Authoritarian Spray: How the Spread of Standardization is Damaging Public Schools With Its Canopy of a Common Core, High-Stakes Testing and Market-Based Hooey

A picture is worth a thousand words. Please accept apologies because my title is nearly a picture. I just couldn’t pinch the title to a few words. That said…

The authoritarian spray of standardization has spread harm and inflicted damage to America’s public schools during the last two decades. The profits from standardized tests and teaching materials associated with the Common Core have overwhelmed the nature of learning in public school classrooms that one wonders if  this goliath, which has trampled on the very heart of education in a democratic society, can be brought down.

This post, and a forthcoming eBook will explore this conundrum, and point to ways that the mischief and misery of standardization might be overcome.   We’ll explore two fundamental paradigms of thinking, & learning, and family & politics that I think will shine a light on the dilemma of standardization.  Let’s get started.

The Root of This Dilemma

The conservative world-view is at the root of standardization, not only in the United States, but in most countries around the world.  This world-view has set in motion the reform of education based on a common set of standards, high-stakes tests, and accountability metrics that demoralize not only students and their families, but the educators who families regard as significant and positive others in the lives of their children.

The Gates Foundation has invested more than $3 billion into standards-test-based reform.  Did you know that since 1999, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (technically founded in 2000) has made over 4,000 grants in its US Program, one of the major categories of funding for the Gates Foundation?

The 4,000 grants were distributed among 16 categories such as College-Ready Education, Community Grants, Postsecondary Success, Global Policy & Advocacy, etc.  About 2,000 of these grants were made to carry out the Common Core State Standards, the use of student test scores to test teachers, and support technology that would increase the surveillance of students, parents and teachers to create sets of “big data” that can be mined by private companies to find behaviors and personal information of customers and clients that would fit profiles for their products.

Another way to understand the reform promoted by Gates and other billionaire people, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the National Governors Association (NGA), and conservative foundations, especially the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is to look at the work of educators and scholars such as Pasi Sahlberg.

Sahlberg emphatically states that the worst enemy of education and creativity is standardization. In his book, Finnish Lessons 2.0: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? (Library Copy), Sahlberg writes:

Curriculum development, student assessment, teacher evaluation, integration of information and communication technologies into teaching and learning, proficiency in basic competencies (i.e., reading and writing), and mathematical and scientific literacy have become common priorities in education reforms around the world. These changes in schools and classrooms are then ensured by employing management models from the business world, such as test-based accountability, merit-based pay and data-driven administration. I call this the Global Educational Reform Movement  (Sahlberg, Pasi (2011-11-01). Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? (Kindle Locations 2376-2380). Teachers College Press. Kindle Edition.)

Subversive Thinking

I think of standards-based education reform as a kind of “spray” analogous to how we used DDT as an agricultural insecticide.  We stayed it everywhere to stamp out disease carrying bugs.  For example, from 1940 – 1972, more than 1.3 billion pounds of DDT were released into U.S. communities indiscriminately.  This indiscriminate and relentless spray would eventually be shown to be harmful and a serious threat to the basics of ecosystems.

In 1962, Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring (Library Copy) explained how the release of DDT into the environment caused havoc and great harm to the affected ecosystems, as well as human health.  Even though the bio-chemical industry tried to subvert Carson’s work, she was eventually vindicated of the criticisms being leveled by this industry, and the US Congress went on to pass legislation banning DDT.   Later the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established.

Carson had started the environmental movement, and many leading ecologists and environmentalists from around the world looked to her work as an inspiration.

Rachel Carson, in the word’s of Mark Hamilton, one of Carson’s biographers,  was a “gentle subversive.”

There is a vanguard of gentile (and not-so-gentile) subversives who are leading the way to uncover and expose the damage that is being done to educational ecosystems, as well as  student  health (social, emotional, intellectual) by standardized, test-centered and market-oriented reform spreading like a virus with global implications.  This vanguard is composed of educators who offer different accounts of what teaching and learning is about.  They are leading an effort to challenge the current standardized reform movement.

Please follow this link to read about some of the people identified as part of this vanguard.  There are many more, and most of them are teaching in classrooms around the world.

So, what is this vanguard voicing opposition to?  All are questioning the lack of wisdom, profound ignorance, and inexcusable ineptness of an educational reform movement that is rooted in a very narrow purpose of schooling: teaching to the test.  According tp Sahlberg, the movement can be summarized in four words: Global Education Reform Movement GERM).

Global Educational Reform Model (GERM)

The Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) promotes and spreads the “strategies and interests” of global agencies, billionaire donors, and private consultants as if it was a live virus (Sahlberg 2013).  According to Sahlberg, three primary sources led to the spread of the GERM virus including:

  1. The need for proficiency in literacy and numeracy,
  2. A guarantee that all students will learn the same set of standards in math and language arts and reading, and value placed on competition, and
  3. Accountability by holding schools to a set of standards, and benchmarks using aligned assessments and tests.

None of the details of proficiency, standards or benchmarks are based on scientific or educational research.  They are opinions crafted by the groups mentioned before?

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a good example to show how GERM works.  PISA has developed its own set of standards and tests (assessments) in math, science, reading, and language arts used to hold students in more than 60 countries accountable to PISA benchmarks.

The Guardian newspaper published a series of articles about the 2013 PISA international test results.   Sahlberg points out that creating league tables that showcase or shame countries based on their student’s performance on standardized tests is simply not a proper use of international test results, in this case PISA.   As I’ve reported many times on this blog, international test results fall prey to newspaper headlines that predict the collapse of economies, or prevent its students from competing in the ‘global market.’  The ‘sky is falling’ mantra was alive and well when the 2013 results were announced.  It always is.

