Answers Without Questions

When you ask the wrong questions, you can’t possibly get the right answers.

The Mastery Examination Task Force, whose report about student assessment in our public schools is due to come out soon, has asked all the wrong questions. We, therefore, can’t have any confidence in the findings of the Task Force.

Questions that the Task Force never asked are:

1. Are the tests that we now use, the SBAC and the SAT, reliable, valid, and fair?

2. What kind of learning do we want to measure and why?

3. How can we assess students so that the assessment itself is a learning experience for them?

The first question is a meat-and-potatoes no brainer. If the SBAC and the SAT lack reliability, validity, or fairness, we shouldn’t keep spending time and money on junk.

The second and third questions tell us about the quality of the  education we are giving to our students here in Connecticut.

A fourth question is :Why didn’t the Mastery Examination Task Force ask Questions 1, 2, and 3?

For an answer to that question, see  this article, written by veteran Connecticut educator, Jack Bestor, and published in CT Mirror.

The Role Of The Artist in Trump-time

The result of the 2016 Presidential election silenced me. Listening to Meryl Streep’s speech when she accepted a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes Award gave me back my voice.

Since November 9, 2016, I have questioned the point of writing about public education anymore. Why should I continue to criticize the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts when what I find harmful in them for students is now being normalized by the President-elect? How could  I continue to criticize standards that limit the amount of literature students read when we have a President-elect who boasts of the fact that he doesn’t read?  How could I criticize standards that recognize only predetermined right answers instead of critical or creative thinking  when we have a President-elect who says he has all the answers and doesn’t need dialogue with others to explore possibilities or revise his thinking? How could I continue to advocate for excellent public schools for all children as the bedrock of a democracy when that President-elect nominates for U.S. Secretary of Education someone who wants to destroy public education?  It all seemed futile.

Then I heard what Meryl Streep said about artists and journalists and knew that it applied to educators as well.  You can listen to her speech here:   https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=tightropetb&p=video+of+meryl+streep+speech+at+golden+globes+on+january+9%2C+2016#id=59&vid=c81a5c9dd5861ac45c2c81b50d1964b9&. Or you can read it below.

I love you all, but you’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend, and I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year. So I have to read. Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press, just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.

But who are we? And what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Veneto, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in — no — in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

They gave me three seconds to say this. So an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like, and there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work. But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hook in my heart not because it was good. It was — there was nothing good about it, but it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart, and I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence insights violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account –  to call them on the carpet for every outrage.

That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedom in our Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists because we are going to need them going forward and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something, you know, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight. As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia said to me once, “Take your broken heart. Make it into art.” 

And that is what I will do. I will stop being defeated. I will end my two-month silence. I will let my broken heart energize my art as a teacher and as a  teacher of teachers.

I will go back to speaking my truth. I know what good education is and will advocate for it. I know what the art of teaching entails. I am passionate about children having the best possible education because I know first-hand how education that privileges diversity, independent thinking, and social responsibility can transform lives. I will not stop because of the disrespect, violence, and bullying that now surround us. I will not stop empathizing with the children in this country who so need us educators – especially now.

I will ask of myself what Meryl Streep asked of journalists: How can I hold power accountable and safeguard the truth. The truth I want to safeguard is that the purpose of public education is to build the minds and hearts of all students by developing their potential as engaged learners and increasingly independent thinkers in every way imaginable. To do that, I must go back to opposing the Common Core Standards, designed by entrepreneurs and testing company personnel instead of educators. I must also go back to opposing the evaluation of students by standardized tests because that kind of assessment reduces learning for all students, especially those who need engagement and stimulation the most. I must go back to opposing charter schools because they take  money away from the vast majority of children without notable results, and they encourage segregation. As Meryl Streep urged journalists, I must hold precious my responsibility to play a part in taking this democracy to its highest ground.

Meryl Streep is right. The oligarch-in-chief and the oligarchs with whom he has surrounded himself have incredible power and have the privilege of wealth. But we educators, like the actors and journalists, have our art. We can teach. We can speak the truth about kids, about learning, about diversity, about excellence.  With that art and with one another we can fight back.

Let’s get busy.

