Tag Archives: ed reform

Some questions for Betsy DeVos

The Washington Post collected some questions from educators for Betsy DeVos, nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education. Here are a few of my favorites:

Would you please state, concisely, any relevant experience you have had in public education, either as a student, a teacher, a school leader, a public school board member, a parent of a public school child, a PTA member, a volunteer in a traditional public school or as someone who once drove past a public school?

AND

What will you use as a basis for your initiatives and policy-making decisions regarding pedagogy and best practice, having neither studied nor worked as a teacher or principal in any school? From what, where, or whom will you draw expert knowledge on the art of teaching and learning?

AND

What if parents’ first choice, as it is for most American families, is to send their children to a clean, safe, well-resourced, professionally-staffed, local neighborhood public school? How would the voucher and charter school schemes you advocate support this kind of choice?

AND

What will you do to gain the trust of public school teachers?

AND

How will you attract teachers to the profession given the unrest and uncertainty of public education right now?

#educolor – The most important hashtag you’re probably not following

educolor.org

Two years ago this fall, Jose Vilson launched EduColor. It’s a website, it’s a hashtag, it’s an email newsletter, it’s a weekly chat, it’s a call for social justice. Most of all, as he and the other organizers say, it’s ‘a movement, not a moment.’

Many of us haven’t paid too much attention to EduColor. Maybe it’s because we’ve never heard of it (now you have). But maybe it’s because we don’t recognize the privilege that allows us to not feel any urgency to attend to the needs of our colleagues of color. Maybe it’s because we’re too focused on our own thing to worry about that other thing over there. Or, honestly, maybe it’s because talk about racial and other inequities makes us uncomfortable and we don’t know how to effectively participate and be of support.

It doesn’t take much effort to sign up for the twice-per-month EduColor newsletter and follow the #educolor hashtag. And, at a very minimum, we should do those two things. Not because of social justice hectoring or out of some sense of privileged guilt or because we think it makes us look good but because the resources that are being shared and the conversations that are being held are IMPORTANT. In a nation that soon will be ‘majority minority’ but definitely has a long way to go toward equity, all of us need to be more aware and more action-oriented regarding the concerns of our friends, neighbors, students, and educators of color. Yes, some of the things that we read may make us uncomfortable. But you know what? As Jose says, being uncomfortable needs to become our new comfortable. How are we going to meet the needs of all of our children if we can’t put uncomfortable topics on the table and discuss them? How are we going to remedy the ongoing racial disparities in resource allocation, school resegregation, negative media, disciplinary punishments, achievement gaps, instructional neglect, college and career readiness, digital equity, and many other educational areas if we’re not willing to face them head on with the awareness, humility, regret, and courage that they deserve?

The historical legacies of racism continue to linger large today and they manifest themselves on numerous ongoing fronts when it comes to schools, teachers, and students. EduColor is a good place to start thinking more deeply about these issues. You will meet some new people and, more importantly, you will probably learn something and might even be energized to take productive action. Head on over there and sign up. And send your colleagues and students there too. It will only take a moment. (and you might be inspired toward movement)

Congratulations, we killed kindergarten

Commentsonkindergartenworksheets

Apparently between 1998 and 2010 we killed kindergarten. Lots more testing. Much less music and art. Fewer centers and unstructured play time. Fewer student-driven activities. Greater disregard for young children’s variation in development. More emphasis on teacher-directed instruction and textbooks and worksheets…

We knew this but now it’s not just widespread anecdotes. We now have comprehensive research on data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study.

We should be ashamed of ourselves.

Comments credit: Winter math and literacy packet NO PREP (Kindergarten)

Summits

Summit. (noun) A day-long ’sit and get’ event designed to draw political and media attention to the powers-that-be at the top. Usually comprised of speeches, panel presentations, and non-interactive breakout sessions. Iowa antonyms: EdCampIowa, ISLI, StuCamp, EdCampDesMoines, school district unconferences, Iowa 1:1 Institute.

Summits are a great way to reinforce the passive, transmission-oriented model of learning.