Imagine reading the headlines in Helsinki after its students fell from second place to 12th in just three years.  Sahlberg reports that in Sweden, the test result for its students was considered a national disaster.  In the United States, the Secretary of Education (Arne Duncan) said the U.S. the results are “straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation.”

But Sahlberg suggests that the PISA results are proof that the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) is working and spreading itself around.  According to Sahlberg, GERM is a virus that has infected many nation’s schools.  In his view, GERM is characterized by

  • standardization (Common Core),
  • core subjects (math, reading, science),
  • teaching to the test,
  • corporate management style, and
  • test-based accountability.

When Duncan commented  (Guardian News, 2013) on the 2013 PISA results, he said it was clear that this “must serve as a wake-up call against educational complacency and low expectations.”  And to correct American education’s shortcomings, “we must invest in early learning, redesign high schools, raise standards and support great teachers.”

Good examples of GERM schools can be found in the US, England, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden and Chile.  Here is how they fared in the PISA tests (Table 1).

PISA Results for Nations that have adopted the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM)
Table 1. PISA Results for Nations that have adopted the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM)

These nations have adopted a model of education based on competition, standardization, and test-based accountability.  In Sahlberg’s view,

GERM has acted like a virus that “infects” education systems as it travels around the world.

Non-Global Education Reform

But Sahlberg, or any of ones of the “vanguard of subversives” that I identified here, were ever asked by Duncan how to improve American schools, none would suggest the “reforms” that Duncan has funded for the past five years.  Instead they would suggest that the standards-corporate styled reforms (GERM) are based on premises that are rejected by educators and policy makers in nations that seem to be successful.

GERM advocates should listen to Dr. Mercedes Schneider, a high school English teacher who holds a Ph.D. in Applied Statistics and Research Methods.  She is relentless in her writing about corporate reform, especially the way in which the Common Core State Standards came into being, and how they have corrupted American education.  In her recent book, (A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education) I wrote this as part of a review on Amazon of her book:

In this book we have at our fingertips answers to important questions about how such a limited number of individual’s faces crop-up in various media outlets as the experts on public schools. If you want to find how to get wealthy and have a really big office, read about Joel Klein in chapter 1. Find out how Teach for America is transforming teacher education into a temp business by reading the Wendy Kopp story in chapter 3. You’ll find important episodes about characters including Eva Moskovitz, Michelle Rhee, Erik Hanushek, Arne Duncan, David Coleman, Chester Finn, and others. You’ll also find out about organizations that fund each other in the name of reform, but in the end seek to dismantle public education. Welcome to TFA, the New Teacher Project, the National Council on Teacher Quality (not), the Aspen Institute, the Gates Foundation, and cousins Walton and Broad.  And the best is yet to come as she saves the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation’s bill mill for the last chapter.  The content of the book is thoroughly researched and authenticated. If you read her blog, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.

According to Sahlberg, a school system is “successful” if it performs above the OECD average in mathematics, reading literacy and science, and if students’ socio-economic status has a weaker-than-average impact on students’ learning outcomes. The most successful education systems in the OECD are Korea, Japan, Finland, Canada and Estonia.

Table 2. PISA test scores for nations that are above the OECD average, and students socio-economic status has weaker-than-average impact on students' learning outcomes (Text: Sahlberg, 2013)
Table 2. PISA test scores for nations that are above the OECD average, and students socio-economic status has weaker-than-average impact on students’ learning outcomes (Text: Sahlberg, 2013)

Beyond GERM

In order to eradicate GERM, it will be crucial to think differently about teaching, learning and the purpose of school.  We must return the locus of  control of education to local educators and their boards, and establish schooling based on the well-being of each child.  The use of standardized testing must be reduced so that the only use is to provide feedback to schools and their districts about overall goals.  Standardized tests should never be used to rate, grade, or judge students, nor should these test scores be used in any way as a measure of teacher performance.  There are oodles of ways to assess student growth that will actually help students learn.  And there are many ways to assess teachers, and provide the kind of professional growth that people in other professions receive.

Here are just a few things that should be implemented.

1. Schools should have autonomy over its curricula and how students are assessed.  Teachers should work collaboratively to design and develop curriculum, and make decisions about the nature of instruction in their own classrooms.  This is contrary to the reforms that have dominated American education for decades, especially starting with the publication, Nation at Risk, followed by the No Child Left Behind Act during the Bush Administration, and The Race to the Top during the Obama administration.  Sahlberg says:

PISA shows how success is often associated with balanced professional autonomy with a collaborative culture in schools. Evidence also shows how high performing education systems engage teachers to set their own teaching and learning targets, to craft productive learning environments, and to design multiple forms student assessments to best support student learning and school improvement.

2. Schools need to focus on equity by giving priority to early childhood (one point for Duncan), comprehensive health and special education in schools, a balanced curriculum that sees the arts, music and sports as equals to math, reading and science.

3. School choice does not improve academic performance in a nation’s schools.  In fact, the overemphasis on school choice and competition between schools leads to greater segregation of schools.