Closing The Real Achievement Gap

There‘s a lot of talk in Connecticut about closing the achievement gap between affluent students who are predominately white and poor students who are predominately black or brown, but there have been no effective actions taken and none are on the horizon. Instead, Connecticut gave up its own well-founded state standards and adopted the narrow and inadequate Common Core Standards, called them rigorous which they are not, and gave students standardized tests to measure their achievement of those quite limited standards. Then Connecticut waited for the test scores to see if the impoverished would catch up to the affluent. They haven’t and they won’t.

The poorer the Connecticut students, the lower their test scores. Standardized test scores, always and ever, are correlated with the family income of the test takers so it makes no sense to address the achievement gap by analyzing standardized test scores. The achievement gap that makes sense to address is the gap between those who succeed in their academic goals and those who do not, between those who graduate from college and those who do not.

That gap is a staggering one. For students who attended Connecticut public high schools and began college, the graduation rate is: 24.4% for black, 21.4% for Hispanic and 53.8% for white college students. Similarly, only 19% of Connecticut’s economically disadvantaged students who attend college earn a college degree as compared to 54.2% of their more advantaged peers.

Colleges and universities across the country have recognized this achievement gap in which the rich are sure to graduate and the poor are not. Nationally, 90% of college freshman born into families in the top income quartile graduate while only 25% of those born into the bottom half of the income distribution graduate. 

Colleges and universities are taking effective steps to solve the achievement gap among their students, but  Connecticut is not taking any effective steps to close the K-12 achievement gap. Colleges and universities are successful because they ask a question much different from the question that Connecticut is asking. The Connecticut question is: How can we reduce the gap in standardized test scores? The question that the colleges and universities are asking is: What can we do to improve student achievement?

As in so many things, asking the right question is the secret to success.

Research psychologists at Stanford University headed higher education in the right direction in answering the college and university question. They have for years been exploring the premise that students are often blocked from living up to their potential because of their fears about not measuring up to their peers and their doubts about their ability. They found that lack of achievement is often rooted in students’ feelings of not belonging to what they see as a community of achievers and considering themselves less academically able than others.

In one of the Stanford University studies, researchers provided students at an elite Northeastern college with a message about belonging. They informed them that everyone at their college feels overwhelmed and not smart enough and asked them to react in writing to that idea. This exercise had no apparent effect on the white students who took part in the experiment. But it had a transformative effect on the college careers of the African-American students in the study. The experiment tripled the percentage of black students who earned grades in the top quarter of their class and cut in half the black-white achievement gap in G.P.A.

This study was replicated at a private Midwestern university with students who were the first in their family to attend college. The result was that the achievement gap between students who were the first in their family to attend college and the students whose parents had attended college was reduced by 63%.

In another Stanford University study, 288 community-college students enrolled in developmental math were randomly assigned, at the beginning of the semester, to read one of two articles. The control group read a generic article about the brain. The treatment group read an article that laid out scientific evidence against the theory of a fixed intelligence that cannot grow and change. At semester’s end, 20% of the students in the control group had dropped out of developmental math and, therefore, out of college, compared with just 9% of the treatment group. This intervention cut the community-college math dropout rate by more than half.

At the University of Texas at Austin, a chemistry professor, David Laude, worked with the same hypothesis as the Stamford researchers. He identified 50 students who had lower SAT scores, were economically disadvantaged, and the first in their families to attend college. He taught them the exact same curriculum and gave them the exact same tests as the 400 students in his other class. The difference was that he involved the fifty students in a program which gave them both a sense of belonging to a group of achievers and strategies for developing themselves as learners. The result was that this group of disadvantaged students, who were 200 points lower on the SAT than students in Laude’s larger section, had exactly the same grade distribution as the students in the larger section. The impact went beyond that chemistry class. This group  of 50 students who, statistically, were on track to fail, returned for their sophomore year at rates above average for the university as a whole and three years later had graduation rates that were above the university average.

Laude has now been appointed senior vice provost, charged with improving the four-year graduation rate. He instituted a program, based on the same premises as his chemistry program, for 500 students who are low income, first members in their family to attend college, have lower SAT scores, and a graduation rate of 20%. These 500 students are given $5000 a year scholarships for which they are required to be in leadership positions on campus, participate in campus internships, and attend weekly lectures on developing strategies for learning. Through these activities, students gain a sense of themselves as part of the community of achievers and learn how to learn.

