NCLB + RTTT = MOTS (More of the Same)

The equation above can also be expressed as follows:

The No Child Left Behind Act + the Race to the Top Fund = More of the Same

NCLB & Race to the Top

In an newsletter there was a No Child Left Behind Alert that I found interesting, and provided the starting point for this post.  The forum discussion (a question is posed, and you can submit a response joining you to the discussion) for the day was:  What’s the most important thing President Obama could do improve standardized testing?  Many assumptions form the basis for this question, but my immediate response is that the President should suspend any further use of standardized tests until there is evidence that high-stakes testing provides a real measure of student learning and school accountability.  Of course, the suspension of high-stakes testing did not happen.

I read many of the replies to the question, and there were thoughtful comments about the misuse of testing, and the call for alternatives.  One responder did agree with me, and recommended that the President put an end of these high stakes testing.

You might ask, isn’t this a little far fetched?  Schooling as we know would collapse.  How would we know if students really did learn the fundamental concepts of science or mathematics, or any other subject in the curriculum?  Most teachers know the answer to this question.  But I won’t deal with that here.

What did happen was that the Department of Education earmarked nearly $4 billion dollars for a program, The Race to the Top Fund.  Eleven States and the District of Columbia were funded after submitting competitive proposals in rounds 1 and 2 last year.  The funds will be used to:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

So, in this initiative a little more than a 1/5 of the United States will be involved in the Race to the Top.  Unfortunately, the RTTT goals are not terribly different from NCLB,and that means “more of the same.”

Two Federal Mandates

You might ask, wasn’t there evidence from research to make policy decisions such as the wide-spread use of high stakes testing, the implementation of charter schools, the use of vouchers, and other key educational decisions.  Did the NCLB Act and RTTT Fund go forward with clear evidence that their initiatives would be effective.

According to an article by Eric Schaps, (Missing in Action: The Non-Role of Research in Policy and Practice) published in Education Week Research Center, research has not been used to make important policy decisions. In each of these cases, policy makers did not use research to support their decisions.

For example, most schools use high-stakes, test-based accountability systems.  According to Schaps, high stakes testing began in Texas and Kentucky and “morphed into” the No Child Left Behind Act after George Bush became President.  NCLB now dominates the educational landscape of every state, yet, it was largely a politically driven (supported by both sides of the isle, however) policy decision without evidence on which to base this crucial decision which now is the law of the land.  NCLB is up for reauthorization in the Congress.  Most likely it will be reauthorized with some tweaks put forth by the new Congress.  And this is unfortunate.  What is needed a paradigm shift.

In the case of the Race to the Top, the  Board on Testing and Assessment (BOTA) of the National Research Council, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in which it was stated:

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. (Emphasis mine)

The letter did not effect the RTTP program, and indeed, the criteria used to evaluate state proposals made it clear that student test scores should be used as a means to evaluate teachers and schools.

The Race to the Top Fund reinforces the NCLB Act, which also insists on high-stakes tests.  It is true, that the Department of Education is issuing “waivers” to states to modify the rules of NCLB.  But there is little change to the unfortunate continuation of the NCLB Act.

Paradigms For  Change?

Will we see a change in educational reform?  Will the momentum of the high-stakes, common core standards dominate education for the foreseeable future?  Could a paradigm shift emerge from the discontent that is beginning to make itself known?

The kind of change that many argue is needed is one that is grounded in local initiatives, and educational research.  This would result in the experimentation of many approaches to school improvement, especially if relationships between universities and schools are encouraged, and the means for future sustainability achieved.   Oddly, in our democratic society, just the opposite is happening in the sense that there is this drive for a single set of standards in each subject area, and for national assessments of student achievement.

Could a paradigm shift happen?

It is possible, but leaders would have to emerge to lead the way with examples that work in practice.