4.  Successful schools are public schools and are controlled locally, not by a state or federal governments. If we want to improve education in the US, we need to move away from the competitive, corporate-based model that is based on standardization and test accountability.  As Dr. Nel Noddings says in her book, Education and Democracy in the 21st Century (Library Copy)

Education in the 21st century must put away some 20th-century thinking. All over the world today, many educators and policymakers believe that cooperation must displace competition as a primary form of relating. Competition is not to be abandoned— some competition is healthy and necessary— but it should no longer be the defining characteristic of relationships in an era of growing globalization. If we agree with this judgment, then we must consider how to prepare students for a cooperative world, not solely for one of competition.  (Noddings, Nel (2013-01-25).

American public schools are not failing.  The premise that they are failing is based on one factor–test scores.  We need to move beyond this concept of schooling and embrace collaboration, dialogue, interdependence, and creativity (Noddings, 2013).

New eBook

As I mentioned at the head of this post, a forthcoming eBook will explore this conundrum, and point to ways that the mischief and misery of standardization might be overcome.   It’s under development, and should be published later this month, and will be available free on my blog.

 

What’s Common Here: Teacher Education, Authoritarian Reform, Poverty, & Charter Schools?

In this first blog post in nearly two months, I want to introduce you to four areas of inquiry that have been explored on this blog over the past 10 years.

Over the next month, I’ll be uploading links to landing pages, each of which is a kind of inquiry or an investigation of themes that appeared on the Art of Teaching Science Blog.

Inquiries

The first four areas of inquiry are up on the blog website, and they are:

  • Assault on Teacher Education:  The assault on teacher education is being led by neoliberal and conservative ideologues who want to de-professionalize teaching, and one of the places to do this is by attacking the nation’s colleges and universities that prepare teachers.
  • Authoritarian Reform: In this inquiry, I am going to explore another movement that has historically played a role to oppose corporate, authoritarian, un-democratic, and right-wing policies and beliefs, and that is the work and wish of progressives, who have played a role in American history, starting with the American revolution.
  • Effect of Poverty on Learning:  There are bloggers and researchers who understand the nature of poverty and its effects, and why journalists, bureaucrats, politicians, corporate executives, and the billionaire boys club reformers either whitewash or simply avoid the problem. In fact, we have entered a period of “no excuses education,” which is held up as the option of “choice,” especially for families living in poor communities.
  • Charter Schools: In Whose Interest?:  Charter schools are seen as a cure-all to raise test scores of American students. It kind of like a philosopher’s stone, or a 19th century elixir, to serve as an antidote for the ills of traditional public schools. Many policymakers are motivated by the delusion that choice and competition are the answers to solving problems facing our schools.  In this inquiry, we’ll explore the underlying rationale for charter schools (the rationale has moved from one of true curriculum development by teachers, to a cash cow for charter management companies). When you look carefully at charter schools, they do not offer the kind of choice they claim in press releases and other public statements.

Future inquiries include:

  • High Stakes Testing and Teacher Evaluation
  • The National Council on Teacher Quality & the Art fox Ineptness
  • Politics and Influence Peddling
  • Progressive Pedagogy
  • Questioning Standards-Based Education
  • Stealth Appearances of Intelligent Design

Welcome back to the Art of Teaching Science blog.

A Vanguard of Voices for Educational Reform–Updated

Creative Commons Emerge with Intelligence and Creativity by Stefano Chiarelli is Licensed under CC BY 2.0
Creative Commons Emerge with Intelligence and Creativity by Stefano Chiarelli is Licensed under CC BY 2.0

I started this blog in 2005 to augment my book The Art of Teaching Science (Public Library), and to write about progressive & humanistic science teaching.   Over the years it morphed into a blog that not only explores science education, but its more of a discussion of the unnerving intrusion of corporate education-wannabes with lots of money who want to change education for their own ends.

In the research and reading that I do to write this blog, I’ve come to know a vanguard of voices who have created a movement to oppose a cabal of corporate pirates whose goal is to privatize public education, and mutate the teaching profession into nonprofessionals who have little experience and even shorter life expectancy as teachers.

In the title of chapter one of my 1992 book, Minds on Science (Public Library) I used the word “reconnaissance” as a way to introduce readers to the field of science teaching.

In this blog post, I am using the word “vanguard” to introduce you to people who are on the forefront of a movement to oppose and take action against groups and people who seek to privatize public education, and inflict harm into the nation’s schools by advocating standardization and high-stakes accountability.  These persons are for the most part people or small groups who have taken risks to speak out and act on the positions they hold, often in opposition to forces more powerful and financially more resourceful.

I used the word vanguard in a review I wrote of Mercedes Schneider’s new book, on Amazon, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education (Public Library).  I titled the review of her book as Uncovering the Culprits Causing Harm to Public Education.  Here is what I wrote:

Dr Mercedes Schneider’s book arrived the other day and I was thrilled to see the names and chapters devoted to many of those who I have written about on my blog. But you won’t find the kind of writing in Mercedes’s book about these people and organization anywhere else. In my view, Mercedes Schneider is at the vanguard of voices who are uncovering the harm that the people featured in her book are inflicting on public education. In amazing detail and wonderfully written you’ll be taken on journeys into the minds of corporate and education thieves, many of whom have become wealthy on the backs of American school students and teachers.

This vanguard is composed of educators who offer different accounts of what teaching and learning should be, and who should lead the effort to improve eduction. Here are a few that have influenced and inspired me.

A Vanguard of Voices

Mercedes Schneider

One of these educators is Dr. Mercedes Schneider, who writes a blog at deutsch29 on education reform.  Dr. Schneider has a Ph.D. in Applied Statistics and Research Methods from the University of Northern Colorado, and was a professor at Ball State University.  With teaching experiences in Louisiana and Georgia, she returned to Louisiana to teach high school English.  From there she launched her blog, and just last week, published her first book.