Also at the University of Texas at Austin, David Yeager, a psychology professor and former Stanford researcher, has been commissioned to address the dropout rate among poorer students with lower SAT’s and the first in their family to go to college. As part of freshman orientation, he asked students to read articles that address their sense of belonging in an academically challenging environment and that discuss the brain as malleable and able to grow and change its capability with effort. With this simple intervention, the University of Texas cut in half the achievement gap between advantaged freshmen and freshmen who are black, Latino, first-generation, and/or poor.

Many colleges and universities are instituting programs to address the particular learning needs of students who are poor and first in their family to attend college. Brown hosted the first Inter-Ivy First Generation Student Network Conference in 2012, drawing students from across the country. Harvard, Duke, Georgetown, Brown and Yale are involved in a multi-year study in which they interview first generation students from low income families (usually an income under $40,00 year) to ascertain their needs. These programs for first generation college students seek to give students  both a sense of belonging and strategies for learning.

What can we in Connecticut learn from higher education? How can we close the real achievement gap? How can we close the gap between our children who become well-educated and accomplished human beings and our children who become dropouts from the world of education and accomplishment?

Here is a plan to close Connecticut’s K-12 achievement gap:

First: End high stakes standardized tests. With standardized tests, test prep becomes the curriculum, and all students – black, brown, white, poor, and affluent –  are deprived of real learning. Standardized tests also deprive the poor, the black, and the brown of a fair chance. Standardized tests hurt all children.

Second: Ask educators to design performance assessments which demonstrate what students can do, how they can think, how they learn, and what they can create in each discipline.

Third: Require each school district to create a curriculum which teaches students strategies for learning in a developmental progression from K-12.

Fourth: Hold all of us – teachers, school administrators, school boards, teachers unions, the Connecticut State Department of Education, the Connecticut State Board of Education, legislators, the governor – to the same standard. That standard is: What are you doing to bring all the students for whom you are responsible into the community of achievers?

Then, and only then, will Connecticut close its achievement gap.

       Requiring the SAT Gets Connecticut Less Than Nothing

Big News! It was on the front page of the The Hartford Courant, reported on in all the other state newspapers, and featured on the Connecticut State Department of Education website:

Nearly 66% of 11th graders met the state standards for English and 40% met the state standards for math on the 2016 SAT.

And what does that tell us about what Connecticut has gained from fully funding the SAT for all high school juniors?

Absolutely nothing.

It was a waste of taxpayer money.

First of all, it doesn’t tell us anything about who is ready for college. The SAT is based on the Common Core Standards, which Connecticut has taken as its own. The Common Core Standards lack validity and reliability. Common Core Standards were written, without input from educators at the K-12 or college level, by employees of testing companies and companies that analyze standardized test data. They were never field-tested to see if being successful with those standards makes for achievement in college. So we don’t know if we should be happy if students score well because it could be that they succeeded at something that is innocuous at best and inferior education at worst.

We do know that getting a high score on the SAT gives us no information about the students’ ability to ask their own questions, make their own connections, and construct their own meaning as they read, or express their own ideas as they write in a personal voice because the Common Core rejects those skills. And we do know that those are skills needed for college. Therefore, SAT scores don’t tell us if students will be successful in college.

Secondly, this SAT does not allow for comparisons because it is a new test. Scores cannot be compared to the SAT of past years. It has different content and a different way of being scored than past tests. Also, the student population taking the SAT has changed. Previously, 82% of high school juniors took the SAT; in 2016, with the new requirement,  94 % took the test. So with different content, scoring, and test-taking populations, no conclusions about student improvement or decline can be made.

Thirdly, some may say we need the SAT to ascertain how Connecticut is doing as compared to other states, but we have the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the Nation’s Report Card, that gives state-by-state reports. NAEP tests students in reading and math and scores them, based on college readiness. There is no charge to the state or local districts. Individual scores are not reported so there is no punishments for students. Best of all, there is no class time sacrificed to prepare for the tests because, during the school year, districts do not know if they are to be tested that year.

Fourthly, the SAT is not the necessity it once was. Increasingly, high school students do not need SAT scores for their college applications. Colleges and universities are realizing the limits of standardized tests as indicators of a prospective student’s academic promise and intellectual strength. Currently, 850 colleges and universities, including 210 in the “top tier”, do not require SAT or ACT scores for admission to bachelor degree programs. The research is clear, and colleges and universities are responding to it: High school grade point average is the predictor of success in college, not standardized tests.

