Wednesday, April 25, 2012

We saw Race to Nowhere last night at the State Theatre. Chris and Ted were there and both of them were deeply affected by it. Unfortunately, the members of the panel assembled used the opportunity push their alternative schools rather than to look at the underlying assumptions about homework, testing, and education in American. These men had already done that for us, apparently, and were there to offer us their schools which misses the point entirely. That was not what Vicki intended when she made this film. Still it was a great opportunity to see it again and to share it with Chris Rosenblum and Ted Rosenblum. Thanks State Theatre!

Race to Nowhere: The Film, The Movement
Help us reach our goal of one million voices united to transform education and take back childhood.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Meeting at Sen Casey's office today

In about 90 minutes, Dr. Tim Slekar, Head of the Division of Education and Human Development at Penn State, Altoona, and I will be meeting at Sen. Robert Casey's Bellefonte office. We're going to talk about the need for parental involvement in decisions affecting schools, the need for a parental opt out option for state and federal standardized tests, and fact that the current and proposed "reforms" to education are causing more harm. The increased testing and the business behind it mean spending hundreds of millions on third party tests while school are being forced to furlough teachers, increase class size, and cut programs like art, music and even sports.

Wish us luck.

UPDATE: Sen. Casey has an amazing team working for him! Teachers and parents have an ally!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How to stop preaching to the choir and get heard.

We need to shift the public narrative from "a broken system dominated by uninformed, uninvolved parents and lazy teachers who complain about being held accountable" to one of active, educated and angry parents who support teachers and neighborhood public schools, and who don't want Arne Duncan telling us what we need to do.

And for the record, I not only believe that teachers are amazing hard-working, innovative and compassionate people who are making a huge difference in the lives of my children and children everywhere, I know for a fact — because I've looked at the actual numbers, reports and data — that the meme of America's broken educational system is just not true. Urban "failing schools" are the consequence of how our society neglects the medical needs of low-income toddlers. Most parents think that their neighborhood school is doing a great job, even in New York City.

Nearly two-thirds of those polled in an NY1-Marist survey released last week said they disapproved of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s management of the school system. But public school parents appear to be drawing a line between his performance and their affection for their local schools, Dr. Miringoff said. In the poll released Monday, 53 percent of public school parents gave their local schools either excellent or good marks.

And the numbers are even higher for schools in small towns, suburbs, and rural areas.

What Parent Can Do:

1) Go public with your news. And make sure it’s news. Do something newsworthy and local. An example: Parents and teachers from our local elementary school are holding a "teach-in" next week at Wegmans. Teachers bringing all the work that they normally do after school so that the public can see what teachers do after the bell rings. Parents will be there writing letters to lawmakers demanding that the proposed budget cuts be restored. We are sending out press releases this week.

2) Write an Op-Ed column for your local paper.

Absolutely no more than 500 words.

Short paragraphs with lots of white space.

A) Start with a very short introduction that describes your issue using action words and images. Do not go into a long story. Save it for later.

B) Clearly state your main point: Parents need to boycott testing, or Legislators must not cut funding, or Arne Duncan (or whomever) must go. Whatever it is, be very clear.

C) Quote your experts. List the heavy hitters who support you. Professors, doctors, psychologists, even government agencies all carry more weight. Cite the evidence, not just opinions.

D) Then go into your argument explaining why you are doing what you are doing. This is the place for opinions, details, tugging the heartstrings.

E) Contact information: Where people can go for more information or to get more involved.

Please feel free to use my Op-Ed as a template, changing the details to fit your town or issue.

Once your column is published, start to link it everywhere, especially on Facebook and Twitter. Get all your friends to “Like” it. The media looks for columns that get a lot of hits. I am still getting interview requests based on the column I wrote a month ago. It’s like Emily’s list and early money. Long before the first vote is ever cast, the media begins to set the narrative based on who has raised the most money. This is a great time to push the narrative that parents are angry and teachers aren’t being allowed to teach, with the Michelle Rhee cheating scandal and Obama's recent anti-testing remarks.

