Tag Archives: Standardized Testing

Rethink and Rollback the Expansion of AP and IB

19 Oct

What if the education reform ideology is wrong? What if the ideology of reform was based on an incorrect understanding of developmentally appropriate pedagogy? In a 2006 hearing before the senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, Assistant Secretary of Education, Henry Johnson testified, “We believe that the Advanced Placement program offers a proven, scalable approach to raising expectations and increasing rigor in America’s high schools, particularly those with high concentrations of low-income students that typically do not offer such curricula.” What if that belief is ill-founded?

I taught AP physics and what a treat that was for me. I always had the highest performing students in the high school. This year both the salutatorian and the valedictorian were in my class. It was way more interesting than teaching a concepts oriented class in physics designed for the general student. Of course, I enjoyed teaching AP Physics to the school’s elite students, however, I perceived a dark side. The more I pondered it, the more I concluded that the AP and IB programs were developmentally inappropriate.

Physics Lab 2

Mar Vista High School – Picture by Thomas Ultican

IB stands for international baccalaureate. People who worked in embassies or other out of country assignments put their children in international schools. When they move from one country to the next, the school curriculum tended to be significantly different. IB developed to standardize curriculum from one country to the next. The IB program is unnecessary in America. Local communities who pay for schools deserve input into the curriculum and locally developed curriculum vetted by education leaders at local universities is more meaningful to the community.

AP stands for advance placement. It is a product of College Board, the testing giant that produces the SAT tests. College Board is organized as a “non-profit” but it has hundreds of employees making six and seven figure incomes. AP is being heavily promoted by technology companies, politicians and other corporations. There is a push to make AP the leader in curricular development and teacher training. AP employs the teach to the test strategy of pedagogy.

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) is now putting pressure towards the expansion of AP courses in high schools across the nation. A teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School District wrote me this week saying teachers are under heavy pressure to participate in NMSI/AP sponsored training and AP class promotion.

Both AP and IB, allow students to earn college credits that are accepted by most universities. But is it developmentally appropriate? Are we harming students?

“Sicker Not Smarter”

Paraphrasing an observation about American public education students between world war II and the publishing of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983:

“They were not serious about learning. They went to dances, participated in sports and performed in plays. They hung out with friends and listened to rock music. They seldom studied and were consistently average performers when compared with foreign students. They graduated from high school and three months latter a miracle occurred; they became the top college students in the world.”

Throughout the history of American education there has been a constant healthy debate about pedagogy. It would be difficult to find any professional educator that does not believe education in public schools can be improved. However, education reform that is not developmentally appropriate is many times worse than the derided status quo.

The 1983 polemic “A Nation at Risk” marks a transition from education guided by professional educators to education guided by powerful business leaders, politicians and famous scientists. Convinced that education in America was failing, their solution was education standards, testing and competition. The famous education writer from Harvard University, Alfie Kohn characterized modern education reform in his 2001 book, The Schools Our Children Deserve: “The dominant philosophy of fixing schools consists of saying, in effect, that ‘what we’re doing is OK, we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger, louder, meaner, and we’ll have a better country.’” (page 16)

Two years ago, Vicki Abeles published her book Beyond Measure, Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation. She opened chapter 1, “Sicker, Not Smarter” by quoting Stuart Slavin, a Saint Louis University School of Medicine professor and pediatrician. He shared,

“My personal feeling is that we are conducting an enormous and unprecedented social experiment on an entire generation of American children, and the evidence of a negative impact on adolescent mental health is overwhelming. … It is even more profoundly disturbing when one considers that there is absolutely no evidence that this educational approach actually leads to better educational outcomes.” (page 15)

Abeles quoted Donna Jackson Nakazawa, “There’s a perception that constant high demands will make kids stronger says Nakazawa, ‘“but biologically that is not the case; it’s actually breaking down the brain rather than creating resilience.”’ (page 31) Abeles continued:

“We think of the years from zero to three as the critical period for brain development, but Temple University neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg underscores that adolescence is another one. ‘[T]he brain’s malleability makes adolescence a period of tremendous opportunity – and great risk,’ writes Steinberg. ‘If we expose our young people to positive, supportive environments, they flourish. But if the environments are toxic, they will suffer in powerful and enduring ways.’” (page 36)

Writing for the New York Times Magazine this month Benoit Denizet-Lewis addressed the deteriorating mental health manifesting among America’s teens. She reported,

“… Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University who has studied distress and resilience in both well-off and disadvantaged teenagers, has found that privileged youths are among the most emotionally distressed young people in America. ‘These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic,’ she says, but there’s ‘contempt and scorn for the idea that kids who have it all might be hurting.’

“For many of these young people, the biggest single stressor is that they “never get to the point where they can say, ‘I’ve done enough, and now I can stop,’ Luthar says. ‘There’s always one more activity, one more A.P. class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college. Kids have a sense that they’re not measuring up. The pressure is relentless and getting worse.”’

AP Like Common Core is not Age Appropriate

 I taught my first AP physics class in 2004, my first year at Mar Vista High School in Imperial Beach, California. All my AP students were taking multiple AP classes and four of them were taking five. I was shocked! They were high school kids not college kids but were allowed – no encouraged – to take a heavier academic load than most college students take.

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post creates an annual ranking of America’s high schools. He explained the ranking criteria with this year’s rankings:

“America’s Most Challenging High Schools ranks schools through an index formula that’s a simple ratio: the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Advanced International Certificate of Education tests given at a school each year, divided by the number of seniors who graduated that year. A ratio of 1.000 means the school had as many tests as graduates.”

Today, we actually have AP classes for ninth graders and non-profit organizations pressuring public and charter schools to accelerate moving college education into high school. Like the inappropriate efforts to make kindergarten the new first grade, and move advanced mathematics into 7th grade, college classes in high school are not developmentally appropriate.

History Teaches that Breaking the AP Hold in America Will Not be Easy

 By the 1980’s, an education philosophy popular among the titans of industry started dominating. This ideology posits that standards, high expectation, increased rigor and accountability are the keys to improving k-12 education. In 1994, the CEO of IBM, Louis Gerstner wrote in his book Reinventing Education:

“Schools must meet the test any high-performance organization must meet: results. And results are not achieved by bureaucratic regulation. They are achieved by meeting customer requirements by rewards for success and penalties for failure. Market discipline is the key, the ultimate form of accountability.”

Gerstner started and led a non-profit called Achieve Inc. Achieve wrote and holds the copyright for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards have wide financial and political support; however, they are so poorly written, that California re-wrote their version of the NGSS.

In 2010, Bill Gates, who also became an advocate of standards and testing, instigated the writing of the Common Core State Standards. Twenty-one people working in secret wrote the standards. Nineteen of the twenty-one writers came from the testing industry including fifteen from College Board and ACT.

I am not saying there is an evil conspiracy here. I believe that people like Peter O’Donnell the wealthy businessman and political activist from Dallas, Texas, who poured personal wealth into promoting AP are totally sincere in their desire to improve the plight of education in America. I have the same view of Bill Gates and Louis Gerstner. The problem is they have great financial and political power, unfortunately, they do not know what they don’t know about human development and good pedagogy.

Today, colleges throughout the nation are giving college credit to incoming students for successfully completing AP courses. In addition, they are giving extra weight towards admissions to applicants with multiple AP courses on their transcripts. This system is well established and ubiquitous. Chinese history teaches how difficult it is to mitigate this kind of culture.

Two years in a row, representatives from the Chinese ministry of education came to observe classes at Mar Vista High School. They even contracted with one of our math teachers, Mark James, to go to China and teach a model class. In China, there is general agreement that their high-pressure test centric education needs reforming. It is harming the youth.