So why does the State of Connecticut mandate that all high school juniors take the SAT?

The only reason left is the one politicians love to herald: To close the achievement gap.

Only those who have never taught students could give that answer. Educators know that there is no way that any set of standards or any standardized test has ever or will ever overcome the damage of poverty and racism. In fact, mandating standardized tests reinforces that damage and tells many impoverished students and students of color that they do not belong in the mainstream. Standardized test scores, including the SAT, are always correlated with the income of students’ parents. With the current 2016 SAT, school districts with higher scores include the affluent towns of Darien, Simsbury, Westport, and Wilton; school districts with lower scores include the cities of Hartford, Waterbury, and Bridgeport with their high rates of poverty. And so it has ever been.

Students with parents who have the time, the energy, the money, and the benefits from their own higher education to enrich the lives of their children and support them in school will always score higher than most students whose parents do not have those advantages. How could it be otherwise?

So mandating the SAT is not even a neutral event; mandating the SAT for all high school juniors is not just a nothing. It actually does harm. It limits the curriculum for all students, affluent and poor, and turns the curriculum into test prep. It does added harm to those students most in need because the cost of the tests, test prep materials, and the technology to administer the tests takes financial resources away from addressing their needs propelled by poverty and racism.

There is a path forward. Connecticut must:

  1. End the Common Core test-and-punish approach. We must recognize that we are foolishly spending millions of dollars on SBAC and the SAT, and it gains nothing for us as a state. The tests reinforce Connecticut’s shame: unconscionable income inequality.
  1. End the Common Core test-and-punish approach because it denies our children a real education as learners and thinkers that they deserve.
  1. Use the money now spent on testing to invest in what has been proven to improve student achievement. It is what every teacher knows works: positive relationships with adults in schools. Educators know that having those positive relationships with adults engages students in school, inspires them to want to learn, and gives them the skills to succeed and live productive lives. According to Wendy Lecker, senior attorney at the Education Law Center in Newark, NJ, researchers have identified three ways to foster those adult/student relationships:
  • Provide developmentally appropriate preschool in which the emphasis is on play.
  • Mandate small class size in grades K-12.
  • Reduce the student caseload of guidance counselors.

Let’s put our money where we are sure we can make a difference. It’s time to stop spending money and getting nothing for it. And, worse yet, spending money and getting less than nothing by hurting our most precious resource as a state: our children.

 

 

 

 

Fact Checking Candidate Cruz, Candidate Kasich, and Candidate Trump about K-12 Education

There has been no substantive conversation about K-12 education in the Republican debates, town hall meetings, or candidate rallies. Attention has been on other issues, but education is crucial both for the individual future of each of our children and for the future of our nation. We voters deserve to know what the candidates will do as President about K-12 education. What follows are key topics about K-12 education and what the candidates have said about them so far.

NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND

No Child Left Behind was federal legislation that controlled K-12 education in the United States from 2001 to its replacement by the Every Child Succeeds Act in December 2015. With it, students’ scores on standardized tests were the only means of measuring student achievement and the worth of a school. It punished schools, based on test scores. All schools in the United States were required to reach 100% proficiency by 2014 or receive sanctions from the federal government, which meant the withholding of federal funds. Given the wide range of student abilities, including students with special education needs and students whose primary language is not English, 100% proficiency was out of range for almost all schools.

None of the Republican candidates were in Congress when the Congress passed NCLB in 2001. All three Republican candidates oppose federal government mandates about education and favor local control. They have reservations about the replacement for NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was signed into law in December 2015.

Ted Cruz voted against the initial draft of ESSA in July. He was not present for the final vote but opposed a cloture motion to advance the bill on the day before the vote. In a press conference, Ted Cruz commented, “The ESSA, unfortunately, continues to propagate the large and ever-growing role of the federal government in our education system.”  Ted Cruz also said, “If I’m elected president, I will direct the U.S. Department of Education — which should be abolished — I will direct the Department of Education that Common Core ends today. Instead, I will restore power back to the states and to the local governments and ultimately back to the parents — those closest to our kids who have direct responsibility for raising our children, each and every one of us moms and dads.”

Donald Trump has said, “I’m a tremendous believer in education, but education has to be at a local level. We cannot have the bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child’s education.” At another point, Donald Trump said, “I may cut the Department of Education.”

