Tuesday, June 28, 2011

UPDATED: NUT Report: Republican Candidate Views on Education Reform

While the media remains deaf, dumb, and blind when it comes to education reform, a growing corp of smart fact-based bloggers keep the rest of us informed. Some are conservative and some are liberal, but all are concerned about the current federal education policies.

Shane Vander Hart of Caffeinated Thoughts interviewed several Republican candidates for President regarding their views on education and posted on Truth in American Education.

Michelle Bachmann

Vander Hart's interview with Michelle Bachmann, including a video, is found here. Bachmann proposes the end of the U.S. Department of Education, does not like NCLB, and says this about education:
“I am not a fan of No Child Left Behind, I never have been. I oppose the federal government’s involvement in local schools. I attended great public schools in Iowa when I first started my education. I was here (in Waterloo) for kindergarten through sixth grade. They were great public schools because they were locally controlled and locally put together by our local schools… by our parents and by our teachers and local administrators. Now with the federal government taking more and more authority away from the local schools, it is very hard to have meaningful change in our schools. I would prefer to see the Federal Department of Education abolished and done away with, and instead I’d rather see parents and states keep the monies that are sent to Washington, D.C. It ends up in the bureaucracy.

Rick Santorum

The interview with Rick Santorum is found here and reveals that Santorum disapproves with top down education regulation and points to parents as the most important element in education.

SVH: “In your opinion, the federal government should or shouldn’t advance core curriculum standards?”

Santorum: “No. I mean I don’t think that is their role. I think that the federal government’s role, if there is any, as I would see it, is to get the school systems to focus on parent-centered education. And say that we’re going to back off all of these ‘this is how you have to this and this and this’ and say let’s just get to where every parent at the beginning of the school year, a couple months before the school year and sits down with the administrator or somebody and says ‘this is what we are going to do for your kids and the school system. We are going to take it plan by plan, and we are going to design the plan and that means if they are going to go to West Des Moines Elementary then that’s great. Because you know what? That may fit Suzy best.’ There may be a Christian school where Mom and Dad may think she’ll do better or homeschool where she’ll do better or Catholic school where she’ll do better. Then the responsibility for the school is to help you. There may be resources we can give you. There may be remedial programs…’ Design a program that fits. You may say, ‘well you can’t do that it’s just too complicated.”

Mitt Romney

This isn't an interview, but rather a report. Vander Hart refers to Romney's response to a question he answered in New Hampshire and to his response to a similar question in March 2010 in a Cavuto interview. The answers are not the same.
Read more here.
View the town hall Q&A here. The question is posed by a representative of New Hampshire non-profit Cornerstone Action.

Tim Pawlenty

UPDATE: Another post from Vander Hart with a video of candidate Tim Pawlenty answering a question on education. View the video here.

Rick Perry

Although reported as still considering a run for President, Texas Governor Rick Perry made the news on the education front. He has decided to quit the Council of State Chief Officers because he disagrees with the national common core standard initiative.
Read about Perry's announcement on Scathing Purple Musings.

Newt Gingrich

More reporting from Vander Hart covering candidate Newt Gingrich on his views of education. The full report and an audio file are available here.

Gingrich would return most of the power of the Department of Education and send it back to "states, local communities, and citizens." He also opposes a national core curriculum.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Military Base Schools: Deteriorated and Unsafe

Newsweek reports that the children of soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq have been attending schools in such deteriorated conditions, they do not seem fit for use.

The Pentagon acknowledges it has a significant problem, as nearly $4 billion in needed renovations and new construction at its schools have piled up during a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Military officials’ own reports to Congress in 2008 and 2009 show as many as three quarters of base schools the Pentagon operates are either beyond repair or would require extensive renovation to meet minimum standards for safety, quality, accessibility, and design.

The Defense Department’s education agency concedes it “cannot keep pace with the types of renovations and maintenance needed when a school building goes beyond its useful life and the age of the building becomes a barrier to using these dollars wisely.”

About half the military schools the agency operates are at least 45 years old. Nonetheless, the DOD education office insists “none of our schools is unsafe, and no school is a hazard to anyone.”

None unsafe? I wonder what termite infested and leaking buildings are for safe environments for working and studying.
"At Fort Riley in Kansas, students drink water tainted brown from corroding pipes, while at Fort Stewart in Georgia, mold that grew on walls and sprouted from floors was so serious at one school that the library had to be shuttered for emergency cleanup."

In spite of the The 1978 Defense Dependents’ Education Act that requires the military to provide “academic services of a high quality” to the children of soldiers on active duty, these problems go unaddressed. According the this Newsweek report, a 1988 Defense Department directive went further, broadly guaranteeing military families “a quality of life that reflects the high standards and pride of the nation they defend”—including education.

$10 billion a month is the cost of the war and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Billions more have been allocated for reforming the so-called education crisis through the development of national standards and a new generation of assessments. The war has gone on for ten years now and the obligation to military families is ignored for the last decade. Where's the accountability?

Soldiers and their families are sacrificing, while their children are going to schools that are falling apart. How can we talk about first class education in a first world nation with decaying infrastructure? Shouldn't we put the buildings in order before we plunk billions in a new generation of national tests? Who will speak up for these children?


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Libertartian View: Federal Role in Education

Mark Grannis ran for U.S. Congress in Maryland with a Less We Can platform. He didn't get elected, but does represent a Libertarian view of the federal role in education.

What do you think the federal role should be?

Hat tip to Missouri Education Watchdog.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rep. Kline on Arne Duncan: "He's Not the Nation's Superintendent."

