Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Test-Based Accountability – Smokescreen for Cowardly Politicians and Unscrupulous Corporations by Steven Singer

Originally posted at:

There is no single education policy more harmful than test-based accountability.

The idea goes like this: We need to make sure public schools actually teach children, and the best way to do that is with high stakes standardized testing.

It starts from the assumption that the problems with our school system are all service-based. Individual schools or districts are not providing quality services. Teachers and administrators are either screwing up or don’t care enough to do the job.

What is in question is its importance.

However, any lack of intention or ability on the part of schools to actually teach is, in fact, pure conjecture. It is a presumption, an excuse by those responsible for allocating resources (i.e. lawmakers) from doing their jobs.

Any time you hear senators or representatives at the state or federal level talking about test-based accountability, they are ignoring their own duties to properly provide for our public school children and pushing everything onto the schools, themselves.

That is the foundation of the concept. It’s hard to imagine more unstable ground from which to base national education policy.

But it gets worse.

With our eyes closed and this assumption swallowed like a poison pill, we are asked to accept further toxic premises.

Next comes the concept of trustworthiness.

We are being asked to question the trustworthiness of teachers. Instead, we are pushed to trust corporations – corporations that manufacture standardized tests.

I have no idea why anyone would think that big business is inherently moral or ethical. The history of the world demonstrates this lie. Nor do I understand why anyone would start from the proposition that teachers are inherently untrustworthy. Like any other group of human beings, educators include individuals that are more or less honest, but the profession is not motivated by a creed that specifically prescribes lying if it maximizes profit.

Business is.

Test manufacturers are motivated by profit. They will do that which maximizes the corporate bottom line. And student failure does just that.

Most of these companies don’t just manufacturer tests. They also provide the books, workbooks, software and other materials schools use to get students ready to take the tests. They produce the remediation materials for students who fail the tests. And they provide and grade the tests in the first place.

When students fail their tests, it means more money for the corporation. More money to give and grade the retests. More money to provide additional remediation materials. And it justifies the need for tests to begin with.

Is it any wonder then that so many kids fail? That’s what’s profitable.

There was a time when classroom teachers were not so motivated.

They were not paid based on how many of their students passed the test. Their evaluations were not based on student test scores. Their effectiveness used to be judged based on what they actually did in the classroom. If they could demonstrate to their administrators that they were actually making good faith efforts to teach kids, they were considered effective. If not, they were ineffective. It was a system that was both empirical and fair – and one to which we should return.

In fact, it was so fair that it demonstrated the partisanship of the corporations. Laws were changed to bring teacher motivation more in line with those of big business. Their evaluations became based on student test scores. Their salaries were increasingly tied to student success on these tests. And when some teachers inevitably felt the pressure to cheat on the tests, they were scapegoated and fired. There is no mechanism available to even determine if testing corporations cheat less than penalties for it.

Yet this is a major premise behind test-based accountability – the untrustworthiness of teachers compared to the dependable, credibility of corporations.

Next, come the scores, themselves.

Time-after-time, standardized test scores show a striking correspondence: poor and minority students often do badly while middle class and wealthy white students do well.

Why is that?

Well, it could mean, as we’ve already mentioned, that poor and minority students aren’t receiving the proper resources. Or it could mean that teachers are neglecting these children.

There is a mountain of evidence – undisputed evidence – to support the former. There is nothing to support the later.

I’m not saying that there aren’t individual teachers out there who may be doing a bad job educating poor and minority children. There certainly are some. But there is no evidence of a systemic conspiracy by teachers to educate the rich white kids and ignore all others. However, there IS an unquestionable, proven system of disinvestment in these exact same kids by lawmakers.

If we used standardized tests to shine a light on the funding inequalities of the system, perhaps they would be doing some good. But this is not how we interpret the data.

Finally comes the evidence of history.

Standardized testing is not new. It is a practice with a past that is entirely uncomplimentary.

These kinds of assessments are poor indicators of understanding complex processes. Answering multiple choice questions is not the best way to determine comprehension.