Her book identifies people and groups that are very different from the “Vanguard” of voices that I’ve included in this post.  Here is a little more of what I said about her book:

In this book we have at our fingertips answers to important questions about how such a limited number of individual’s faces crop-up in various media outlets as the experts on public schools. If you want to find how to get wealthy and have a really big office, read about Joel Klein in chapter 1. Find out how Teach for America is transforming teacher education into a temp business by reading the Wendy Kopp story in chapter 3. You’ll find important episodes about characters including Eva Moskovitz, Michelle Rhee, Erik Hanushek, Arne Duncan, David Coleman, Chester Finn, and others. You’ll also find out about organizations that fund each other in the name of reform, but in the end seek to dismantle public education. Welcome to TFA, the New Teacher Project, the National Council on Teacher Quality (not), the Aspen Institute, the Gates Foundation, and cousins Walton and Broad.  And the best is yet to come as she saves the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation’s bill mill for the last chapter.  The content of the book is thoroughly researched and authenticated. If you read her blog, you’ll certainly enjoy this book.

This is a must read book.

Anthony Cody

I met Anthony Cody several years ago online through his blog Living in Dialog which is published on Education Week Teacher.  He was gracious enough to re-blog some of my blog posts, and introduce me to NEPC’s Best of the Ed Blogs.  Anthony Cody worked for 24 years as a science teacher  at a high-needs middle school in the Oakland Public Schools.

Anthony is a National Board-certified teacher, and leads workshops on Project Based Teaching.  Recently he co-founded the Network for Public Education, which had its first annual meeting in Austin last month.  He has worked endlessly to bring dialog to the issues surrounding educational reform.  He was brave enough to engage the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation in a series of exchanges, and has written more than 100 blog posts about the billionaires intrusion into public education.

His blog articles are some of the best on the net.

He can be followed on Twitter.

Chris Thinnes

Chris Thinnes is one of those educators you wished you had for a teacher.  If you are a teacher, he is the kind of administrator that you would want to work with.  His blog consists of his reflections and thoughts about education, and his reflections are deep and powerful.  He blogs at Chris.Thinnes.me.

I’ve been a lifelong advocate for inquiry and progressive & humanistic education, and shared on this blog some of the work that Chris Thinnes was doing with his colleagues at school.   I wrote this about his work:

Working together from the ground up, rather the top down, Chris Thinnes says on his blog how he and his colleagues work together to “formulate, analyze, prioritize, and activate driving questions that democratically find the intersections of personal interest and shared priorities.” You can go to Chris Thinnes blog, and read the kinds of questions he and his colleagues asked at their first meeting which focused on how a teacher creates an environment and climate conducive to learning. It is this kind of democratically organized work that leads to teachers growing into cultural workers, inquiry teachers, and artists in their own right.

As way of introduction, here is what Chris said about the in-school meeting among all the staff to explore ways to improve teaching:

For a variety of reasons, I have been inspired for several years by the idea that our teachers’ professional learning and collaboration should be governed by the same principles and aims as our students‘ learning and collaboration. To that end, each of six domains from the framework of our Goals for Learning (Create – Understand – Reflect – Transmit – Include – Strive) will be invoked as we establish language to articulate our core commitments to effective teaching practice; design driving questions that will facilitate further inquiry among our teams; identify teaching practices that should be visible to teachers, learners, and observers; explore resources drawing on a wide range of expertise outside our community; and create our own rubrics for self-assessment, reflection, goal-setting, peer observation, instructional coaching, and administrative evaluation.

He wrote his reflections on the first Network for Public Education and titled it An Education Spring in Our Step: Reflections on the #NPEconference.  He says:

But I want to reflect on the conference from a more personal, perhaps more emotional, and potentially more self-indulgent perspective. I want to explore some patterns that I noticed, and some dynamics I found inspiring, in the community of #NPEconference participants. These had a profound impact on me that I’m likely to explore in the weeks and months to come: they helped restore, and to create anew, a faith that we can ensure – precisely by recognizing the nature and the impact of these dynamics in our community, and in our solidarity — the fulfillment of a vision framed most eloquently by my dear friend Peter Gow: “We want to see democracy, not capitalism, survive as the root, stem, leaves, and fruit of American education.”

You can follow him on Twitter.

Diane Ravitch

Like many of you, I became aware of Dr. Ravitch through her writings, not only through her most recent book, The Reign of Error (Public Library) but also when she published The Death and Life of the Great American School System (Public Library), and the blog she co-hosted with Deborah Meir called Bridging Differences.  Dr. Ravitch’s blog, perhaps one of the most visited education sites on the net, uncovers and reveals the actions of a very large population of educators who are pushing back the efforts of the “billionaire boys club. (a Ravitch term).

For the people in this article whose ideas have inspired me, they would probably name Diane Ravitch as a person they look to as a beacon of strength and wisdom about the current state of education in America.  I would, too.

Dr. Ravitch is an historian and a research professor at New York University.  She is co-founder of Network for Public Education, and was the keynote speaker at the first conference of the NPE.

Read her on Twitter.

Paul L. Thomas

Dr. Thomas, a professor at Furman University is a voice that I go to learn the truth about poverty in the United States and how it affects the education of about 30% of the nations children and youth.  His writing on “the becoming radical” (blog), is must read for education reform.  Paul taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is a column editor for English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English) and series editor for Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres (Sense Publishers), where he authored the first volume—Challenging Genres: Comics and Graphic Novels (2010).