When the U.S. Congress did not meet the administration's deadline for reauthorization and changes to the regulations under No Child Left Behind, Duncan decided to have Plan B. The Secretary would give States waivers in meeting those regulations IF they agreed to adopt the Common Core Standards. He was within his regulatory power to grant waivers, but seems to have crossed the line into legislative powers. Now U.S. Representative John Kline, the Chair of the House Education committee took notice:
“Unquestionably, Congress gave the secretary way too much authority in the stimulus bill when it said, ‘Here’s $5 billion, go do good things for education,’ ” Mr. Kline said.

States are not running to the waiver offer. Idaho Superintendent of Education, Tom Luna, decided not to follow the NCLB and is not asking permission, apparently not interested in Duncan's waiver. Read the details at Missouri Education Watchdog.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Boosting A Skilled Blue-Collared Workforce: Where are the jobs?

President Obama announced a new initiative aimed at increasing community college preparation of skilled blue-collar workers. According to the Wall Street Journal, the President is joined by the chief executive of Motorola Solutions, Inc., a co-founder of Groupon Inc., and the chairman of Accenture PLC (ACN) to help get community-college students into manufacturing jobs. No federal funding is attached to this initiative.

While driving this week, I bumped into the Diane Rehm show with a discussion on education efforts by The Manufacturing Institute, which is an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers that hosts 12,000 manufacturing members. The institute is partnering with community colleges all across the country to take industry-recognized, nationally portable manufacturing skills credentials right into the degree programs in community colleges. Rehm interviews those involved who describe certificate programs that community college students can follow that ensure they have the skills for the manufacturing-oriented jobs that are required in their area.

You can also listen to the show here.

Read the transcript here.

Interesting comments on the show can be found here.

I was left with questions:

1) What happened to vocational education in U.S. high schools?
2) Is this a sign that manufacturers may bring back jobs that they shipped overseas?
3) With the large pool of unemployed workers, is it geography that keeps the existing talent pool remote from where the jobs are now?
4) With a reported 11% of returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan unemployed, is this not a skilled workforce to fill the manufacturing jobs? Where are these jobs?
5) With recent college grads saddled with student debt and unable to get a part time job as a dishwasher, is this not a skilled workforce? Where are these jobs?
6) With the deep layoffs from the Space Program, no doubt about it a highly skilled workforce with applicable skills, these workers are now thrown into unemployment? Where are the jobs?

While plans speed along with this community college initiative to prepare new workers for vague future opportunities to avert a workforce "crisis", are we saying that the current skilled workforce is a lost generation? I am unconvinced that high school grads and their families today should have any confidence that supports getting saddled with more student loan and debt on preparation for jobs that cannot be identified. Sorry, I don't buy this "crisis" story line. Where are all these manufacturing jobs that are going unfilled?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Update: Washington DC Erasure Investigation

Facts have not emerged on the D.C.'s Inspector General regarding the erasures detected on standardized tests at nearly half of D.C.'s schools, but the investigation continues.
However, the USA Today, which initially reported the serious irregularities, reports the resignation of Wayne Ryan. No explanation for the resignation is available. Ryan was promoted to instructional superintendent last year. Previously, he was principal of Noyes Educational Campus from 2001-2010. Standardized test scores were high at the school; however, nearly 3/4 of Noyes classes were flagged for erasures from 2008-2010.

"....the school had been touted by former chancellor Michelle Rhee as a model of school reform. He was lauded for dramatic increases in test scores, which earned the school a federal Blue Ribbon award in 2009.

The school's staff won thousands of dollars in bonuses because of the improvement.

Ryan and the school were the centerpiece of the school system's staff recruitment ads in 2008 and 2009."
Read more....

UPDATE: Reporting on continuing Atlanta investigations
A staff member of Internal Investigations claims to have been ordered by the Superintend to destroy evidence.
Lawyers for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained a copy of the letter and related documents, which came to light in a criminal investigation of cheating by teachers and school administrators on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. A team of special investigators, appointed last August when state officials found the district’s own inquiry inadequate, is expected to report its findings to Gov. Nathan Deal this month, which could result in prosecutions of district officials. The investigators declined to comment Tuesday.
Read more....

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New Florida Commissioner of Education Named

Gerard Robinson is the new Florida Commissioner of Education by unanimous vote of the Florida State School Board this morning. Robinson is Virginia's Secretary of Education. Read more....

In a May 2011 press release announcing a speaking engagement, Mr. Robinson is described this way:

"Robinson, who began his career as an educator in Los Angeles, is a nationally-recognized expert on the modern charter school movement and serves on the Policy Advisory Council at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and on the board of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Charter School Resource Center. He is the author of numerous publications and has travelled extensively in the U.S. and abroad giving formal and informal presentations about education and public policy.

Robinson received a Master of Education degree from Harvard University, a Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University, and an Associate of Arts degree from El Camino Community College. He is married and has three daughters."

More from the Orlando Sentinel here.

Michele Bachmann: Dismantle NCLB

For those unfamiliar with Bachmann, she is a mother of five and foster mother of twenty-three, so like her or not, she does have "credentials" when it comes to raising children. She has long opposed the overreach by federal education initiatives and calls for the end of NCLB. Her view is right on her website:

While well-intended, the No Child Left Behind Act has created a classroom environment of “teaching to the test,” a one-size-fits-all approach to learning that does not work well for every student. That’s why I’m an original cosponsor of H.R. 1539, the A-Plus Act, which would allow states to develop their own curriculums under the guidance of the U.S. Department of Education. This would give local school administrators, teachers and parents the flexibility to determine what teaching strategies are most effective for their students while improving accountability in the classroom.

