Monday, August 29, 2016

A Simple Solution to Fix the Problem of our Failing Public Education System

By:  Dr. Mitchell Robinson, Member BATs Blogging/Research team

Let me begin with an apology: I have intentionally lured you here under false pretenses. What do I mean? I've used that favorite strategy of internet hoaxes and supermarket tabloids, the "click bait headline", to catch your eye, whet your appetite, and influence you to "click" the link, which brought you here.

According to Wikipedia, "click bait headlines" rely on outrageous quotes or eye-catching graphics to provide just enough scanty tidbits of information to generate "click throughs," and encourage readers to forward content via social media. See--it works!

And while I'm fessing up, let me also apologize for including the following outright lies (not "over exaggerations"--I'm looking at you, Mr. Lochte) in the above headline:

1. There are no "simple solutions" when it comes to education.

A simple solution infers that a single strategy, or group of strategies, will be sufficient to address problems across a wide variety of settings--in this case, our public schools. As anyone who has ever spent a day teaching in a public school knows, no two public schools are alike, so the notion that any one idea or approach holds the answer to wide-spread, systemic change in an ecosystem as large and diverse as America's public school system is either naive or disingenuous. And neither of those traits is a good thing when it comes to making suggestions about our nation's education policy.

Currently, this education ecosystem includes traditional public schools, public charter schools (which are not truly "public" schools--but that's an issue for another day), private schools, online schools, for-profit schools, religious schools, virtual schools, and more. And it's possible that there is as much diversity within some of these sectors of the education "market" than there is between them.

In spite of this patchwork quilt of schooling options, corporate reformers, led by persons such as Peter Cunningham, Michelle Rhee, and Eva Moskowitz, and organizations like The 74, Education Post, and the various charter school management outfits, such as KIPP and National Heritage Academies, have doubled down on one, single, simplistic solution to the "problem" of American education: school choice.

Doesn't it seem ironic then, that during a time when parents have never had more choice with respect to education options for their children, that more and more families are seeing their actual "choices" dwindling? With the news last week that their charter school was closing its doors, less than 2 weeks before the start of Fall classes, hundreds of Detroit families were left stranded, scrambling to find seats for their children in local schools.

Why did this charter school close up shop? Was it because they couldn't hire certified teachers? Or were struggling to offer a full curriculum? As it turns out, the reason the school closed had nothing to do with children, teachers, or learning. Rather than working with their teachers on their request to join a union, the charter management company, New Paradigm, decided they would rather just shut their doors and close the school.

And this is not a localized problem. The Center for Media and Democracy points to a chilling statistic: "Nearly 2,500 charter schools have shuttered between 2001 and 2013, affecting 288,000 American children enrolled in primary and secondary schools, and the failure rate for charter schools is much higher than for traditional public schools."

As I've written about previously, while closing schools may be a business solution, it's not an educative solution. Closing a school is like tearing apart a family--it doesn't improve anything, it only destroys...relationships, communities, and simple human bonds. School closings should be an option of last resort--not a convenient business strategy to avoid negotiating in good faith with your employees.

2. Education is not a "problem." Or a "solution"...

The education "business" has been the victim of a hostile takeover from the corporate reform of education movement, funded by billions of dollars from agencies and foundations headed by some of our nation's wealthiest and most successful business persons--Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli Broad, the Walton family (i.e., WalMart), etc. None of these persons, and very few of the folks they have hired to carry out their plans, has a degree in education, or has ever taught, and few of them even attended or sent their own children to a public school.

These "reformers" don't see education as a "common good," or as a value system, or even as a worthwhile form of public service. Rather, they see education as a business "problem." And when business sees a problem, there's a pretty simple strategy that is followed: determine how much it will cost to "fix" the problem; conduct a "cost-benefit" analysis to determine if the problem is "worth" fixing; make the decision and implement the fix.

Here's the "problem": Children are not widgets. When a group of children isn't learning "enough," or even just "fast enough," you don't simply discard the whole class like a bad batch of "product", and start over. Because education is not a business--it never was, and never will be. So business strategies, and business plans, and business approaches are just not going to work in the schools, no matter how many "turn around school" programs, and "scale up" initiatives, and "customer-driven models" are introduced, and then hastily abandoned in our schools.