3) Send a letter to Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager. His job right now is to mend fence with the grassroots. We are the grassroots. It doesn't matter if you support Obama or not. What matters is that Obama is the only one who can fire Duncan, and Duncan and his crew need to go. It might be a long shot, but if we don't try then we will fail for sure.

Be critical of Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and Bill Gates, but don’t attack Obama. We must support him in changing course while saving face. He's now on record as questioning the value of standardized tests. But let Messina know that Obama cannot count on your enthusiastic grassroots support until he separates himself from those like Arne Duncan, who do not support or respect parents.

Keep the letter short.

Jim Messina

Obama Re-election Headquarters

One Prudential Plaza

130 E Randolph St

Chicago, IL 60601

Changing the conversation

Parents and teacher must work together.

We must start shifting the public conversation on education.

We must loudly challenges the myths and downright lies that underlie the corporate reform movement.

The misinformation campaign disempowers communities by ignoring parents, treating teachers like assembly line factory workers, and students as data points.

The myths:

Education in America is not failing. In fact, it's brilliant! Or it was. NCLB, RttT and more overtesting are the problem, not the solution.

Parents are involved in their kids education. Teachers know how to teach.

The achievement gap between wealthy/middle class schools and schools dominated by children from low income families is the physical and medical consequence of poverty. Higher standards and more testing does nothing to fix the vision problems the 50% of low income children suffer. Nor the hearing problems. Nor the lead poisoning, asthma, or just plain hunger or even malnutrition.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

More Testing is Just Good Business

In a classic example of corporate double speak and political spin, The DoE's spokesman, Justin Hamilton responded to Anthony Cody's column about President Obama's statements that we have too much testing.

Hamilton explains that we need even more testing, but that the "next generation" of tests will be "formative assessments" and therefore, not "high-stakes." He goes to great lengths to explain the need for more tests, given throughout the year to
assess students' ability to read complex text, complete research projects, excel at classroom speaking and listening assignments, and work with digital media. They will provide a series of interim evaluations during the school year to measure whether students are on track. All of these assessments will be instructionally useful - unlike the one-shot, end-of-year standardized tests given as part of current accountability systems.

These are in addition to the continuing requirements to assess at the end of the year in reading and math.

And it's all about the money. Never forget it's all about the money.

At the end of the piece, he reasonably states
Under the Blueprint and Race to the Top, states may use a variety of tests to measure student growth. These tests can be portfolios, observation of student work against a rubric aligned with state standards, or assessments designed by teachers according to state guidance. All of these assessments must be rigorous and comparable across classrooms.

Rigorous and Comparable Across Classrooms? How are teachers going to do that? Hmmmm.....

The day before, Joanne Weiss, Chief of Staff for Arne Duncan and formerly with the NewSchools Venture Fund, a venture capital firm that invests in both not-for-profit, such as Leadership Public Schools which manages charter schools, and for-profit ventures, such as LearnNow Inc. which also manages charter schools, published an article in the Harvard Business Review.
The development of common standards and shared assessments radically alters the market for innovation in curriculum development, professional development, and formative assessments. Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.

In this new market, it will make sense for teachers in different regions to share curriculum materials and formative assessments. It will make sense for researchers to mine data to learn which materials and teaching strategies are effective for which students - and then feed that information back to students, teachers, and parents.

Oh look, Formative Assessments again. A whole new market for educational venture capitalists to get their hands on our education dollars while researchers from not-for-profts funded by Bill Gates, NewSchools Ventures, and others mine our children's scores for data.

My child is not a data point!

Rhee the Reformer

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Too Much Testing

Kids take a lot of tests, and there is a lot of confusion about which tests are which.

