Tag Archives: edreform

Things I wonder after reading Governor Terry Branstad’s recent comments on teacher leadership

Iowa state flag

Here are a few things I wonder after reading Governor Terry Branstad’s recent comments on the teacher leadership program here in Iowa… (I also left these as a comment to the article)

  1. I wonder how many Iowa educators would say that “it’s cool” and “it’s neat” to be a teacher leader as they watch over a thousand teaching positions statewide be eliminated or go unfilled due to inadequate funding because of the Governor’s recent veto.
  2. I wonder how many Iowa educators would say that they “feel respected and appreciated” right now.
  3. I wonder how many Iowa educators “see that [the Governor] is listening to them,” particularly when they contrast his July veto of school funding with his proposed rule change that would remove even more state revenue by granting additional corporate tax cuts.
  4. I wonder how many educators feel that the Governor is “rais[ing] the bar and attract[ing] people / top talent” to the profession right now.
  5. In our democratic society that’s supposed to represent the voice of the people – and given the Governor’s recent stance on school start dates (despite nearly unanimous opposition from school districts) and his funding veto – I wonder how many educators and families are grateful for his top down approach in order to (in his words) remedy the fact that “Iowa [is] stuck with our local control system.”
  6. I wonder why the Governor thought that a sit-and-get education summit would be enough to gain traction on teacher leadership.
  7. I wonder how many actual examples the Governor can provide of teacher leaders “revolutionizing what’s happening in classrooms across Iowa.”
  8. I wonder if the Governor realizes that helping “Iowa again [to] be a national leader, known for giving our students a globally competitive education” probably isn’t going to happen with reduced school district and AEA budgets, declining educator morale, and top-down leadership that fails to reflect both the voice and expertise of the front-line educators who are charged with returning Iowa to greatness.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome…

Image credit: Iowa flag, Chuck Thompson

Why Ohio can’t reduce student testing load

Michael Petrilli said:

Last year, [Ohio] State Superintendent Dick Ross published a report on the testing load in the state’s schools that showed strikingly similar results as the new Council for Great City Schools study. It found that about one-quarter of the testing in the Buckeye State was linked solely to the need for data for teacher evaluations in subjects other than math and reading. To his credit, Ross proposed that districts simply dump those tests. He made a choice, in other words.

Regrettably, the Ohio General Assembly did not go along with his recommendation – but for an understandable reason. Because of Ohio’s federal waiver, Buckeye State districts couldn’t just move to evaluations based on teacher observations and the like. If they had gotten rid of excess tests, they would have had to use reading and math scores to evaluate all teachers – gym teachers, art teachers, the whole crew. This is quite obviously inane, and it demands a change in federal policy.

The Obama administration is trying to have it both ways. It wants fewer tests but isn’t willing to give up on test-based teacher evaluations. Meaning that, alas, it has failed this test.

via http://educationnext.org/if-the-obama-administration-wants-fewer-tests-it-will-have-to-give-up-on-test-based-teacher-evaluations

Michael Bloomberg on testing

Michael Bloomberg

Here are some quotes from Michael Bloomberg about testing students, with my annotations in italics…

  1. “Many companies (including mine) use tests in hiring.” Really? The hiring ’tests’ for your financial software, data, and media company are multiple choice tests of factual recall and procedural regurgitation?
  2. “Students will face tests throughout their life. They must learn to cope with the emotional stress that comes with the experience.” Just curious: Do your workers cry, get stomach aches, or wet themselves when they face emotional stress in your workplace? (like some of our elementary students do at testing time) If so, must be a fun place to work!
  3. “Test-taking is no one’s idea of fun, but it is part of life.” Quick. Name other areas outside of school and college admissions where taking multiple choice exams and writing short, formulaic essays that are graded in 1-2 minutes are a regular part of life.
  4. “In the ultracompetitive global economy, the U.S. is facing a terrible mismatch between high-skill jobs and our labor pool.” How, exactly, do standardized tests of low-level knowledge lead to high-skill jobs? How, exactly, does an emphasis on low-level thinking work foster higher-level thinkers? What’s your theory of action?
  5. “The biggest threat to American might is not any one country or terrorist group. It is our collective unwillingness to confront mediocrity in our schools.” Many of us ARE confronting mediocrity in our schools. We are confronting the mediocrity of our continued emphasis on assessments of low-level thinking work instead of assessments of critical thinking, creative problem solving, effective communication and collaboration, and other higher-level skills.
Your thoughts?

Image credit: Wikimedia

The P in public education

Sign: Welcome to our ool. Notice there is no P in it. Let's keep it that way.