Moreover, this process is tainted by the eugenicist movement from which it originates. Standardized testing is a product of the belief that some races are better than others. It is a product of white supremacy. It was designed by racist psychologists who used it to justify the social structure of past generations and roundly praised and emulated by literal Nazis.

It is therefore not surprising that test scores show privileged white kids as superior to underprivileged students of color. That is how the system was designed.

Why any educated person would unquestionably accept these scores as valid assessments of student learning is beyond me.

Yet these are the assumptions and premises upon which the house of test-based accountability is built.

It is a smokescreen to protect politicians from having to provide adequate, equitable, sustainable resources for all children. It likewise protects unscrupulous business people so they can continue to cash in on the school system without providing any real value for students.

We must no longer allow policymakers to hide behind this blatant and immoral lie.

Not only should voters refrain from re-electing any lawmakers whose constituents children are receiving inequitable school resources, they should not be eligible for re-election.

Not only should corporations not be trusted more than teachers, they should be barred from determining success or failure while also profiting off of that same failure.

Schools can and should be held accountable. But it cannot be done with standardized tests.

Moreover, we must stop ignoring the role of policymakers and business in this system. They must also be responsible. We are allowing them to get away with murder.

It’s time to wake up and make them answer for what they’ve done to our nation’s children.

7 Ways Public Education Is Like Church by Laura D. Brown

I was raised Roman Catholic. Yup. Baptized, communion, confirmation, marriage — I have received many sacraments. As an adult, however, I am a bad Catholic. I don’t attend mass, and my children are heathens. However, when asked about my religious affiliation, I will always proclaim that I am Catholic.

My relationship with the Roman Catholic Church is similar to many Americans relationship with public education. I know this post will offend some people, but that is not my intent. Please allow me to explain my analogy.

1. You must have faith.

Like Christianity, one must see the end goal in mind when thinking about the mission of public education. Christianity’s mission is to live a life based on Jesus’ teachings in order to find salvation. Public education’s mission is to provide education to every resident in the United States of America. That education is supposed to be appropriate, rigorous, and standardized. Americans must have faith in the mission of public education, or they will abandon their community schools and search for alternatives. Many Americans have lost their faith in their local public education system and have turned to charter and private schools (some corporate based) in order to provide the “best” education for their children. 

Urban public schools have not been adequately invested in and Americans have especially turned to alternatives to public education in city settings. This divestment has led to more issues in the existing urban public schools, leading to public monies being diverted from public education, and has continued to weaken communities. Losing faith in an institution like public schools furthers the false narrative that schools are failing. A recent article in The Atlantic, entitled “Why Americans Think So Poorly of the Country’s Schools,” by Jack Schneider, discusses the impact of the loss of faith in public schools. The article actually points out that Americans rate their own schools much higher than American public education in general. Schneider states that the implications of the gap in faith in public schools are crucial, writing:

But the perception gap is real. And it is deeply consequential — fostering interventionist policy, stigmatizing schools, and exacerbating segregation. In acting on perception, Americans have done great harm to their public schools. But efforts to more clearly represent reality might undo the damage; it might even make schools stronger.

We must have faith in our public schools to make our schools better.

2. You get out of it what you put into it.

My religious education teacher told us that you get out of mass what you put into it. He was right, of course. When congregants “phone in” their attendance by not listening to the sermon or daydreaming throughout the mass, they are simply getting through their Sunday obligation. Public schools are community centers, but they also need an army of volunteers. Strong PTAs make a school vibrant, generate fund-raisers, and enable school functions. Parental involvement is crucial, but the entire community must be quite nationalistic about their school, for school pride to be a reality. Sporting events are a good door opener, but other programs for adults and families are very effective in getting more out of our public schools.

I teach in a large, suburban school district. I live in a small, rural district. Both districts are intent on connecting to the community. However, in the rural district in which I reside, the school is the community. It is a major employer. It is connected to a community recreation center, with a pool. The school parking lot is seldom empty and you better arrive early to get a decent spot to park when concerts, plays, or other student activities are happening.

All communities members could do more to participate in our public schools. If we had more commitment to our public schools, they would truly be places of pride.