In Young Zhao’s book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon there is a chapter titled “The Witch That Cannot Be Killed.” In it he wrote:

‘“Thus, more than a decade’s history of prohibition orders from educational departments has been a history of ineffective orders,’ notes a report in China Weekly after reviewing numerous attempts to curtail the power of testing in Chinese Education. How is it possible that in such a tightly controlled, authoritarian society, the omnipotent government has been unable to kill the witch of testing?” (page 151)

Professor Zhao’s answer to his own question is a warning for us. If we ever recognize the wrong educational path we have taken, changing course will be difficult. Zhao explained:

“In the effort to lessen academic burden and reduce testing, Chinese parents, students, teachers, and schools are all playing the prisoner’s dilemma game. Knowing or assuming that others will continue to do more homework, seek private tutoring, and prepare for tests, very few parents, children, and schools would choose to voluntarily reduce the work load for fear of losing the game. Most schools, knowing that others will continue to use exams to select better students and gain an advantage, will choose to continue to use exams to admit students because the school’s reputation is on the line and will be judged by how well its students score in the future. Essentially the dilemma dictates that everyone must continue to behave in the same way. No one can afford to cut back first, for fear that the others won’t follow suit. Consequently, although new policies might bring a better education for all, no player in the education game is willing to take the risky first step.” (page 155/6)

There are many factors that would improve education and they are well know; smaller class sizes, integrated schools, well maintained modern facilities and teachers certificated in the subjects they teach are four such positive reforms. Surprisingly, increasing rigor and driving expectations down to younger students are counter-productive.

Kindergarteners should receive lessons such as don’t eat the clay and it’s not nice to pull hair. Academics are developmentally inappropriate and likely unhealthy for them. Teaching Newton’s laws of motion and principles of algebra in fourth grade will surely cause more harm than good. The nine-year-old brain is not ready for symbolic reasoning. And, teenagers are dealing with natural biological stress; they need a safe low stress environment for healthy development. Rigor and high stakes testing is the wrong recipe.

It is time to rethink AP and roll it back.

NMSI Pushes Bad Education Policies Based on Junk Science

12 Oct

Last Week, I got this message from a colleague in the Sweetwater Union High School District: “you doing ok, brother Ultican? I have a question for you.  In your tireless research and writing on education schemes and scams, what have you learned about NMSI?  They’re in our district now and I’ve got a bad feeling about the direction it’s taking.” In the words of Dr. Johnny Fever, “Sometimes paranoia is just good thinking.”

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) was founded by a group of Dallas area lawyers and businessmen. Tom Luce is identified as the founder and Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil and present US Secretary of State, provided the financing.

An ExxonMobil web-page announces:

“ExxonMobil became a founding sponsor of the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) in 2007 with a $125 million commitment to the non-profit organization, which provides scalable and rigorous program solutions that empower school communities to prepare all students to succeed in college and the workforce.”

Some Background on the Founder

NMSI founder Tom Luce’s bio at the George W. Bush Presidential Center states:

Tom Luce

From the George W. Bush Presidential Center

“Tom Luce, Chief Executive Officer, was a founding partner of Hughes & Luce, LLP, a prominent Texas law firm. … He served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development during the George W. Bush administration ….”

“From 2007 to 2011, he was founding CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, Inc. Additionally, Tom served on Dell, Inc.’s Board of Directors from 1991 until 2012. … He presently serves as the Chairman of the Board for the National Math and Science Initiative.”

Tom Luce is a lawyer not an educator but his fingerprints are all over some of the worst education policies in the history of our country. His bio at the George W. Bush Whitehouse archives says, “… Luce is perhaps best known for his role in 1984 as the chief of staff of the Texas Select Committee of Public Education, which produced one of the first major reform efforts among public schools.” The chairman of that committee was Ross Perot.

A former Texas Lieutenant Governor, Bill Hobby, wrote in 2010 about that 1984 education reform law:

 “Remarkably, most of the reforms initiated in House Bill 72 persist to this day. The teacher test was never repeated, but the statewide student tests are a hallmark of Texas education. They also served as the model for President George W. Bush’s ‘No Child Left Behind’ federal legislation.”

Mark Twain said, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” For Ross Perot, the founder of Electronic Data Systems the problems in education looked like data problems. He and his Chief of Staff, Tom Luce, decided standardized testing and data analysis were the prescription for failing public schools. Unfortunately, standardized testing is totally useless for analyzing learning and public schools were not actually failing.

Tom Luce was also directly involved in implementing NCLB (a spectacular education reform failure) while serving at the US Department of Education.

A Fraudulent Paper from the National Academies Motivated the Formation of NMSI

RISING ABOVE THE GATHERING STORM” was published by the National Academies in 2005. The title of this paper echoes Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm which chronicled the lead up to World War II. The name like its predecessor “A Nation at Risk” indicates that the United States is in imminent danger of losing its superior economic and scientific lead in the world and education is the fundamental problem. Like “A Nation at Risk,” “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” is also a polemic that cannot stand up to scrutiny.

The late Gerald W. Bracey from Stanford University illuminated several false claims that were foundational to the papers arguments. He recited the Academies declaration, “’Last year more than 600,000 engineers graduated from institutions of higher education in China, … In India the figure was 350,000. In America, it was about 70,000.’”

Bracey continued,

“Naturally, given this lofty pedigree, the statistics then materialized in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and on many Web sites. While Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman did not use these specific numbers in his 2005 bestseller, “The World Is Flat,” he did write that Asian universities currently produce eight times as many bachelor’s degrees in engineering as U.S. universities do.”

Bracey discussed the growing doubt about these numbers and cited credible peer reviewed research:

“After an exhaustive study, researchers at Duke University also pummeled the numbers. In a December 2005 analysis, ‘Framing the Engineering Outsourcing Debate,’ they reported that the United States annually produces 137,437 engineers with at least a bachelor’s degree while India produces 112,000 and China 351,537. That’s more U.S. degrees per million residents than in either other nation.”

This is an example of the kind of subterfuge that is being used to promote the unsupportable claim that education in America is not producing enough science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workers.

The impetus and money for writing “RISING ABOVE THE GATHERING STORM” came from the United States Senate:

“Senator Alexander indicated that the Energy Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs, had been given the authority by the full committee’s chair, Senator Pete Domenici, to hold a series of hearings to identify specific steps that the federal government should take to ensure the preeminence of America’s science and technology enterprise. Senator Alexander asked the National Academies to provide assistance in this effort by selecting a committee of experts from the scientific and technical community to assess the current situation and, where appropriate, make recommendations.”

By 2006 that series of hearings seemingly led to President Bush proposing legislation to solve the “crisis” in STEM education. Senate Bill 2198, “Protecting America’s Competitive Edge” came before the senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee on March 6, 2006. Although, the PACE bill never became law, the record of this senate hearing chaired by Lamar Alexander is instructive. It is also where the birth of NMSI came to light.

Arden L. Bement, Jr., Director, National Science Foundation, (one of the academies) said during his testimony:

“As you are well aware, the National Science Foundation has been selected to play a major role in the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative. One of the cornerstones of our involvement is preparing the Nation’s scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematics workforce for the 21st century while improving the quality of math and science education in America’s schools.”

“When three quarters of American colleges find it necessary to offer courses in remedial mathematics and 22 percent of entering freshman take these courses, it is clear that our high schools are not doing the job they should be doing.”

Here a spokesman for the National Academies is revealing that they have a big government contract to fix education. They are not likely to say, “public schools don’t need fixing” and the comment about remedial courses for freshman is meritless. There has always been a substantial number of students needing remedial courses – see the 1892 committee of 10 report.

James B. Hunt, the former Governor of North Carolina testified,

“A recent report on 30 countries and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that of those 30 countries–you have probably heard these figures–the United States is 15th in reading, 18th in science, 24th in math. Of the G-8 countries, the eight countries, we are 7th in 10th grade mathematics.

“Now, those are the facts, folks.”

Governor, that was lame. Researchers around the world have been questioning the methodology employed by PISA and especially the value of their international rankings. For a good discussion of the useless nature of PISA comparisons see Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? starting on page 167. Or take a peek at Noel Wilson’s paper Education Standards and the Problem of Error for a discussion of the absolute folly of standardized testing.

James B. Hunt Jr. also testified. He said, “It is a well-documented fact that the single most important element in a student’s academic success is that student’s teacher.”

That is just ignorance. Parents and their economic conditions are far more important.

Senator Edward Kennedy remarked,

“By 2009, 6 million jobs will go unfilled because our youth will not be qualified to hold them. To keep America competitive, we need more students with degrees in math, science, and critical-need foreign languages.”

That is at a minimum uninformed. Kennedy repeats the lack of STEM educated graduates misinformation. He is selling the big lie.

