Ed News, Tuesday, January 20, 2015 Edition


“Scoring well on tests is the sort of happy thing that gets the school district

the greenbacks they crave.

Understanding and appreciating the material are secondary.”
Libba Bray
Want another example of the misuse of standardized tests?  Diane Ravitch’s Blog describes legislation introduced in Pennsylvania that would end the use of a state standardized test as a high school graduation requirement.  In addition, Ravitch explains why this is a terrible idea.
When a Texas state political leader needs advice on education policy who does he turn to?  Why of course, private business and industry leaders (no educators need apply).  If you believe no one would ever do that–think again.  When the new lieutenant governor of the Lone Star State wanted some guidance regarding K-12 schools and other issues in his state he created a blue ribbon 55-member committee made up of the aforementioned business and industry leaders.  Nary an educator in sight.  Details about this can be found in a short item from THE TEXAS TRIBUNE.
The Friday edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a new report that showed 51% of American public school students were classified as in poverty.  This story from The Washington Post features the same study but goes into much more depth describing what it means for the U.S. school system.  “The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools,” it states starkly, “a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up.  They are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.”
Yesterday the U.S. celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr., day.  King would have been 86 years old on his Jan. 15th, birth date this year.  How would he feel about the corporate assault on public education if he were alive today?  Yohuru Williams is a Professor of History at Fairfield University in Connecticut and, in a piece for The Progressive, he speculates on what King would have believed and what he might have said about the state of education in the U.S. today.  “King saw the goal of education as more than performance on high-stakes tests or the acquisition of job skills or career competencies,” Williams suggests.  “He saw it as the cornerstone of free thought and the use of knowledge in the public interest. For King, the lofty goal of education was not just to make a living but also to make the world a better place by using that production of knowledge for good.”
Did the American Federation of Teachers just sell out on the issue of standardized testing?  That’s the point made by a high school history teacher in Massachusetts writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  She was perplexed by the joint statement issued by the AFT and Center for American Progress regarding how testing should be handled.  She concludes that “the AFT is negotiating the terms of our final surrender.”  Pretty strong words.                 Is the debate over the renewal of NCLB more about politics than sound educational research?  That’s the position of Jeff Bryant on the Education Opportunity NETWORK site who argues that the different legislative proposal are ignoring some key ideas.  He carefully reviews the various positions and surveys the findings regarding the efficacy and usage of standardized tests.  “While the arguments on both sides,” he maintains, “continue to vie back and forth over issues of how many tests should be given and how frequently, what’s completely lost in the debate is the more important issue of how tests are used.”               Veteran award-winning New York high school principal and prolific blogger Carol Burris writes an open letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the new chair of the Senate education committee regarding the testing mandate of NCLB.  Burris, who previously supported NCLB offers her suggestions for how to rewrite the law.  “The time has come,” she concludes, “to devise an accountability system with multiple measures, flexible and varied student assessment, and modest grade span testing. ”  Her letter is reprinted on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post                           The GADGLYONTHEWALLBLOG has a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek look at testing and the whole idea of “accountability” which it titles “Trust Tests, Not Teachers–Accountability for Dummies.”  If you need a little breather from all the serious stuff in this edition this one will likely tickle your funny bone.             More bad news for the PARCC testing consortium.  Mississippi recently cancelled its planned participation in the  assessments and on Friday the Chicago Public Schools decided that only 10% of its school would take part in the testing regimen.  Catalyst CHICAGO has the latest developments. “It is unclear what if anything the state or federal government will do to CPS,” it concludes, “considering it is so large. Last year, the state of California took a ‘snow’ year on standardized testing and it was not sanctioned.”              The entire standardized testing regimen is under assault as the Congress takes up reauthorization of NCLB.  Diane Ravitch’s Blog reprints a letter from a middle school teacher in New York who laments how all the effort on testing is ruining American education “Please consider how damaging NCLB is to public education,” the person concludes.  “It hurts rather than helps.  It punishes children in poverty, stress, or those who struggle in a subject as well as their teachers.”               In the same vein comes this commentary from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  It’s penned by a professor of educational theory and practice at the University of Georgia who wonders how other professions, for instance medicine, would fare if they faced the same kind of evaluation and accountability demanded of educators.  