3. You notice the areas in need of improvement in the institution, but you accept that there is more good than bad.

My friend once said, in jest, that to her the Roman Catholic Church is similar to that crazy uncle we all have. He might be quirky, and we might keep our distance at times, but he is still family. The Roman Catholic Church has had plenty of issues and has had its share of complaints: sexual abuse scandals, absent female leadership, etc. The issues in the Catholic Church are real and important, but often they overshadow the charity and the good works that congregations do for so many.

The issues in public schools are great and many. There are significant issues to be addressed: school building maintenance, curriculum, testing, overcrowding, segregation, funding inequities, teacher training, teacher pay, teacher pensions, staff development, special needs appropriations, mental health issues, and the dire need for vocational opportunities.

The negatives are significant and need addressing. However, the positives are so overwhelming. Ask a person to describe their best teachers. You will notice how animated they become. Their face lights up and they often wax nostalgic. In every public school, there are countless teachers leading students on the path of learning. There are 3.1 million public school teachers practicing the craft of teaching.

There is more good than bad in public education.

4. You need to contribute money to help the institution run properly.

I remember being nervous during mass when the wooden baskets were passed around because we didn’t have one of those official envelopes like other people. My grandfather would simply reach into his wallet and throw a couple of dollars into the pile. I felt proud that my family contributed to the church’s good works.

Public education funding is bone dry in many places. There is such inequity in funding formulas, and not surprisingly, areas with bigger houses have bigger budgets.

In another recent article in The Atlantic, Jonathan Kay writes about how Canadian taxpayers recognize that in terms of government spending you get what you pay for, in an article entitled, “Why Canada Is Able to Do Things Better.” Kay writes that in Canada he pays about 10 percent more in taxes than he would in the United States, but he gets more than 10 percent of a return, writing:

What does that 10 percent premium buy for my family? Aside from universal health care, there’s world-class public schools, a social safety net that keeps income inequality at rates well below America’s, and an ambitious infrastructure program that will help Canada keep pace with its swelling ranks of educated, well-integrated immigrants.

We must look to other countries for models of getting more out of our tax dollars.

5. You might not want to go, but are glad you did when you leave.

Getting up early and wearing church clothes is not fun. I remember one Sunday when my grandfather was upset because the shirt I packed was wrinkled. I recall, however, how the priest talked about appearances that day and my grandfather and I laughed about the topic. After mass, he took me to Perkins for pancakes and all was right in the world. I have always felt better after mass. Maybe it was a feeling of an obligation fulfilled. Maybe it was true spirituality.

Public education begins early in the morning. It sometimes requires wearing nice clothes and it involves a great deal of listening (on the part of students, especially). It is not always easy for students to connect with the topics that their teachers preach on about, but when connections are made it is as glorious as a rainbow.

Many adults carry with them negative experiences about their time in public schools. These perceptions often cloud their ability to see public schools as positive institutions. However, like mentioned in number three above, taxpayers often become more positive about public schools when they are involved with the schools in constructive ways. Furthermore, students never say that they regret getting an education. In the words of one graduating senior that I had the pleasure to teach, he said: “You know, this place isn’t so bad.”

6. You meet flawed people, sinners, and saints.

My husband often comments that church is really necessary for many people, he says that some people need the church. I get his meaning — church can be a sanctuary for many. A congregation also includes people of varying socioeconomic levels and reasons for attending. There are people who need saving and there are others who help them get there.

Public schools are often sanctuaries for students. Students eat their meals at school. Students have a routine and expectations at school. Students bring their problems to school. 

Public schools embody the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty: “”Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” Public schools are open to any student. This open door policy can make public schools messy, amazing places. Public schools are diverse, creative, vibrant and dynamic. Public schools are microcosms of society.

7. You have a shared popular cultural experience with other people who have attended the same institution.

Roman Catholic Mass is the same everywhere. Many people find comfort in standardization. Schools are similar in their standardization — school buildings have classrooms, teachers, students, and administrators. Most schools have bells, schedules, and rules. Many also share a smell, part cleaning solution, vomit, glue, and tater tots.