Summits are a great way to get your own supportive talking heads on stage and not those of others.

Summits are a great way to talk at rather than with.

Summits are a great way to hammer home that certain people and perspectives get voices and others do not.

In Iowa, we like education summits: 

Iowa school poverty and report card rankings

My local high school recently was named the top high school in Iowa by Niche.com, a school and college ranking site.

Ames High on Niche com

Today the Iowa Department of Education issued its first-ever school report cards. Ames High School didn’t do as well this time, only managing an overall ranking of Commendable, which is the third-highest report card category. Here are the number of Iowa schools in each of the six possible report card categories:

2015 Iowa School Report Categories 2

For this first year, the Department of Education distributed schools along a normal curve. In future years, the point boundaries for the school report categories will be locked into place and schools will be able to move in and out of the categories. In other words, down the road it is possible that some report card categories may have few or no schools in them.

I downloaded the Department’s school report card data and combined them with its free lunch data. Free or reduced-price lunch percentages often are used as indicators of school poverty. Here is what the free lunch percentage distributions look like for each report card category:

Iowa School Report Card Rankings by Free Lunch Percentage 3

Zero of the 34 Priority schools have less than 33% free lunch eligibility and 30 of the 34 (88%) have more than half of their students who are eligible. In contrast, 27 of the 35 Exceptional schools (77%) have less than 33% free lunch eligibility and only 3 of the 35 (9%) have more than half of their students who are eligible. Here are the median and average free lunch eligibility percentages for each report card category:

Free Lunch Percentage for Iowa School Report Card Categories

Here is the box plot for each school report card category:

Iowa School Report Card Rankings by Free Lunch Percentage 1

Here’s a reminder on how to interpret a box plot:

Interpreting a box plot

Iowa’s school report card results mirror those of other states, which typically show strong negative relationships between overall school report card scores and school poverty levels. So we now have an Iowa school report card system that confirms what we already knew from the peer-reviewed research and from other locations, which is that schools with higher poverty levels tend to do less well on indicators of school success. Whether we will actually do anything about it remains an open question…

Please check over my data and see if I made any mistakes. Also see my copyright policy and feel free to use these data and images as you wish for your own projects!

Sioux City CSD has a different view than Governor Branstad

Iowa flag state outline

Sioux City Community School District Chief Financial Officer John Chalstrom said:

In the past six years, the increase in [Iowa] state aid has averaged 1.88 percent while expenditures have grown an average of 3.45 percent.

Superintendent Paul Gausman said:

How many years can you have in a row where the supplemental state aid is so low it continues to choke you for efficiencies? Sooner or later, you’ve found every efficiency you can and it begins to really hurt.

Governor Terry Branstad said:

We gave all this across-the-board money with no accountability and Iowa kind of stagnated

and

a budget where “you throw money” at schools won’t necessarily improve them

via http://siouxcityjournal.com/news/local/education/sioux-city-school-district-expects-to-trim-budget-next-year/article_b2f39414-f097-5ebf-982d-554811378498.html and http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2015/08/03/governor-terry-branstad-education-spending-iowa/31077365 and http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2015/07/13/education-funding-vote-branstad/30109287

Reinforcing the standardized model of low-level learning and schooling

Higher level thinkers do not just magically emerge

I’m sitting in a workshop today about early literacy supports. The presenters are personable, the resources aren’t horrible, the intent is good, and there are 45+ well-meaning educators in the room learning, talking, and thinking about early literacy success for students.

But all of our conversations are around systems and processes that reify and strengthen our traditional emphases on low-level learning. For instance, we’re discussing laws and policies (that emphasize standardized data), screening instruments (based on standardized data), ‘evidence-based interventions’ (based on standardized data), progress monitoring (based on standardized data), and data-based decision-making (based on standardized data). 

