CIED 694V: Progressive Education Policy – Day One

Eight students joined us for the first night of CIED 694V: Progressive Education Policy. One of us–Chris tonight–is going to try to capture a sense of the class for anyone interested and reading along out there in EduSanity-land. The blog isn’t necessarily the class and vice versa but does provide another opportunity to collaborate on ideas related to education. If you are interested in reading the things we read and participating in any way you can imagine, contact one of us and let us know and we’ll make that happen for you.

The class, like so many great ideas, was born on a bar napkin in the spring of 2013 when Jason and I discussed the idea of constructing a class to help teachers recognize their own voices and power through the readings and discussion possible in such an environment. While having these sorts of conversations in academic setting is important, we decided from day one that in order for anything to help the current educational situation–one many of us can agree is untenable–we wanted the students to move their ideas, readings, and inquiry outside of the academic arena and to engage the community as part of the class. To this effort, a teacher formed a book club with other teachers in her school to discuss a book detailing the privatization of education. Another teacher, this one also a full-time graduate student–put together a public screening of Listen: The Film that featured student filmmaker, Ankur Singh.  The name of the first iteration of the course was Reclaiming the Conversation on Education.

The 2015 class starts at 6 on Wednesday nights and this week’s class began in a typical fashion–we spent the first 15 minutes of class getting a sense of who was in the class and why they specifically elected to enroll. The students in the course represent a broad range of experiences and backgrounds, an attribute we think will be important to how the class develops over the course of the semester. Ranging from a retired history teacher to a student finishing his teaching license and from special education to ESL, the conversations promise to be lively.

Starting out our past iteration of the class focusing on all of the various education reforms currently facing teachers and proponents of public education, we decided to instead spend the first night of class taking stock of what we individually believe about education. A go to text to inspire such a conversation is John Dewey’s “A Pedagogic Creed” from 1897 and that became our official first reading for the course.  I’ve cherry picked a couple of quotations from Dewey that captured at least some of the essence of our reading and discussion.

I believe that these interests are neither to be humored nor repressed. To repress interest is to substitute the adult for the child, and so to weaken intellectual curiosity and alertness, to suppress initiative, and to deaden interest. To humor the interests is to substitute the transient for the permanent. The interest is always the sign of some power below; the important thing is to discover this power. To humor the interest is to fail to penetrate below the surface and its sure result is to substitute caprice and whim for genuine interest (www.dewey. pragmatism.org/creed.htm)

Some larger thematic ideas and questions that came out of the reading: Dewey is timeless and connects to what good teaching is now and will always be but we wondered how many people know Dewey today? What purpose would it serve to erode the foundations of education in the learning and teaching of how to teach? Where do we see John Dewey in schools today? Do alternatively trained teachers read and study Dewey? Progressive educators are not necessarily progressives, politically speaking and finally, education must start with the child and children have power.

Save as the efforts of the educator connect with some activity which the child is carrying on his own initiative independent of the educator, education becomes reduced to a pressure from without. It may, indeed, give certain external results but cannot truly be called educative. (www.dewey. pragmatism.org/creed.htm)

I believe that all reforms which rest simply upon the enactment of law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile.

People used to say, “I’m a progressive educator or that I use progressive methods,” but Dewey said that there’s no such thing as being “progressive,” but rather a progressive educator is one who must be willing to change and through those changes, always make society better and more democratic.

Following our Deweyian beginnings, the next part of class was spent moving towards each person in class–professors included–staking a claim about what they believe in education, or to take another view, what they would not do. To this end, we read the Hippocratic Oath from the medical field which was followed by a spirited discussion. Next up was Gus Morales’ video about his Educratic Oath and his perception that the entire education profession needs to draw a line in the sand about what we will and won’t due. I highly recommended watching the video if you haven’t seen it. Gus’ words and passion engendered a conversation around the idea of “Why don’t we have an oath or ceremony when teachers begin in the profession?”

Writing down these ideas that were swirling in our heads was the next goal. We made a list of the things we believed or the things we would not do and then spent time working on a draft of these ideas. I said my list would probably get me in trouble and it might. For next week’s class, each student will return with a rough draft of their oath, creed, or general thinking.

To close the blog post, what’s your line in the sand OR what do you most firmly believe about education?

 

Course readings for next class:

Karp, S. (2012, spring). Challenging corporate ed reform: And 10 hopeful signs of resistance. Rethinking Schools, p. 34-39.