Although schools are not “equal” in terms of rigor, standards, funding, teacher pay, amenities, everyone has a school story. Like being Roman Catholic, public school graduates have more in common than not. In a way, it is like public school gives us all a shared television show, with character archetypes we all know and love. This common appreciation for the challenges of public schools, for both students and educators alike, is where the conversation concerning the future of public education begins.

The following are some topics to begin the conversation:

*Is public education a right of all residents of the United States?

*What should be the mission of every public school in the United States?

*How should all of America’s public schools be equitably funded?

*How much do we, as citizens of the United States, value the salaries, benefits, union organization, and pensions of public school educators?

*Who should be recruited to teach in our public schools? *What incentives will we offer our young professionals to choose to teach?

*What curriculum needs to be taught in our public schools?

*What do we want our public school graduates to be able to do upon completion of their education?

*Do we value vocational training and apprenticeship?

Feel free to add your own questions and comments below. For me, these are reasons why I will be marching for public education in our nation’s capital on Saturday, July 22, 2017.

#whyweM4PE Join me! The March for Public Education on July 22, 2017 is critical. Please consider clicking the heart ❤️ icon above, following the March For Education Blog Publication, following on Twitter, liking the page on Facebook, participating in the march, and/or donating to the march. Here is a list of marches throughout the country:…/where-are-advocates-for-public-educati…. Click here for The March For Public Education Website.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Class War: Teachers Turn Sharply Against Charters by Jake Jacobs

Originally posted at:

Class War

Teachers turn sharply against charter schools as politicians try to grant them sweeping new powers. Over the 4th of July weekend, the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teacher union, held its annual Representative Assembly, where some 1,700 members gathered to toughen the NEA’s official position on charter schools. At the same time, New York State policymakers were quietly advancing bold new policies to free charter schools from teacher certification requirements.

Unions Unite Against Charters

The NEA assembly in Boston began with a fiery speech from NEA President Lily Eskelson-Garcia marking Donald Trump’s untrustworthiness by the appointment of Betsy DeVos, a US Education Secretary who “has made a career trying to destroy neighborhood public schools.”
Next, the NEA released an official statement, calling the 25-year history of charter schools a “failed experiment” which has only compounded the problems of segregation and inequity in education. They called for basic monitoring for transparency and civil rights compliance and a ban on all for-profit operations and financial conflicts. Perhaps the biggest change was the call to place charter schools under the supervision of the same democratically elected school boards as public schools.
The statement was the product of a year-long, multi-state NEA task force who also recommended that teachers in charter schools be allowed to organize for collective bargaining. They stopped short of calling for a national moratorium on new charter schools, however they did say charter schools must change to address the unmet needs in a district rather than compete for resources.
Hearing this, the NEA teachers in attendance wanted the union to go even farther. Member items were introduced seeking an all-out moratorium on new charter schools. They eventually passed  “New Business Item” number 47 committing to help local school boards and parent groups pass moratoriums on charter schools in their area.

Charters Strike Back

Meanwhile, concluding a special legislative session in Albany, Senate Republicans – who took in over $3M this year from charter school supporters – passed Senate Bill (SB) S6965 looking to give new powers to charter schools to hire uncertified teachers and let the charter industry train and certify them instead of accredited teaching colleges such as those within the State University of New York (SUNY).
The “backroom” bill also included new tax credits for private religious schools and passed in the NY State Senate only because of support from the IDC, the rogue Independent Democratic Conference (recently branded “Trump’s NY Democrats”) whose eight members received $677K this year from pro-charter PACs. During tense budget battles last month, the GOP/IDC coalition delivered for their donors, expanding per-pupil funding for charters while the most needy public school districts were denied the basic court-ordered minimums the IDC specifically promised them in January.
Though GOP and IDC Senators don’t have charter schools in their own districts, they want more to open in NYC. Charter schools now occupy virtually all of New Orleans and large percentages of Detroit, Chicago, Philly, Los Angeles, DC, and Flint – but NYC has remained an elusive prize. It was Speaker Carl Heastie and the Democratic supermajority in the NY State Assembly who held the line, preventing the statewide cap on charter schools from being lifted and stopping the “uncertified teacher” legislation.
But then, it re-emerged.