John Kasich is criticized by other Republicans because he does not reject the federally supported Common Core, which is integral to the federal program Race to the Top. He does not reject the role of the federal government in education as much as Mr. Trump and Senator Cruz do. As a member of Congress, he sponsored a bill to reinstate prayer in public schools and voted YES to giving federal aid only to schools which allowed voluntary prayer.

Questions to ask the candidates are:

  1. Do you think that states or local should create their own standards, as ESSA permits, rather than use the Common Core Standards which are recommended by the federal government?
  1. What are the immediate changes you will make to the U.S. Department of Education?

PUBLICLY FUNDED AND PRIVATELY MANAGED CHARTER SCHOOLS

Publicly funded and privately managed charter schools are funded with taxpayer money but are privately managed without transparency or accountability for how the tax dollars are spent and without the same oversight as traditional public schools. All three of the Republican candidates are avid advocates of publicly funded and privately managed charter schools.

Donald Trump claims that K-12 education would benefit from competition and enthusiastically embraces the competition with public schools that he thinks charter schools offer. Ted Cruz said at a CNN-hosted debate at the University of Miami, “The most important reform we can do in education, after getting the federal government out of it, is to expand school choice.” He called for the expansion of charter schools, and home schooling. He often says school choice is the “civil rights issue of the 21st century”.

John Kasich seems to have a mess on his hands with scandal- ridden charter schools in Ohio and is now trying to strengthen oversight of charter schools in the state. According to The Washington Post, Ohio state auditors discovered that, since 2001, $27.3 million has been improperly spent by charter schools. Also in February 2016, it was discovered that charter schools had falsified their records regarding student achievement. Ten times more Ohio charter schools are failing than had been previously reported. In addition to those scandals, John Kasich made budget cuts in traditional public schools while at the same time increasing taxpayer funding of charter schools and vouchers. Since John Kasich took office in 2011, traditional public schools, which educate 90% of Ohio’s kids, are receiving $515 million less in state funding while charter schools have an increase of 27% in taxpayer funding. Charters also receive more state money per pupil than traditional public schools.

Questions to ask the candidates:

  1. With shrinking state and local budgets, do you favor taking taxpayer money from the traditional public schools, which educate most of the students, in order to support charter schools, which educate a select population?
  2. What regulations would you put in place for charter schools in order to enforce transparency in terms of the use of taxpayer money and to insure the delivery of student services, such as special education?

COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS

The Common Core State Standards were written in secret by employees of testing companies, not by educators. They are not research-based, not internationally benchmarked, and not outcome-validated. States were coerced into adopting them in exchange for being released from sanctions imposed on them for not meeting the NCLB mandate of 100% proficiency. The National Governors Association approved the standards,  before they had even been written, in order to not lose federal money. Educators criticize the content and pedagogy. Five hundred prominent early childhood professionals, psychologists, and researchers issued a public statement that the Common Core Standards are harmful to young children, and the National Council of Teachers of English did not endorse them. The more teachers work with the Common Core Standards, the more they oppose them. 

John Kasich doesn’t seem to understand that the Common Core Standards claim to be a product of the states but really are not. On Fox News, he said, “The Common Core was written by state education superintendents and local principals.”  In reality, Bill Gates, a private citizen, funded the writing of the Common Core Standards and then the federal government appropriated them as part of the conditions given to the states to avoid reduction in state aid from the federal government. Bill Gates’s money allowed the federal government to skirt the law which prohibits the federal government from funding and establishing a national curriculum or national standards but, at the same time, use those standards to give or withhold federal money from the states.

Ted Cruz has said that on his first day in office, he will “repeal every single word of the Common Core in order to get the federal government out of the business of dictating educational standards”. At the Heritage Foundation Conservative Policy Summit in January 2015, he said that education is too important to be governed by unelected bureaucrats in Washington.

Donald Trump repeatedly calls The Common Core a “disaster” but has not explained specifically how the content and the accompanying pedagogy of the Common Core are a disaster. He also has said that education should be “local and locally managed”.

The Republican candidates have not addressed in any way why the standards that they oppose (Ted Cruz and Donald Trump) or support (John Kasich) are bad or good education. They have not discussed if the learning students receive with those standards is meritorious and developmentally appropriate or if it is not.