Tienken, C. H. & Olrich, D. C. (2013). The school reform landscape: Fraud, myth, and lies. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. (Introduction and Chapter One)

“An ethic for teachers of conscience in public education.” 

Recommendations for further reading:

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education.

Published: Teachers Views of the Common Core State Standards and its Implementation

So, what do teachers think about Common Core, its implementation, and the working conditions in which they exist? If you’d like to learn more about a new Educational Review article that Jason and I contributed to, follow this link which will take you to a place you can download the article (first 50 are free, contact me for further access).

Let’s start with the abstract.

Common Core State Standards are embroiled in controversy and politics. The need to continue to study the many facets of educational changes remains critical, especially from the perspective of the teachers experiencing such changes firsthand. Existing surveys of teacher perceptions regarding the Common Core State Standards have focused primarily on teacher awareness, preparedness and opinions regarding the quality of the Common Core State Standards and curricular alignment. This survey study addressed teachers’ views and support towards the Common Core State Standards and its implementation, their anticipated effects, and how its operation has affected their teaching, their anticipated effects, and their thoughts to leave the profession prematurely. Comparisons were made between tea- cher groups based on grade-level taught and years of experience. Overall, teachers had a positive attitude towards the Common Core State Standards and its imple- mentation. Attitudes tended to be more negative as grade-level taught increased and were significantly less favorable for those with thoughts of leaving the profession early; responses varied among teachers with differing lengths of experience.

CCSS PictureHere’s a bit of context. We took up this study in late 2012 as we were hearing several reports of mis-implementation  of CCSS, feedback arriving through email, social media, and through our student interns at the university. Whether or not those things were real outside our little ivory tower bubble was worth examining.

On a sad note, following data collection on the state and national surveys, we lost my dear friend George Denny who, besides being one of the world’s nicest and smartest guys, was a heckuva statistician and a very average racquetball player, a fact that had kept us ‘in court’ most of the then previous five years.

One of George’s students came on board to help with statistical analysis and eventually took on the lead author role for this article. Dr. Ki Matlock is an outstanding person and researcher, just beginning her second year as an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University. Dr. Vicki Collet, Jennifer Jennings-Davis, and Ginney Wright also contributed to this piece and the research project, the first of what we hope will be several articles to come out of the study.

In a nutshell, teachers in Arkansas liked and supported CCSS and CCSS implementation in 2013 when we collected these data. Since that time, I argue the standards have become increasingly political and controversial nationally. Whether those or other forces are factoring in is debatable but the preliminary analysis of our 2015 data collection (same survey, 25 months later) show major changes not for the better.

A closing statement:

If it is true that the working conditions for teachers are the learning conditions of students, paying close attention to the nature of teachers’ perceptions in the midst of broad sweeping educational change is warranted by previous research (Ma and Macmillan 1999).

And here’s a section of the introduction that points to a large part of the CCSS that critics agree is a central problem:

While creating a set of educational standards in this way is not, in and of itself, controversial, the inclusion of the CCSS in Federal legislation vis-à-vis the Race to the Top program predicated at least some of the backlash. Instead of standards existing independently as they were originally intended, they became intertwined with the United States Department of Education and more broadly, with President Barack Obama. Thus, political actors opposing the President or the Democratic Party had ample ammunition to level a charge of coercion against this move. In order for states to compete for billions of dollars set aside in the Federal Race to the Top program, they had to sign on to national standards. The pushback against the CCSS, interestingly enough, is not only a Republican versus Democrat issue, with candidates across the spectrum denouncing [and supporting] the standards and how they were brought forth.

I continue to meet people on all sides of this fence–those who adamantly support and defend CCSS, those who want them gone no matter what, and those who remain undecided. The nature of conducting educational research often means that data are collected, analyzed, and published after the court of public opinion has leveled charges and either sent the defendants packing to prison or set them free. In this case, overall positive reviews of the CCSS in 2013 may mark an important understanding when the history of this particular educational reform is retold.

Is the Illusion of Equity a Civil Right?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently gave an interview in which he stated that the federal government “would have an obligation to step in” if states fail to crack down on the parents like me who make the choice opt their children out of standardized tests. He argued that “folks in the civil rights community” want their kids to be assessed. Some took this comment as offensive, assuming that Mr. Duncan was inferring that white people like me who opt their kids out of standardized testing are racist because standardized testing data is valuable for uncovering educational inequity between white and non-white students.