One example in science teaching is to move from a teacher centered approach to teaching to a student-centered approach.  This paradigm has been with us for many years, first put forth by John Dewey, and later supported by the Progressive Education Movement.   Glen Aikenhead describes this paradigm when he calls for a science education that is evidence-based, and is a science education for everyday life.  In his book, Science Education for Everyday Life, Aikenhead gives a clear overview of the humanistic science paradigm that differs from the paradigm that characterizes school science today.

The humanistic science paradigm gives priority to student-oriented point of view aimed at citizens who can employ science and technology in their everyday lives.  What is powerful about Aikenhead’s proposal is that it is evidence-based.  That is, the various components of this paradigm, the nature of the curriculum, the content of science, teacher pedagogy are based on research studies conducted by researchers around the world.  This clear connection of research to policy change has been missing, not only at the state level, but especially at the federal level, and in particular the NCLB Act and the RTTP Fund.

What are your thoughts on trying to instill new thinking, a paradigm shift in science teaching?

On the Practice of Science Inquiry

Science As Inquiry, a construct developed in a recent publication, weaves together ideas about science teaching and inquiry that were developed over many years of work with practicing science teachers in the context of seminars conducted around the U.S.A, in school district staff development seminars, and courses that I taught at Georgia State University.

A Webly Map of Science as Inquiry

Science As Inquiry provides the practical tools, based on theory and research, that science teachers use in their classrooms to involve their students in inquiry learning, including hands-on investigations, project-based activities, Internet- based learning experiences, and science activities in which students are guided to construct meaning and develop ideas about science and how it relates to them and their community.

Humanistic Quest

Inquiry science teaching by its very nature is a humanistic quest. It puts at the center of learning not only the students, but also how science relates to their lived experiences, and issues and concepts that connect to their lives. Doing science in the classroom that is inquiry- based relies on teachers and administrators who are willing to confront the current trend that advocates a standards-based and high stakes testing paradigm.

The dominant reason for teaching science is embedded in an “economic” argument that is rooted in the nation’s perception of how it compares to other nations in science, technology, and engineering. This led to the development of new science curricula, but it also led to the wide scale use of student achievement scores in measuring learning. Student achievement, as measured on “bubble tests,” has become the method to measure effectiveness of school systems, schools, and teachers, not to mention the students.

Disconnect with Standards & High-Stakes Testing

Although the organizations that have developed the science standards (National Research Council) advocate science teaching as an active process, and suggest that students should be involved in scientific inquiry, there is a disconnect between the standards approach and the implementation of an inquiry-based approach to science teaching.

We need to pull back on the drive to create a single set of standards and complementary set of assessments, and move instead toward a system of education that is rooted locally, driven by professional teachers who view learning as more personalized, and conducted in accord with democratic principles, constructivist and inquiry learning, and cultural principles that relate the curriculum to the nature and needs of the students.

Effects of Inquiry

Science education researchers have reported that inquiry-based instructional practices are more likely to increase conceptual understanding than are strategies that rely on more passive techniques, and in the current environment emphasizing a standardized-assessment approach, teachers will tend to rely on more traditional and passive teaching techniques.

Inquiry-based teaching is often characterized as actively engaging students in hands-on and minds-on learning experiences.

Inquiry-based teaching also is seen as giving students more responsibility for learning. Given that the evidence is somewhat supportive of inquiry-based science, our current scheme of national science standards emphasizing a broad array of concepts to be tested would tend to undermine an inquiry approach.

Teachers who advocate and implement an inquiry philosophy of learning do so because they want to inspire and encourage a love of learning among their students. They see the purpose of schooling as inspiring students, by engaging them in creative and innovative activities and projects.

Science As Inquiry embraces 21st century teaching in which inquiry becomes the center and heart of learning. Science As Inquiry provides a pathway to make your current approach to teaching more inquiry-oriented, and to embrace the digital world that is ubiquitous to our students.


NCTE Says No to High-Stakes Testing

An article on Education Week reported that the National Council of Teachers of English considered proposals about high-stakes testing and the use of standards in public schools.  According to the authors of the report:

the decision unfolded at the organization’s annual convention this past weekend in Chicago. As it does every year, the group accepts proposed resolutions from members, which are then debated at the annual meeting and considered for adoption by its resolutions committee. Those that secure two-thirds approval become policy.