Lamar Alexander announced one of the day’s star witnesses,

“Peter O’Donnell is here, who is a member of the National Academy’s Committee that produced ‘The Gathering Storm,’ and his work in Dallas is one reason for the inclusion in ‘The Gathering Storm’ report of the advanced placement recommendations.”

Peter O’Donnell is a wealthy businessman from Dallas, Texas and a huge contributor to the University of Texas at Austin. He is described by the American Statesman:

“O’Donnell is something of a godfather in the state Republican Party, having chaired it for several years in the 1960s. He was a top adviser to Bill Clements during his successful 1978 campaign to become the state’s first GOP governor in more than 100 years, and he has contributed to many Republican candidates in Texas and across the nation.

Like most modern edu-philanthropists, he has no education experience or training. He testified about his foundation’s Advanced Placement Initiative which became NMSI:

“The Advanced Placement Incentive Program succeeds because of three fundamental concepts: the high standards of Advanced Placement, which is built on a strong curriculum, rigorous national exams, and measurable results; emphasis on excellent teacher training; and financial incentives for teachers and students. Incentives are key to the success of our program. They provide extra pay for extra work and are paid by private donors.”

He went on to describe the principles which were adopted by NMSI:

“These recommendations will provide public schools in the U.S. with outstanding math and science teachers on a scale equal to the size of the problem. The recommendations are based on six concepts:

  1. High standards;
  2. Measurable results;
  3. Integrated curriculum for math and science for grades 6-12;
  4. Quality teacher training that is based on content;
  5. Incentives to teachers and students based on academic results;
  6. Implementation vehicle in each State to manage the programs to ensure quality control and accountability.

There is general agreement that these six concepts will strengthen education, especially in math and science.”

In other words, NMSI calls for teacher merit pay, a hundred-year-old idea with a hundred years of failure to back it up. It employs top down control by using College Board to design curriculum and train educators. It calls for bribing students to study hard which most education theorists would agree is a way to undermine a student’s need to know and harms self-motivation.

NMSI has been moving into San Diego for a while. It is not just in the Sweetwater School District, in 2015 Serra High School of the San Diego Unified School District held an NMSI AP Incentive Awards Night. The announcement says, “Over $32,000 will be given out to 178 current students and graduates. Three students will be given $500 checks!”

Wealthy Texas conservatives say we should turn away from education professionals at Stanford or those at the California State University and the University of California systems. We should embrace the teach to the test education philosophy of College Board and bribe students to get them engaged. We should do this even though there is no independent evidence supporting NMSI’s claims of success.

I Will Let the Curmudgucator Conclude my Article

Three years ago, Peter Greene wrote about NMSI:

“While there may be similar-ish programs in districts across the country, the big dog in the AP bribery biz is the National Math and Science Initiative. NMSI is an organization that was launched “to address one of this nation’s greatest economic and intellectual threats – the declining number of students who are prepared to take rigorous college courses in math and science and are equipped for careers in those fields.” You may recognize that as a classic reformster talking point– low test scores are a threat to our national security– and in fact, the big launching funders of NMSI include Exxon, the Michael and Susan Dell foundation, and the Gates Foundation. Partners also include the US Department of Education and the College Board, because why not fund an advocacy group that is telling everyone that your product is really important. This isn’t philanthropy– it’s marketing.”

San Diego Union Editor Continues Spurious Attack on Teachers and Public Education

30 Aug

The editorial says in the Trump era Democrats see themselves as protecting the disadvantaged but that is not true when it comes to schools. The editor claims, “When it comes to public education, however, there’s fresh evidence that state Democratic leaders are the ones siding with the powerful forces over the disadvantaged.”

Those powerful forces – in an era when billionaires like Carrie Walton Penner, Reed Hastings and Eli Broad flex their financial muscle to privatize schools –  are teachers and their unions. The evidence presented is bogus and the conclusions reached are based on willful ignorance.

The Issue – California’s ESSA Evaluation Plan

The new Federal Education Law dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is an abomination. Diane Ravitch (education historian and former US Assistant Secretary of Education under Lamar Alexander) described (August 30th) a speech given by Professor Nicolas Tampio at Fordham University. She noted:

“‘ESSA requires states to remain within the standards, testing, and accountability paradigm . . . if they want Title I funds.’ That means that if a state wants to follow a more original model of educating, such as the John Dewey model, they forfeit federal funding. ‘“John Dewey said standardized tests can only be useful to help us figure out how to help a particular child, but they shouldn’t be used to rank children, because children have all sorts of special gifts, talents, and interests.’”

However, ESSA is the federal education law. It is touted as allowing states more flexibility in how to assess schools but requires each state to deliver a plan to the US Department of Education by this September. Testing and standards are still mandated. EdWeek detailed some of the federal requirements for school assessments:

“Specifically, the new law requires states to use at least one ‘indicator of school quality or student success’ that ‘allows for meaningful differentiation in school performance’ and ‘is valid, reliable, comparable, and statewide,’ alongside academic data in their accountability systems. Schools must also be able to disaggregate data related to that indicator to show how it affects students in different subpopulations: those from all racial and ethnic groups, students with disabilities, children from low-income families, and English-language learners.”

It is California’s plan for meeting this requirement that is being bashed and particularly the California School Dashboard. The dashboard creates reports on demand built from mandated data reporting. It uses six state-indicators [(1) High School Graduation Rate; (2) Academic Performance; (3) Suspension Rate; (4) English Learner Progress; (5) Preparation for College/Career; (6) Chronic Absenteeism] and four local-indicators [(1) Basic Conditions (Teacher qualifications, Safe and clean buildings, Textbooks for all students); (2) Implementation of Academic Standards; (3) School Climate Surveys; (4) Parent Involvement and Engagement] to create reports.

The dashboard is easy to use and the information is easy to understand. I used the dashboard to access a report on San Diego Unified School district for spring 2017.

SDUSD Dashboard March 2017

It seems like the SD Union editor would like to return to the destructive ‘test and punish’ No Child Left Behind methods of assessing schools. That law was based on the false premise that standardized testing provides reliable information about quality of both schools and educators. It doesn’t.

In fact, many excellent institutions were destroyed by this misguided education policy. The one reliable inference that can be made from standardized testing is relative family wealth from one school to the next. That explains why no schools were closed in wealthy communities and many schools were closed in poor communities. Unfortunately, that is the benighted policy the editor of the San Diego Union is advocating.

In 1998 a scholar in New Zealand, Noel Wilson, wrote a thesis called Education Standards and the Problem of Error. The paper has never been refuted but it has been ignored. Basically, Wilson tells us that standards and standardized testing are so fraught with error that they are only useful as a mechanism of control. He ended his paper saying,

“We live in a world of complexity and uncertainty, a fuzzy multi-dimensional world of immense variety and diverse interpretations. What is challenged in this work is the myth that this complexity can be reduced to simple linear dimension by some sort of examination, as a preliminary to comparing with some standard of adequacy somewhere defined.”

The “Fresh Evidence”

We are told that there is “fresh evidence” supporting the claim that the ESSA plan developed by the Democrat led State Department of Education harms the disadvantaged. The editor presented this evidence:

“Thursday, Bellwether Education Partners — a national nonprofit think tank — released its evaluation of California’s proposal. While praising the plan’s vision of a first-rate education of all, the analysis is sharply critical of the plan’s most crucial components. The biggest complaints:

“The plan wouldn’t even manage to ‘capture individual students’ improvement over time.’”

This “fresh evidence” is provided by Bellwether Education Partners, a non-profit consulting group from Boston Massachusetts. It’s Co-founder Andrew J. Rotherham, worked in the Clinton administration and has enthusiastically associated himself with efforts to privatize public education since. A profile in the Progressive gives details:

“He serves on advisory boards and committees for a variety of organizations including Education Pioneers, The Broad Foundation, and the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research. (CALDER). Rotherham is on the board of directors for the Indianapolis Mind Trust, is Vice Chair of the Curry School of Education Foundation at the University of Virginia, and serves on the Visiting Committee for the Harvard Graduate School of Education. [He is a] Board member for Democrats for Education Reform.”