Not surprisingly, since Mr. Duncan is a politician, his interview was quickly followed by a statement from 12 civil rights groups that voiced their opposition to the opt out movement. This statement, which was signed by organizations of great importance such as the NAACP and the National Urban League, seemed to lend credence to Mr. SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE HEARING ON THE IMPACTS OF SEQUESTRATIONDuncan’s claim that opting out of standardized tests is an act of opposition to the civil rights movement.

I took a while to think about this issue, principally because I know that my privilege affords me the opportunity to opt my children out of standardized tests without much fear of personal consequence. I wrote about that privilege in my personal opt out manifesto, which spanned the first 20 days of PARCC testing in Arkansas. Reason #20 for opting out centered on the fact that we can opt out and therefore we do opt out for all of the children who suffer from the detrimental effects that our national fetish with testing have wrought.

I don’t take offense from Mr. Duncan’s remarks because it is difficult to be offended when the affront originates from a place of well-meaning ignorance. I do believe that Secretary Duncan has just intentions when he argues for standardization of educational outcomes through the Common Core State Standards or accountability through high stakes testing. For those who aren’t trained educators, such as the Secretary of Education, the philosophical ideals of “equal” and “equitable” might appear to be the same.

It also didn’t take long for those experts who know far more about equity to weigh in with powerful critiques of the opt out statement.  I’m more impressed with evidence than rhetoric, which is why I found Wayne Au’s piece in the Washington Post to be particularly convincing. I would suggest that you read these critiques because they do a far better job of demonstrating how standardized testing has been far more damaging than helpful to people of color in the United States. The bottom line is that “equal” and “accountable” sound great in a political speech or interview, but in reality they lead to resegregation and the disproportionate denigration of educational experiences for children who are not white.

That’s primarily why I do take significant issue with the manner in which “folks in the civil rights movement” are used as a political chit to promote educational policies that really are not in their best interest. I was even more disappointed to find out that 7 of the 12 have been well-funded by the Gates foundation – one of the top grease providers to the wheels of CCSS and its attendant testing regime.

We need to think about how children are being used to further a political agenda that is harmful to their educational and overall well-being. Are we using data to turn students into “objects rather than subjects” by focusing on the numbers they generate rather than their actual lived experiences? Should those who use children as political leverage be held accountable for the negative consequences that result?

Besides, the argument that we need standardized testing in order to uncover the “achievement gap” doesn’t hold water.  We know that educational inequity in the form of an “opportunity gap” exists between white and non-white students.  It has been documented in any number of books by authors such as Jonathan Kozol, Paul Gorski, Lisa Delpit, Gloria Ladson-Billings, and many others.  They demonstrate how we should be focusing on the disparities that manifest themselves in the “achievement gap” in test scores that Duncan and others hold up as a cause rather than an effect of childhood poverty.  The “achievement gap” is quite misleading because contrary to popular belief, the test score gap between white and non-white students has been closing over the past forty years, yet the opportunity gap between students of different socio-economic statuses remains stubbornly fixed.  What happens if we succeed in closing that gap?  Are we going to be satisfied with the appearance of equality if the conditions that underlie them are anything but?  Will we wait until we have the facade of equity before we look critically at whether the ends justified the means?

Mr. Duncan has no legal authority to “step in” and compel my children or anybody’s children to take his tests. However, he does have the ability to punish states if they don’t “crack down” on parents like me who practice civil disobedience in order to protest the harmful and arguably racist standardized testing regime in this country.   He’s already done his part to compel states to adopt CCSS and teacher accountability systems based on standardized test scores by using Race To The Top money and No Child Left Behind waivers as a powerful carrot/stick combination.  But the backlash has begun in states around the country as state legislatures have woken up to the reality of what they signed on for back in 2010 when they were desperate for federal money.  Pushing states to crack down on their citizens is a path of political danger.  Frankly, a part of me hopes that is exactly what Mr. Duncan does, though his energies might be better spent worrying less about the appearance of equity and critically appraising his well-meaning but unintentionally harmful policies.

John Oliver Gets It

One of my favorite shows is “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”. In our modern age of corporate media, it is becoming more and more difficult to find real investigative journalism. John Oliver does his homework and pretty much nails it with his latest piece on standardized testing.

A Month of Opting Out of Standardized Tests: DAY 20! The PARCC is over!