He has served on major committees with NCTE, and has been named Council Historian (2013-2015), and formerly served as co-editor for The South Carolina English Teacher for SCCTE. Recent books include Ignoring Poverty in the U.S.: The Corporate Takeover of Public Education (Information Age Publishing, 2012) and Parental Choice?: A Critical Reconsideration of Choice and the Debate about Choice (Information Age Publishing, 2010).

You can find him on twitter and NEPC’s Best of the Ed Blogs.  His writings are linked from here.

Julian Vasquez Heilig

Dr. Heilig is professor of Educational Policy and Planning, and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas.  I’ve come to know him through his blog, Cloaking Inequity, which brings a level of research, mixed with anecdotal experiences, that is very difficult to beat.  It’s one of my favorite stops on the Internet, and I recommend it highly.  Dr. Heilig writes about important issues and topics.

One of the organizations that I think has connived its way into American schools is Teach for America.  Julian Vasquez Heilig has done extensive research to refute  claims that TFA is a practical way to produce teachers for public schools.  You can find his report here at the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado: Teach for America: A Return to the Evidence.  You will find that Dr. Heilig’s blog is a real experience, and one that will bring you in touch with crucial issues on educational reform.

Follow him on Twitter.

Fellow Van-guardians

My intention in this article was to make the claim that there is a grass-roots movement of people and organizations that are unearthing new realities to prevent public schools from falling into the hands of corporate and philanthropic America.

I can’t even make a dent in the number of people who are calling out the billionaires such as Gates, and Broad, and saying “enough is enough.”  The struggle to prevent the continuation of test obsession and standardization is one that is fought on the ground every day.

To complete this article, I want to include the following people and organizations that are representative of a large number of courageous people who are willing to take risks to oppose actions of corporations and government that are not in the public interest.

Jean Sanders

Dr. Jean Sanders is an educational researcher and consultant who I met through this blog.  She says on her LinkedIn site that “my main concern now is the travesty of “takeover” of public education by mandarins, neophytes and corporate types who never spent a day teaching anything in a classroom.”  She has been gracious to read my blog, and take the time to write comments that extend my own learning.

Hanna Hurley

Hanna Hurley is a fellow Georgian, and activist who questions and writes about education.  She is a child advocate and special education consultant.  Follow her on Twitter.

Grant Lichtman

A fellow progressive educator, and geologist, Grant Lichtman is the author of The Learning Pond, a blog he writes, and The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School, and a forthcoming book on his 60 day trip around the United States visiting innovative schools. Follow him on Twitter.

Ed Johnson

Ed is a fellow Atlantan, and is an advocate for public education, and a Deming scholar.  He has written several posts on this blog, and he has shared Deming-based research on systems education, and in particular has analyzed NAEP Trial Urban District Assessments using control chart processes.  He was a candidate for the Atlanta School Board. He has inspired me by his activism, and relentless service to improve education in the Atlanta Public Schools.

Ed Johnson can be reached here.

Matt Jones and EmpowerED Georgia

Matt Jones, a public school educator, founded EmpowerED Georgia, and working with citizens in the state has created an advocacy group supporting public education.  EmpowerED Georgia has used its resources to oppose legislation that would privatize public education, or cut the funding for Georgia schools.  Matt Jones has been the leader of this group, and has inspired many of us.   Visit the EmpowerEd website for a collection of papers and positions on important education topics.

Follow EmpowerED Georgia on Twitter.

Chicago Teachers Union

The Chicago Teacher’s Union, representing more than 30,000 teachers, has set the tone for the way teachers can work together to protect public schools from corporate intrusion and government give aways (to charter management), and to pavé the way to improve education in public schools.  The union blogs at this site.

The Garfield High School Faculty

Teachers at Garfield High School boycotted the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP).  It was one of the first efforts by a school faculty to say no to administrators who insisted on using a test that the teachers felt was a waste of time and money.  MAP represents (in my view) the extreme in our obsession with testing.  Students are administered the test four times during the year to offer “measures” to tell if students reached certain benchmarks.  The use of benchmarks is a clever device, but the problem is there is no research or scientific basis for benchmarks.  They are pure opinion, and as the Garfield teachers rightly said, the tests don’t measure what they teach.  You can go to their Facebook page at Solidarity with Garfield high School testing Boycott.

John Kuhn

John Kuhn is a Texas superintendent, but to many of us he is a fearless leader whose presence at various conferences and meeting, and his new book Fear and Learning in America: Bad data, good teachers, and the attack public education (Public Library) provides the kind of evidence and support needed to further the opposition to the demise of public education.

Follow him on Twitter.

Joyce Murdock Feilke

Joyce Murdock Feilke came to my attention when we learned that Atlanta’s new superintendent was before superintendent of the Austin Unified School District.  Joyce, a school counselor with 30 years of experience, described what she called toxic environments in many schools because of our testing obsession.  She and I communicated, and I wrote several posts (Psychological Abuse: A Springtime School Ritual?) about her struggles, and later resignation when the superintendent simply denied that any of this was going on in these schools.  You can read her article in the Austin American-Statesman.

Edy Chamness

Ed Chamness, a former teacher, and parent in Austin, Texas, and professor Julie Westerlund founded the Texas chapter of the Opt Out Movement. I came in contact with Chamness and Westerlund when I reached out to Joyce Murdock Feilke to find out about what she called “psychological abuse” created by the state-wide obsession with high-stakes testing in an Austin elementary school where she was a school counselor.