Bellwether is a typical “non-profit” in the school reform business. Their 2015 form 990 tax filing shows that in 2014 the 10 listed Bellwether principals took in more than $2,000,000 in salaries. None of them made less than $150,000. Since their founding in 2012 they have received more than $1,000,000 per year from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a total of $7,400,000. The tax form also showed that in 2014 they took in almost $11,000,000 of which half came from foundation grants and half came from different government agencies for services rendered.

On the Bellwether web-page is a listing of the entities with whom they claim to work. The list below is showing a few of the hundreds of groups cited:

Achieve.org, ACT, Inc, The American Center for School Choice, American Enterprise Institute, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Charter School Growth Fund, Chiefs for Change, The College Board, Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, Education Reform Now, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Harmony Public Schools [aka Gülen schools], J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, K12 Inc., KIPP Foundation, The Mind Trust, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Nellie Mae Education Foundation, NewSchools Venture Fund, Rocketship Education, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Teach for America,  Thomas B. Fordham Institute, The Walton Family Foundation, WestEd, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

This is basically a who’s who list of advocates for the privatization of public schools and the selling of computer delivered education, euphemistically called “personalized education.”

Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, sits on the board of the California Charter Schools Association. He also founded Rocketship schools, which are charter schools that put their students in cubicles learning from computers. A few years ago, he purchased a small software company in Bremerton, Washington called DreamBox Learning and is well on his way to making DreamBox the top provider of software for computer based learning. One of the six board of director members for Bellwether is Jessie Woolley-Wilson, President, and CEO of DreamBox Learning.

The editor did not get his “fresh evidence” from the graduate school of education at San Diego State University or the University of California San Diego. Nor was the evidence obtained from education researchers at UCLA, Berkeley or Stanford. It came from a “think tank” that is often referred to as a propaganda arm for “corporate education reform.” That’s weak!

Teachers and Unions; Perennial Targets of Abuse

The editorial says, “the State Board of Education has come up with an anti-accountability – accountability plan.”

The editor then emulated Chicken Little:

“This is scandalous. It is the latest confirmation that the interests of the powerful California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers — which oppose meaningful attempts to evaluate the performance of teachers, schools and districts — are paramount in Sacramento.”

This is a lie!

Teachers’ unions and their members are resources for getting school improvement right. No group cares more about good education than California’s teachers. Sure, they oppose bad education policy, but they do not oppose accountability as do the editor’s friends in the charter school industry.

The California plan is required because of federal law. It is not a good approach to assessing schools. Taxpayers are already supporting a superior approach provided by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), one of the six regional accrediting agencies in the United States. They send in teams of trained educators to spend a week or more observing and evaluating. Their final report is both an evaluation and a set of recommendations that must be addressed before a subsequent review.

Teachers have been through WASC reviews and know what authentic school evaluation looks like. Teachers also know how much damage the “test and punish” philosophy of school reform has caused.

This is Ignorance

The editorial alleges,

“The state board’s junk standards feel like the culmination of a plan that began in 2011, when Gov. Jerry Brown trashed the “siren song” of data-based education reform — even as schools in Massachusetts continue to lead the nation thanks to such reform and schools in Florida make dramatic improvements with this approach. In 2013, the state moved to scrap its STAR school accountability testing program, drawing a sharp rebuke from the Obama administration. In 2016, Brown vetoed a bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, to make it easy to determine school progress.”

Yes, Governor Brown trashed the “siren song” of data-based education reform. When vetoing a bill that reduced testing data percentages for school evaluation, he said, “It does allude to student excitement and creativity, but does not take these qualities seriously because they can’t be placed in a data stream. Lost in the bill’s turgid mandates is any recognition that quality is fundamentally different from quantity.”

It is true that Massachusetts went to a standards based education model and testing regime in 1993. It also doubled its spending on education between 1993 and 2001. Their average test scores are excellent, however, they also are third in the nation for largest achievement gaps.

The 2012 Florida data cited above as evidence of dramatic improvement is probably the last positive evidence from Florida. Today, Florida is an abject example of how bad test based education and privatization policies can be. The National Education Association reported about the spring 2017 testing fiasco in Florida:

“The already diminished reputation of high-stakes testing took another hit this week with the startling news out of Florida that only 27 percent of fourth graders passed the state’s comprehensive assessment test (FCAT) for writing. That’s a drop from 81 percent the previous year. The scores for eight and tenth graders yielded similarly abysmal results.”

It is true that the CTA opposed Shirley Webber’s education bill that Brown vetoed. A CTA web-site report says, “CTA urged lawmakers to defeat Assembly Member Weber’s AB 2548 because it would impose new accountability restrictions on local schools before the State Board of Education and local districts have had a chance to implement fully the accountability provisions of the new Local Control Funding Formula.” CTA was not promoting anti-accountability. It was promoting workable accountability.

The editorial ends with, “So please come to the rescue, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Stick up for school accountability by standing up to a state which rejects it. Stick up for needy kids. Stick up for, yes, social justice.”

That is sick. Betsy DeVos is completely unqualified for her position although extremely wealthy. She is anything but a social justice advocate. Is she really a champion to the San Diego Union? Sadly, it seems the answer is yes.

Editorial Peddles School Privatization Agenda

16 Jul

The San Diego Union editor deserves the bunkum efficiency award for packing so much baloney in a scant four paragraphs. The first sentence of the editorial headlined “Still more bad faith from state ED board” says:

“The State Board of Education’s defining characteristic is its ardent defense of an education establishment more worried about the interests of teachers than students.”

It is true that the education establishment in California does listen to input from teachers and their unions, however, today the establishment is dominated by billionaires like Reed Hasting and Carrie Walton Penner. There are many other establishment powerhouses like the California Charter School Association (CCSA), representatives of the education testing industry and education technology profiteers.

As your newspaper reported, by May, 2016, the CCSA was spending heavily to win seats on the San Diego County Board of Education:

“The political arm of the California Charter Schools Association has spent $220,000 so far on the San Diego County Board of Education election this year, following a difficult period for the independently operated campuses in the region — one that’s been marked by unsuccessful appeals and a string of legal challenges.”

After the recent LA school board election, the LA Times wrote in an article titled “How L.A.’s school board election became the most expensive in U.S. history,”

“It’s an oversimplification to say the outcome was all about money, but charters spent more ($9.7 million compared with $5.2 million), and their candidates finished first in both races on Tuesday’s ballot.”

Clearly these forces for privatizing public schools in California are a significant part of the education establishment. They are anti-teachers’ unions, pro testing and have huge political clout. Governor Jerry Brown, who started two charter schools himself, has vetoed every piece of legislation that proposed any increased accountability on charter schools.

To say the establishment is “more worried about the interests of teachers than students,” is wrong. Or is it just a purposeful lie?

The interests of teachers and students are very similar and neither is getting a fair deal. Teachers and students are in the same overcrowded rooms, using the same facilities and have the same half-hour lunches. No one cares more for the welfare of students and understands more about good teaching than California’s professional educators.

The first paragraph concludes:

“This is once again on display with the state board’s response to the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 2015 federal law that replaced the 2002 No Child Left Behind measure and governs how school systems that receive federal funds must operate. While the new law is much less strict than the old one, it still mandates that schools must be taken over by state governments if they are at the bottom 5 percent of statewide assessments, graduate less than two-thirds of students or have ethnic groups with consistently weak test results.” (bolding added)

Here, I am ready to join with my conservative friends and call for the abolition of the United States Department of Education. Schools should be in the control of parents, teachers and students in the local community. The federal government has no business dictating school policy and especially dictating policy that is a known failure.

In 2009, the Obama administration announced plans to rapidly turn around 5,000 of the nation’s lowest performing schools. It was called the Scholastic School Improvement Grant program (SIG). Today, there is consensus among researchers that SIG was a complete failure. A study by Tina Trujillo, University of California, Berkeley and Michelle Renée, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University stated one its conclusions:

“Conceptually, one of the most frequent critiques of these studies was that they relied on a single measure of effectiveness standardized test scores. While relying on standardized test scores was methodologically problematic because it falsely assumed that the assessments were valid and reliable, doing so as the sole measure of effectiveness also led to narrow conceptions of student success and the purposes of education ignoring the social, civic, and broader academic aspects of schooling. … Student scores on standardized tests are far too narrow to be the sole indicators of school success in the democratic model of schooling.”