Perhaps more importantly: education is not a problem. It's a complex, complicated web of relationships. To be successful, it needs to be nurtured, not "solved." Education is a journey, not a destination. It's never going to be perfect, and is by definition messy, noisy, and gloriously inefficient at times. Education is to be savored, like a fine meal, and celebrated, like a child's first attempt at walking or riding a bike--not viewed as a problem to be solved, and profited from.

And, perhaps more controversially: education is not a solution. Please understand--I am not devaluing or diminishing the importance of education in any way. Just the opposite. Education has been in many ways one of the most powerful agents of social change in our country's history. It has the ability to help students find their passions, fuel their dreams, and express their feelings. Public education is the single most important factor responsible for the growth of the US as a major economic and political force in today's world.

But expecting children to solve the problems caused by adults seems, to me, extraordinarily unfair and illogical. In our current reform discourse, the "coin of the realm" when it comes to educational value is "student achievement," defined narrowly as student scores on standardized tests. Reformers have suggested that improved student achievement is the key to returning our nation to economic glory, military dominance, and respect from our global neighbors. This is, to put it bluntly, ridiculous. A student's score on a standardized test tells us nothing about how to address the important problems we face as a people--it's a solution in search of a problem.

It has never been the purpose of education to solve a country's economic and political problems. Expecting our children and the schools to assume responsibility for fixing our problems as a society is nothing more than an abrogation of duty on the part of our leaders. 

3. Our public schools are not "failing."

This one IS simple. Our public schools are not "failing," our teachers are not "lazy," and, no, Secretary Duncan: our children are not "dumb."

In fact, given the challenges that our teachers are facing with cuts to funding, and attacks on their profession, I would suggest that the work being done by teachers in our public schools is nothing short of heroic.

What is "failing" is our support for the institution of public education. Our schools are not failing: we are failing our schools.

What can we do to fix this problem? We can start by voting--support those candidates who are vocal advocates and champions for strong, locally-controlled public schools. Get involved in local campaigns, where the impact on schools is the most profound: town council, mayor, state representatives, and your local school board. Vote for your local school budget the next time it comes up on the ballot. And pay attention to the positions taken by your state's elected officials on education issues, like charter school caps and regulations, school funding, vouchers, and teacher evaluation systems. And if you don't know what policies make the most sense for your child and your community, ask an expert: your child's certified public school teacher.

So, it turns out that there IS a "simple solution" after all...

Oops, I lied again. As it turns out, there is a "simple solution" to improving public education: Listen to the experts.

And by experts, I mean our teachers. Instead of following the policy pronouncements of self-appointed amateur edu-hobbyists like Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and Donald Trump, let's put the control for our schools back into the hands of the folks who know the most about learning, pedagogy, and our children--their teachers and parents.

Let's adequately fund all of our schools, and make sure that the school in the inner-city is as clean, safe and well-equipped as the one in the wealthiest of suburbs.

Let's stop allowing uncertified, unqualified edu-tourists from groups like Teach for America to be handed the responsibility of educating our children in urban and rural schools, and insist that all kids be taught by dedicated, committed professionals, with the appropriate course work, licenses, and certifications.

Let's demand that all schools offer a rich, engaging curriculum, including music, art, and physical education--and let's stop referring to these subjects as "extras," or "specials"--our children certainly don't see them as "extras." For some kids, these are the things that make school worth going to.

Let's guarantee that every publicly-funded school is held to the same standards, regulations, and expectations, that all such schools are required to admit any child who wishes to attend, that "lotteries" and other similar methods of artificially "managing" student enrollment are eliminated, and that every child has access to a high quality public school, regardless of geography or socio-economic status.

Let's stop pretending that competition and choice are the solutions to the problems that have been created by competition and choice.

Let's stop trying to fund two parallel, "separate but equal" school systems, and put amoratorium on the creation of new charter schools until all publicly-funded schools are "competing" on level playing fields.