One proposal was sent by a group of members to the NCTE board that asked the organization to oppose common core standards and national tests.  The rationale for the proposal was based on the following assertions, each of which has been explored and supported on this blog:

A. The movement for national standards and tests is based on these claims: (1) Our educational system is broken, as revealed by US students’ scores on international tests; (2) We must improve education to improve the economy; (3) The way to improve education is to have national standards and national tests to reveal whether standards are being met.

B. Each of these claims is false. (1) Our schools are not broken. The problem is poverty. Test scores of students from middle-class homes who attend well-funded schools are among the best in world. Our mediocre scores are due to the fact that the US has the highest level of child poverty among all industrialized countries. (2) Existing evidence strongly suggests that improving the economy improves the status of families and children’s educational outcomes. (3) There is no evidence that national standards and national tests have improved student learning in the past.

There was also another proposal which called for a no confidence vote on Secretary of Education Duncan.  It did not pass, but according to the final decision, much of this second proposal was integrated with the first proposal, although Susan Ohanian was concerned that the committee did not oppose the concept of standards.

However, NCTE did resolved to

end high-stakes testing and the evaluation of teachers and schools based on students’ test scores.

Within the second proposal, one of the resolutions called on the NCTE to “oppose the adoption of national standards as a concept,” and, specifically, oppose the set of standards drafted as part of an initiative spearheaded by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The final version calls on the NCTE to “publicly voice its critique of and opposition to educational reform policies that mandate standards, curriculum, and means of assessment that adversely affect social and educational equity.”

The resolutions approved by the NCTE is an important event in the current standards-based and high-stakes testing movement.  There has been little opposition to the movement, and here at last we have a professional organization opposing some aspects of the movement.

As I asked in an earlier post, why haven’t we heard from the National Science Teachers Association on these issues?

In High Stakes Testing, Science Trumped by Math & Reading

This is a post I wrote five years ago today, and it sheds some light on the pressure that school districts experience as a result of high-stakes testing.  In particular, I draw attention to Atlanta cheating scandal which appears to have had its origins about five years ago when I first wrote this post.  There were warning signs then, as I wrote then, that teachers were pressured to focus their attention on reading and math literacy and not be concerned about other subjects, especially at the elementary and middle school levels.

Science and Literacy

The Science Report for the Trial Urban District Assessment recently became available by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Ten large urban U.S. school districts volunteered to participate in science testing, grades 4 and 8 in 2005, and the results of the test administration were just made available. Most editorial pages of newspapers in the ten districts carried comments and editorials regarding the results, which in general were not very good. You can view the Science Report for the Trial Urban Districts Assessment at the NAEP site. It’s very easy to use, and there are more statistics there to answer most any question you might have.

The districts involved in the NAEP testing include the following: Atlanta City School District: Austin Independent School District; Boston School District; Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools; City of Chicago School District 299; Cleveland Municipal School District; Houston Independent School District; Los Angeles Unified School District; New York City Public Schools; and San Diego Unified School District.

There were several articles in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution regarding the results for the Atlanta Public Schools. Atlanta did not do very well on the tests, with 58% of fourth-graders and 78% of eighth-graders scoring below “basic” in the NAEP science tests. The scores are not my concern here in this post.

My concern is the claim made by the Superintendent of Schools for Atlanta that “there’s no way for students to do well on NAEP science if they are not reading and doing math.”

This might be true, but I also found that the Superintendent made no apologies for the low science test scores saying that it was more important for the students to score well on the literacy tests administered by the State of Georgia each year.

Is reading and math necessary to learn about science? Probably yes. However, should we use literacy in reading and math as an excuse for not teaching science? Probably no. So, what is going on here? Why would a superintendent of a large urban district seemingly not be concerned that students in her district are not learning about science?