As NCLB reauthorization gets closer, perhaps the views of U.S. legislators will emerge. A few sentences on a website does not answer all the questions the public has a right to know, but Bachmann is clear about one thing, teaching to the test is not good education. So far, the views of all other Republican candidates for President are unknown or underreported.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ravitch: Let's all push back as hard as we can

A few weeks ago, I sent a letter to Representative Posey asking about his position on the proposed FERPA regulations and his position on sidestepping parent consent on the sharing of student information. A reply came in the mail today thanking me for my question about Medicare and a two page letter on the Ryan Plan and what I didn't have to worry about. The letter came after sitting patiently for 70 minutes waiting to ask my question on a recent telephone townhall.

I find Diane Ravitch a brave voice and one that has spoken facts that the advocates for current and past education reform have not been able to shut out or ignore. She is not the only voice, but has been able to get attention in a sea of no reporting. The public can form no opinion, up or down, unless all the information is presented in a way that can be understood. Read her words:


Many people have asked what they can do to try to change the conditions and misguided policies that I describe in my book. Wherever I go, the same question comes up: What can we do? How do we stop these bad policies and programs? Whether they are parents, teachers, administrators, school board members or citizens concerned about the future of our children and our society, they want ideas about how to persuade our elected officials to change course.

Education used to be a state and local function. Unfortunately, since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001–02, the levers of power now are in the hands of federal officials. With Republicans and Democrats both advocating policies that endanger the future of public education, the situation seems dire indeed. Unfortunately, many of our nation’s wealthiest philanthropies and individuals embrace the misuse of testing and accountability and the advance of privatization.

The odds against us seem overwhelming, but we cannot afford to do nothing. We must take action. At present, the Obama administration is embarked on a course of action that many find repugnant. The Race to the Top is built on the foundation of No Child Left Behind. It emphasizes high-stakes testing, judging teachers by their students’ test scores, closing low-performing schools instead of helping them improve, and promoting a huge increase in private management of public schools. These approaches will narrow the curriculum and promote teaching to the test, which will rob children of the opportunity for a good education. Furthermore, none of these strategies has a solid research base, none has been proven effective in practice, all have the potential to disrupt students’ education, demoralize teachers, and shatter communities. The burden of these policies will fall heavily on low-income, minority communities, but many other communities will be affected as well.

What we need to improve education in this country is a strong, highly respected education profession; a rich curriculum in the arts and sciences, available in every school for every child; assessments that gauge what students know and can do, instead of mindless test prepping for bubble tests. And a government that is prepared to change the economic and social conditions that interfere with children’s readiness to learn.

We cannot improve education by quick fixes. We will not fix education by turning public schools over to entrepreneurs. We will not improve it by driving out experienced professionals and replacing them with enthusiastic amateurs. We will not make our schools better by closing them and firing teachers and entire staffs. No high-performing nation in the world follows such strategies. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo, which is not good enough for our children, nor can we satisfied with the Bush-Obama-Duncan “reforms” that have never been proven to work anywhere.

This is what I suggest:

Join the Save Our Schools organization created by outstanding teachers. Their website is www.saveourschoolsmarch.org. Whether you are a teacher or a parent, join the march on Washington, D.C., from July 28 - 30, 2011. I will be there, supporting the dignity of the teaching profession and our public schools.

Join Parents Across America. Their website is www.parentsacrossamerica.org. This is a group of parents who want to work together to strengthen public education and restore common sense reforms.

Write your elected officials. Find out whether any Congressmen or Senators from your state are on the education committee in their House of Congress. Write the members of the education committees even if you don’t live in their state. Ask your colleagues to write letters to them. Write letters to the editor. Comment on education blogs. Call in to talk shows. Speak up at school and community meetings. Speak up, speak out.

As the great Southern writer Flannery O’Connor wrote in a letter to a friend, “You have to push as hard as the age that pushes against you.”

This age is pushing mighty hard against children, against educators, and against the very concept of good education.

Let’s all push back as hard as we can.

Diane Ravitch


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Diane Ravitch Keeps It Simple: No Desired Results From NCLB

Ravitch describes briefly, clearly, and concisely what is wrong with the federal mandates of NCLB in a way that non-educators can understand.

Ravitch is scheduled to appear in the following debates on education reform.

JUNE 29-30 Diane to Discuss/Debate with Founder of Teach for America, Wendy Kopp (to be aired on C-Span)


AUG 18 Diane to debate Michelle Rhee on Achievement Gap on Martha's Vineyard - set up by Harvard Inst of African Amer Studies. (To be aired on C-Span)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Florida Test Results: You Cheated, You Lied

Jaime Escalante came to mind today. Remember the movie Stand and Deliver, the story of the Los Angeles teacher, who taught AP Calculus to kids from a not so good Los Angeles neighborhood? He helped them pass the AP exam, but the outstanding results were called into question. The kids took the test again, and passed. The movie is based on a true story.

Several Florida school districts woke up to bad news this morning. Scathing Purple Musings reports that 100 students at Volusia and Flagler schools are being reviewed for possible cheating.

After a review using statistical analyses conducted by the Caveon Test Security, 14 counties have been contacted by the Florida Department of Education to investigate for cheating due to "unusual high levels of erasures." The districts are: Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Duval, Flagler, Gadsden, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Lee, Leon, Manatee, Orange, Polk, and Seminole.

UPDATE: Go here to keep on top of this fast-moving story.