And let's return control for our public schools to where it belongs: elected school boards made up of concern citizens from the communities in which their schools are located, and put an end to schools governed by unreliable charter "management companies" and state-appointed "emergency managers" and "CEOs".

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Common Core’s New New Math has the Same Problem as the Old New Math

By:  Steven Singer, Director BATs Blogging/Research Team
Originally published on his blog
little tired boy sitting at a desk and holding hands to head

Bad ideas are like unlucky pennies – they keep coming back again.
Take the New Math. Or maybe I should say the New New Math.
Common Core State Standards suggests we teach children a new way to do arithmetic. We should focus on multiple ways to reach an answer with an emphasis on understanding the concept behind the problem rather than just manipulating numbers.
It sounds fine in theory – until you think about it for five minutes.
When learning a new skill, it’s best to master a single, simple approach before being exposed to other more complex methods. Otherwise, you run the risk of confusion, frustration and ultimately not learning how to solve the problem.
Take directions.
If you’re lost and you ask for directions, you don’t want someone to tell you five ways to reach your destination. You want one, relatively simple way to get there – preferably with the least amount of turns and the highest number of landmarks.
Maybe later if you’re going to be traveling to this place frequently, you may want to learn alternate routes. But the first time, you’re more concerned about finding the destination (i.e. getting the answer) than understanding how the landscape would appear on a map.
This is the problem with Common Core math. It doesn’t merely ALLOW students to pursue alternate methods of solving problems. It REQUIRES them to know all the ways the problem can be solved and to be able to explain each method. Otherwise, it presumes to evaluate the student’s understanding as insufficient.
This is highly unfair to students. No wonder so many are failing.
Sadly there’s some history here that should have warned us about the perils of this approach.
Common Core isn’t the first new math approach to come along. In the 1960s we had a method actually called “The New Math.” And like Common Core, it was a dismal failure.
Like the Core, it proposed to focus more on conceptual understanding, but to do so itneedlessly complicated matters at the grade school level.
It introduced set theory, forcing students to think of numbers as groups of objects rather than abstractions to be manipulated. In an advanced undergraduate mathematics course, this makes perfect sense. In first grade, it muddles the learning tremendously.
To make matters even more perplexing, it mandates students look at numbers with bases other than 10. This is incredibly confounding for elementary students who often resort to their fingers to help them understand early math.
Tom Lehrer wrote a very funny song about the new math which shows how confusing it can be. The methods used to solve the problem can be helpful but an emphasis on the conceptual underpinning at early ages perplexes more than it helps:
Popular culture is full of sly references to this old New Math. Charles Schultz wrote about it in several Peanuts comic strips in 1965. In one such strip, kindergartener Sally gets so frustrated trying to solve a New Math problem she cries, “All I want to know is, how much is two and two?” New Math even made an appearance in the 1973 movie “There’s No Time for Love, Charlie Brown,” in which the titular Brown asks “How do you do New Math problems with an old Math mind?”
Screen shot 2016-08-27 at 3.10.40 PM
In the 1992 episode of the Simpsons, “Dog of Death,” Principal Skinner is elated that an influx of school funding will allow him to purchase school improvements. In particular he wants to buy history books that reveal how the Korean War ended and “math books that don’t have that base six crap in them!”
So where did this idea for New Math come from?
In 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik sending Americans into a panic that they were being left behind by these Communist supermen. As a result in 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower passed the National Defense Education Act which dramatically increased school budgets and sent academics racing for ways to reform old practices. One product of this burst of activity was the New Math.
A decade later, it was mostly gone from our public schools. Parents complained they couldn’t help their children with homework. Teachers complained they didn’t understand it and that it needlessly confused their students.
Fast forward to 1983 and President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education. The organization released a report called “A Nation at Risk” that purported to show that public schools were failing. As a result, numerous reforms were recommended such as increased standardization, privatization and competition.
It is hard to overemphasize how influential this report was in education circles. Even today after its claims have systematically and thoroughly been debunked by statisticians like those at Sandia National Laboratories, politicians, pundits and the media persist with this myth of failing public schools.
“A Nation at Risk” birthed our modern era of high stakes testing and, in 2009, Common Core.
In theory, each state would adopt the same set of academic standards thereby improving education nationally. However, they were written by the standardized testing corporations – not working educators and experts in childhood development. So they ignore key factors about how children learn – just like the New Math of old.
In short, we repeated the same mistake – or a very similar one.
Children are not computers. You can’t program their minds like you would a MacBook or iPhone. In many ways, including math instruction, Common Core ignores these facts.
And so we have the same result as the old New Math. Parents all over the country are complaining that they can’t help their children with their homework. Teachers are complaining that the Core unnecessarily confuses students.
In some ways, the Core is worse than the old New Math because of its close connection with high stakes testing. In the ‘60s if a child didn’t understand how to add, he failed math. Today, if a child does that, he fails the standardized test and if that happens to enough students, his school loses funding, his teacher may be fired and his school may be closed. As such, the pressure today’s children undergo is tremendous. They aren’t just responsible for their own learning. They’re responsible for the entire school community.
But perhaps most telling is this: it doesn’t help children learn.
Isn’t that what this was all supposed to be about in the first place?
Perhaps we don’t need a new math. Perhaps we simply need policymakers willing to listen to education and childhood experts instead of business interests poised to profit off new reforms regardless of whether they actually work.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

