are some recent posts by her that she brought to my attention. I recommend reading them and taking some action. I also add what she wrote:

[Jablow] “posted a follow-up blog yesterday to Suzanne Wells’s great blog post about 4th to 5th grade attrition at Capitol Hill DCPS schools—and how that attrition is related to the recent PARCC scores. 
[Jablow’s] blog post is available here:
Suzanne’s blog post from September is here:
Also related to Capitol Hill and education issues are two other recent blog posts:

Even the Chancellor Calls the Results ‘Sobering’

The Washington City Paper has an article on the PARCC results with way more graphs and charts than I do, and they quote even Chancellor Kaya Henderson as saying the results were ‘sobering’.

Please remind me why she still has a job?

She and several other speakers said that the PARCC results were more ‘honest’ than the old DC-CAS results, probably because the new ‘passing’ scores are lower than the old ones. I guess that means that it’s more ‘honest’ to say that students are doing worse than we were previously led to believe, under the current regime of all-testing-all-the-time and turn-half-the-students-over-to-unregulated charters?


PARCC Results Released in DC

I just got back from watching the public release of the results of the PARCC test that students in Washington DC took about 7 months ago.

(Let that sink in: it took the testing company, and their consultants, and the city’s consultants, over HALF A YEAR to massage the data into a releasable form. So much for having these tests be able to be used to ‘inform instruction’ or help teachers figure out what kind of help their students need. It’s now the last day of November, and the students have been in school since August. What kind of help is that to teachers or parents? And tho I haven’t looked at the released school scores or samples of what the teachers will see, I’m not optimistic. If the past is any guide, the scores themselves will be essentially useless as well…)

(It won’t take so long next time, we were assured…)

I got to see Mayor Bowser, Councilman Grosso, Chancellor Kaya Henderson, [powerless] Superintendent Hanseul Kang, and Deputy Mayor for Education Jenny Niles, and charter honcho Scott Pearson perform and answer some mostly-lame questions from some members of the media.

What we saw were that advanced students in DC (largely white ones) do exceedingly well on this PARCC battery of tests, and that others (blacks; hispanics; SPEDs; students on free or reduced lunch; ELLs; or Students At Risk) do much worse. Which of course is  the very same result we’ve seen on the NAEP for a couple of decades.

In fact, of all the cities and states measured on the NAEP, Washington DC has the very widest gaps in test scores between the Upper Caucasia Haves and the Have-Nots everywhere else, and those gaps are if anything getting wider.

It was interesting to hear Henderson’s defenses of the results, which still showed very low percentages of most students “passing” the PARCC. She said, among other things, that

(1) since students at the lower grades generally scored higher than those at the upper grades, that show’s we are on the right path [seems to me it shows the exact opposite; the longer that students have been exposed to “Reform”, the worse they do… and

(2) It takes a long time, you can’t just expect to turn a switch and have everything be wonderful overnight, we need lots of wrap-around services and a longer school day and school year and support for teachers.

Regarding the latter excuse: isn’t that exactly what teachers were condemned for saying under Chancellor Rhee, whose understudy was none other than Kaya Henderson? Didn’t Rhee imply that the only reason that poor students did poorly in school was that their greedy, lazy teachers, empowered by their evil union, refused to teach them anything? And that anybody who said that it’s a lot harder to teach impoverished students of color with chaotic families (if any) than it is to teach middle-class children with educated parents – why those people were just making excuses for poverty?


Freeloaders – a couple of well-financed anti-union teachers

Recently the NYT had an interview with two anti-union teachers in California, who are the faces (but not the funders) of the lawsuit before the Supreme Court on whether unions can charge their members ‘agency fees’.

If the wrong side wins this case, it will have a devastating impact on what remains of the pitifully small American labor movement.

Jersey Jazzman has a good article summarizing and demolishing the arguments made by those two right-wing teachers.

By the way, nearly everything Mark Weber (Jersey Jazzman) writes is excellent. (My goof: for some reason I imagined that the article was by Arthur Goldstein, another excellent writer and teacher.)

Published in: on August 12, 2015 at 7:06 pm  Comments (1)  
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