No love today for FCAT or End-of-Course tests it seems:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Under Investigation and Other Reform Practices Questioned

June 20 UPDATE: There are now two investigations of the U.S. DOE underway. According to the Daily Caller, Republican U.S. Representative Issa is planning an investigation into the recent new regulations for how non-profit schools do business. Read the Daily Caller reports here and here.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reports that U.S. DOE Inspector General Kathleen Tighe is conducting an investigation of the U.S. DOE to determine if "officials reporting to Secretary Arne Duncan leaked market-sensitive material to short sellers--including a non-public audit from her own office. Did anyone trade on the confidential information?"
Among other things, Tighe will examine whether confidential DoED information and draft documents, including one produced by her own office, were transferred to Wall Street short-sellers seeking informational advantage in their bets on the future of the $35 billion for-profit education industry. Beyond the propriety of the Education Department's conduct, the phenomenon raises broader questions about the integrity of government decision-making in the face of relentless Wall Street scrutiny.

The investigation will conclude sometime this summer. We will have to wait until then, but I wonder if the report will indicate any inappropriate communications between government officials and representatives of the testing, publishing, and computer testing industries in relation to Common Core initiatives.

Forbes reported on a New York cozy relationship in the educational marketplace. Last November, Robert Murdoch's News Corp hired New York State Chancellor Joel Klein to develop an education division. Two weeks later Murdoch purchased Wireless Generation, a company that develops software and data systems to track student progress. The company currently is a contractor for the New York city school system. Murdoch purchased the company for $360 million saying this of his investment:

Education in the U.S. is a $500 billion sector “waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching,” said Murdoch in a statement, and Wireless Generation is at the “forefront” of individualized, tech-based learning.

Murdoch is an astute businessman and clearly sees a business opportunity.
Forbes announced that Wireless Generation just was awarded a $27 million no-bid contract funded by Race to the Top grant money. Forbes comments that this no-bid contract "smacks of cronyism" and ends with:
"ARIS may indeed be a useful tool for educators and administrators, but you have to question the very real conflicts of interest in all of this."

Murdoch added Kirsten Kane and Peter Gorman to the new education division:

- Kristen Kane is the former chief operating officer of the New York City Department of Education, will become the COO of the News Corp unit.

- North Carolina Charlotte-Meckleburg Superintendent Gorman announced his resignation to become Senior VP News Corps new education division this summer. Gorman had a rocky end of school year with vigorous protests by parents over the surprise piloting of tests covered on Grumpy Educators here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Did Duncan Overstep?

In response to the stalled Congressional progress on reauthorizing NCLB and failure to meet the President's deadline to do so, Secretary of Education Duncan announced he will give waivers to States so they need not comply with NCLB legislative requirements. He will authorize the waivers under two conditions:
1) States agree to adopt Common Core standards
2) Link student performance to 50% of teacher evaluation

Richard Hess of the American Enterprise Institute writes that journalist Michele McNeil reported the condition this way:

"Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for Mr. Duncan, said that unlike the Race to the Top, which allowed states to devise their own education improvement plans, the department would present states with a basket of strategies they would have to adopt in exchange for relief."

In his own analysis, Hess wondered about the decision-making process and consideration of "statutory or Congressional complexities" :

"I'm curious whether any of the lawyers at ED tried to explain to Duncan that he's not permitted to remake federal law on the fly, just because he and the President think it's a good idea, or whether they're cheerfully along for the ride."

The Common Core initiatives are becoming a "hot button" and Hess notes that Mitt Romney has joined some of the critics.

Missouri Education Watch commented this way:
State and national educational policymakers once again illustrate how out of touch they are with taxpayers, parents, teachers and administrators when it comes to crafting more onerous mandates. Instead of education reform, the plans from DESE and the Department of Education will add to the bureaucratic nightmare of public education, creating more harm than true reform. (more...)

I am not a lawyer, a Constitutional scholar, nor an expert on the mysteries of the Congressional process, but Duncan is getting a pounding from all across the political spectrum. As a member of the American public, I wonder if we can expect an explanation for removing the democratic process of State decision-making, the citizen's right to engage in the process, and how this overreach has anything to do with benefiting kids.

Updates on who likes the waivers and who doesn't, what the Congressional committee members think and what they are doing, can be found here.

USC Professor Emeritus Calls National Assessments a Nightmare

No Unnecessary Tests (NUT) was coined by USC Professor Emeritus Stephen Krashen. He is another voice with consistent objections over the top down educational initiatives, corrects the rationale for the initiatives as presented by policymakers, and presents a series of solutions. Krashen points to the billions spent on a massive national assessments initiative that would mean more testing for students. He says there is no evidence to support the notion that these new tests will improve student achievement.

Krashen spoke to graduates the recent graduation ceremony at Lewis and Clark College.
Select the Play button and wait a moment or two. He is introduced and the presentation immediately follows.

Below are some key points from the graduation address on national assessments:

The astonishing increase in testing

It is widely acknowledged that NCLB (No Child Left Behind) required an excessive amount of testing. Not well known is the fact that the US Department of Education is planning to spend billions on a massive new testing program, with far more testing than ever before, all linked to national standards. The new plan will require, as before, tests in reading and math in grades three through eight and once in high school, but it also includes interim testing, and may include pre-testing in the fall to be able to measure growth during the year. In addition, the US Department of Education is encouraging testing in other subjects as well. The tests are to be administered online, which means a huge investment in getting all students connected.

No evidence supporting the increase in testing

There is no evidence supporting the idea that tests to enforce national standards will have a positive impact on student learning. In fact, the evidence we have suggests that it will not: States that use more high-stakes tests do not do better on the national NAEP test than states with fewer, and the use of the standardized SAT does not predict college success over and above high school grades.

Countries that use standardized tests for course examinations did only slightly better on the PISA, a test of reading given to 15 year olds, and the use of such tests to compare schools and to make curricular decisions has a near- zero correlation with PISA scores.