REVOLVING DOOR: Former NY deputy commissioner now running Jeb Bush’s ed reform group

By: A N.Y. BAT

After all the suffering New York students, parents and educators have gone through in rejecting top-down education reform, it’s insulting to see the official dubbed “NY’s teacher evaluation czar” trying to imply she “raised achievement” during her tenure here. Welcome to elastic reality, where chaos, waste and mass protest become “improved quality”.

Chiefs for Change was created by Jeb Bush to promote school choice, charters, vouchers, online charter schools, the Common Core, and high-stakes testing. They reorganized as Bush stepped away for his short-lived 2016 presidential run, but he has since announced a return to ed reform. So who runs the organization now? The former deputy commissioner who oversaw NY’s teacher evaluation debacle.

REFORMERS REWARDED: As Steven Singer reported, Jeb Bush has been raising money for education reform “infrastructure” from billionaires, corporations and Wall Street investors for years. In 2012, DC’s biggest lobbyist John Podesta (who is running the Hillary campaign today) joined Jeb onstage in a bipartisan truce to announce they were recruiting teachers and politicians willing to “stick out their necks” for corporate reform, promising an amplified voice, career grooming and ample remuneration.

Podesta is credited for picking Arne Duncan for Secretary of Education, so he means it when he says he wants to promote reformers. Today, they need figureheads badly as most US states have changed education leadership in the last year as the transition to ESSA begins. Prominently featured on the Chiefs for Change website is this:

“As Chief Operating Officer, Julia Rafal-Baer, Ph.D., develops our organizational capacity for sustained growth, strengthens our decision-making processes and goal-setting, and drives the strategic direction of Chiefs for Change.

Prior to joining our team, Julia was Assistant Commissioner of the New York State Education Department where she was responsible for the strategy, management, and implementation of teacher and leader initiatives under the state’s Race to the Top grant, Teacher Incentive Fund grant, and other state-wide initiatives, managing more than $150 million in federal funds. Julia directed, coordinated, and recommended policies and programs designed to raise the achievement of students and improve the quality and diversity of the education workforce.”

REVISIONIST HISTORY: In reality, Dr. Rafal-Baer’s policies in NY were met with deep resistance, found “arbitrary and capricious” in state Supreme Court and suspended after costing taxpayers untold millions. Achievement gaps and school segregation widened, and teacher workforce morale has tanked, with untested, top-down initiatives the biggest reported driver of workplace stress by far.

During Dr. Rafal-Baer’s tenure at NYSED, mandated annual standardized testing expanded from four days to six and included data-mining, product placement and “talking pineapples”. Her department has been squarely blamed by Governor Cuomo for botching the implementation of Common Core (in fairness, we know he is just as responsible) which led to 22% of parents statewide today refusing the tests.