SUNY Insurgents

New York teachers found out over the holiday that SUNY’s Charter School Committee scheduled a vote to allow non-certified teachers at 167 SUNY-authorized charter schools (which includes the DeVos-friendly Success Academy network). Amazingly, New York’s highly regarded public college system is proposing an alternative to it’s own teacher certification program, allowing charter teachers to skip the Master’s degree in Education all classroom teachers currently must have. Instead, candidates would get about 30 hours of classroom training with outcomes measured by…you guessed it, test scores.

Bleeding Teachers

This certification waiver is exactly what charter schools need to fill the incredible shortages created as 41% of charter teachers citywide leave their schools each year, compared to 18% in public schools. The “churn and burn” of high teacher turnover in charters was recently spotlighted by NY Daily News editorial writer Alyssa Katz who removed her daughter from her local charter school. So the charter model of running teachers ragged to boost test scores was already unsustainable, resulting in violations of current law, but with 40% less teachers projected to enter teaching programs in coming years, the situation is quickly worsening.
Dramatic video captures public education defenders from NYC reminding the SUNY trustees that moving ahead on this proposal was a top-down decision that mostly affects lower income black and brown children, but no parents or students were invited, nor were the unions, the press, or elected officials. The SUNY vote was convened during a holiday weekend with only three days notice (full video here).

Speaking Up

Maria Bautista, with Alliance for Quality Education, and NYC teacher, Aixa Rodriguez, rushed to the scene, noting the hypocrisy and inequality as children of color are already less likely to have highly qualified teachers. There was also pushback online, including elected officials, as a panel of all white, affluent appointees moved forward without answering questions of institutional racism – or the most basic question of all – would you want this for your own child? 

“The proposal undermines our belief in the professionalism of teaching and most importantly, threatens the quality of teaching for black, brown and poor children across the state,” Bautista said.

Rodriguez noted the silence from the critics who erupted in April when one literacy exam was eliminated from traditional certification requirements.

Instant Backlash

Upon hearing the news, reaction was swift and negative – the State Education Commissioner and the Chancellor of the State Board of Regents both called the proposal “cause for concern.” The state teachers union NYSUT lambasted the last-minute “backdoor” plan, as did Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, the nation’s second largest teacher union. United University Professions, representing 42,000 SUNY faculty called the proposal “gibberish for lower standards.”

The Who

The next question is who convinced this panel to have such a controversial vote so quietly without stakeholders present? Although the 45 day period to comment on the proposal has already begun, the official website has no instructions, links or forms to submit comments, so New Yorkers must use the general email address,, call (518) 445-4250 or write SUNY Charter Schools Institute, 41 State Street, 7th Floor, Albany, NY 10227. 

Tell SUNY – should charter school administrators have special powers to hire and certify teachers without an education degree?1
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Letter to NYS Regents Regarding Children With Special Needs by Jennifer L. Fox