Consequences of High-Stakes Testing

There are several reasons why this kind of a dilemma exists. Test results demonstrated that students in the Atlanta school district are not very competent in science. However, Atlanta volunteered to take the test, as did the other ten urban districts. Science has not been a priority in the testing momentum that has taken over education in American schools. The No Child Left Behind Act does not require testing in science, thus enabling school districts to put more time into the school day into having students mastery literacy in reading and math. Has the increased time on reading and math tasks resulted in higher scores in these areas? Are students doing well in reading and math? According to NAEP test scores, no.

The NCLB Law has increased the pressure on school districts to create a curriculum that is skewed away from science and the arts, and toward minimal literacy. And state departments of education are going along for the ride. In Georgia, the emphasis on testing has gotten out of hand.

In Atlanta, the result of this pressure score well on high-stakes testing led to the Cheating Scandal in the Atlanta Public Schools.  The Governor’s investigation into the Cheating Scandal concluded that a “culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation” existed in the Atlanta schools with teachers being pressured to make sure that their students were ready and able to pass the state’s end-of-the-year CRCT at any cost.

The Back to Basics movement, which put emphasis on individual students learning the “basic” skills, especially in math and reading, has led to the overemphasis on testing as a way to make sure that schools know whether students and schools are succeeding in meeting basic levels of achievement as measured by tests such as the CRCT.

As a result, high quality science teaching is not part of the elementary school curriculum.  Unfortunately, when science is taught in the elementary school, it is not focused on hands on and inquiry based learning, but typically on reading from a text, or doing cookbook style “experiments.” What’s worse, time is taken away from science (and social studies) so that more time can be devoted to teaching math and reading.

And the nature of the pedagogy utilized in the middle school does not reflect inquiry or hands on learning either. So at a time that many educators feel that students might be hooked on science or the “love” for learning, our schools have retreated to a back to basics regime, removing inquiry and experimentation from science teaching, and from school in general.

Science educators need to share some of the blame here as well. Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8, a new report issued by the National Research Council, is very critical of science education standards, and the way in which schools fail to understand childhood learning and the potential for learning. Instead of making use of new research on learning, curriculum developers and schools have played it “safe” and used old forms of pedagogy.

Districts like Atlanta would do well if they experimented with alternative curriculum designs, and created curricula that were more integrated. That is, curriculum in which literacy, science and the arts is a fundamental aspect of learning. Science can contribute enormously to literacy, and to mathematics. Educators, such as the superintendent of Atlanta, needs to boldly look to the future and implement more innovative curriculum.

9 Compelling Science, Technology & Education Blogs

There is a profusion of blogs on the Internet, but some of them stand out because they are not only compelling, but they convey accomplished, artful, intelligent, and powerful content.  I’ve selected nine blogs that I read regularly to expand my own thinking about science teaching, technology and education.   They represent the range of topics that interest me, and that I find are important.  I hope you will, too. Here they are.