Not that she didn’t work hard — she personally approved the APPR application of every NY school district (after requiring half to be resubmitted). These APPR plans, numbering over 1,000, prescribed how test scores would be counted in teacher evaluations, but for most NY teachers, the policy ponderously uses test scores from subjects they do not teach. When asked, the department said “common planning” accounts for the validity of the test-based ranking.

Actually it doesn’t — even for teachers of math and English, the practice of measuring a teacher’s proficiency through student scores was hauled into court, where the state refused to reveal secret algorithms, or produce experts to defend the validity of the practice. By 2015, a four year moratorium on APPR was announced.

METEORITIC RISE: Starting as a special ed teacher in the Bronx, Dr. Rafal-Baer left after two years to work for TFA while she obtained several impressive degrees, leading her next into the corporate and philanthropy sector. As Race to the Top money headed to the states, Dr. Rafal-Baer was appointed a Regents Research Fellow, joining a privately-funded, secret committee that was criticized for helping Commissioner John King shape policy outside of normal public accountability and transparency channels.

THROUGH THE REVOLVING DOOR: This led to a “teacher effectiveness” position with NYSED in 2010 and by 2014, appointment as Deputy Commissioner, demonstrating how quickly one moves up through the ranks if they embrace corporate reform. Dr. Rafal-Baer left NY in 2015 and apparently now works simultaneously as COO for this pro-reform group and the state of Rhode Island where she consults on education policy.

MORE ARBITRARY THAN CAPRICIOUS: This is not to disparage or single out Dr. Rafal-Baer. Indeed, it’s precisely because she is well-intentioned and well-versed in education policy that reformers want her on the team, to tout her credibility and caché. In the end, Dr. Rafal-Baer’s programs punished very few teachers, with local unions negotiating evaluation plans “for all” based on a “safe” test in one subject, chosen locally.

This cost local schools dearly however, forcing cuts to comply with the evaluation policy, combined with an unfunded transition to Common Core. Local taxpayers bought an invalid metric, and incredibly, this same cost continues today, even as the current moratorium makes the policy toothless.

Now the US Secretary of Education, John King is bucking Congress, trying to enforce test-participation quotas by withholding funds from schools, taking Albany’s “blackmail” practices to the national level. It’s impossible to characterize this brand of ed reform in NY as anything but tumultuous and extraordinarily wasteful. The calls for the resignation of Dr. Rafal-Baer’s mentors John King and Merryl Tisch preceded the dawn of the biggest opt-out movement in the US.

Dr. Rafal-Baer’s tweets indicate deep loyalty to controversial former Commissioner John King

We all want to see student learning increase, but too much time in the boardroom and not enough time in a classroom distorts how this gets done. The exorbitant paychecks keep reformers compliant to benefactors, and less attuned to student need or the will of the people. Of those RTTT millions, how much reached classrooms as the state went shopping for junk-science accountability schemes that were never tested for reliability?

We have learned painfully every year since No Child Left Behind first assumed federal control of local schools that there are no shortcuts. Trying to standardize teaching goes against best practices in the field of education and the science of child development. We do have major challenges in our nation’s schools, but solutions are not found on Wall Street, in a politician’s office or in any corporate headquarters.

Classroom teachers and parents see the harm to children, the waste, false promises and cronyism in the privatization movement. Backed by science and real world experience, the argument against corporatization of learning is more solid than ever.

FEEL FREE TO DO AS I SAY: The onslaught continues unabated, illustrated perfectly by this Chiefs for Change paper advising states on ESSA, the new law that just pushed back on ed reform. They recommend states use their new flexibility to go right back to NCLB era practices of data collection, standardization and top-down control, recommending states return to “innovation funds” which sound great but diverts money for more “monitoring and evaluation”. Wasn’t tying support for struggling schools to state run accountability systems the reason America just dumped NCLB?

It’s time to recognize how these fake think tanks and front groups compromise democracy. This experiment has been failing for 15 years, yet they are pushing the same policies today onto a new generation of children.