Policymakers are fond of noting that teachers are the number one school-level influence on student learning outcomes (note: non-school influences are far more significant). Despite politicians’ claims that they value and appreciate teachers, however, we are seeing the following from legislatures all across the country:

  • rhetorical attacks on teacher unions
  • rollbacks of educators’ collective bargaining rights
  • elimination of teacher tenure
  • public disparagement of educators, teacher preparation programs, and colleges of education
  • scripted lessons, lockstep behavior management techniques, and other attempts to ‘teacher-proof’ the education of children
  • underfunding of public schools
  • underfunding of public universities
  • legislation favoring of – and spending of public monies on – alternative teacher preparation programs, charters, vouchers, homeschooling, and other non-public school options
  • mass firings in so-called ‘failing schools’
  • enactment of ‘parent trigger’ laws
  • teacher evaluations based on statistically-volatile (and thus unfair) ‘value-added’ assessment systems
  • public shaming through publication of teacher evaluations
  • school evaluations based primarily on bubble test scores
  • public shaming through publication of school ‘letter grades’
  • repeated attempts to institute ‘merit pay’ systems (despite decades of research-proven failure)
  • double-standard school and educator ‘accountability’ provisions that apply to public schools but not charter or private schools
  • acceptance of policy proposals, money, and political influence from seemingly anyone other than actual educators
  • public disparagement of parents, researchers, and others who speak out against harmful ‘reforms’
  • and so on…

As a result, states now are seeing big drops in teacher morale, teacher turnover that’s even greater than historically-horrible rates, and often-severe teacher shortages. 

All of this is simple, really. If we keep pissing in the public education pool, don’t be surprised when no one wants to swim in it.

Image credit: Welcome to our ‘ool, Delwin Steven Campbell

Summer school for kindergarteners


Valerie Strauss said:

curriculum has been pushed down so much that kindergarten is no longer a time for kids to learn and socialize through play but rather for a lot of desk time with academic assignments. Sure, some schools break up the time so kids don’t sit there hour after hour, but the pressure on young children to learn to read and do math – even if they aren’t developmentally ready – and on teachers to ensure that they do learn – has become extraordinary.

Providing quality summer programs for young children is a laudable goal – and something school systems and city governments should offer. But requiring 5- and 6-year-olds to go to summer school so they can labor over academics is something else entirely.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/07/13/and-now-mandatory-summer-school-for-some-kindergartners

Image credit: Kindergarten, Here We Come, Howard County Library System

Let’s be honest about annual testing

Testing pencils

Let’s be honest: students and parents obtain no tangible benefit from large-scale annual testing. Kids and families give up numerous days of learning time – both for the tests themselves and for the test prep sessions whose sole purpose is to get ready for the tests (and maybe also for the testing pep rally) – and for what? The data come back too late to be actionable. The questions are shrouded in secrecy so that no one has any idea what students actually missed. As Diane Ravitch has noted, given the immense amounts of time, energy, money, and personnel that we expend on our summative assessments, “there’s no instructional gain … [there’s] no diagnostic value.” The tests fail the fundamental rule of good assessment – which is to provide feedback to fuel future improvement – and come at a tremendous opportunity cost.

All of this might be fine – students and families might dutifully and kindly take a few hours or even days out of the school year to support their local school’s desire to get some institutional-level benchmarks (like when I was a kid) – if the stakes currently weren’t so high and the problems weren’t so prevalent (unlike when I was a kid). The use of extremely-volatile, statistically-unreliable data to punish teachers and schools… the misuse of assessment results to fuel anti-public-school political agendas… the billions of public dollars that go into the pockets of testing companies instead of under-resourced classrooms… the narrowing of curricula and the neglect of non-tested subjects… the appropriation of computers for weeks on end for testing instead of learning… the recharacterization of schools as test score factories, not life success enablers… no wonder parents are starting to scream. It’s a miracle that more families aren’t opting out of these tests and it’s awfully hard to blame them if they do.

Our assessment systems are a complete mess right now. As parents experience empty-threat tantrums from policymakers, vindictive ‘sit and stare’ policies from school districts, and testing horror story after horror story, they are rightfully pushing back against testing schemes that offer no learning feedback or other concrete benefits to their children. There are looming battles with governors and the federal government around opt-out policies. Put your money on the parents.

Many educators are still running scared on this front. Most schools are still fearful and compliant. Our inactivity makes us complicit. When do we say ‘enough is enough?’ How bad does it have to get before we stand with our parents and our communities? When do we fight for what’s educationally sound instead of caving in (yet again)?