Edy Chamness and Julie Westerlund were professional colleagues of Joyce’s and provided more and compelling evidence that children are being used in an experiment, rooted in punitive classic conditioning to meet the goals of the school district, which is increase student test scores and eventually graduation rates.

 

Yong Zhao

YONG ZHAO is currently Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, where is a full professor in the Department of Educational Measurement, Policy and Leadership(EMPL). His recent series, “How Does PISA Put the World at Risk” (http://ow.ly/x0g48) is only one example of his evidence-based deconstruction of prevailing myths in education policy and politics, both on his blog and in a series of must-read book-length works.

Blog: http://ZhaoLearning.com

Twitter: @YongZhaoUO

Jose Luis Vilson

JOSE LUIS VILSON is a math educator for a middle school in the Inwood / Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, NY. He’s also a committed writer, activist, web designer, and father. He co-authored the book Teaching 2030: What We Must Do For Our Students and Public Schools … Now and In The Future with Dr. Barnett Berry and 11 other accomplished teachers. He writes for Edutopia, GOOD, and TransformED / Future of Teaching, and has written for CNN.com, Education Week, Huffington Post, and El Diario / La Prensa NY. His first (and must-read) solo project, This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education, has just been released by Haymarket Books.

Blog: http://thejosevilson.com

Twitter: @TheJLV

Deborah Meier

DEBORAH MEIER encourages new approaches that enhance democracy and equity in public education. She is on the editorial board of Dissent magazine, The Nation and the Harvard Education Letter. She was a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 1987. Her books, The Power of Their Ideas, Lessons to America from a Small School in Harlem (1995), Will Standards Save Public Education(2000), In Schools We Trust (2002), Keeping School, with Ted and Nancy Sizer (2004) and Many Children Left Behind (2004) are foundational texts for those interested in the intersections and dependencies of education and democracy: so, too, her EdWeek blog on “Bridging Differences.”

Bridging Differences Blog: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/

Twitter: @DebMeier

Thomas Hobson

THOMAS HOBSON is a preschool teacher, writer, speaker, artist, and the author of “A Parent’s Guide to Seattle.” For the past 11 years, he has been the only employee of the Woodland Park Cooperative preschools, allowing him to work very closely with families in a true community setting. His blog, by turns, demonstrates an exceptional acuity of insight about learning, teaching, children, and community — and lights a fire for us all to ask deeper questions about education in a democracy.

http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/

@TheTeacherTom

 

Who would you like to add to this Vanguard page.  Send me names and a bit of information, and we’ll add them to the list.  Thank you.

What do the Candidates for Georgia State Superintendent of Education Have to Say about Reform?

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There are 15 people running for Georgia State School Superintendent in the primary election on May 20th.  There are 9 Republicans and 6 Democrats jockeying for positions for the November election.  In this post I want to explore issues that ought to be important in this election.

Figure 1. Candidates for Georgia State Superintendent as listed on the EmpowerEd Take Action Site.
Figure 1. Candidates for Georgia State Superintendent as listed on the EmpowerEd Take Action Site.

EmpowerEd Georgia is a citizen group advocating for quality education in the state.  It’s a grassroots movement of parents, educators and community.  They have taken an active part in the State School Superintendent campaign by being on the road to live stream debates, and to gather information about the candidate’s positions of important education issues.

EmpowerED Georgia requested responses to a questionnaire from all the candidates.  Even after repeated follow ups, only six of the 15 candidates completed the questionnaire.  You can find their responses on the Empowered Georgia website at the following links:

According to EmpowerED, the other nine candidates refused to complete the questionnaire.

There are some candidates that understand the issues that are crucial for the improvement of education across the state.  As we have shown on this blog, poverty is the leading factor affecting academic learning.

We have also shown that the model of education that thrives in Georgia is the Global Education Reform Model (GERM) that is a virus that has infected its way in schools and show up in the form of standardization, poking and prodding students with tests, using student tests to evaluate teachers, and the use of competition in all aspects of schooling.

Although candidates were not asked on the EmpowerED questionnaire directly about poverty, there are several questions on the EmpowerED questionnaire that give clues about their place on the Global Education Reform Model, which is in full operation in the state of Georgia.

To get some idea of the candidates thinking I want to check the characteristics of the GERM virus that has spread across Georgia, and much of the nation.  GERM is described in detail by Finnish educator Dr. Pasi Sahlberg.  Figure 2 is chart listing 5 GERM symptoms and whether of not each symptom is clear in Georgia’s educational system, and if so what is the evidence.  My analysis is based on studying documents on the Georgia Department of Education website.  I also have visited more than a hundred Georgia elementary, middle and high schools over a forty years.  There is also further information on the Georgia Race to the Top Proposal and project that outlines the education in the state.

Based on this analysis, Georgia shows evidence that at least five symptoms of the GERM model are part of the education model used in the state.  Georgia, like most states, has a standards-based, high-stakes testing accountability system.  The state outlines in the standards what and how every student is to do, and to what level.  To measure whether the students met these performance standards (in math, reading, science and social studies), the state administers Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT).  The CRCT test results are used as a major part of a comprehensive accountability system called the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI).  The data collected from the CRCT is also used as part of the teacher evaluation system.  The state legislature enacted into law the provision that 50% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on student performance on the CRCT achievement tests.