  • Cool Cat Teacher Blog  The author of this blog is Vicki Davis, a full-time high school teacher of technology, and global curriculum developer in Camilla, Georgia. She is author of award winning wiki, blogs, and co-founder of the Flat Classroom projects You will find some of the most innovative ideas on teaching and technology on this blog, as well as a philosophy that clearly is progressive.  The name of her website is derived from the name the Westwood Wildcats, which was suggested by her students.
  • Dot Earth  Written by Andrew C. Revkin, Dot Earth is a one stop site to learn about the efforts to balance human affairs with the Earth’s limits.  The Dot Earth blog is part of the Opinion section of the New York Times. Here you will find an interactive site that you can use to explore the trends and ideas about the environment which you can share with your students.  It is a trusted environmental science website.
  • Education Matters Written by Chris Guerrieri, a teacher in Jacksonville, Florida, this blog is a very active site for reading about the issues that impinge on the day-to-day life of a teacher in the classroom.  Guerrieri imparts a very strong view of what’s wrong with education today (too many people in suits who have no clue about what’s happening in the classroom).  If you are looking for some support on issues like high-stakes tests, bullying, billionaires in education, poverty, and how teachers really make a difference, then you should go to his site.
  • Mr. Barlow’s Science Teaching Blog Mr. Barlow is a high school science teacher in Melbourne, Australia. His blog is subtitled “A Bunch of Interesting Stuff,” and you will clearly find an abundance of stuff here.  His blog is complemented by biology teaching podcasts, and Apps for the iPhone and iPad.  But for teachers, his site is a model for the way technology can be integrated into science teaching.  You’ll find examples of this at his site, and it is quite impressive.  Be sure to visit Mr. Barlow.
  • Schools Matter. This is a powerful site that addresses issues in “public education policy, and it advocates for a commitment to and a re-examination of the democratic purposes of schools. If there is some urgency in the message, it is due to the current reform efforts that are based on a radical re-invention of education, now spearheaded by a psychometric blitzkrieg of “metastasizing testing” aimed at dismantling a public education system that took almost 200 years to build.”  If you have not read a blog on social justice, I recommend you go over there.  There are several authors who contribute to the site including Judy Rabin, Jim Horn, Robert D. Skeels, and P.L Thomas.
  • Teachers Lead This is a website authored by Anthony Cody and Nancy Flanagan, each National Board Certified Teachers, with combined experience of more than 50 years.  Anthony was a science teacher in Oakland, California, and Nancy a music educator in Michigan.  Their commitment is to leadership from the ground up, and to provide the tools to teachers and administrators.  Anthony Cody manages a blog on the Education Week website entitled Living in Dialogue, and writes provocative essays on educational reform.  Nancy Flanagan writes a blog on Education Week entitled Teacher in a Strange Land.
  • The Dispersal of Darwin This is a blog devoted to all things Darwin, written by Michael D. Barton, who recently finished his graduate work the history of science at Montana State University. It’s one of my favorites. Here is what he says about his blog: My interests are with Charles Darwin, and the development of evolutionary theory. This blog is a place for me to share with interested folk news and views on Darwin, evolution, and natural history, with occasional posts about other science-related topics.  I’ve written a great deal about Darwin on my own site, and found that Michael’s site was the place to go for information and great images.
  • The Intersection Edited by Chris Mooney, The Intersection blog has for nearly 10 years brought analysis of the intersection between science, politics, and culture. Chris is a science and political journalist and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. If you are looking for cutting edge progressive science, then I highly recommend Chris’ blog.
  • The Royal Treatment I met Ken Royal more than ten years ago in Hartford, CT during a seminar I presented on science teaching for the Bureau of Education & Research. Subsequently I visited Ken’s middle school science classroom where he was doing scouting expeditions into the world of technology and telecommunications. In the 1990’s very few teachers had integrated the Internet into teaching. Ken was one of leaders of using the Internet in the classroom. Now Ken is with Scholastic where one of his responsibilities is writing the blog, The Royal Treatment. He says: After 34 years in education, working at all levels and areas, including as instructional technology specialist, it has been easy to look and write about these technologies and products from an educator’s point of view. I look forward to invitations to attend conferences, review products, and interview the people behind the products. It is also a joy listening to district leaders actually using these products to improve technology, management, curriculum and safety better in their districts. This is the blog for technology know-how.

Conclusion.  These are 9 compelling websites that will inform not only about science and technology, but science and education in society. You can visit the Cool Cat Teacher to find amazing ways to use technology with your students and connect with others around the world. The Royal Treatment will keep you up-to-date on new technology products and ways that schools are using them. For great ideas and science content, you should visit  Mr. Barlow’s site, and don’t forget his Podcasts and Apps. Science, technology and society (STS) is an important part of science education, and you’ll find great content at Chris Mooney’s Intersection site.   Education Matters, Schools Matter, and Teachers Lead are crucial sites for us to interact with educators who speak out on the issues that impact education today such as high-stakes testing, charter schools, standards proliferation, and teacher assessment.

Share your ideas.  What is your favorite blog site?  Share it here in the comments section so that others can benefit from your suggestion.