Some questions to ask the candidates are:

  1. Do you think it is developmentally appropriate for kindergarten to be “the new first grade” in order for children to meet Common Core Standards?
  1. Do you think it is good that we are the only nation that limits the amount of literature read and asks students to read excerpts of great literature instead of whole books?
  1. Do you think it is good for students to read without connecting the ideas they are reading to their own life experiences or to the historical and cultural background of the text?

 HIGH STAKES STANDARDIZED TESTS

Paul Thomas, a professor of education at Furman University recently wrote:  “In addressing education issues candidates are likely to remain trapped inside the failed accountability mindset for reforming schools — one that privileges ‘standards’ and ‘tests’ as the central means of closing the infamous achievement gap. But there are better ways to approach what plagues us. Instead of focusing merely on ‘accountability’, presidential candidates should be challenged first to confront and then address the tremendous social and educational inequities that plague our public schools.”

Ted Cruz voted in favor of a Senate bill (S.AMDT 2162), which addressed the right of parents to opt their children out of standardized tests. Although John Kasich has been a strong supporter of Common Core, he withdrew Ohio from PARCC, the Common Core-aligned testing consortium, due to pressure from teachers and administrators who complained that the tests took up to much class time and the online exams had too many computer glitches. The state, instead, awarded the contract to the American Institutes of Research, which currently administers Ohio’s social studies and science exams.

Neither Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, nor John Kasich addresses the question of whether standardized tests assess skills that students need for their future or whether the tests should be used to make judgments about students, teachers, and schools or whether standardized tests are helpful in closing the achievement gap.

Questions to ask the candidates:

  1. Scores on all standardized tests correlate with family income so how will standardized tests help students in impoverished areas?
  1. Do you feel that there are problems with teaching to the standardized test?
  1. How will standardized tests assess the skills needed in the 21st century, such as asking probing questions, collaboration, problem-solving, critical thinking, and effective written and oral communication?

RACIAL INEQUITIES

The Civil Rights Project reported in 2010: “While segregation for blacks among all public schools has been increasing for nearly two decades, black students in charter schools are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in intensely segregated settings. At the national level, seventy percent of black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools or twice as many as the share of intensely segregated back students in traditional public schools. Some charter schools enrolled populations where 99% of the students were from under-represented minority backgrounds.”

With the increase in charter schools since 2010, the percentage of students in segregated schools also increased.

There is a large body of relevant research showing that charter schools, on average, don’t have an academic advantage over traditional public schools, but they do have a significant risk of leading to increased segregation. Sixty-two years after Brown vs. the Board of Education, here we are in 2016 with segregated schools in our large cities.

The Republican candidates for President, all of whom are strong advocates for charter schools, have not publicly addressed the racial and economic segregation of charter schools.

Questions to ask the candidates:

  1. What steps would you take to increase diversity in public schools?
  1. How will you address the pervasive racial and economic segregation in charter schools?

PRIVATE MONEY IN PUBLIC EDUCATION

Private money is currently affecting public education in three ways. 1) Private citizens are funding policy and practice for all U.S. schools. Bill and Melinda Gates paid hundreds of millions of dollars for the Common Core Standards, including money to the media to promote the standards as “rigorous” and “cutting edge and money to professional organizations to implement the standards. 2) Rupert Murdoch has pointed out: “Public education is a $500 billion dollar sector” so there are countless efforts to privatize public education in order to make financial profit for venture capitalists and marketers. 3) Wealthy philanthropists, such as the Walton family (Walmart) and Eli Broad, are using their money to establish charter schools that drain money from traditional public schools.

Ted Cruz, John Kasich, and Donald Trump all favor the privatization of pubic education. They regard competition as healthy and public education as wasteful and inadequate.

In his book, The America We Deserve, Donald Trump advocated for school choice, charter schools, and vouchers. He argues that together they create a competitive system that improves education and offers an alternative to a public education model which “would set off every antitrust alarm bell at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission if it were a traditional business”.

John Kasich has greatly expanded Ohio’s investment in privately run education, despite existing problems with it. On August 8, 2015, Innovation Ohio, an Ohio think tank, reported that “Ohio’s charter sector is a national joke, while spending on school vouchers has more than doubled. The ‘Youngstown Takeover’ is Kasich’s latest effort to “reform” an urban school district, which typically means more school privatization.”