This is the LAST of 20 posts I will be writing during the PARCC testing window of March 9 – April 10.  If you’re interested in the growing master list of reasons we opted out of standardized tests in 2015, you can find it here.

Reason 20:  Because We Can

In many ways we are the perfect and not-so-perfect parents to serve as a public symbol of the opt-out movement.

We are perfect because we know exactly why we are opting out and can explain it in 6000+ word manifestos that criticize the standardized testing racket with research-backed and experience-based critiques.  This is due largely to my experience as a middle school teacher in a public school, the Ph.D. I hold in Curriculum and Instruction, and the connections I have with teachers from around the country.  If there’s a story out there, I’ve probably heard it and I can relate it to research while throwing in a personal anecdote from my own experiences to make a point.  As a university professor part of my responsibility is to engage in public outreach, so I view my blogging as part of my job, though the “credit” I receive for it doesn’t quite match the effort I put in.  I am also currently aware of the legal precedents surrounding parents’ rights when it comes to educating their child though I’m hardly a legal expert.

On the other hand we are also not-so-perfect role models because our situation doesn’t really reflect the reality that most parents face when trying to decide whether or not to opt their children out of standardized tests.  I haven’t faced the same threats that other parents have faced when informing their child’s school of their intentions to opt out.  Whether that is because they don’t want to mess with a guy who can make a very public mess out of the situation or because our school district is particularly enlightened isn’t totally clear to me.  Then there’s the fact that I just keep our children home with me when they are opting out.  My job allows me the flexibility to work from lots of places (currently writing this at Panera) and home is one of them.  This makes it much easier to opt out because we don’t have to worry about sending our kids to school and putting the responsibility for opting out on them.  I’m constantly impressed by the stories I see of students who refuse the tests, often enduring the “sit and stare” treatment (i.e. they are required to sit and have nothing to do but stare at the wall during the test they are refusing).  Our children don’t have to face that.

All in all, opting out is relatively easy for us.  We are privileged in that regard and it is important for us to recognize that privilege.  But we also believe that it is important for us to use that privilege to do what is right.  It would be arguably more beneficial for us to have our children take the PARCC.  They would undoubtedly score well, which is reflective of their ability and the relatively privileged situation they live in.  They would almost certainly be among the “desired” students courted by schools of choice because their ability and socioeconomic status fit the profile.  That said, we sacrifice relatively little compared to other parents who wish to opt their children out of standardized tests but have a more difficult time asserting their parental rights.

Every parent should have the right to make the choice that has been relatively easy for us to make.  I’ve consulted with lots of parents and most choose not to opt their kids out of standardized tests though it’s usually because they are afraid of the consequences, not because they believe tests are good for their children.  I suppose that’s one of the aspects of standardized testing in the U.S. that concerns me the most.  There are few things that schools can impose upon parents and those that are imposed are designed for safety or protecting the learning environment.  Take immunizations for instance.  Schools require them because there’s a mountain of research that says they protect children, despite what former Playboy cover models will argue.  Still, you can opt your kids out of immunizations if you really want to with a religious exemption.  Yet, when it comes to standardized tests, states are adamant that there is NO exception for opting out.  This is concerning because unlike immunizations, the mountain of evidence about standardized testing doesn’t point to them being all that great for children.

When parents are compelled to subject their children to tests with a fervor unlike anything else in our schools, then one certainly has to wonder why.  Of course, if you’ve read the 20 days of opt-out posts I’ve laid out over the past month then I’m sure you’re not wondering at all.

 

A Month of Opting Out of Standardized Tests: Day 19

This is the 19th of 20 posts I will be writing during the PARCC testing window of March 9 – April 10.  If you’re interested in the growing master list of reasons we opted out of standardized tests in 2015, you can find it here.

Reason 19:  The Status Quo

One popular refrain you hear from politicians and education reformers is that the “status quo” isn’t good enough.  In fact, I couldn’t agree more.

Education reformers would have you believe that they are bringing fresh ideas of choice, competition and accountability to the classroom, and that these ideas will “disrupt” the status quo.  The only problem is that these ideas have been firmly entrenched in American public education since A Nation at Risk in 1983, and have been ratcheted up in influence with NCLB and Race to the Top.

In other words, the “status quo” over the past 30 years has been firmly in control of the standards-and-accountability crowd, and over the past 15 years it has been headed up by the standardized testing cabal.

