DEM, LEM, and TEM: The New Language of Accountability & Standards

Okay. Here is a multiple choice question for you to consider:

DEM, LEM, and TEM are:
a. Nicknames for the latest X-Box game superheroes
b. Abbreviations for newly discovered planets outside the solar system
c. Names of three new political parties in the State of Georgia
d. Acroynms for Georgia’s system wide approach to effectiveness and accountability

Well. How did you do? The answer is “d,” and you can find these terms in charts and discussions in the State of Georgia’s first proposal for The Race to the Top competition. A DEM is the acroynm for District Effectiveness Measure; LEM is the ancroynm for Leader Effectiveness Measure; and TEM—you guessed it, is the acroynm for Teacher Effectivess Measure. All of these measures will have a significant student growth component, and of course the state will develop a “establish a clear and transparent approach to measuring student growth.” Now, if you believe this, I’ll sell you a bridge!

Here is another question which is related to the discussion above:

Which of the following describes the meaning of a VAM?
a. Value-added-media
b. Value-added-mutation
c. Value-added-model
d. Value-added-modulation

The correct answer here is “c,” value-added-model. VAM is a statistical way of calculating value-added scores at the teacher level. The Georgia Race to the Top proposal puts it this way: VAMs are “a collection of complex statistical techniques that use multiple years of students’ test score data to estimate the effects of individual schools or teachers on student learning.”

The research to support the use of VAMs is non-substantial, yet educators at the state level in Georgia (and all of the States that submitted proposals to Race to the Top) are going to use test scores derived from high-stakes testing at the end of year, along with data from students’ previous tests, to estimate how much value an individual teacher added to an individual student’s learning. It can not be done, yet it appears as if it will happen.

Why? For the past twenty years, education has been driven by private corporations, advocacy groups and institutes, and private funding agencies to create an agenda of school choice, charter schools, for profit schools, funding of advocacy groups, performance-based teacher pay programs, competition, deregulation, “tight” management, and “investments” in education. This agenda has also included the development of a set of Core Common Standards in math and English/language arts. Forty-eight states have bought into this movement, and in order to be considered for Race to the Top Funding, a state must agree to adopt them. There is a very small group of people behind all of this. For example, the Gates Foundation provided free consulting services to 15 states (including Georgia) in the re-write of their phase II proposal for Race to the Top funds. As I pointed out in the last post, a few very large groups are providing the funding for this movement, and will also be in line to “help” with the development of a battery of national tests.

The research to support any of these proposals is shoddy, at best. In fact, one resource that I recommend you explore is the Board of Testing and Assessment (BOTA) of The National Academies. BOTA was so concerned about how tests and assessments were going to be used in the Race to the Top proposals that they wrote a detailed letter to the U.S. Department of Education Race to the Top Fund. The letter (which you can read online) cautions the use of VAM and NAEP tests as reported here in the abstract:

This report examines the Race to the Top initiative–a $4.35 billion grant program included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to encourage state-level education reforms. The report strongly supports rigorous evaluations of programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative. The initiative should support research based on data that links student test scores with their teachers, but should not prematurely promote the use of value-added approaches, which evaluate teachers based on gains in their students’ performance, to reward or punish teachers. The report also cautions against using the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal assessment that helps measure overall U.S. progress in education, to evaluate programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative.

Departments of Education at the State and National levels have become enamored with the large scale efforts of organizations such as the National Governors Council and the Council of Chief State Officers-, and the financial apparatus to support these, and other advocacy groups to control educational reform, and steer us down a path that will not help the students that desperately need the help.

The Real Meaning of Standards: Rigor, Shock, Stacking Up, Raising the Bar!

There was an article in today’s Atlanta Journal/Constitution newspaper by Maureen Downey, a columnist who writes on education issues entitled “Georgia’s Core Values.”  The article had nothing to say about “core values”, but had a lot to say about the new national math and English/language arts “core” standards.

Surprisingly Downey writes without any criticism or questioning of the standards movement; she simply describes what the State of Georgia has decided to do (adopt the new standards in math and language), tells us that finally parents in Georgia will be able to find out how their school “stacks up” with schools in New York or California, that finally, because of the core national standards, there will be a battery of national tests that we can rely on to to really compare schools, that states that embrace the new standards are in a better position to garner some of the Race to the Top Funds, and that indeed, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank thinks the whole shebang of standards is a great idea!

Downey’s article is in stark contrast to my post yesterday in which I call into question the way in which standards are being developed, and by whom.  Here, in part, is one issue to consider:

As you explore the nature of the standards movement as it is happening in the United States, it appears as if non-profits, and professional organizations are at the heart of the development of these standards.  The Federal government’s role in all of this is rather interesting.  Rather than funding universities, which must be accountable, the organizations that are developing the standards receive funding from non-governmental businesses, organizations, and private philanthropic groups.  The groups doing the development, and the funding sources are accountable in this process to no one.