The future of education as either a public institution established for the common good or a private enterprise established with competition and profit at its roots is the underlying question to all of the current educational issues.

Questions to ask the candidates:

  1. What steps will you take to further privatize public education?
  1. What steps will you take to strengthen traditional public schools?

K-12 education is too important for silence on the campaign trail. Candidates must address K-12 education in the public forum and answer pivotal questions. Voters are asking. And the children are waiting.

 

Moving The Goal Post

How do we measure student achievement?  By standardized test scores or by something else? And what is the relationship between student achievement and the economic strength of a nation?

Arne Duncan, when he was Secretary of Education, spoke about the achievement of South Korean students, as measured by standardized tests, and advocated that the United States follow the South Korean approach to education so that our students can achieve as the South Korean students do on those standardized tests. A recent (March 15, 2016) letter to the editor in Education Week described how the South Korean students achieve those high test scores. Here is that letter:

South Korea’s ‘Top Performance’ Numbers Should Not Be Applauded

To the Editor:
As a student from South Korea who is now studying in the United States, I find it surprising that many people here applaud the South Korean education system. The Center on International Education Benchmarking lists South Korea as a “top performer,” and even Arne Duncan, the former U.S. secretary of education, has asked why the United States can’t be more like South Korea. As a recent Commentary argued, the United States should not blindly applaud and emulate countries that perform well on international assessments.

I want to share what South Korea’s high performance on these assessments is not telling you.

First, beyond South Korea’s impressive scores on international exams, there are unhappy, sleep-deprived, and suicidal South Korean students. South Korean students report levels of happiness that are among the lowest for youths in developed nations. High school students report sleeping an average of 5.5 hours per day in order to study. Alarmingly, slightly more than half of South Korean teenagers reported having suicidal thoughts in response to a 2014 poll conducted by the country’s Korea Health Promotion Foundation; over 40 percent of the respondents listed academic pressure and uncertainty over their futures as their greatest concern.

Second, South Korea’s high scores are a reflection of private tutoring rather than the public education system itself. About 77 percent of South Korean students participate in an average of 10 hours of private tutoring a week. This percentage is more than double the average rate of private tutoring in countries tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In 2013, South Korean parents paid the equivalent of $18 billion for private tutoring in order to give their children a competitive advantage.

Moreover, in the education system where high performance is all that matters, struggling students as well as students with disabilities are often neglected and left behind.

Thus, no matter how high the country ranks on international tests, our seemingly impressive test scores come at too high a price.

As a South Korean, I call on the world to see what is beyond my country’s high scores on international assessments. Until South Korea addresses its pressing educational issues, such as student well-being, reliance on private tutoring, and support for students with disabilities, the country should not be considered a model system for the United States.

April B. Choi
Cambridge, Mass.

I would bet that most of us are not willing to pay the price that the South Koreans are paying for their children to get high scores on standardized tests.

The good news for the United States, which never scored at the top of the pack in the 50 years there have been international standardized tests, is that standardized tests are not important. Standardized tests measure only one thing: the ability to take a standardized test. And that is a skill rapidly going out of vogue because that skill does not equip students for the world of work they will enter. The world of work in our postindustrial era demands other skills. This current time in history and the decades that stretch ahead are described in the report as the Conceptual Age. That age requires skills such as designing, making meaning, creativity, problem-solving, and developing new ideas and artifacts.

The even better news for the United States is that the kind of education that our students need and which will engage their minds and touch their souls is exactly the kind  of education that will make our country economically strong in this Conceptual Age. They need to learn to question and to explore those questions. They need to learn how to learn. They need to learn how to collaborate so that they deepen and broaden their individual thinking through interaction with others. They need to learn to tell their stories of how they developed their thinking and arrived at new knowledge and to tell their stories of what has not yet been imagined. The need to learn to tap into their own creativity and their own passion.

Arne Duncan was wrong. John King is wrong. U.S. education policy is wrong. High standardized test scores are not a worthy goal.  We will harm the minds and deplete the souls of our precious children if we stick with emulating South Korea. We will head for economic peril as a nation if we do not create a different kind of education, one that can never, ever be measured by standardized tests.

It’s time for a change. Let’s get on it.

 

 

Not One Step Further: Stop Now

Here is your holiday gift from this blog which advocates for real learning. Your gift is: The magnificent use of the English language. And a call to action.