I would like you to consider the following scenario: Physical education is a requirement to graduate high school in New York. There are students in this state who are blind, in wheelchairs, are deaf, or may need to use walkers, crutches, or other devices in order to be mobile for whatever reason. These students have a disability that makes a general ed. physical education class impossible. There are then alternative classes made available to these students to satisfy the requirement, which of course makes sense. Now imagine that after years of accommodations and differentiation in physical education we tell them, “But in order to graduate you must complete the 50 yard dash and the 600 yard run/walk from the President’s Physical Fitness Test in order to graduate. Don’t worry, we will provide you extra coaching and extra time in order to complete the tasks, you can try it as many times as you want until you can do it” So we push the wheelchair to the starting line and say “Go, you can do it!! Get up, all that extra coaching should help!!” If this actually ever happened it would be all over the news, not only because it is a ridiculous concept it is also discriminatory.
Just because you cannot see a disability, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Autism, Dyslexia, Speech and language processing disorders, and a whole host of other disabilities EXIST. They are diagnosed by physicians, some require medication and extensive therapy, and all of them affect the way someone processes information, most of the time the way they are able to process language (both written and spoken). Children diagnosed with these disabilities, most often since pre-k, are given differentiated instruction in accordance with their IEP’s since they began school. Classes most often break down curriculum into smaller chunks, simplify language in order to better understand content, use manipulatives, break multistep instructions into smaller pieces to assist comprehension, etc. As a result children learn the content necessary to understand the curriculum. But then, when they get to high school they are expected to take the same regents exams that all general education and honors students take, and to pass them (with only a ridiculously small “safety net”) in order to receive the one credential that will give them a small opportunity to become self-sufficient, wage earning, independent adults, a high school diploma. You are pushing the wheelchair to the starting line and yelling “go”. There is no amount of extra coaching, extra time, or multiple attempts that will ever enable a wheelchair bound student to run a 50 yard dash. Likewise for many, many students with seemingly “invisible” disabilities there is no way they will ever pass a regents exam.
My daughter has high functioning Autism. She is bright, gregarious, curious, and an overall great kid. But she has a disability, one that makes school difficult. One that makes it very hard for her to understand abstract concepts that do not relate to her everyday life. So when we study nonfiction, we look up Youtube movies on Pangea and the layers of the earth instead of just reading about it. We break study guides into one topic per page sheets to make them easier to understand, her teachers quiz content after each topic instead of after an entire unit to make content more attainable, and we simplify the language in the curriculum so that she is better able to understand the content (because after all, are we learning about history or are we learning to understand 5 syllable academic vocabulary which really is unnecessary in order to understand the content?). And she learns, slower than others and in a different way…but she learns.
Right now she is going into 7th grade. Every day I worry about high school, yes high school, and yes, every day. Something that will not even happen for another 2 years. Why? Well, it is simple…Someday her father and I will no longer be here. She has the ability to be independent, go on for some sort of higher education/vocational training, have a job (possibly even a career), earn a wage, be self-sufficient, but none of those things will be possible without a high school diploma. There will be no doors open to her for meaningful employment and in turn she will be dependent on us and when we are gone….??? Aside from her practical future employment I worry about her spirit. Taking the same tests 3 or 4 times over and over to try to pass…is just cruel. How many times does someone have to try their hardest and fail before they are broken? I have seen it in my friend’s children who are in the same situation as my family. I do not want that level of heartbreak, low self-esteem, and hopelessness for my child.
A CDOS credential is not recognized by any employer I know of, and is certainly not recognized in any other state. It is not a diploma, and after all of the effort, struggle, extra time doing homework, studying, the tears, the encouragement, the extra effort (and yes, I know I said effort already) she deserves one. I have considered how to move out of state for a time in order for her to get a diploma, leaving friends and family for the sake of my daughter’s future. I shouldn’t have to do that. According to the New York State Department of Education’s website the graduation rate for students with disabilities in 2015 in New York was 53%. That same year the graduation rate for students with disabilities in New Jersey was 78% according to the New Jersey Department of Education’s website. How is that acceptable to you?
I could go on about how low the cut scores are set so that passing scores in no way show mastery which is ridiculous. I could go on about math exams that are so difficult educators are opposing them, not to mention questions with either no correct answer or multiple correct answers (I can only imagine the anxiety and stress that caused typical/honors students without even mentioning students who already struggle). I could mention the numerous personal stories I have heard about honors students crying during exams… all of these things cause me to pause.
I am imploring you, one size fits all education doesn’t work. There are thousands of students in this state who are being denied the opportunity to thrive as adults because of high school graduation requirements that are out of their reach because of disabilities that EXIST. Five exams should not determine someone’s entire future. Five exams do not show: work ethic, tenacity, perseverance, scholarship, the ability to persist through numerous challenges and come out successful… grade point average shows those things. There needs to be a path to a valid high school diploma that is not dependent on regents exams. My daughter’s father is a decorated police officer…he did not graduate with a regents diploma, many of my high school friends did not graduate with a regents diploma and went on to higher education, advanced degrees, and/or successful careers. Regents diplomas were not always the requirement and many of those who graduated without them have gone one to be very successful adults. Fix this, please. Fix it now… you are failing a generation of students, and it is the most vulnerable that you are failing the most.
Jennifer L. Fox M.S.Ed.
Elementary school teacher
Parent of a special needs child
Concerned citizen