If Downey were to follow the money, she would discover that there is actually a core group of foundations and businesses that are providing the money for institutes (like the Thomas B. Fordham Institute) and non-profits (like Achieve, Inc.—a group largely responsible for writing the new standards.  If you go to any of these organizations, and click on the link that lists the organization’s financial contributors, you will probably not be surprised to learn that many of same contributors form the financial foundation for the entire standards movement.

For example, the Fordham Institute is funded by these groups:  The Achelis and Bodman Foundations, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, The Broad Foundation, The Brookhill Foundation, The Louis Calder Foundation, The Challenge Foundation, Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, The Joyce Foundation, The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, The Koret Foundation, The Kovner Foundation, Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, The Robertson Foundation, Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, Searle Freedom Trust, The William E. Simon Foundation, The Spencer Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation.

Achieve, Inc., is funded by these groups:  The Battelle Foundation • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation • The Boeing Company • Brookhill Foundation • Carnegie Corp. of New York • The GE Foundation • IBM Corp. • Intel Foundation • JP Morgan Chase Foundation • Lumina • Nationwide • Noyce Foundation • The Prudential Foundation • State Farm Insurance Companies • Washington Mutual Foundation • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Note the overlap.

Diane Ravitch (in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System) refers to some of these organizations as the Billionaire Boys’ Club (she especially recognizes the Walton Family Foundation, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Eli and Edy the Broad Foundation, each founded by billionaire men).  Since the late 1980s (Sam Walton created his foundation in 1987), these three organizations have been behind a host of reform initiatives including school choice, charter schools, for profit schools, funding of advocacy groups (such as Achieve), performance-based teacher pay programs (Gates is investing millions), competition, deregulation, “tight” management, and “investments” in education.  As Ravitch points out, there is very little challenge to the ideas promoted by these men and their foundations.

Downey’s article, and much of the literature on standards is punctuated with language that is based on metaphors implicit in competition and sports.  For example, Downey says: “now comes the hard part, getting students up to speed on the greater rigor embedded in the standards so they can pass the national tests…”  Webster defines rigor as meaning “harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgement; the quality of being unyielding or inflexible; and act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty.  Closely connected with that fact that the new standards will be more rigorous than those in the past, is the notion that the new standards are “raising the bar” that students will have to achieve through the new national tests.  Downey puts it this way:  “It’s not a sure bet that the Core Standards will improve American academic performance because the hard part is ensuring that the curriculum, teachers and tests embrace the raised bar.”

We are on roll right now with respect to the adoption of The Common Core Standards.  Everyone is being asked to “get involved and become a Common Core supporter.”  Nearly all of the states are on board (only Texas and Alaska are holdouts).  The research that is being done on the standards is being conducted by the advocacy groups that have a huge stake in the development and implementation of the Common Standards.  For example, both the Fordham Institute and Achieve have written reports (that rate the Core Standards A+) that state boards of education use to argue the case to adopt the standards.

And here is an amazing aspect of all of this.  None of these groups are accountable to anyone (other than their own board of directors).  Yet, these advocacy groups insist that schools, administrators and teachers should be held accountable.  And indeed, many of these groups is advocating that teacher pay be based on the achievement of students on the tests that these advocacy groups develop.  It is truly amazing.

And finally, when you examine these organizations, or the teams that write the frameworks and standards, you rarely find the name of a teacher as a member.

We have a serious problem here, and to use the language of sports, we need to step up!

New Generation of Standards: What’s Going On Here?

Last week the Massachusetts Board of Education approved the adoption of the Common Core Standards in Language and Mathematics, replacing their own standards which had been in place for nearly two decades, and viewed in high regard in the educational world.  Massachusetts’ politicians, educators and professional standard’s managers had spent nearly a year debating whether to adopt the new core standards or not.  They did, and it will no doubt help Massachusetts in its run to capture some of the $4.5 billion of Race to the Top Funds.  So far 29 States and the District of Columbia have overturned their own state standards with the Core Standards which were developed by Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center).

To argue the case in support of the Core Standards, the Board of Education recruited three non-profit organizations, all of which provided positive support for the new Core Standards.  One of the non-profits was Achieve, Inc., a Washington, D.C. based education organization that is deeply entrenched in the development of standards and graduation requirements around the country.  They provide consulting services to State Department’s of Education, and indeed, they were instrumental in writing the Core Standards.  (For science educators, know this: Achieve will write the new generation of science standards that will based on NRC’s Framework for Science).