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 6.54.08 PMFigure 2. Analysis of Five Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) Symptoms and Georgia’s Education System

 There were several questions on the EmpowerEd questionnaire that indirectly pertain to the GERM model and could be used to gather insight into the candidate’s views of educational improvement.

In my view, answers to these questions will tell us a great deal about the person’s understanding of education, and specifically if they support or question the GERM model in effect in Georgia schools:

  1. Do you feel Georgia’s current testing model is effective? Explain.
  2. Do you support the Common Core Standards? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think any changes need to be made to the newly adopted Teacher Evaluation System? What factors do you feel should be included when evaluating a teacher? Do you support the use of student standardized test scores in measuring a teacher’s effectiveness?
  4. Explain the role, if any, that you feel vouchers, charters, and privatization efforts should play in Georgia’s educational system.
  5. What is your plan to increase Georgia’s graduation rate?

In order to disinfect Georgia we will need a leader at the Superintendent’s level who is willing to speak out against GERM, and begin to call out the corporate take over of public education.  Testing and standardization are at the heart of the GERM model, and it will be refreshing to see if any of the candidates are willing to challenge the current model.  This is not an easy task.  Right now, it a damned if you do, damned if you don’t environment, especially on the issue of the Common Core State Standards.

For example, Valerie Wilson, when asked whether the current testing model in Georgia is effective, said this:

I do not believe Georgia’s current testing model is effective because it does not provide an accurate assessment of what students learn. It is a model that forces teachers to teach to a test, students are not allowed an  opportunity to truly learn the content, and schools and teachers are punished because of that. In order to accurately assess a student’s learning, teachers should be afforded an opportunity to really focus on content delivery based on a full understanding of the student’s understanding of the course content prior to instruction and throughout. In my system, we focused on a student’s growth over the course of the instructional period, which is a better indicator of learning than a test at the end of the class. I believe districts should be allowed some flexibility in the method they select to assess instruction.

Another candidate, Alan Fort, a former superintendent, said this about testing:

We test way too much to make no real use of the assessments except to see if we are doing good or bad and how we  compare to a similar system or to Massachusetts, etc. We may make a data wall, but I have found  that schools do not make appropriate use of that resource either. To have value in the test  data, you should use it every week and make students aware of their progress. We are more adept at making testing companies richer than appropriate use of this information. We have gotten into the “teach to the test mode” and feel shackled to that premise. We take up too many
teaching days preparing for the test, taking the test and making up the test for the value given  them, thus have become test institutionalized. This is testing lunacy at its best.

You can read all their responses on the Empowered website.

However, if you are able to attend any of the events leading up to the primary on May 20, or the general election in November, here are some points that many of us feel ought to characterize education.  What would the candidates say about these issues, if put in the form of a question?

  1. Put high confidence in teachers and principals and learning.  The focus on meaningful learning must be at the school level.  Superintendents need to get out-of-the-way, stop micro-managing, and entrust education to well prepared teaching staff.
  2. Create a systemic environment which encourages teachers and students to try new ideas and approaches.  Encourage principals to work with teachers to push for curiosity, imagination and creativity in the classroom, and make that the focus of learning.
  3. Fill classrooms with well experienced and well-educated teachers who are not only knowledgeable in the content, but more importantly understand how to teach and how to experiment with different pedagogies.
  4. Empower principals to be the leaders of change, not superintendents.  Superintendents are too far away from the day-to-day life of students to encourage the kind of creative teaching that can be supported by principals.
  5. Teachers should have masters degrees in education and be knowledgeable in their field of teaching.  Reliance on uncertified and inexperienced teachers will in the long run lead to failure.

The EmpowerED site is a very good site to visit to find out about six of the 15 candidates.

 

Why Achievement Test Scores are Poor Indicators of Student Learning and Teacher Effectiveness

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has established a single variable as the way to reward and punish schools, teachers, students and their parents.  The fact that I have used the terms “rewards” and punishments” is evidence enough that the ED is stuck in 19th century psychology.

In 2001, the Congress approved the No Child Left Behind Act which mandated the testing of all students in reading and math.  Immediately, this set in motion the most devastating impact on curriculum in the elementary schools by narrowing the curriculum, and putting such emphasis on reading and math.

In 2009, the Congress approved the Race to the Top Fund (RT3), which earmarked about $4.5 billion for a U.S. competition among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Of these entities, only 18 were winners.  The rest lost, except for four states which choose not to compete).

The Race to the Top, in my view, is even worse for education than the NCLB.  In the RT3, achievement test scores are given even more importance because those states that got the money were required to tie student test scores to teacher evaluation using the Value Added Modeling (VAM) system.

Many states, even those that did not receive RT3 money now require at least 50% of a teacher’s evaluation be based on the VAM scores generated by a mythical statistical model.  If you think I am kidding, here is the formula for determining a teachers worth as measured by adding value to student learning.

 Figure 2. The statistic value-added model (covariate adjustment model) used to evaluate Florida teachers.

Figure 1. The statistic value-added model (covariate adjustment model) used to evaluate Florida teachers.

Aside from the fact that VAM scores are unreliable, often the scores of very competent teachers end up being at the bottom of the list.  Further, the tests upon which the VAM is calculated measure only a very small aspect of student learning.  In fact, much of what we think is really important in school–communication skills, ability for work collaboratively with others to solve problems, creative thinking, empathy, and ethics–are not measured on achievement tests.