For three-decades, states have been taking over local schools. Unfortunately, we have a three-decade record of failure. Dale Russakoff’s book The Prize tells the story of Newark New Jersey’s thirty-years with state run schools including how they squandered a $100,000,000 gift from Mark Zuckerberg. In Newark, the teachers were never the problem and neither was tenure or the union. It was always corrupt politicians and grinding poverty creating traumatized children. The state only made it worse when it disenfranchised local citizens.

Detroit is another horrifying example of the complete failure of a state led turn around. A Michigan state officials, Barbra Byrd Bennett, is now serving time for taking kick-backs  and the schools are worse off. After two decades of state control we read in the New York Times,

“Michigan leapt at the promise of charter schools 23 years ago, betting big that choice and competition would improve public schools. It got competition, and chaos.

“Detroit schools have long been in decline academically and financially. But over the past five years, divisive politics and educational ideology and a scramble for money have combined to produce a public education fiasco that is perhaps unparalleled in the United States.”

The editor at the Union should be praising not denigrating the State Board of Education for trying to do the right thing in a tough spot. You should be pointing out how the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is terrible legislation that is more about selling technology, mandating testing and privatizing schools than it is about improving education.

As I wrote to Diane Feinstein, ESSA continues the testing mandate and spends large amounts of money promoting dubious technology initiatives such as “personalized learning” and “blended learning.” If these are truly good ideas they will be adopted without federal coercion. Every student in America is required to take a big standardized test in grades 3 – 8 and grade 11.

The big standardized test is useless. It tells us nothing about the quality of teachers or schools. Peter Greene known for his wonderful education blog, “Curmudgucation”, responded to an essay by Morgan Polikoff (USC Rossier), a long-time Big Standardized Test supporter:

“Polikoff’s problem remains– the BS Tests are junk that provide junk data and damage schools in the process. Accountability is a good idea, but the standards-based high-stakes tests that we’ve been subjected to for the past more-than-ten years are junk, and they do not provide a useful, reliable, or valid measure of school quality– not even sort of. Nor have they helped– not even incrementally.”

Like the way that ESSA supports social impact bonds which profit bankers and 1:1 initiatives which profit the technology industry; mandated testing is fueling the testing industry. These bad ideas are being used to transform tax money meant to benefit students into revenue streams for corporations.

These are the kind of corrupt purposes you should denounce instead of school leaders who are trying to finesse this horrible federal law and our thoroughly unqualified Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

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Instead, you tacitly support high stakes testing as a way of evaluating schools. You legitimize the federal government and the state of California taking over San Diego’s schools. How big government of you.

Your editorial continues:

“But the State Board of Education is instead on track to approve vague, mushy Every Student Succeeds standards by the U.S. Education Department’s September deadline that appear designed to impede accountability, not guarantee it.”

In May, your paper editorialized with the headline, “Board of Education is missing mark on college readiness.” The lead paragraph said:

“An unsatisfactory process is expected to come to a disappointing conclusion Wednesday when the State Board of Education grudgingly adopts measures to gauge student progress — forced to do so to ensure California receives federal education aid.”

That editorial also emphasized:

But it still requires that schools be taken over by state governments if they graduate less than two-thirds of their students, are at the bottom 5 percent of statewide assessments or have ethnic groups that have consistently weak test results. Under the proposal before the State Board of Education, beginning in fall 2017, schools will be evaluated on high school graduation rates; student results in English and math Common Core tests; gains made by English-language learners; and student suspension rates. Test scores in third-grade reading and eighth-grade math would be given additional emphasis.” (bolding added)

When coercing states to accept Common Core, Arne Duncan said state standards had to prepare students for “college and career readiness.” It was completely up to the states, but the department of education told them that Bill Gates’ Common Core satisfied “college and career ready.” It was a statement based on nothing; no research or historical evidence. In fact, California’s previous standards are widely viewed as better standards than common core.

A core problem is that standards based education is bad education. Along with the common core, the NGSS science standards are bad standards. Most states are moving away from them. So, I am ready to join you in beating up California’s education leaders for adopting bad education policies like NGSS and Common Core. They richly deserve the flogging.

However, it looks like you advocate these education standards and are for standardized testing as the only criteria for measuring schools and holding them accountable. That is just ignorance.

We have a wonderful method for holding schools accountable and giving them a constant path of improvement. In California, it is the Wester Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accrediting process. I have been through several WASC reviews and they are thorough and rigorous. A team of professional educators comes to the school and spends a week looking at everything and interviews as many stake holders as possible. Their report comes back with expectations to be met. This is real accountability performed by professionals that know education and can help. Testing is expensive and  worse than useless; it is misleading and destructive.

Your third paragraph says,

“Now The New York Times reports Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has rejected such attempts to game the federal law by other states, upending expectations that she would defer to local control.”

In an interview by EdWeek, the Senator who led the writing of ESSA and is also a former US Secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, was not impressed. The interviewer writes,

‘”I think we have a case of an assistant secretary who hasn’t read the law carefully,’ Alexander, chairman of the Senate education committee, said in an interview. ‘The heart of the entire law … was that it’s the state’s decision to set goals, to decide what ‘ambitious’ means, to make decisions to help schools that aren’t performing well.’

“The technical, but important back story: Alexander was referring to a feedback letter Botel sent to Delaware on its ESSA plan, telling the state that it hadn’t been ‘ambitious’ enough in setting long-term goals for student achievement, sparking wonky outrage inside the Beltway and beyond.

“The education chairman noted in an interview that ESSA includes language specifically prohibiting the U.S. secretary of education from telling states what their goals can or can’t be—and that 85 senators voted to approve the new law.”

You end with;

“Will this lead to the board to do the right thing and adopt meaningful standards? There is no reason for optimism — because the board has a very different definition of what is the right thing to do than Californians who care about public schools.”

Common Core and NGSS standards and standardized testing are about monetizing schools and privatizing them. It appears that promoting that path is what you mean by “Californians who care about public schools.” Please realize that you and your fellow travelers are working to destroy a great public trust and a main pillar of democratic freedoms for “a few pieces of silver.”

I Am Done – I Hope Public Education is Not

24 May

June 2nd will be my last day as a classroom teacher. For the past 15 years, I have been teaching mathematics and physics. It has been exhilarating, it has been heart breaking. It reminds me of the way Charles Dicken’s opened A Tale of Two Cities,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, ….”

During my tenure in education, costly efforts were made to improve schools. However, the welfare of country and children were too often ignored in pursuit of new markets. Vast fortunes were spent by philanthropists mostly on foolish and destructive agendas which often appeared self-serving.

In 2010, Rupert Murdock stated, “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone ….” From one point of view, our commitment to children is laudable, but this huge amount of money has engendered darkness. Integrity and community too often succumbed to greed. Corporate and political leaders regularly bowed to dark human tendencies.

Difficult Time for a New Teacher

In 1998, Prince rereleased “Party like its 1999.” In 1999, I didn’t feel it. I was driving around Silicon Valley ready to move on. The party seemed over. Hearing co-workers drone on about stock options or being regaled by stories of new startups creating instant millionaires got stale. I enjoyed my work but hated the traffic. It was time to go home to San Diego and become a teacher.

By 2001, I was in graduate school at the University of California San Diego. At the same time, Ted Kennedy was teaming up with George W. Bush to federalize public education with the “No Child Left Behind” rewrite of the education law. When, I earned a master’s degree in education, NCLB was the law of the land.

The new federal law mandated standards based multiple choice exams. These exams were completely useless for measuring school or teacher quality or for guiding instruction. The only outcome from these tests with statistical significance is that they accurately identified the economic health of the school’s community.

Standards based testing has been both cynically and foolishly used to claim that public schools are failing thus opening the door to a national tragedy. The world’s greatest public education system and our bulwark for democracy is being privatized. Wonderful and venerable institutions in tough neighborhoods like Crenshaw High are being destroyed. The generational legacy that spawned the likes of Ice-T, Darryl Strawberry and Marques Johnson has been stolen from its community.

My second year of teaching was one of my favorite years. I was given a one year temporary contract to teach at Mar Vista Middle School. I really enjoyed the kids (me and middle schoolers think alike), but it was my interactions with the staff that always engenders fond joyful memories. I was incredulous a few years later, when the middle school was reconstituted because of failing test scores. At the time I wrote about the “Unwarranted Demise of Mar Vista Middle School.”