This morning I also received a pitch for a new book, Deliverology in Practice, which purports to show leaders how to

  • Set clear goals for students, establish a Delivery Unit to help your system stay focused on them, and build the coalition that will back your reforms.
  • Analyze the data and evidence to get a sense of your current progress and the biggest barriers to achieving your goals.
  • Develop a plan that will guide your day-to-day work by explicitly defining what you are implementing, how it will reach the field at scale, and how it will achieve the desired impact on your goals.
  • Monitor progress against your plan, make course corrections, and build and sustain momentum to achieve your goals.
  • Identify and address the change management challenges that come with any reform and attend to them throughout your delivery effort.

To which I say, ‘Meh.’ #terriblyunexciting (for students and educators both)

The evidence is quite clear that schools’ low-level learning focus has been a problem for decades. The last thing we need is MORE emphasis on lower-level learning (see, e.g., the economic data and the student engagement data). Yet the workshops and books and policies continue…

Imagine that you wanted to slowly kill public education

Pine box label

Imagine that you are a policymaker who is generally anti-government, anti-union, and pro-privatization. Public schools conflict with all of those, don’t they?

So you’ve got a challenge. Citizens and communities generally like and strongly support their schools. Somehow you have to create a narrative over time that erodes citizens’ support for public schools and counters their incredible historical legacies of college and career preparation, citizenship development, cultural socialization, economic opportunity creation, and facilitation of intergenerational income mobility. 

Here are some things that you and your like-minded colleagues might try to do:

  • underfund schools so that they can’t keep up with operational costs, will struggle to meet educational mandates, and will have to reduce personnel (bonus: fewer union members!)
  • maintain claims about ‘fiscal accountability’ and future revenue concerns, even when they require ignoring strong revenue generation and projections
  • reduce existing revenue streams in order to bolster claims of fiscal hardship (bonus: less government!)
  • employ bait-and-switch funding mechanisms that supplant rather than supplement and/or disappear at the last minute
  • ignore legal requirements to timely establish school funding levels that would allow districts to adequately plan and budget
  • implement new, supplemental ‘bread and circuses’ initiatives (say, STEM or financial literacy) that distract the general public from the year-to-year erosion of base school funding
  • give as little policy attention as possible to the known educational needs of students who live in poverty or don’t speak English as their primary language (and thus struggle academically), even as those student and family populations increase markedly within the state
  • deflect the blame for your underfunding of schools by alleging schools’ inefficiency and superintendents’ mismanagement
  • frequently change state standards and assessments and/or make them more difficult so that educators and students struggle to keep up and have less chance of hitting the moving targets
  • use selective data (say, NAEP scores) to manufacture educational crises that feed your rhetoric of public school failure
  • create school grading and ranking schemes that shame struggling schools, demoralize the educators within them, and alarm parents
  • implement teacher evaluation schemes that are guaranteed to be unfair, demoralize educators, and confuse the public
  • pitch tax credits and private/religious school vouchers or ’scholarships’ (‘money that will follow students in their backpacks’) to the general public as natural recourses to the failures of public schools
  • write legislation that expands public school alternatives such as charters or homeschooling, particularly ones that can siphon funds away from public schools
  • create double-standard school and educator ‘accountability’ provisions that apply to public schools but not non-public alternatives
  • accept policy proposals, money, and political influence from seemingly anyone other than actual educators
  • affiliate with anti-public-school organizations (say, ALEC) that will feed you ‘model’ legislation proposals, connect you with successful players and tactics from other states, and provide ongoing encouragement to stay the course
  • hold yearly education summits at which educators can only listen passively to carefully-vetted speakers who feed your desired agendas
  • publicly dismiss, disparage, intimidate, or try to silence educators, parents, researchers, and others who speak out against your policies

and so on, year-after-year, all under the guises of ’transparency’ and ‘accountability’ and ‘global competitiveness.’ Heck, you might even co-opt the journalists that used to ask tough questions about your educational policymaking (by, say, hiring them).

Here in Iowa? Checkmarks on all fronts, I believe (and we’re not as bad as many other states). There’s an evolving playbook out there, folks, and we’re seeing it being implemented in every state.