So if you’re really interested in breaking away from the status quo, then opting out of standardized tests the ultimate act of individualism in the modern regime of test-prep-test-repeat.

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A Month of Opting Out of Standardized Tests: Day 18

This is the 18th of 20 posts I will be writing during the PARCC testing window of March 9 – April 10.  If you’re interested in the growing master list of reasons we opted out of standardized tests in 2015, you can find it here.

Reason 18: Federal Overreach

Honestly, this has always been one of my reasons for opposing standardized tests, and is one of the points of agreement with some of my more conservative colleagues.  I believe that initiatives like Race to the Top and the manner in which the Obama administration coerced states into adopting the Common Core State Standards are prime examples of the federal government exerting quasi-unconstitutional authority over states’ rights to educate their children as the people of that state see fit.

When you opt your children out of standardized tests, you’ll often receive push back from schools or districts in the form of “this is a state mandated test therefore your child must take it”.  The problem with this claim is that the test is really only “state mandated” because it is also federally mandated under NCLB.  In the days before NCLB the attention paid to students who did not take standardized tests paled in comparison to the scrutiny of today.

That’s because the pressure that we receive as parents for opting out of standardized tests comes directly from the White House.  Well, maybe not directly, but it might as well.  Schools are under pressure from their district offices to test every child, districts are under pressure from the state to test every child and states are under pressure from the federal government to test every child because NCLB mandates that at least 95% of children from each school are tested.

If states fail to meet expectations for NCLB then they have to go hat-in-hand to the Department of Education, specifically Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who is a cabinet member in the office of the President.  So, I think you can see why I feel like the pressure I receive when opting out of standardized tests comes from the White House.

The President needs this leverage in order to convince states to adopt teacher evaluation systems based partially on standardized test scores and to create new regulations for teacher education programs that, you guessed it, uses student test scores as a measure of success.  All of this despite the fact that research has found that student test scores are not in any way related to other measures of good teaching.

But we can’t really expect the federal government and a Secretary of Education that isn’t actually an educator to really understand something as complicated as “good teaching”.  Which is exactly why they should leave this determination to the people who know what they are talking about.

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A Month of Opting Out of Standardized Tests: Day 17

This is the 17th of 20 posts I will be writing during the PARCC testing window of March 9 – April 10.  If you’re interested in the growing master list of reasons we opted out of standardized tests in 2015, you can find it here.

Last week I ranked the ulterior motives of those who manipulate the American public with standardized test scores from “worst” to “less bad”.  I then wrote about those who seek to profit either monetarily or politically from the false crisis of American public education made possible by the manipulation of test score data.  Today I focus on…

Reason 17: Competitive Disadvantage

The most recent generation of education reform is full of those who believe that imposing certain philosophical beliefs on public education is the key to “saving” our schools.  Primarily, we see attempts to impose “competition” or “free market ideals” with standardized test scores serving as the “accountability” needed to maintain competitive balance.

I can see why people who know almost nothing about educating children would think that the same free market ideals that helped make the United States a world economic power would also help schools.  For some schools it has helped, though often to the detriment of other schools and students.

For instance, ever since the New Orleans public school system was converted into a system of charter schools after Hurricane Katrina, we have seen these schools become more segregated.  In fact, a report by the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota Law School found that:

“The increasingly charterized public school system has seriously undermined equality of opportunity among public school students, sorting white students and a small minority of students of color into better performing OPSB and BESE schools, while confining the majority of low-income students of color to the lower-performing RSN sector.”

I think that in order to really understand why competition between schools is destined to fail from my perspective, you have to understand the similarities and differences between schools and businesses.  In the business world some businesses will succeed and others will fail.  This will happen for a number of reasons, whether because one business is more effective at another at marketing, has better management, produces a better product… etc.  In education, some will succeed and some will “fail”, though the difference between success and failure  is influenced significantly by the socioeconomic status of the students who attend their schools.

Schools that compete for students (charter schools) know this and so they go through great pains in order to make sure that they have the “best students” attending their school.  For example, consider the charter school “dirty dozen” – a series of underhanded tactics that many charter schools use to make sure that the students who will struggle to produce higher standardized test scores find their way to other schools.

In the school competition game, the most important factor involved in being successful is the “raw materials” – or in the world in which people matter – “students” who will produce the scores that can be held up to prove how great these schools really are.