Of course, the administration has argued that these will be new and better tests, more sensitive to growth in learning, able to chart student progress through the year, and able to probe real learning, not just memorization. Before unleashing these "improved" tests on the country, however, there should be rigorous investigation, rigorous studies to show that these measures are worth the investment. Right now, the corporations and politicians insist that we take on faith the claim that these tests are good for students. Such claims exhibit a profound lack of accountability.

In contrast, there is overwhelming evidence that dealing with poverty is an excellent investment, one that will not only improve school achievement but also affect quality of life and personal happiness.

The full text can be found here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Libertarian View: Bill Evers Rejects "Common" Initiatives

Bill Evers is on the list for Florida Commissioner of Education. However, given recent legislation, Race to the Top funding, and Florida's involvement in one of the national assessment consortium, his views may not give him enough points for serious consideration. Evers served under President Bush as Assistant Secretary of Education. He is now associated with the Hoover Institute at Stanford.

View a video of his views on common standards and common curriculum here:

Read the full transcript below:

TOP-Ed’s John Fensterwald interview with Bill Evers, May 2011

FENSTERWALD: I’m speaking today with Bill Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, specializing in education policy. From 2007 to 2009, Bill was U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. He is what columnist Jay Mathews of the Washington Post—affectionately, I believe—calls “an inexhaustible trouble-maker.” The reason we have him here today is that he was a co-author and organizer of the so-called counter manifesto, “Closing the Door on Innovation: Why One National Curriculum Is Bad for America.” Bill, welcome!…

Bill, it’s a response to what? And take a couple minutes and explain exactly what is in this manifesto.

EVERS: It’s an extremely important topic because, for all of us that care about children, and children’s academic success, what teachers teach in the classroom, how they teach it, what instructional materials they use, what lesson plans they use, and how these are all put together, is the essence of what goes on in the classroom. Now, in the past, this has been a kind of thing that’s been decentralized in how it’s organized.

FENSTERWALD: Yes. And so what’s the point of this manifesto, Bill?

EVERS: Some people, particularly organized by a spinoff of the American Federation of Teachers called the Albert Shanker Institute, called for a national curriculum – in other words, a curriculum organized and sponsored by the federal government. And, to some extent, the Obama administration has been already doing this. It’s put millions of dollars into curriculum development aligned around a national framework.

FENSTERWALD: So this is all related to the Common Core standards, which 40-some states have adopted. So…what’s the goal here, Bill? Is it to stop Common Core? Is it to stop the—have Congress defund the—assessments for Common Core? What’s ultimately your objective here?

EVERS: I would say it’s mostly to turn around the testing and the curriculum-development piece of this. The original idea with these Common Core national standards was that the states and the state superintendents were going to put together some model standards that people could adopt and, hopefully, would gather a lot of support. But the federal government used its financial leverage essentially to compel the states to sign up.

FENSTERWALD: Let’s backtrack a little bit, and the point of, the objective of, Common Core really was that No Child Left Behind, which…you supported in the Bush administration, sort of led to a race to the bottom in which many states lowered their standards and definitions of proficiency in order to avoid federal sanctions. So the goal of Common Core, I think, was to get states together, to work together, not at cross purposes, and create a more cohesive set of standards for students competing in the international economy, and to have assessments that were to sort of test deeper learning or critical thinking. What’s wrong with that, Bill?

EVERS: The No Child Left Behind was like an audit. The federal government was pouring money, millions and millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars, into supporting K-12 education, and it looked like it wasn’t having much effect, if at all; and so, by examining student success, student performance, we could tell. But, for some people, it was something more than that. It was a road to a national school system, and President Bush, when he ran for office, said, “I’m not really doing this. I want not to be the head of a national school board.” But there were some people who want the U. S. Department of Education, to be the head of a national school system, as it is in European countries.

FENSTERWALD: Checker Finn, who was a signer of the Shanker Institute manifesto, in response to your writings, said the counter-manifesto is, quote, “Full of half-truths, mischaracterizations, and straw men.” And he says, So let’s be clear: The assessments linked to Common Core will be mandatory for those districts in states that choose to use them, but the use of Common Core curricular materials will be voluntary. We don’t see any evidence to indicate to the contrary. So, Bill, are you being paranoid here?

EVERS: I don’t think so. I’m actually looking at how tests actually operate, and I worked with them in the State of California. So, as the Shanker manifesto, and our counter-manifesto both say, really, curriculum comes before testing. So if you’re going to have national tests, you can’t just go from your academic standards, which are just a list of topics, to the tests. You have to have some idea of what curricular material there is, how things are taught, what kinds of lesson plans are involved. So once the national government decided it was going to promote national tests, it almost perforce had to set up…what we call in California “curricular frameworks,” and it had to get even into detail of lesson plans, and that’s what it’s doing. And so it’s Checker, who is being na├»ve, and not knowledgeable about how tests actually operate, who thinks, “Oh, this is just going to be purely advisory, and not going to dictate to all the textbooks and all the teachers in America who are in these states, a central plan of how the classroom is going to operate.

FENSTERWALD: Right. But…two [consortiums] of states are creating the assessments. Those are states-driven, and not federal government.

EVERS: The federal government is paying for it.

FENSTERWALD: Right.…It is funding it, but, in fact – You’re saying it’s dictating.

EVERS: …I’m saying it’s even illegal for the federal government to be doing this. The U.S. Department of Education Organization Act of 1979 says no supervising, no directing, no planning, no endorsing of curricula by the U. S. Department of Education. That is exactly what they’re doing here.

FENSTERWALD: Right. But, you know, I read the Shanker Institute manifesto, and I saw no mention of the phrase “national curriculum” in it at all. In fact, it talks about developing sets of curriculum guides, and states could collaborate with one another. It encourages a process. So where do you—why do you—characterize it as a national curriculum?