More of this to come in the years ahead… Do you care? If so, what will you do about it?

Image credit: Pine box, Todd Ehlers

Dear Governor Branstad, we need both

1100Iowateachers

Governor Terry Branstad, from the Des Moines Register:

“We gave all this across-the-board money with no accountability and Iowa kind of stagnated while other states put a focus on things that increase their standards that improve their student achievement.” [Governor Branstad] has defended his veto of $55.7 million in one-time funds by saying the solution to improving student performance is not to simply throw money at the problem. He doubled down on that Monday, saying he prefers the state make more targeted investments in high-priority education programs rather than making a blanket allocation of dollars.

This is like telling a poor, unemployed person:

Hey, I know you’re barely getting by and don’t have enough money to live or eat but you’ve been living and eating for years with no appreciable improvement in your life situation. What you really need is some job training. So we’re going to cut back even further on your food and housing assistance in favor of some targeted funding for job training.

Governor Branstad is asking Iowa schools to choose between subsistence or improvement investments when, of course, they need both. Easily understood, but apparently not easily enacted.

How does losing 1,100 teaching positions make Iowa schools ‘best in America’ again? And when did basic, essential funding of schools become ’throwing money’ at them?

Image credit: ISEA

It’s not that you don’t have enough money, it’s that you don’t spend it wisely

Man with empty pockets

Like Kansas with its poor, Governor Terry Branstad wants Iowa schools to be more accountable for their spending of state dollars. Citing years of ‘across-the-board money with no accountability [while] Iowa kind of stagnated,’ he decided to teach our schools a lesson and took some of their money away so that they will learn how to operate more efficiently under austerity conditions, much like Greece and its European Union creditors. His theory of action is that by reducing school funding, Iowa ‘will become best in America again.’

It’s not that you don’t have enough money due to four historic years of inadequate education funding, it’s that you don’t spend it wisely…

I completely agree. I think we should start cutting the wasteful fat from our incredibly-bloated school budgets immediately. We’re already below the national average when it comes to per pupil funding but that is still too high. We can do better!

Let’s start with those useless administrators and their fat cat salaries. And of course those teachers that 1) hardly do anything, 2) join those damned unions, and 3) have huge salaries and summers off. Your district already is sharing a superintendent with two or three others? You’re already whole grade and/or teacher sharing? Your class sizes already are bulging at the seams? Keep trimming the fat… We can do better!

Next up: art, music… heck, any and all electives. Gone! Don’t you know how poorly Iowa is doing on NAEP reading and math scores? We need to focus, people! Along with our recess cuts, that’s more time that we can allocate toward scripted reading and math lessons and additional drill-and-kill activities. We can do better!

Let’s cut extracurriculars while we’re at it. All sports, all clubs, all leadership opportunities… Why are you angry? Have you already forgotten our quest to be ‘world class?’ Look, Asian students don’t have extracurriculars. After their school day they go to even MORE school, every afternoon, evening, and weekend. That’s whom we’re competing with these days. We can do better!

Now we’re getting closer to some real efficiency. But let’s don’t stop there! Let’s cut Social Studies. What? You think we want an active, engaged citizenry? NO!!! We want sheep who will passively believe whatever we tell them! And of course we’ll cut science classes. We have extracurricular STEM programs that will make up the difference. Plus we don’t really believe in science anyway…

Look, I know this upsets some of you. But it’s a tough road to becoming America’s best again, particularly since we have to face up to Iowa’s dire budget situation. We simply cannot be irresponsible with our taxpayers’ money. Plus we need hundreds of millions of dollars to give to companies so that they can create a dozen or so jobs. The solution to improving school outcomes is not to ‘throw money’ at schools. It’s to grade and rank them! Can we find ways to get rid of those pesky students with special needs? They’re expensive!!!!

[Or we could point the accountability arrow the other direction and hold our elected representatives ‘accountable’ for meeting the clear desires of Iowans for a strong education system and a solid future for our state. What will we choose?]

Image credit: Empty Pockets, Dan Moyle