Why does the ED insist on this simple and behavioristic model of teaching?  It does so because it thinks that school is like a factory, and runs much like a machine.  Some call this mechanistic thinking.  Everything can be broken down into components, such as teacher behavior, teacher training, computers in the classroom, number of students in the class, access to technology, standards, academic tests, courses, homework, etc.   Mechanistic thinking leads to a “fix it” mentality.  That is, we can fix the problem of schooling by changing one or more of these variables.

The big problem in the minds of the mechanistic thinkers, who I am also going call the Neo-School Reformers, such as Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Joe Klein, and Arne Duncan, is that they believe that American schools are inferior to schools in other nations, especially countries including Finland, and most of the Asian nations.  Our schools are inferior, and they prove it by citing test scores on PISA and other international tests.  But they don’t tell you the rest of the story.

The Neo-School Reformers solution to what ails our schools is the Global Education Reform Model (GERM).  Although not named by Gates and associates, it was described by one of Finland’s leading educators, Dr. Pasi Sahlberg.

There is a growing body of research that shows that the GERM model is an ineffective model of educational reform.  As Sahlberg points out, GERM is primarily practiced by the North Atlantic Alliance of Schools (primarily the U.S. Europe, and Australia).

Indeed, if you compare the PISA test results of these nations, its difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Thinking In Terms of Systems Theory

The Neo-education reforms are “heads in the sand” reformers.  They fail to look around.  They can’t.  Their necks are stuck in the muck of their own arrogance, and ignorance.  They fail to take their heads out of the box of a classroom or a school, and think about the larger ecosystem in which the school is placed.  They really get mad at teachers or education researchers if they bring up out-of-school factors that might affect student achievement.  They have a code or a motto: No Excuses Education (NEE).

Here is the thing. I’ve learned from a group of scholars, including Ed Johnson, Diane Ravitch, Russell Ackoff, Peter Barnard, W. Edwards Deming, & Lisa Delpit, that there is an other and more humane way to look at schools.

When we try to isolate the effect of teachers on any of the outputs of the school, we are sure to fail.  Think about learning as a system.

Ed Johnson, a scholar and activist in Atlanta has taught me this.  When we try to break the system apart, it loses its essential properties. In this case the output as measured by student test scores is the product of the system, which is due to interactions and interdependencies that the teacher is only one small part.

To ignore the effects of the “system” on student achievement is ignore the large body of research on the effects of poverty on the emotional and social aspects of childhood, acute and chronic stressors, cognitive lags, and health and safety issues.

Just ask any teacher about his or her students.  Ask them how is the achievement of their students affected by inadequate school resources, living in poverty, not having a home, parents who struggle to earn a living, the size of the school and district, the location of the school, students coming to school each day hungry or inadequately fed, school policies, and so on?

Systems of Achievement in Race to the Top States

Take look at Figure 2.  I’ve selected seven winners of the Race to the Top competition, and plotted their math achievement level (at or above proficient) as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).   In addition to the seven winners (Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, District of Columbia) we also have included data for the United States.

The RT3 funding began in 2010, and is now in its fourth year for many of the winning states.  Notice, however, that five of states hover near the U.S. average, but  Massachusetts and the District of Columbia lie above and below the other states, respectively.  Why is this?

 

Now take a look at Figure 3. It’s the same graph but in this case its marked up.  The six states, and DC received from $75 to $700 million to improve education in their respective states.  In all cases, the single variable used to check effectiveness of the system is student achievement scores.  In  figure 3, we examine the results from a system’s point of view, a method that I learned from Ed Johnson.

Figure 2. 8th Grade Math as a System. All states, except for Massachusetts fall within the framework of Upper and Lower Control Limits.  Any variation within this zone is due to system causes, and not special causes.  Source: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT Data Center, datacenter.kidscount.org
Figure 2. 8th Grade Math as a System. All states, except for Massachusetts fall within the framework of Upper and Lower Control Limits. Any variation within this zone is due to system causes, and not special causes. Source: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT Data Center, datacenter.kidscount.org

In the graph below, most of the state scores fall within expected limits (Upper control limits–UCL and Lower control limits–LCL).  Any variation in scores for North Carolina, New York, Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee for the most part was random, but there is evidence that some special causes were at work in Massachusetts, and we might hypothesize that special cause  effects might be at work in DC..

Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, New York and North Carolina are U.S. examples of what Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg calls the Global Education Reform Movement.  In each of these states, GERM has spread across these states, and we see classic GERM conditions, including the adoption of common standards, narrowing of curriculum focusing on math, writing and reading, high-stakes testing, a corporate management model which is data driven, and a system of accountability based on student test scores.

The graph below shows that the GERM model for most states is ineffective in changing math achievement.  I’ve examined reading in the same states during the same period, and the graphs are nearly identical.

The reforms that are in place in Georgia and other Race to the Top states will not affect student achievement in real ways.  The reforms are narrow and they ignore the ecology of learning by not seeing the school as part of a larger system.  For example, I asked in the last post why there was very little mention of poverty in Georgia’s reporting of their new method of grading schools.

Here is one reason.  Here is another graph of the same states, but this time showing poverty.  The graph is almost an inverse of the graphs shown in Figures 1 and 2. Notice that most states level of children living in poverty, except for Massachusetts (15%), has converged to the U.S. average which is about 23%.  What is the effect of poverty on student learning. Until we come look at the effects of the system on learning, we’ll make little progress in learning.

Using achievement scores is a poor indicator of student learning, and an even worse measure of teacher evaluation.

What do you think about the reforms that have been put into place as part of the Race to the Top?