WHAT WE NEED: Hillary Clinton said herself we need to “sit at one table” to end these “education wars”. She also explicitly vowed to “end the revolving door”. It is time for open debate on the efficacy of ALEC legislation in schools, pay-for-play and astroturfing. Good ideas hold up under tough scrutiny and real world piloting. If we stop treating education like politics, we can put the mistakes of the testing era behind us.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Shouldn’t Our Schools At Least be as Logical as Dental Floss?

By:  Steven Singer, Director BATs Blogging/Research Team
All my life I assumed flossing was essential to dental health.

It was safe, it was sound, it was normal.

Every day after brushing, I would stand before the bathroom mirror and carefully thread a mint-flavored filament through my teeth – like a chump.

And when I got to the dentist, I’d comfort myself that I had done the best I could to prevent cavities.

The hygienist would remove plaque and germs while scraping and sawing at my teeth with a specialized hook, and all the while I’d think, “At least I flossed every day!”

Yet now the federal government tells us that flossing is ineffective at best!

What!? After all these years!?

It turns out, there just is no evidence that flossing actually helps – never has been. So this summer for the first time in decades the good folks who compile federal dietary guidelines decided not to recommend the practice.

A total of 25 studies have concluded that the evidence for flossing is “weak, very unreliable,” of “very low” quality, and carries “a moderate to large potential for bias,” according to the Associated Press.

“The majority of available studies fail to demonstrate that flossing is generally effective in plaque removal,” said one review conducted just last year. Another 2015 review cites “inconsistent/weak evidence” for flossing and a “lack of efficacy.”

So flossing is out.

It’s not evidence-based.

It’s actually kind of shocking to see the federal government acting so logically.

Where’s the politics? Why aren’t Republicans taking one side and Democrats the other? Why isn’t the dental floss lobby making massive contributions to our lawmakers to influence the decision?

But we get none of that in this instance. Instead, here’s the evidence. It doesn’t support this policy. So let’s discontinue that policy.

I wonder what the world would look like if every government stance was as susceptible to argument, cause and effect, and rationality.

As a public school teacher, I’ve become inured to our lawmakers doing exactly the opposite. They look at the evidence, see it DOESN’T support an education scheme and then… they proudly give it their full support.

As a result, education policy is full of unfounded, fallacious and unproven practices.

Our schools are struggling under the burden of illogical laws. Our teachers are pulling out their hair at a series of half-baked mandates that go counter to everything they’ve learned about childhood development. And our students suffer from procedures that don’t help them learn and in fact actually do much to prevent them from doing so.

Take standardized testing, Common Core and school choice.

Our legislators think standardized testing is the best way to measure learning. Are you freaking kidding me!? In colleges and universities across the country where this has been studied in-depth for centuries, it’s been disproven, ridiculed and considered an antiquated way of thinking about learning. It went out with phrenology and eugenics!

Multiple choice tests like these have consistently been shown to correlate more closely with socioeconomic status than intelligence, retention or understanding. Put simply: if you’re rich, you do well. If you’re poor, you don’t.

Standardized tests as we know them were developed in the Victorian Age to “prove” that wealthy people were just smarter than poor people. They were created to show the innate inferiority of black and brown people and the natural superiority of the white race.

Yet these kinds of assessments still are the backbone of the public school system.

Another fallacious policy championed by many lawmakers is Common Core State Standards. But like The Four Temperments, the Geocentric Universe, and the Flat Earth Theory, they aren’t backed up by evidence. In fact, each of these disproven scientific hypotheses has MORE EVIDENCE behind it than Common Core! Each of these ancient models was based on evidence but later refuted. By contrast, Common Core was never empirically based. In fact, it has never even been studied. Someone just pulled it out of their butt!

Let me say that again: there has never been any proof that Common Core will help children learn. In fact, far from showing any improvement, since its adoption,student outcomes have plummeted. But in many states it’s the law of the land.

In truth, Common Core is a series of academic standards developed by the testing and publishing industry as a way to sell more standardized tests and remediation materials. They were only adopted because state officials were blackmailed to accept them. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have enough money to continue running their state schools. In many cases, the standards weren’t even voted on by state legislators but instead by appointed boards of education.