Those who clamor for more competition in schools will tell us that those schools with better educational programs will win out in the end by attracting more of these students.  But anybody with any business sense knows that improving the product is really only one way to be successful in business.  Not surprisingly, research has shown  that charter schools have figured this out.  Instead of focusing resources and efforts primarily on im81tWqWEhYKL._SL1500_proving the educational product, schools in the most competitive districts instead put their time and money towards improving marketing, market research, differentiating themselves from other schools, and honing their selection (exclusion) process to make sure they get the best “raw materials” students.

Despite all the dogmatic rhetoric you hear about competition in schools, the bottom line is that the best way to improve the achievement at ANY school in the country is to find a way to get the “right” students to attend that school.  You certainly wouldn’t expect a business to focus all of their time and resources on improving their product when they can achieve much better results from running a few commercials and making sure they have the right clientele.  Why would we expect a school faced with competition from other schools to not make the same rational choice?

The reason I’m dogmatically opposed to competition in schools is because I know that not everybody is a winner in this scenario.   Supporters of competition will tell you that bad schools should fail just like bad businesses.  But it’s pretty clear that competitive schools see the quality of their students as the primary factor behind that success or failure, which means they are flirting with something very dangerous.  What happens to the students that nobody wants?  In this scenario, discrimination is not just rational, it’s good business sense, and it is happening.  The students who are “not right” for these schools have to go to school somewhere.  I think you can see the quandary here.   Diane Ravitch explained in her book The Death and Life of the American School System  that the system of Charter Schools in New York City eventually shunted these “unwanted” students into large left-over high schools that became pipelines to failure.

That’s because competition means winners and losers, and the most tragic result of this competition is that children have become the currency in which these “competitive” schools trade.  On the surface, the most “valuable” students are those who are capable of producing the high test scores by which schools are judged.  Below that surface however, are differences in the students, such as class, poverty, and family structure, that influence those test scorcompetitorses.  When a student’s value is determined by their ability to produce high test scores and that ability is impacted greatly by factors beyond their control, then academic discrimination between schools of “choice”, like social discrimination in general, is destined to become pervasive and systemic.  Sadly, discriminating against certain students is not just rational, but a competitive advantage.

At the root of all this is the undue emphasis we have placed on standardized tests, which has empowered this system of competitive jockeying.  That’s reason enough for us to opt our children out of it.

A Month of Opting Out of Standardized Tests: Day 16

This is the 16th of 20 posts I will be writing during the PARCC testing window of March 9 – April 10.  If you’re interested in the growing master list of reasons we opted out of standardized tests in 2015, you can find it here.

Last week I ranked the ulterior motives of those who manipulate the American public with standardized test scores from “worst” to “less bad”.  I then wrote about the worst offenders, those who seek to profit from the false crisis of American public education made possible by the manipulation of test score data.  Today I focus on…

Reason 16:  Political Profiteering

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was a perfect example of political profiteering off public education.  It combines a perfect title (who wants to leave children behind?) with an impossible task (all children proficient by 2014 regardless of circumstance) and a clear target when the impossible is not achieved (public schools and teachers).

Public schools have been the target of politicians since the launching of Sputnik in 1958.  The Russians beat us to space with a satellite that did nothing of significance beyond beeping and scaring the crap out of the American public.  The logical conclusion was that American schools must not be training our future scientists and engineers right.  That message hasn’t changed much and is still perpetuated today with a fake “STEM crisis” created by those who seek to profit from the overproduction of STEM graduates.

In 1983, the politicians benefitted further when A Nation at Risk was published and our public schools were again blamed for America’s inability to produce cars or televisions as well as the Germans or Japanese.  Our country was once again in crisis as America’s public teachers endangered our future economic success. Ronald Reagan held up a copy of A Nation at Risk in front of the press corps and raised the alarm.  In the decades since it’s publication A Nation at Risk has since been thoroughly debunked by real education scholars, but nobody has paid as much attention as the day when The Gipper lambasted public education’s “low standards, lack of purpose, ineffective use of resources, and a failure to challenge students to push performance to the limits of individual ability”.

Today we hear the echoes of these cries from those who ridiculously claim that public education is endangering our national security.  President Obama has doubled down on the imminent failure of NCLB by putting $5 billion into the flop known as Race to the Top (RTTT). Regardless of how badly Secretary of Arne Duncan failed with his expenditure of American taxpayer funds, the media and public still get in a tizzy when he makes claims of educational stagnation and complacency despite never actually being an educator.