As you explore the nature of the standards movement as it is happening in the United States, it appears as if non-profits, and professional organizations are at the heart of the development of these standards.  The Federal government’s role in all of this is rather interesting.  Rather than funding universities, which must be accountable, the organizations that are developing the standards receive funding from non-governmental businesses, organizations, and private philanthropic groups.  The groups doing the development, and the funding sources are accountable in this process to no one.

In the Massachusetts case, we get a glimpse into the motivation of a state to adopt the new core standards.  What could the motivation be?  The improvement of the education of students?  The involvement of teachers in improving the nature of classroom teaching practice?  Neither of these.  The motivation is control, and money.  The U.S. Department of Education has a policy that no state can apply for Race to Top Funds unless it adopts core standards, and that the state has no policy against tying teacher performance to student achievement test scores.  This is a powerful strong armed tactic that has 48 or the 50 states adopting these policies.  This kind of central control is leading to a national curriculum engineered by non-profits and private organizations.  And as we know, the U.S. Department of Education insists that if a state wants to apply for Race to the Top Funds, they must abide by these policies.  Indeed, Massachusetts is a governing member of one of the two main consortia applying for federal funding through the Race to the Top competition to design common assessments aligned to the common-core standards.

At the Achieve website, when you click on the “contributor” link, one finds out that the source of funds for this non-profit organization include the following:  The Battelle Foundation • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation • The Boeing Company • Brookhill Foundation • Carnegie Corp. of New York • The GE Foundation • IBM Corp. • Intel Foundation • JP Morgan Chase Foundation • Lumina • Nationwide • Noyce Foundation • The Prudential Foundation • State Farm Insurance Companies • Washington Mutual Foundation • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

I find it perplexing that none of the organizations that are developing and underwriting the standards movement are not accountable to anyone, yet these same organizations, the U.S. Department of Education and state Boards of Education around the country require schools, administrators and teachers to be accountable for the standards these organization develop, and the assessment instruments that the same organizations create.  Indeed, a number of states have already decided that a teacher’s salary will be based on achievement of their students.  There is no bailout for the teachers; indeed, in Washington, D.C., several hundred teachers were fired for “poor performance.”  Heads of corporations that lost billions of dollars over the past few years have been rewarded with billions in bailout money, and many have received golden handshakes, even when their performance was a disaster.

We have a problem here.

Time to Review Online: National Research Council Framework for Science Education

In a post that I wrote in February, I announced that the National Research Council had received funding from the Carnegie Foundation to develop a “conceptual framework for a new generation of science standards.”  The conceptual framework has been completed in a public draft that is now ready for review.  There is an online questionnaire that you can complete to provide the NRC with your feedback. A very good review by Eric Brunsell is posted on his blog, and he provides details on the process expected for development of the next generation science standards.

In February I wrote that much of the rationale for this new NRC project can be found in the 2006 report (follow the link to read the report online) by the NRC entitled “Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8.” One of the goals of the “new standards” committee is to develop a rationale that will focus on a few “core concepts” in each of the major science disciplines, as well as those ideas that cut across disciplines.

In the Carnegie Corporation announcement of the NRC project, the focus of the new framework is as follows:

Given the proliferation of knowledge in the sciences, particularly knowledge that blurs the lines between traditional science disciplines (e.g., chemistry or biology), the identification of core ideas has greater importance for organizing curriculum, teaching and learning. The core ideas in science around which the education framework may be developed include physical sciences, life sciences, earth sciences and applied sciences, as well as cross-cutting ideas such as mathematization*, causal reasoning, evaluating and using evidence, argumentation, and model development. The framework will look at student learning in at least 4th, 8th, and 12th grade.

The present National Science Education Standards (NSES) were published in 1996 by the National Research Council and were designed to “guide our nation toward a scientifically literate society.”  Many would question that after 15 years of “standards-based” science teaching, whether the goal of scientifically literate society has been reached.

I was particularly interested in research related to the standards, as well criticism and comment on the influence and impact of the NSES.  Unfortunately there is not a large body of research to help one answer questions about the standards influence.  There are several pieces of literature that standout in the science education research field that might help us shed light on the 1996 NSES.

In a 1998 issue of the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, professor Alberto J. Rodriquez published a critical review essay in which he argues that the NRC’s 1996 Science Standards uses a discourse of invisibility to lay out its massive reform for science education.  He claims that the standards do not directly address the ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, and theoretical issues that influence learning in contemporary American schools.  Rodriques goes further to suggest that equity must be a guiding principle in science education, and the standards should reflect this same principle.  Rodriques has written other critiques, and you can find one of his articles Maxwell Hines 2003 book, Multicultural Science Education.  In reviewing the documents for new generation of standards, Professor Rodriques was part of a panel on equity and diversity in the new standards at the 3rd NRC Framework Committee meeting.