As parents we oppose high-stakes standardized tests which are used to hold teachers and schools “accountable” under the No Child Left Behind Act while providing no usable information to parents or teachers. These tests are now being proposed as a means of measuring teacher effectiveness and even determining teacher pay. When politicians and education reformers talk about “test scores” these are the scores they mean.

Just to meet the federal requirements to assess math and English, kids are typically tested all day for two weeks or more. The tests are created, administered and scored by private for-profit companies that charge state hundreds of millions of dollars.

SATs and other college entrance tests

College admissions tests like the SAT are voluntary. Students pay to register and then spend a few hours on a Saturday morning taking them. Those college bound teens who want additional preparation can purchase study guides or take private prep classes.

No college or university admits a student based solely on test scores. Grades, interviews, letters of recommendation, essays, and extra curricular activities are all part of the admissions process. In fact, today there is a movement away from even requiring these “entrance exams.”

Taking the standardized tests mandated under No Child Left Behind is not practice for the SATs. No child needs two to three weeks worth of practice every year starting at age eight to pass a college entrance exam.

The Iowa Test of Basic Skills

The Iowa Test (ITBS) is a norm-referenced test to provide a snap shot of where students are academically. The whole test takes only 90 minutes with each section taking no more than 30 minutes.

Norm-referenced tests like the ITBS are graded on a curve so that most students score in the middle somewhere. Schools, including private and religious, use these tests periodically for diagnostic purposes. This test or one like is probably what President Obama’s daughters just took. A test like this is one that many parents remember taking and finding out that as fifth graders, they were reading at a ninth grade level or something like that.

Schools can choose when and if to administer tests like the ITBS.

The NAEP aka The Nations Report Card

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is given every four years to a random sample of school by the Department of Education in order to measure long term trends (LTT). Participation in the NAEP is voluntary and does not provide data for individual students or schools. The test remains essentially the same from year to year. The NAEP takes about 90 minutes.

Classroom tests

These are the tests that teachers make and administer in class. Teachers use these tests along with in-class assignments, participation, homework, projects, research, papers, and so on, to determine a child’s grade for the semester.

We are not anti-testing.

We are against high-stakes standardized test. President Obama recently stated:

Too often what we've been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we've said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that's not the only way we're judging whether a school is doing well.

Because there are other criteria: What’s the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not.

So what I want to do is -- one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you're not learning about the world; you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math. All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that's not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.

High-stakes standardized tests don't just make education boring, they actually undermine learning. Because schools are virtually forced to emphasis test taking skills at the expense of science, social studies, art, music, and physical education, curricula are narrowed. Furthermore, the very skills needed to score well on these tests are antithetical to critical thinking. A study published in “ Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 80, 1988, entitled "Students’ Goal Orientations and Cognitive Engagement in Classroom Activities" demonstrates that students who are taught to skim, guess, and skip hard problems score much higher than those who reread passages, ask questions, carefully weigh options, and look for novel solutions. It is the latter skills that we should be trying to teach.

For decades there have been concerns that all standardized tests are culturally and socially biased. Sociologists and social psychologists have long debated the exact nature of the bias. The places where these researcher should be doing their research is in the test scoring centers themselves:

In the test-scoring centers in which I have worked, located in downtown St. Paul and a Minneapolis suburb, the workforce has been overwhelmingly white—upwards of 90 percent. Meanwhile, in many of the school districts for which these scores matter the most—where officials will determine whether schools will be shut down, or kids will be held back, or teachers fired—the vast majority are students of color. As of 2005, 80 percent of students in the nation’s twenty largest school districts were youth of color. The idea that these cultural barriers do not matter, since we are supposed to be grading all students by the same standard, seems far-fetched, to say the least. Perhaps it would be better to outsource the jobs to India, where the cultural gap might, in some ways, be smaller.

Still, some standardized testing may have a small role to play in our educational system. Today, however, there seems to be a fundamental disconnect between what everyone agrees — we need to measure student progress using a number of different measures — and policies driven by corporate reformers and multimillion dollar testing companies such as Race To The Top.