Image credit: perfect, romana klee

Whipping people into line


Sir Ken Robinson said:

It’s not the need for standards. It’s the way they play out. . . . testing is not some benign educational process. It is a multibillion-dollar industry that is absorbing massive time, resources and cash that could be used for other things. Its a massive profit-making machine. . . . You can look at the value of there being some sort of commonly-agreed standards and some core content that could be helpful to schools. That’s one conversation. You can look at some value of some form of diagnostic testing. But when you look at it cumulatively and lay the politics on top of it, it’s just a mess. . . . People are just exhausted by this whole enterprise. . . . If you don’t implement reforms, then you don’t get the cash. It’s just trying to whip people into line. And it doesn’t have to be that way, as other countries are showing, looking for more creative approaches to education. . . .

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/21/sir-ken-robinson-has-a-lot-to-say-about-u-s-school-reform-it-isnt-good

Image credit: 10’Morgan Blacksnake, AldoZL


There’s no diagnostic value in locked-down summative assessments

Diane Ravitch said:

It’s totally inappropriate to compare opting out of testing to opting out of immunization. One has a scientific basis, the other has none. The tests that kids take today have nothing to do with the tests that we took when we were kids. When we were kids, we took an hour test to see how we did in reading, an hour test to see how we did in math. Children today in third grade are taking eight hours of testing. They’re spending more time taking tests than people taking the bar exam.

Now, when we talk about the results of the test, they come back four to six months later. The kids already have a different teacher. And all they get is a score and a ranking. The teachers can’t see the item analysis. They can’t see what the kids got wrong. They’re getting no instructional gain, no possibility of improvement for the kids, because there’s no value to the test. They have no diagnostic value.

[It’s as] if you go to a doctor and you say, ‘I have a pain,’ and the doctor says, ‘I’ll get back to you in six months,’ and he gets back to you and tells you how you compare to everyone else in the state, but he doesn’t have any medicine for you.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/04/16/why-the-debate-between-diane-ravitch-and-merryl-tisch-was-remarkable

Privileging the spreadsheet over the individual

Carl Hendrick wrote:

in many schools it would appear that teachers are working significantly harder than the pupils in their charge, and not so much because the kids are lazy but rather because of an institutionalised miasma that is obsessed with measuring everything (usually poorly) that privileges the spreadsheet over the individual and which has infantilised the process of learning to such a degree that actually knowing stuff is deemed less important than merely appearing to know stuff

via http://staffrm.io/@carlhendrick/dmRoWd4V1D

It’s been a tough year to feel positive about Iowa education politics

Storm cell

It’s been a tough year to feel positive about Iowa education politics. For example…

Our governor wants Iowa schools to return to the top of the NAEP rankings and reclaim their ‘world class’ status but is endorsing a 1.25% budgetary increase that doesn’t even keep up with inflation (while requesting a 9% increase for his own office). As a result, most schools will have to cut people just to keep the lights on and the buses running. We can expect teacher layoffs, crowded classrooms, and other disinvestments in the needs of students, despite a solid state economy and a healthy reserve. We may fall as low as 40th in per-pupil spending. So much for being a state that allegedly cares about education.

Our outdated school start date legislation clearly fails to meet the needs of schools (336 out of 338 school districts asked for a waiver last year) but suddenly is being tightly enforced. Our state department of education says that it believes in principles of ‘local control’ but then this year notified districts that it no longer would automatically grant school start date waivers and that essentially every reason they might give for an earlier start date will not be considered legitimate. The school start date consternation is apparently being driven by the tourism industry. Educational needs are being given short shrift.

Of course we’re seeing lots of posturing from both sides of the political aisle (e.g., polarizing comments, Twitter wars, and ‘public’ hearings in rooms that are too small for the public to attend). And we’re seeing some really goofy stuff occurring during what should be important discussions and debates.

We’ve got a superintendent who’s decided he must break the law just to meet the needs of his district’s students. He’s being condemned by some legislators, despite the fact that they themselves break the law year after year when it comes to meeting deadlines for setting school spending authority.

Last week we were notified that our state department of education has now chewed up and spit out its second talented director in less than two years. We’ve got a misbegotten student retention law that’s about to go into effect. Our state assessments don’t align with our state standards. Budgets for our regional educational agencies – which provide essential services to our districts – keep getting reduced. And we’re starting to see proposed legislative attacks on teacher unions that are inconsistent with our rhetoric that we honor and develop teachers. I don’t know if we’re one of ‘those states’ yet when it comes to education but it sure seems like we’re getting closer.

After last year’s legislative session I said to several folks that I was glad it was quiet and positive compared to years past. Apparently last year was just the calm before the storm… [sigh]

Image credit: Storm cell, Tom Gill

Switch to our mobile site