She, too, believes testing is ruining education.  “Stop the madness,” she demands.  “Everyone knows the testing regime is a farce. The era of testing has failed miserably, but we can only begin undoing the damage and rebuilding our K-12 students’ and families’ trust in and value from public education when we call it quits on high-stakes testing.”               Two teachers, with 41 years of experience between them working in middle and high schools and special ed classes, provide their unique point-of-view regarding standardized assessments.  Their piece is titled “Teachers Need Tests . . . . Just Not THOSE Ones!”   It comes courtesy of the Badass Teachers Association website.               It seems like everyone is writing open letters to Sen. Alexander about his committee’s upcoming work on renewing NCLB.  Not to be left out, Diane Ravitch pens a missive with her suggestions and ideas about what should emerge from those hearings.
Any idea how charter schools save money by cutting the costs of educating their students?  Kathy Mone, a business executive from a charter school in Hoboken, New Jersey, gave a presentation to the National Charter Schools Conference in 2012 outlining specific policies her school follows to keep costs down.  Many of the slides she used are reprinted on the Jersey Jazzman’s blog.  He even updated his piece with a response from Mone to what he’d written plus he includes links to Parts I and II of his series on how charter operate in Hoboken.
Is the Education Writers Association burying its head in the sand with it’s recent decision to exclude independent bloggers from its organization?  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, who previously won an award from the EWA for his writings on the Common Core, explains why he and Mercedes Schneider were no longer permitted to submit their work for consideration of future awards based on the EWA’s requalification of their status as writers.  Cody goes on to describe a new organization, the Education Bloggers Network, that is rapidly gaining membership among independent writers.  “It is unfortunate that the Education Writers Association is walling itself off from truly independent bloggers,” Cody concludes.  One of the most crucial functions of a democracy is the operation of a free and critical press, and robust debate and discussion among journalists themselves is essential.  I hope the EWA Board revisits this policy in the future.  Meanwhile, I hope truly independent education writers will join the Education Bloggers Network.”
Most public school construction in the state of California is achieved through the passage of bonds by voters.  That creates debt (principal + interest) that is then paid off over the life of the bonds.  Gov. Brown has spent most of his previous 4 years in office attempting to pay down the debt accrued by the state as a result of the Great Recession.  He is, understandably, a little  gun shy about adding to the deficit and would rather the state get out of the school construction business .  Columnist George Skelton wrote in yesterday’s L.A. Times that the governor “should bend” on his position on school bonds.  “Critics of Brown’s policy say that some districts would be rich enough to finance construction themselves,” Skelton notes, “but poor districts could never go it alone. Brown says the state could continue to help the impoverished districts.”
Privacy experts have expressed concern over the amount of individual student data generated by all the new computerized curricula and assessments.  Data is still important for analyzing student achievement but the fear is that the information will be misused.  A story from The HECHINGER REPORT offers “3 lessons” on how it can be used to safely and positively provide feedback to students.
Should test scores be the sole factor in comparing students from different countries?  Many measures rely exclusively on assessment results.  A new study from The Horace Mann League and the NATIONAL SUPERINTENDENTS ROUNDTABLE looks at nine  nations (U.S., China, Canada, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan) and compares student outcomes on a number of factors.  Surprise!  Using this methodology the U.S. comes out quite well.  Diane Ravitch features the report on her blog and you can read the full study (58 pages), titled “School Performance in Context: Indicators of School Inputs and Outputs in Nine Similar Nations” by clicking here.
Both the State of California and the LAUSD have made a concerted effort over the past couple of years to reduce the number of student suspensions and expulsions.  According to data from the state Department of Education the project has been extremely successful as rates in both categories have plunged.  The district has, in fact, outperformed the state in reducing the numbers in both areas.  The “Explainer” column in today’s L.A. Times has the figures and the analysis.  “In L.A. Unified,” it explains, “which enrolls about 11% of students in the state, the number of expulsions has remained fairly consistent over several years — and lower when compared with many districts. The dramatic change has been in suspensions. In the 2011-12 school year, L.A. Unified suspended 18,888 students, according to state figures. Over the next two years, the number declined to 11,898 and 8,864, a 53% decline over that span.”
And finally, “Public School: Our Best Weapon Against Terror Attacks on Freedom of Speech?” is the question addressed in a very timely piece from The HECHINGER REPORT.  The author, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, believes effective, well integrated public schools may be the best defense against terror attacks like what took place in Paris earlier this month.  
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the blog. 



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