Angelo Collins has published research that asserts that the NSES were developed within a political context, and as such the document should be viewed as a political document.  Collins, who was one of the authors of the 1996 NSES, reviews the process that resulted in the NSES, and provides a rationale showing that the NSES is a political document: political in context, political in process, and political in intent.

There are other research studies on the standards, such as by Krajcik on how the curriculum materials can be aligned with the NSES, by Anderson and Helms on needed research on the standards, by Donnelly and Sadler on how high school science teachers view the standards.  You will find links to these below.

Perhaps the most valuable research by Hollweg and Hill (2003) entitled What is the Influence of the National Science Education Standards?: Reviewing the Evidence, A Workshop Summary.  The workshop, the results of which were published as this book, explored the influence of the NSES on curriculum, professional development, assessment and accountability, and on student achievement.  Five research papers were presented at this workshop, each written on the topics mentioned here.  Although the researchers could point to relationships that exist between the standards, and say curriculum, there were more questions raised, especially when the relationship between the standards and student achievement is considered.  In his research paper, Anderson reviewed the research on student achievement and science standards.  His comments, quoted here, are important when we consider the fact that a new generation of standards are being developed, and all but two states are now convinced that it is possible to determine the effect of teacher performance on student learning (achievement).  Here is what he says:

Is our focus on standards a distraction from the issues that really matter? If our goal is to improve student learning, should we devote our attention and resources to developing and implementing standards, or would our students benefit more from other emphases?
In summary, the meager evidence in the studies reviewed does not indicate that investment in standards-based practices affects the achievement gap between middle class European Americans and other students. Nationally, the achievement gap between Hispanic and European American students seems to be shrinking, but the data are not strong enough to support the claim that this is due to standards-influenced teaching. It is equally likely to be due to other causes, such as the successful assimilation of Hispanic immigrants into the American economy and culture (Ogbu, 1982). The achievement gap between European Americans and African Americans is largely unchanged.
So when all is said and done, what can we conclude about the questions at the beginning of this chapter? Mostly, we can conclude that the evidence is inconclusive. The evidence that is available generally shows that investment in standards-based practices or the presence of teaching practices has a modest positive impact on student learning, but little or no effect on the “achievement gap” between European American and Hispanic or African American students.

The Framework for a New Generation of Science Standards is being developed by the National Research Council and consists of a Committee of 18 experts (all professors except for a NASA specialist, a consultant from a Utah consortium, and science coordinator from a state department of education; there are no science teachers represented).  In addition to the Committee, there are 4 design teams comprised of 19 persons, all of whom are either professors, academic researchers, curriculum specialists, except for one science educator from a school district.  Again, no science teachers are involved in the details of the content areas that are drafting the core ideas for life science, earth and space science, physical science, and engineering and technology.

For nearly 20 years, standards-based education has been the dominant paradigm in American education (and in many countries around the world).  The development of national standards led to the development of state-wide standards in nearly all the States.  With the passing of the NCLB Act in 2003, high-stakes testing of American students was used to evaluate the “effectiveness” of each school.  Now, all but two states will implement a plan in which part or all of a teacher’s performance will tied directly to student achievement on tests that are based on standards.

Will the effort to develop a new set of science standards undermine science education, or will this reform effort integrate the criticisms of the 1996 NSES? Is the Carnegie funding part of an effort to coordinate with the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers Common Standards movement to create a singular set of standards for America’s 15,000 school district? Are teachers being moved to the sidelines in being involved in making the key and significant decisions about curriculum, learning and assessment? More on these questions to follow. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?

Rodriguez, A. (1997). The dangerous discourse of invisibility: A critique of the National Research Council’s national science education standards Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 34 (1), 19-37 DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1098-2736(199701)34:13.0.CO;2-R
Collins, A. (1998). National Science Education Standards: A political document Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 35 (7), 711-727 DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1098-2736(199809)35:73.0.CO;2-O
Krajcik, J., McNeill, K., & Reiser, B. (2008). Learning-goals-driven design model: Developing curriculum materials that align with national standards and incorporate project-based pedagogy Science Education, 92 (1), 1-32 DOI: 10.1002/sce.20240

Top Blogs in Science Teaching

The Art of Teaching Science has been identified as one of 15 top science teaching blogs by Maria Magher’s blog.  We are very thrilled to be one of the weblogs on Maria’s list.  There you will find a collection of science teaching blogs that you might find relevant to your work.  I’ve visited all of the sites, and I think you will discover a host of interesting ideas.

One of the sites that I visited is entitled Mr. Science Show, “where science meets pop culture” which was nominated as a finalist in the Big Blog Theory competition to recognize the outstanding Australian science blogger.  Visiting the Big Blog Theory site led me to discover ten outstanding science education blogs.  I’ve listed several of them here, and recommend you visit each of these sites.