EVERS: I think they had public-relations-firm advice here. It’s very funny. They reprinted an old article by Albert Shanker himself where he talked about this. He is deceased now.…And, in it, where he said “national curriculum,” they took out the word “national,” and put in, in brackets, the word “common.” So they know what they are talking about. They’re just pretending to the rest of us to see if we can – we’re foolishly, naively, fooled.

FENSTERWALD: Right. I think you and they agree that the tests – You need curriculum before you do the tests.

EVERS: They both say that.

FENSTERWALD: Nonetheless –

EVERS: Both…manifestos say that.

FENSTERWALD: Right. Nonetheless, in the past, even a couple of months, and …still, the tests are a couple years away, there’s been a tremendous interest in developing curriculum frameworks.

EVERS: (talking at the same time) But anybody can do this.…The Silicon Valley Education Foundation could develop curricula if they wanted.

FENSTERWALD: Right, right.

EVERS: And the original idea that some people saw is that these national standards, which are troubling to me, but it’s possible they could have been more innocuous. For example, Minnesota decided, “We’re not going to accept the math standards, because we have all our kids in algebra in the eighth grade, and the national standards have algebra in the ninth grade. So that would be losing a grade’s worth of great progress, and our similarity to the high-performing countries.” So they rejected the math standards.

FENSTERWALD: So, ultimately, would you like to see states withdraw from the states’ consortiums and get out of the assessment business?

EVERS: I think that the national standards and the national tests are a bad idea, and they should be walked back. Yes. (Fensterwald note: After the interview, Bill said that he meant to say “national tests and national curriculum” since the Common Core standards already exist and will not be repealed, though Evers believes they are flawed.)
FENSTERWALD: Bill, it’s a pleasure to have you here. We’ll see what happens in the next year, and see if this generates what you want, in terms of response. I’m John Fensterwald from Top Ed, and thanks for watching.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Deconstructing the Debate: Ravitch v. Alter

After Diane Ravitch's NY Times op-ed criticizing President Obama for holding up a Denver school as an example of the success of current education reform policies, Jonathon Alter rebutted Ravitch's views in a Bloomberg Times article. This written exchange drew widespread attention and led to a debate on the David Sirota talk show, which aired yesterday. If you missed the debate live, a podcast is available here.

For non-educators who are concerned about the current education reform policies, listening to this debate is highly useful. Few opportunities exist to become informed. The debate was well moderated by Sirota, key points made, and for non-educators short enough and non-technical enough for easy understanding. There are a couple of items that caught my attention.

Ravitch restates her criticism of the way politicians, including President Obama, are using some failing schools as models of success. For example, Denver's Bruce Randolph middle school is in a neighborhood that Alter calls a "gang zone" and heavily Latino. President Obama cited this school as a turnaround success story in his State of the Union address. Alter brought statistics to show the "stunning improvement" of where the school had been and where it is now:

  • Reading: (2007) 15% (2010) 36%

  • Writing: (2007) 7% (2010) 15%

  • Math: (2007) 5% (2010) 14%

Alter complains that Ravitch is "using and abusing statistics to disrespect great progress."

Ravitch counters that progress has been made, but it is minimal. The students may go on to graduate high school, but their abilities will still require remediation and lots of it if they choose to go to college.

Alter picks on the word "miracle" that Ravitch used in the NY Times, but doesn't have a problem with using "stunning progress." He accuses her of "gross oversimplication" and suggests she supports sticking with the failed status quo. He complains Ravitch uses generalizations that make caricatures and cartoon-like images of education reformers. He repeats that current education reform policies are intended to reverse the national "disaster" related to the inability to fire teachers who are manifest failures in their jobs, including those who are drunks or those who write sexual-oriented notes to their students. I don't know where Alter got this data, but I can say that in Florida teachers do get fired and prosecuted for such failures. Those cases have been reported in newspapers and I have read them. Florida communities do not tolerate criminal and unethical behavior in public schools.

Ravitch reminds listeners that current legislation across the nation is not simply targeting "bad teachers" but changing the professional landscape for all teachers, including those who are high performing.

While Ravitch points to Right wing promotion of President Obama's policies, Alter notes support for education reform by Democrats, citing a group called Democrats for Education Reform. Ravitch reminds the audience that this group is comprised of hedge-fund managers and questions both their interest and expertise in determining what is best for the nation's education system.

Frankly, this is a "must listen" debate. My personal view is that Alter maintains the narrative that is all too familiar now. If you criticize or ask policy makers to justify their decisions, you belong to the group who wishes to maintain the "status quo." If that isn't a caricature or cartoon of parents, community members, and taxpayers across the nation with legitimate concerns on many levels, I do not know what is.

Ravitch will be appearing in more debates this summer, including a televised one on C-SPAN with Michelle Rhee. More information on these events to follow.

Truth in American Education Launches

Figuring out the whole story on education reform is difficult and very confusing. The media is doing a very poor job keeping the public informed. Finally, the void is being filled. Truth in American Education (TAE) launches today as a one-stop location where all the pieces and parts of education reform policies are available for non-educators to understand.

TAE is made up of highly knowledgeable citizens from across the United States, whose common unity is a deep concern over the impact of current policies on students, parent rights, local control, and privacy.

No parent, community member, or taxpayer should have to spend the hours I did to understand the scope and impact of education reform.

I endorse it as a highly useful location for information and it is, as far as I know, the only one of its kind. Grumpy Educators is a TAE Network Participant.

Read the information and form your own opinion.

Check it out at: www.truthinamericaneducation.org

States Where Parents Oppose Excessive Testing

Click on the image to see it larger. More states identified. Concern and action increase.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Education Reform: Let the Debates Begin

Education reformers have thus far controlled the narrative, with national media outlets by and large cooperating. Those interested in education are covering the developments in education-oriented news sites and in the blogosphere; however, wider coverage is missing and the general public underinformed. This state of affairs may be changing.