One of the safest bets a politician can make is to stand up in front of a crowd and promise to do something about America’s failing schools.  What’s remarkable is that this bet is so safe despite the fallacy it’s central claim is based on.  Regardless, America’s public school teachers have long been an easy target of politicians who don’t understand what we do or how we do it, but control the purse strings and the narrative anyway.

It’s important to point out that the only people who are around to deal with the aftermath of failures like No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top are the public schools and public school educators.  NCLB was conveniently designed to reach 100% proficiency in 2014, a full 6 years after President Bush would be out of office.  Ostensibly that would have left the mess for the next President to clean up.  However, instead of admitting failed policy, President Obama did what politicians do best, used the states’ inevitable failure to meet NCLB thresholds as leverage to force them into adopting the CCSS and compMTI4OTk3NzIyMTkwNjgxMzYyete for RTTT funds.  Obama’s reign over public education will end next year and I cringe to see what the next President comes up with.  We’ve replaced bad with worse, and somehow the schools are still on the short end of the blame-stick.  Frank Underwood would be proud.

 

A Month of Opting Out of Standardized Tests: Day 15

This is the 15th of 20 posts I will be writing during the PARCC testing window of March 9 – April 10.  If you’re interested in the growing master list of reasons we opted out of standardized tests in 2015, you can find it here.

Yesterday I wrote about how testing companies are generating billions of dollars in revenues off the backs of test-taking children and American taxpayers.  That leads me to the next logical topic when a lot of money is involved – corruption.

Reason #15:  Corrupting Public Education

In 1976 Social Psychologist Donald Campbell wrote a paper that introduced the world to Campbell’s Law.

“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Campbell’s law is pretty simple.  The more we rely on one social indicator to make our decisions regarding policy, the more that one social indicator is apt to corruption_347102_7be distorted and corrupted.   In the case of standardized tests, that social indicator is the “test score” and the social process is “education”.  And now that we’ve placed a ridiculous level of emphasis on this social indicator, it is no surprise that we also see a number of different issues with corruption.

Take for example the scandals that happened in, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and the one that should have happened in Washington D.C. but didn’t because Michelle Rhee has some kind of kung fu mojo with a lot of money behind her.   In some of these cases, the cheating was committed by teachers or administrators hoping to save their jobs or get past the testing regime so that they could focus on what is actually good for students.

As an educator I can’t condone cheating of this nature, but I understand how it can be rationalized.  If teachers view standardized tests as an unreliable measure of their effectiveness (they are) and view the hoopla surrounding standardized tests as bad for children (it is), then cheating in order to protect one’s livelihood from wrongful termination or cheating so that one can actually provide students with what they really need almost makes sense.  Of course, I’m sure many of these teachers are just dishonest.  In the case of Washington D.C., Michelle Rhee offered bonuses to teachers if their students scored higher on tests.  There’s no better motive for corruption than the almighty dollar.

This leads us to another form of corruption in public education – the corruption that inevitably occurs when “public” is taken “private”.  The best example (because it really is only the first to clearly emerge but there will certainly be more) is the privatization of charter schools.  My friend and colleague Chris Goering has written about charter schools on EduSanity before.  The original intent of the charter school has been perverted since it’s inception to fit the agenda of education reformers.  Once laboratories of experimentation, many charter schools are now factories for test scores, and in this sense test scores are very much like profits earned by a business.  They are the only thing that matters.

And a seriously disturbing number of charter schools have had problems with corruption.  A Google search for “charter school corruption” returns 3,790 results.    Many of these charter schools are part of privately owned networks.  These companies open charter schools, receive taxpayer monies to educate students, and in some cases they steal that money.  Take for example Illinois where a recent report found that:

To date, $13.1 million in fraud by charter school officials has been uncovered in Illinois. Because of the lack of transparency and necessary oversight, total fraud is estimated at $27.7 million in 2014 alone.

It’s not just Illinois.  There are other examples in Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Louisiana… and you get the point.  Even the FBI has gotten involved with raids on a charter network to look for evidence of corruption.  Heck, there’s even a blog dedicated to just compiling these scandals in one place! How is this all possible?  Test scores.  Charters continue to expand because politicians and the American public generally believe that they are better than public schools at raising student achievement – even though they’re not.  And private charter schools are all the rage because we love deregulation and the free market!  Well guess what comes riding in on the coattails of deregulation and privatization?  Corruption.  You asked for it.  You got it.