It seems there was an effort to charterize Mar Vista Middle School, however, the community quickly rejected that. The school was reconstituted by firing half of the staff and reopened as Mar Vista Academy. The only result of the reconstitution was disruption in the lives of teachers, parents and students. The school still serves the same neighborhood. At the high school where I now work, we have seen no substantive change in the readiness of students coming from this feeder school.

I Was Victimized by the First Honored DFER

In the master’s program, we did some student teaching during the first year and then in the second year we were given paid intern positions to teach three classes a day. When that school year ended most of my classmates were offered a position. I wasn’t. It could be that I was not a very good teacher or it might have been that I was 52 years-old and schools wanted younger new teachers.

I finally got a position at Bell Junior High School teaching four sections of physics and one section of honors physics to 9th graders. Each class had 36 students. My classes scored amazingly well on the district end of course exams. They scored especially well at the end of semester 2. San Diego Unified School District has more than 130,000 students. My honors physics class at Bell was the second highest scoring honors class in the district and my 4 regular classes were the top scoring out of the 13 sections of physics at Bell.

Bell junior high school consisted of mostly minority students including many language learners and free lunch recipients. Several or my students were afraid to walk home after school. The neighborhood was that tough. It was at Bell that I started to realize that the experienced teachers were amazing and not the worthless slugs that I had heard so much about.

In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch wrote about Alan Bersin a lawyer with no education experience being tapped to run what was arguably the top performing urban schools system in America. I have written about the Democrats for Education Reform (DEFR) and Bersin. The following citation honoring Bersin is from the DEFR web presence (it has since been removed):

“Appointed in 1998 as Superintendent of Public Education of the San Diego Unified School District, Bersin led the eighth largest urban school district in the country. In 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger appointed him as California’s Education Secretary. Bersin led the way as one of the nation’s first ‘non-traditional’ big city school leaders, promoting ambitious reform to raise the quality of education and bolster student achievement. …. Bersin was a founding board member of DFER.”

One feature of the “non-traditional” superintendent’s leadership was fear. At Bell, I witnessed three tenured teachers lose their jobs. Yes, a determined administrator can get rid of a tenured teacher. It appears there were targets for the number of teachers to be fired each year. It also seems that a certain percentage of new hires were required to be given unacceptable evaluations. I suspect being a new hire in my 50’s made me a target.

My final evaluation said that I was not able to control my classes and was not moving them towards achieving standards. The not moving them towards achieving standards comment meant that I could not even apply to be a substitute teacher. Ironically, my evaluation the next year by the principal at Mar Vista Middle School referenced classroom management as a particular strength.

Conclusions and Concerns

Standards based education is bad education theory. In the 1960’s Benjamin Bloom proposed mastery education in which instruction would be individualized and students would master certain skills before they moved ahead. By the 1970’s this idea had been married with B.F. Skinner’s behaviorist philosophy and teachers were given lists of discrete items for their students to master. The “reform” became derisively known as “seats and sheets.”

By the 1980’s corporate leaders and many politicians were turning these mastery skills into standards. In the 1990’s the IBM and former RJR Nabisco CEO, Louis Gerstner, made instituting education standards and standards based testing his mission in life. The result of his almost two decade effort are the Next Generation Science Standards and they are awful. I wrote about them here, here and here.

The other corporate leader that loves the concept of education standards is Bill Gates. Without him, there would be no Common Core State Standards. Bill Gates and Louis Gerstner share two traits, neither of them have any real experience or training in education and the education standards they have forced on America are horrible. I wrote about the Common Core standards here and here.

Vouchers have not led to better education outcomes. Allowing the privatization of public schools is foolhardy. Public schools are wonderful crucibles of democracy where parents have input. Vouchers undermine this democratic principle and they can be misused. Vouchers have been employed to force all taxpayers to fund religious schools and to promote segregation.

This March (2017) a Texas Superintendent of Schools, John Kuhn, informed the Association of Texas Professional Educators about vouchers. “Three different research studies published recently have found that voucher programs harm student learning—including one study sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation and the Fordham Institute, both proponents of vouchers. Students who use vouchers underperform their matched peers who stay in public schools.”

It is in all of our interest to adequately fund public education. Even if you do not want your children to attend a public school. On the other hand, tax money should not be spent on private or religious schools. If parents want that option, that is their right, but it is not the responsibility of society to fund their decision.

Charter schools are bad policy. There are some absolutely wonderful charters schools but the money they remove from the public system is causing significant damage to the schools that serve the vast majority of students.

If taxpayers want to fund charter schools they need to understand that it will cost more than just funding public schools. It costs more money to run multiple systems. Not providing adequate funding degrades the public system – bigger classes and less offerings. In extreme cases like Detroit, we see a complete collapse of both the public and charter systems.

Albert Shanker thought that charters could be used to unleash the creativity of teachers, but once he saw the early direction of the charter movement, he became a charter opponent. In her book School Choice, Mercedes Schneider shares this quote from Shanker:

“A pluralistic society cannot sustain a scheme in which the citizenry pays for a school but has no influence over how the school is run. … Public money is shared money, and it is to be used for the furtherance of shared values, in the interest of e pluribus unum. Charter schools and their like are definitely antithetical to this promise.” (Page 57)

When writing about Schneider’s School Choice I paraphrased her:

“Charter schools have never honestly out performed elected board directed public schools. In some cases, charter schools have gotten relatively good testing results, but on closer inspection these good testing results are not the result of good pedagogy. There are three common practices that help charters look good on testing; (1) instead of a balanced curriculum they focus on preparation for testing, (2) through various techniques, they only accept easier to educate students and (3) they do not back fill when students leave the school.”

Another bad idea is CBE. This big school privatization effort could be called the make Silicon Valley “great again” effort. It is known by various names: one-to-one, personalized education, blended learning, competency based education, etc. Its supporters, like Billionaires Reed Hastings and Bill Gates, are spending huge amounts of money promoting computer delivered education.

In 2010, the President-CEO of the Charter School Growth Fund (a Walton family effort), Kevin Hall, decided to purchase the struggling Dreambox Inc. of Bellevue, Washington for $15,000,000. He subsequently invested another $10,138,500 into Dreambox. [data from 2014 form 990]

A recent National Public Radio report on the Rocketship schools reported:

“Rocketship students often use adaptive math software from a company called Dreambox Learning. The company was struggling when Reed Hastings, the Netflix founder turned education philanthropist and investor, observed it in action at a Rocketship school several years ago. His investment allowed Dreambox to become one of the leading providers of math software in North America, currently used by about 2 million students.”

Reed Hastings is the founder of the Rocketship schools, a board member of the Charter Schools Association of California and the owner of Dreambox Learning. What he is not is a highly trained experienced educator.

An Organization for Economic-Cooperation and Development study concludes, “Investing heavily in school computers and classroom technology does not improve pupils’ performance.” The last thing 21st century children need is more screen time.

San Jose State’s education Professor Roxana Marachi provides access to information about the possible health risks involved with screen time and juvenile cell phone use. I recommend her Educational Psychology & Technology page. The CBS news magazine 60 Minutes, recently presented information about tech addiction being purposefully designed into digital devices.

Of course there is a place for technology in education, but that place should be driven by professionally experienced educators and not technology companies looking to enhance profitability.

My biggest take-away is that professional educators should be running education. The Regan era idea that business people, lawyers and Nobel Prize winning scientists were more equipped to lead America’s schools than experienced professional educators was a foolish error. Today, we have an amateur politician rich guy trying to run the country. His lack of experience is showing.

In the same way, insurance salesmen (Eli Broad), retailers (Doris Fisher) and technologists (Bill Gates) are harming America’s schools, because they do not know what they are doing. Experience and training matter in all fields of human endeavor and education is no different.

Education Reform Musing

14 Feb

I have done a lot of whining about “corporate education reform” and the “test and punish” theory of education reform and “standards based” top down education. I am in full agreement with the conclusion Kristina Rizga reached after her four years’ study of Mission High in San Francisco, “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.”

However, I am tired of being Debbie Downer. So, I will share my thoughts on a positive path of improvement for education in America.

Democracy and Local Control

Never let foreigners decide how and what should be taught in your kid’s school. By foreigners, I mean anyone that has never been in the school and lives more than 50 miles away.