In The Hartford Courant (December 18, 2015) piece below, Gina Barreca beautifully and pointedly uses metaphor and imagery to show how  the Common Core, with its invalid and unreliable claims of “college and career readiness” and its hugely expensive and equally unreliable standardized tests, destroys learning for all children and adolescents in K-12 schools and dooms the underclass to remaining the underclass. She argues persuasively against bringing that injustice to the young adults in Connecticut universities. Hooray for Professor Barreca!

As Connecticut parents, politicians, and educators, let’s take her message into the new year and act on it. Opt out of standardized testing. Rescind the Common Core. Evaluate students as learners, not as test-takers.

But first, enjoy this wonderful piece of writing:

Universities Teaching To Test: A Disaster
by  Gina Barreca

Achieving accountability through testing is like achieving truth through waterboarding, achieving affection through bribery or achieving beauty through plastic surgery: You can’t actually trust the results.

To emphasize metrics and measurement at the expense of learning and understanding is to marginalize what can’t be measured. It puts pressure on precisely the wrong points and, like a chiropractic adjustment gone terribly wrong, can cripple rather than cure.

Connecticut is considering implementing a new version of outcomes-based funding for universities and colleges, thereby bringing policies already shown to have some disastrous effects in K-12 schools to a new level.

As someone who has taught at a state university for almost 30 years, I have a horse in this race.

I choose my words carefully: The language of gambling has pervaded the vocabulary of education, especially when it comes to standardized testing, and that should make us jittery.

The thousands of articles and hundreds of books on testing, both pro and con, regularly refer to “high-stakes testing,” and “gaming the system.” Most recently, when reading Connecticut’s task force notes, I was struck by the fact that the consultants hired to advise the politicians and other committee members suggested offering “momentum points” when students in colleges reached certain milestones. Our local casino offers “momentum dollars” when you put enough money into the machines and pull the handle enough times. It was tough to avoid the comparison. Isn’t assessment by outcome a version of waiting to see whether you can get three lemons in a row and thereby judge yourself a winner?

While it’s fine at the race-track or the roulette table, it’s corrosive to talk in binary terms about winners and losers when it comes to learning. It’s deeply misguided to evaluate students, teachers and educational institutions by seeing how profitable they can be when they cash-out on their returns for the lowest possible investment.

Part of the movement toward “outcomes-based” support is an emphasis on preparing graduates to enter jobs where there are “workplace shortages.” Yet as my friend Barbara Cooley put it, “Teaching to the corporate demand is not exactly a recipe for original and independent thinkers.”

While vocational training is an important and vital mission of some distinguished institutions, they are usually proud to identify themselves as such. To make all educational institutions into training grounds to meet the immediate needs of in-state corporations or large-scale employers has never been the mandate of any great university or college, whether public or private.

According to Timothy A. Livengood, a research astronomer at the University of Maryland, perhaps the greatest error of standardized testing is “The insufficiently scrutinized belief that the test evaluates the thing it is advertised as evaluating. Resulting in [Supreme Court Justice Antonin] Scalia believing that African-Americans who score poorly on such tests are actually less capable, or less genuinely well prepared than people who score highly. And Larry Summers ignoring decades of research to argue to a bunch of women that the reason they weren’t all math professors is that they just aren’t up to the task.” Test results can be rigged, too, in their interpretations.

According to a 2014 Gallup-Perdue Index, three of the most important factors in educational success are excitement, encouragement, caring. These are not delivered by teachers who whip their students into crossing finish lines. If we extend policies that fail in schools to colleges — teaching to the test, teaching so that everything can be “measured” by some useless standardized grid devised by the impoverished minds of egregiously overpaid consultants — we’ll usher in a new level of diminished possibilities for students who do not attend private, expensive universities.

To do so will add to what’s called the “education gap” — except that the division is not a gap; it’s a moat, a separation constructed and vigilantly maintained so that the poor and underserved will not be able to cross over into the territories held by the rich and privileged.

How much do you want to bet that Ivy League schools are not teaching to test? How much do you want to bet that they’re not adopting the short-sighted goals of performance-based funding? Why should the ambitious, dynamic and intellectually driven students at public universities be offered anything less than their more privileged counterparts?

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books. She can be reached through her website at http://www.ginabarreca.com.