Diane Ravitch is the most visible voice questioning current educational reform initiatives. While she is not the only voice, she has emerged as a favorite for personal attack versus healthy debate on the facts of the matter. One outcome of journalist Jonathan Alter's recent Bloomberg article asking the public to "believe" in education reform, is an online debate:

Diane Ravitch will debate Jonathan Alter on David Sirota's Denver radio show, at 7 am Denver time, 9 am Eastern time, on the morning of Wednesday, June 8.

Live online here, select Listen Live!, and later by podcast here.

Ravitch has several debates scheduled this summer including one with Michelle Rhee, which will get C-SPAN coverage. Grumpy Educators will post reminders as these debates come up.

Many are questioning and uncomfortable with the role the Gates Foundation is playing in molding American education. Many see the Gates Foundation dominated the process and the public narrative. NPR reporter Wendy Kaufman asked Jeff Raikes, Gates Foundation CEO to respond to Ravitch's views that opposing voices are drowned-out:

I think Diane is really underestimating the number of voices that are out there, including her own," says Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Gates Foundation.

He dismisses Ravitch's contention that the foundation has commandeered the education debate. At the same time he makes no apologies for the organization's doggedness in trying to achieve its objectives.

NPR is partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Foundation recently announced a new initiative called Teach First. The plan includes the Foundations intention to ensure “frequent placement ... in local media coverage of issues related to teacher effectiveness and equitable distribution of effective teachers” in accordance with the Gates approach, "to build “strong ties to local journalists, opinion elites, and local/state policymakers and their staffs.” The plan includes "campaigns to reach out to parents, teachers, students, business and civic and religious leaders."

With Gates money and powerful connections, I wonder who exactly is underestimating what. Tune in tomorrow morning or listen to the podcast when convenient. Get informed.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Education Reformers: Running Scared?

Asking simple questions deserve straight-forward fact, evidence-based answers, particularly when the public is asking about public education. Instead, there is a clear pattern by education reformers to deflect meaningful answers by getting personal.

Diane Ravitch is one of many expert-level voices questioning current educational policies; however, she has emerged as a favorite for educational reformers to rebutt by getting personal. In a May 31, NY Times opinion, Waiting for a School Miracle, Ms. Ravitch points out the divide between facts and manipulating facts for artful public relations. She suggests caution when overnight success for failing schools is present and provides support to her position.

What is to be learned from these examples of inflated success? The news media and the public should respond with skepticism to any claims of miraculous transformation. The achievement gap between children from different income levels exists before children enter school

Ravitch is not the only one who has expressed this point of view, but certainly gets education reformer supporters hot under the collar. In response to this specific article, journalist Jonathan Alter provided a rebuttal titled "Don't Believe Critics, Education Reform Works." Here are some highlights:

"Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama’s normally mild- mannered education secretary, has finally had enough. “Diane Ravitch is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country who are proving her wrong every day,” he said when I asked about Ravitch this week."

"What’s most infuriating to me about Ravitch is the way she assembles straw men."

"Ravitch and her allies specialize in sliming reformers by creating powerful myths. The most pernicious is that reformers aren’t professional educators and therefore don’t have the standing to criticize the status quo. This isn’t true -- many reformers, including the heads of many charter schools, have education experience -- but what’s wrong with business executives or other interested outsiders devoting time and money to public schools? Would it be better if they ignored them as they did for so long? That went well for this country."

Alter concludes with we just need to "believe" that education reform works, because well...he says so. Alrighty then. What will he ask me to just believe next? We have a chance to hear first hand on Wednesday. I will be tuning in, will you????

Diane Ravitch will debate Jonathan Alter on David Sirota's Denver radio show, at 7 am Denver time, 9 am Eastern time, on the morning of Wednesday, June 8.

Live online here and later by podcast here.

Read Anthony Cody's rebuttal to Alter's rebuttal here.

For more information on the schools Alter's children attend, read here.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

NUT Report: Kentucky Parents Organizing

Over 300 Fayette, Kentucky parents have formed FayetteABC as what they see as a "moral obligation and responsibility" to express their concerns over excessive testing and its impact on education.
Fayette Advocates for Balance in the Classroom™ (FayetteABC™) was founded by Erik and Cheryl Myrup and other Fayette County Public School parents concerned that test-driven instruction could compromise the quality of education in our public schools. No FayetteABC founding members have ever been employees of Fayette County Public Schools.

The group has a website and are circulating a petition circulating asking that their views be seriously considered by the local school board. The petition reads as follows:
We are concerned that our schools have become too focused on standardized testing at the expense of Kentucky's broader educational goals, which include preparing students for future employment and adult life. Please keep this concern in mind as you choose a new superintendent and pursue your own goals as a board.

We urge you to take a balanced approach to meeting educational goals. This approach should be informed by data from mandated standardized tests, but should focus squarely on ensuring that students have access to rigorous, relevant, rich instruction.

What are some signs of a system that is out of balance?

  • Students spend too much time taking standardized tests and practicing skills in a testing format.
  • Teachers report less time for teaching students to apply concepts, solve problems, and think critically and creatively.
  • Teachers and principals are under more pressure to raise scores on standardized tests than they are to use teaching methods likely to promote deep understanding and love of learning; teachers committed to such methods may be frustrated and demoralized.
  • Standardized test achievement is considered the goal of learning.
  • Subjects not tested for state and federal accountability systems receive inadequate attention.