Reed Hastings of Netflix was such a heartfelt liberal that he even joined the Peace Corps. He taught mathematics in Africa. Yet, in 2000, this once liberal crusader used his vast wealth to lift the cap on charter schools in California. Today he may be even more infamous for telling the California Charter Schools Association that elected school boards are anachronisms and should be replaced by non-profits running charter schools.

This is the problem with the uber-wealthy and their political assets controlling education. As statistics expert Gene Glass wrote “success in business has proven to them that their circle of competence knows no bounds.” It is my firm belief that the wisdom of the masses expressed through democratic processes is far superior to the dictates of any one of us including political titans and the billionaires.

In 1891, at the NEA gathering in Toronto Canada, Francis W. Parker of Chicago representing the Cook County Normal School declared:

“The soul seeking peace and comfort under the dominance and permanence of fixed ideals shrinks with dismay from the inevitable blunders, stupidity, ignorance and calamities that invariably accompany all democratic growth. The short road of centralization seems to reach in a day that which takes years to accomplish under the patient waiting for that slow dawning of intelligence which leads to right action on the part of democratic communities.

“Our foreign critics mistake variety and honest individual striving for chaos. That which has its birth in the desires and intelligence of the people, and is applied by the will of the people, becomes an organic, permanent factor in the progress of civilization of that people. It is rooted and grounded upon the people-“Vox POTTI. Vox dei.” But that which is imposed upon a people by any authority below heaven breaks into atoms when the intelligence and power of a people can reach and control it.

Centralized power may be a necessity for infancy, but manhood sheds it off for the strong wings of freedom.

In 1916, John Dewey wrote in his book Education and Democracy,

“An aim must, then, be flexible; it must be capable of alteration to meet circumstances. An end established externally to the process of action is always rigid. Being inserted or imposed from without, it is not supposed to have a working relationship to the concrete conditions of the situation.”

It is not just writers from Mother Jones or 19th and early 20th century American educators who warn of the deleterious effects associated with centralized power and ridged standards. The famed Japanese Buddhist philosopher and educator, Daisaku Ikeda writes in his book Soka Education:

“I have in the past called for the principle of the separation of powers to be expanded to give education a status and independence equal to that accorded the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Because education is a profound endeavor that shapes the individuals of future generations, it should be completely independent of political interference.”

Throughout his long illustrious career Mr. Ikeda has developed friendships and established what Peter Greene calls “thinky tanks.” In the book mentioned above, Ikeda quotes Columbia University’s Professor Robert Thurman’s answer to a question he received at the Ikeda founded Boston Research Center for the 21st Century. He was asked how he views the role of education in society. Thurman replied, “I think the question should rather be; what is the role of society in education? Because in my view education is the purpose of human life?”

The former Rector of the National University of Cordoba, Argentina, Francisco J. Delich is a friend who Ikeda wrote about in his book, Unforgettable Friends. Ikeda imparted:

“Having been driven from the lectern by the government in the past [1976-1983], Dr. Delich is very deeply and personally aware of the evil of allowing government to control education. He wants to build a society in which political leaders respect educators. Education, he believes, is the very foundation of the nation.”

Rizga, Parker, Dewey, Ikeda, Thurman and Delich contravene the thinking of the billionaire class who believe schools should be centrally commanded like the monopolistic enterprises by which they were enriched. People of great moral purpose believe in democratic processes. They understand it is impossible for capitals of power to satisfactorily meet the educational needs of any community by imposition. Democratic processes based locally is the true foundation for developing education. In America, the heart of that development is the board managed public school.

Democratize Schools

 At the school, the power of principals should be reduced and the power teacher department leaders increased. Instead of running schools like a factory with a central figure in charge, schools should be run by committees made up of educators, students, community members and administrators. Many schools in California already have a faculty advisory committees made up of teachers and administrators. They also have school site councils consisting of students, parents and teachers. These groups should run the school.

Today, the only path for advancement available to educators is to leave the classroom and become an administrator. Instead of losing our best teachers to management, pay department heads more and utilize their expertise to improve teaching.

It is unrealistic to expect any one individual (the principal) to be an expert in all disciplines. Make the department chairs the curriculum experts. Add requirements to their position like a master’s degree and ten years of experience. The selection of the department head should remain the purview of the department staff.

Administrators should run school functions like facilities, registration, discipline enforcement, etc. The policies that they administer would be developed by the faculty advisory committee and the school site council.

In other words, let’s democratize our schools and respect all voices including students. District managers should be just that. They should be there to take care of budgets and personnel matters. Schools should not be subservient to districts. Quite the opposite; the district is there to serve the school. We need to get rid of the American ideology that posits a fabled superstar leader. Rather we need to embrace democratic action.

Curriculum

The concept of standards based education was motivated by the undeniable fact that good curriculum is a requirement for outstanding education. Unfortunately, this is the path to authoritarian top down control with its associated negative outcomes. I have written about some of these negative outcomes here.

Today, many states have adopted two sets of terrible education standards which I wrote about here, here, here and here. In a nutshell, standards do not really fit the needs of any schools and they are enforced by authoritarian means based on pseudo-science.

Standards based testing is totally useless for measuring anything other than the economic health of the community being tested. Standards based test cannot evaluate schools, teaching or student learning. As soon as high stakes are tied to them, they become a complete fraud.

We have the best trained teaching force in the history of America. Our teachers are fully capable of designing the curriculum for their schools. Strong department teacher leaders working collaboratively will produce much better curriculum tailored to that community for less money. Because the teachers who developed the curriculum believe in it and are personally invested in its success, they will do a better job of delivering it.

Reality Versus Marketing

Betsy DeVos who is completely unqualified by experience or training has just been confirmed as Secretary of Education. However, this is nothing new. Arne Duncan was also confirmed as Secretary of Education and he was completely unqualified by experience or training. Bill Gates, Eli Broad and the Walmart heirs wield great influence over our present increasingly autocratic education system and none of them have the kind of experience or training that their level of influence requires. This is our present reality.

Bill Gates has made silly claims like experience, advanced degrees and class size are not that important to teaching and learning. Just yesterday, I read this post, “The Rise of Crony Appointees and the Inexpert Ruling Class” by Professor Paul Thomas of Furman University, Greenville SC. He observed that “Education and education policy have been a playground for Innovators! who have no historical context or real experience in day-to-day teaching and learning.”

Public education is not a business. It’s an environment in which human beings grow intellectually, physically and socially. There is no product and it’s not really a service. Education is unique and trying to fit it into a business box may have seemed like a reasonable idea, but it didn’t work. Business leaders make poor education leaders because they do not have education expertise.

The truth is that expertise based on training and experience are crucial for any endeavor. A deep problem in some charter school chains is they were founded by people who rejected education expertise, scholarship and training. I give details about these schools in this post. There are many possible motives for our current odd propensity as a society to reject professionalism in education and pursue fool’s gold, but whatever the excuse we are harming America.

Yes there are failing schools in America. The cause for that failure are racial segregation, poverty, misguided political policies, racism and graft especially by politicians. The schools in Oklahoma City that John Thompson described fell into their miserable state because of top down mandates and lack of funding. Schools in Newark were the victim of decades of graft.

The failure of all of these schools would have been avoided if professional educators and parents were the dominant voices in the operation of schools.

The cost of testing and technology has drained enormous (unknowable?) amounts of money out of America’s classrooms. In his massive study of the rise and fall of civilizations, the great historian Arnold Toynbee observed in his A Study of History, “The bread of universal education is no sooner cast upon the waters than a shoal of sharks arises from the depths and devours the children’s bread under the educator’s very eyes.”

We are spending enough money to have splendid houses of learning from coast to coast but education monies are being squandered by politicians and business elites. Squandered on impractical or even harmful ideas like “personalized learning” (a kid at a screen running a program provided by Reed Hastings) or “blended learning” (fraudulent schools in the strip mall giving graduation credits for spending time at a computer) and endless testing. The last thing kids in the 21st century need is more screen time.

To create truly great schools, democratize them, limit technology and use teacher generated assessments.  Stop the money drain and use those resources and good sense to:

  1. Reduce class sizes
  2. Increase teacher pay and teacher education requirements
  3. Value experience
  4. Respect and unleash the vast amount of talent on the staff of every school in America.
  5. Believe in democracy.