Yet today these standards (or very similar ones) are required in public schools across 42 states.

Finally, we have the political darling, school choice. Many Republicans and Democrats champion some form of choice and competition in our schools. They all think it will help, despite the fact that there’s more evidence for UFOs, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster!

Very few countries try to help students by increasing their choices without also trying to increase the quality of those choices. Nowhere has it ever been shown that having more schools to choose from is better than less schools to choose from – if you don’t improve the quality of those schools. Simply having more options and having those options compete doesn’t make them better. As John Oliver pointed out recently, the town with the most pizzerias doesn’t necessarily have the best pizza.

In fact, in countries that have initiated school choice policies, they’ve seen educational quality drop – not rise. Yet billionaires all across the US push for us to adopt these policies all the while investing in schemes to enrich themselves if such a policy shift occurred.

It makes no sense. These are misguided, unfounded, and downright insidious ideas.

Yet everyday pundits, policy-makers and politicians still advocate for them – somehow with a straight face. And when someone who actually works in the schoolslike me points to the evidence – or lack thereof – I’m ignored.

In the words of Frank Zappa, “Modern Americans behave as if intelligence were some sort of hideous deformity.” And our education policies are doing nothing to fix it.

The problem is the very banality of corporate school reform. After almost two decades of these strategies pushed on both sides of the aisle, they’ve become the status quo. It’s just the way we do things.

They’re as common as… well… dental floss.

The federal government saw through the vapidity of that practice. Isn’t it time the administration does the same for corporate school reform?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Idiocy of AYP

By:  Dr. Mitchell Robinson, Member BATs Blogging/Research Team
AYP, or "Adequate Yearly Progress", is one of those seemingly benign terms that pops up in the educational lexicon every few years. AYP sounds...friendly. Unassuming. Who could argue with a reform initiative based on kids, teachers, or schools making "adequate yearly progress"? What are we, communists? Of course we want our schools to make progress...and insisting it be "adequate" doesn't sound too demanding, does it? I mean, how hard could it be to make "adequate" progress? Cmon...

And yet the truth is much harsher. AYP has become an albatross around the neck of school districts rich and poor. It requires that schools demonstrate inexorable, upward rates of progress, no matter their actual measures of success. While AYP may have been intended to exert pressure on "low performing schools," in practice it has created unreasonable pressures and stresses on all kinds of schools, students, teachers, and administrators, and is the policy lever behind much of the cheating that has characterized the worst of the "accountability era" in American education.

At the core of AYP is the notion of accountability--another seemingly benign concept that has taken on draconian undertones when applied to public education. But the blade of accountability seems to only be targeted on those with the least amount of power in the educational equation: children and teachers. How are education policy decision makers, who dream up increasingly punitive measures, held accountable? How are our political leaders, who pass the legislation recommended by these policy makers, held accountable?

Why is the idea of Adequate Yearly Progress only aimed at the recipients of these policies, and not on those with the power to create supportive working conditions for teachers, and educationally-sound policies that govern schools and learning?

In other words, why don't we have "AYP" for:
  • Providing adequate school funding?
  • Clean, well-maintained facilities?
  • Supportive working conditions?
  • Teacher evaluation systems that are fair, make sense, and focused on helping teachers' improve their practice--not punitive systems designed to demoralize and marginalize?
  • Salary schedules and teacher contracts that fairly compensate teachers, and provide incentives for pursuing professional development opportunities?
  • Adequate support services for all students, including special education, gifted & talented, school nurses, psychologists, and counselors?
  • Rich, vibrant curricular programs in music, art, media, and physical education for all students?
  • School breakfast and lunch programs, so students aren't hungry all day and can concentrate on their classes?
I'm all for assessing Adequate Yearly Progress in our schools, but maybe it's time to start assessing what really matters. Instead of coming up with educational policies designed to punish our most disadvantaged students, schools, and communities, let's start holding those responsible for establishing these punitive policies accountable for the damage they are doing to public education.

Then we might really start making some progress.