Superintendents, board members, and school personnel may all be feeling more pressure to demonstrate success on standardized tests than to monitor the unintended consequences of a test-driven system. That is why we are making our concerns known. We acknowledge and thank the many Fayette County teachers, administrators, and board members who work hard every day to ensure that our children do have rigorous, engaging, and varied learning opportunities beyond what is necessary for success on standardized tests. We realize that these efforts are not always recognized publicly, but they are preparing our children to be successful in life.

We believe that all of us truly want what is best for our children, and we expect our elected officials and our next superintendent to have the courage and the vision necessary to take a balanced approach.

Kentucky parents serve as one more example of the increasing number of parents nationwide who are expressing these concerns. While mainstream media under reports or ignores and while policy makers remain tone deaf, parents continue to step forward as a moral obligation and responsibility.

I am a NUT and stand with the parents.
NUT = No Unnecessary Tests

Friday, June 3, 2011

Student Data Collection: Purpose, Costs, Risks?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something different. The current policies are different, but are they better, more effective, and more efficient?

According to the President's Blueprint, the state longitudinal data base initiative will provide the targeted accountability to raise achievement by ensuring students are making progress and by linking student achievement to teacher performance. The recent proposed FERPA regulations requires additional safeguards for the collection, release, and safeguarding of student data. The fiscal impact on State and local-levels is not mentioned.

Four reasons the public should have deep concerns about the development and proposed regulations and the collection of data from birth to college on every student in the nation:

April 20, 2011, SONY CEO apologizes for major security breach.
Sony Corp. Chief Executive Howard Stringer apologized for "inconvenience and concern" caused by the security breach that compromised personal data from more than 100 million online gaming accounts.

May 17, 2011, Data Breech Infects Massachusetts Unemployment Office.
An estimated 225,000 Massachusetts residents could become fraud victims as a result of a computer data breach in the state unemployment system.

May 27, 2011, Data Breech at Security Firm Linked to Attack on Lockheed.
Lockheed Martin, the nation’s largest military contractor, has battled disruptions in its computer networks this week that might be tied to a hacking attack on a vendor that supplies coded security tokens to millions of users, security officials said on Friday.

June 2, 2011, Google Mail Attack Blamed on China.
Suspected Chinese hackers tried to steal the passwords of hundreds of Google email account holders, including those of senior U.S. government officials, Chinese activists and journalists, the Internet company said.

June 3, 2011, Hackers Attack another Sony network.
Hackers broke into Sony Corp’s computer networks and accessed the information of more than 1 million customers to show the vulnerability of the electronic giant’s systems, the latest of several security breaches undermining confidence in the company.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

NUT Report: "We have to do something."

When asked reasonable questions and explanations regarding education reform initiatives, the replies are predictable. When it comes to merit pay based on value-added measurement (VAM), the rationale is described as:
1) We need to know the truth.
2) We have to do something.

In addition to the two recent studies reported here and here, another group of assessment experts from the Economic Policy Institute sent a letter to the NY Board of Regents showing evidence that VAM is unstable and prone to error. Among the concerns expressed, this team of experts noted the following:
Teachers’ ratings are affected by differences in the students who are assigned to them. Students are not randomly assigned to teachers – and statistical models cannot fully adjust for the fact that some teachers will have a disproportionate number of students who may be exceptionally difficult to teach (students with poor attendance, who are homeless, who have severe problems at home, etc.) and whose scores on traditional tests have unacceptably low validity (e.g. those who have special education needs or who are English language learners). All of these factors can create both misestimates of teachers’ effectiveness and disincentives for teachers to want to teach the neediest students, creating incentives for teachers to seek to teach those students those expected to make the most rapid gains and to avoid schools and classrooms serving struggling students.

These experts also cited a RAND Corporation study that concludes:
....the research base is currently insufficient to support the use of VAM for high-stakes decisions about individual teachers or schools. It is important that policymakers, practitioners, and VAM researchers work together, so that research is informed by the practical needs and constraints facing users of VAM and that implementation of the models is informed by an understanding of what inferences and decisions the research currently supports.

Nevertheless, the NY Board of Regents ignored the evidence and joined the wave of national experimentation with no reasonable rationale nor justification.

How many expert studies are required before education reformers respond to the legitimate concerns over this massive implementation effort? Unstable, unreliable data will not reveal the "truth" and "We have to do something" are not adequate explanations. Decades of doing "something" that does not work is irresponsible policy making.

The following experts signed the letter:
Eva Baker, Distinguished Professor, UCLA Graduate School of Education
Director, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (CRESST)
President, World Educational Research Association, 2010-2012
Past President, American Educational Research Association

Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education, Stanford University
Past President, American Educational Research Association
Executive Board Member, National Academy of Education

Edward Haertel, Vida Jacks Professor of Education, Stanford University
Chair, Board on Testing and Assessment, National Research Council
Vice-President, National Academy of Education
Past President, National Council on Measurement in Education

Helen F. Ladd, Edgar Thompson Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
President, Association of Public Policy and Management

Henry M. Levin, William Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University
Past President, Evaluation Research Society
Past President, Comparative and International Education Society

Robert E. Linn, Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado at Boulder
Past President, American Educational Research Association
Past President, National Council on Measurement in Education

Aaron Pallas, Professor of Sociology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University
Fellow, American Educational Research Association

Richard Shavelson, Dean Emeritus and Margaret Jacks Professor Emeritus, Stanford University
Past President, American Educational Research Association

Lorrie A. Shepard, Dean & Distinguished Professor, University of Colorado at Boulder
Past President, American Educational Research Association
Past President National Academy of Education
Past President National Council on Measurement in Education

Lee S. Shulman, Charles E. Ducommun Professor Emeritus, Stanford University
President Emeritus, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
Past President, American Educational Research Association