Rizga’s Mission High Informs

26 Jan

What is authentic quality education? Reading books by teachers like John Thompson and Ciedie Aechs provides significant insight as they take us inside their schools. Kristina Rizga, a journalist who was imbedded within San Francisco’s Mission High, makes another wonderful contribution to this understanding. For four years, she sat in classes, interviewed students, teachers and administrators. At the same time she studied the pedagogical process with the guidance of friends like Larry Cuban. Her book, Mission High, significantly contributes to the comprehension of sound education.

Solutions for Fixing Schools Are Wrong

In the book’s preface, she declares, “The more time I spent in classrooms, the more I began to realize that most remedies that politicians and education reform experts were promoting as solutions for fixing schools were wrong.” For multiple decades, classroom teachers have been awakening to that same realization. This time it was an outsider who spent enough time to see how misguided test and punish education policies are; to see how misguided standardized approaches to education are.

Echoing Rizga’s point, The National Education Policy Center recently published a tome entitled, Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms. This following statement is in the introduction.

“Despite this legislative commitment to public schools, our lawmakers have largely eroded ESEA’s [Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965] original intent. Moving from assistance to ever increasing regulation, states gravitated toward test-based reforms in the minimum basic skills movement in the 1970s. A watershed event occurred in 1983 with the report, A Nation at Risk, which was predicated on international economic competitiveness and rankings on test scores. The report was succeeded by Goals 2000, the first federal Act to require states to develop standards-based test goals and measure progress toward them. The stringent and reductionist No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 then followed on its heels. At each step, our educational policies became more test-based, top-down, prescriptive, narrow and punitive, and federal support to build the most struggling schools’ capacity for improvement faded.”

In the author’s notes, Kristina reveals what being imbedded meant, how she worked and the kind of relationships she developed.

“In 2010 I started sitting in on the classrooms of Robert Roth, the first teacher I picked, observing him and his interactions with students. I spent about two years coming regularly to Roth’s classes, sometimes going to every class for weeks. Then I spent one year, on and off, in Hsu’s class and about six months, on and off, in McKamey’s and Anders’s classes. The classes were so intellectually engaging – more than most of the courses I took as an undergrad at UC Berkeley – that I often had to remind myself that I’m not a student. I also spent a great deal of time in at least thirty other classrooms at Mission and other schools, observing various teachers and different pedagogical approaches.”

Conquest by “Administrative Progressives”

Rizga’s book tells the story of four students, three teachers and the principal, Eric Guthertz. Interspersed within these individual stories are pedagogical analysis, observed outcomes and research citations.

Alfie Kohn quoted the education historian, Ellen Lagemann, in his book The Schools Our Children Deserve, “One cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes the Edward K. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.”

Rizga makes a similar point. She defines two groups of progressive reformers,

“Most historians identify two major strands in the Progressive education movement: ‘Administrative Progressives,’ who focused on the top-down organizational reforms to create ‘efficient’ schools to produce productive workers, and ‘Child-centered Progressives,’ who prioritized transforming learning and teaching at the classroom level to make schools more intellectually and emotionally engaging for students.”

In 1904, the famous “Child-centered Progressive,” John Dewey, left the Chicago Laboratory School. He was replaced by “Administrative Progressive,” Charles Judd. It was symbolic; Dewey was out and “Administrative Progressives” were in.

Today, we might say that educators are out and the Democrats for Education Reform are in. Billionaires’ opinions about how to do school swamp professional research. Community schools are no longer the purview of elected school board. Today’s school boards are being reduced to nothing more than vessels required to carry out federal and state mandates.

Misguided and Racist Reform

Rizga posits that in order to “scientifically” sort students into tracked systems, a reform that is still with us today, was instituted: IQ testing and standardized achievement tests. She shares the dark history of their inception:

“As author Anya Kamenetz eloquently documents, some of the creators of these early tests were racists, driven by ideology about the roots of inequality more than science, and were using these tests as ‘scientific’ tools to argue that intelligence and merit were fixed, genetically inherited qualities. One of the creators of the IQ tests, Lewis Terman, the chair of psychology at Stanford University, argued that the low test scores of ‘negroes,’ ‘Spanish-Indians,’ and Mexicans were racial characteristics, and he was a proponent of forced sterilization.”

Rizga cites the work of, Yong Zhao, now at the University of Kansas and an expert in education of testing, “He observes that despite America’s mediocre performance on international tests since the 1960’s, it still files more patents and wins more Nobel Prizes than any other country in the world.” “Zhao who went to school in China and worked there as a teacher, notes that the problem of ‘high test scores but low ability’ (gaofen dineng) is a widely recognized issue in Chinese society, …” A study, Zhao cites, discovered that the highest scoring students in their province on China’s National Higher Education Entrance Examination do not appear on any other lists of distinction such as prominent scientists, entrepreneurs, scholars, or engineers.

Through her account of students, teachers and administer, Rizga shows the debilitating effect of the top-down approach to education reform based on standardized testing. She describes how teachers and administrators struggled valiantly to mitigate the negative effects of modern “test and punish” school reform and its negative impact on students already burdened by poverty, language issues and other detriments.

Mission High Exists in Every Community

Mission High like all schools is unique. For various reasons many Mission students arrive at the school behind most students at their grade level. Mission has been threatened with closure, but the administration and teachers refuse to narrow the pedagogy. They continue to expose students to rigorous intellectually challenging material. Their students thrive. In fact, Mission teachers will tell you that the rigor and challenge is why students are engaged and growing. Rizga concurs, “Many schools respond by pushing low-income students into remedial classes and away from the intellectually challenging ones that most students I interviewed told me motivate them to come to school more than any other variable.”

While reading Mission High, I couldn’t help but reflect on the Mission Highs in which I have worked. Rizga’s description of Mission paints a picture of talented dedicated educators successfully slaying dragons for the sake of the children they have come to love.

I have worked in two high schools (Mar Vista High School and Southwest High School) that remind me of Mission High. And just like Mission both of these schools have immensely talented people dedicated to education who continue to walk into their buildings and fight every day to be able to give the students they have come to love great education.

Both Mar Vista and Southwest were forced to send letters home informing parents that the federal government had determined that these schools were “failing schools.” Parents were given the option to send their children to a not failing school in a better zip code. Very few parents transferred their children, because they saw what was happening in their community schools and knew these were good schools. However, many parents who had never had an experience with the schools did bus their children to that “good school” in a “good” zip code.

I have also worked in two middle schools in poorer neighborhoods and experienced the same mix of talent and dedication. One of those schools (Mar Vista Middle School) actually had half of the staff fired and the school reconstituted as Mar Vista Academy. A disruption that brought no positive change, but harmed both teachers and students. Disruption as an education policy is an “Alice through the looking glass” reform. It is crazy.

America has never had such a highly trained and effective teaching staff as today. If the “Administrative Progressives” would get out of the rode and the billionaire reformers would give educators the respect they deserve, schools in America would flourish as never before and once again be the bedrocks of American democracy.

Rizga’s Description of the Teachers

In the Epilogue, Rizga describes what she observed about the teachers, a description that completely accords with my own experience and observation of teaching.

“Mission High teachers never complained to me about being overworked, but that toll is obvious to any visitor who spends significant time with them in and out of school. Every teacher I met frequently worked more hours than anyone I have met in the white-collar world – journalism, tech, law, corporate, and nonprofit. For more than a decade, McKamey woke up at 5:00 a.m., got to school by 6:30 a.m., left school at 4:30 p.m. for a dance class, then worked almost every evening and every Sunday. Every teacher I knew often met with his or her colleagues to plan lessons on Saturdays or Sundays, unpaid, because they didn’t always have enough time to do it during the workweek, when they teach five classes, need to read and grade hundreds of assignments each week, and must plan the next lesson. Many teachers met with students after school and on the weekends, unpaid. The most effective educators, like Roth and McKamey, had twenty-five years of teaching under their belts, but how can we expect a new generation of teachers to work such hours and stay in the profession for decades? No wonder close to half of teachers leave the profession before they acquire five years of experience.”

Kristina Rizga’s Mission High makes a positive contribution to understanding what good teaching is and why top-down standardized management is a fatal error.