Michelle Rhee’s legacy

Latest Story: Reblogged from Mathbabe

Michelle Rhee’s legacy

Dr. O’Neil provides important comparisons between the Atlanta cheating scandal and the cheating scandal in Washington, D.C. under Michelle Rhee. The difference was the scandal in D.C. was buried.

Originally posted on mathbabe:

Lately, as background research for my book, I’ve been looking into the 2008 cheating scandal associated with Michelle Rhee’s high stakes Value-Added Model regime in the D.C. area, Specifically, I’m talking about the high erasure rates associated to certain standardized tests that had cash bonuses attached to large improvements, and the consequential investigation that was smothered

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Is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Smart or Just Dumb?

Is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Smart or Just Dumb?  That’s the question we’ll try to address in this blog post.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced) released scale scores for math and ELA (English Language Arts) aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

In their release to the public on November 17, Smarter Balance announced that:

Members of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium have voted to approve initial achievement levels for the mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA) assessments that will be administered in 17 states and one territory this school year. The vote marks an important milestone in the development of the assessment system (emphasis mine).

So, a vote was taken (according to their press release) to approve a set of scale scores that will be used next year to evaluate students in 17 states when they sit at computers to take tests in math and ELA in grades 3 – 8 and high school.  Smarter Balanced explains that because the Common Core content standards set higher expectations for kids, then the new computer based tests will be more difficult.  Why?  Well, Smarter Balanced simply raised the bar, and they have no problem in stating that:

It’s not surprising that fewer students could score at Level 3 or higher. However, over time the performance of students will improve.

Fewer students experiencing success is another perfect set up for failure.

Is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium smart, or is it dumb?

The answer to this lies in reading their comments about what they have done to set up a testing program that is based on false claims.  For example, they tell us that even though kids will not do very well when the tests come on-line, they are sure to improve over time.   They don’t improve over time, and we have more than a decade of results to show this.  Furthermore, raising the bar (supposedly making the standards more difficult, rigorous, demanding–choose your own descriptor) does not affect achievement test scores, as measured the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  In a study looking at the relationship between the quality of standards and student NAEP scores, the correlations ranged from -0.60.08.  We interpret these correlations a moderate downhill (negative) relationship to weak uphill (positive) relationship.

That said, shouldn’t would conclude that Smarter Balanced should be the Dumb and Dumber Unbalanced Assessment?

And one more thing.

I have reported in earlier research on this blog that many researchers have concluded that we should not expect much from the Common Core State Standards.  In an interesting discussion of the implications of their findings, Tom Loveless, the author of the report, cautions us to be careful about not being drawn into thinking that standards represent a kind of system of “weights and measures.” Loveless tells us that standards’ reformers use the word—benchmarks—as a synonym for standards. And he says that they use too often. In science education, we’ve had a long history of using the word benchmarks, and Loveless reminds us that there are not real, or measured benchmarks in any content area. Yet, when you read the standards—common core or science—there is the implication we really know–almost in a measured way–what standards should be met at a particular grade level.

Voting on the Scale Scores: What’s this mean?

It amazes me that the members of an organization can vote on scale scores (real numbers), and think that this has meaning.  For instance, Figure 1 shows the mathematics threshold scale scores for grades 3 – 11.  It’s a nice graph, isn’t it.  And the graph is accompanied in their Smarter Balanced press release with a very colorful chart estimating the percentage of students who will score at each level by grade level.

Figure 1. Mathematics: Threshold Scale Scores set by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, November 14, 2014.  Source: media@smarterbalanced.org
Figure 1. Mathematics: Threshold Scale Scores set by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, November 14, 2014. Source: media@smarterbalanced.org. Extracted on November 17.

Here is the graph that displays the percent of students who will fail or pass.

Figure 2. How students will score that each level by grade.  Note that between 27 - 40 percent of students will fail to reach proficiency. Can you believe that? Source: media:smarter balanced.org. Retrieved November 17,2 014
Figure 2. How students will score that each level by grade. Note that between 27 – 40 percent of students will fail to reach proficiency. Can you believe that? Source: media:smarter balanced.org. Retrieved November 17,2 014

Are Standards and Aligned Assessments Scientific?

It’s a fair question. It’s a fair question because most of the 17 states will input student test scores into a mathematical algorithm called the Value Added Model to check the efficacy and quality of a teacher, and then use this number to decide upon the “grade” or assessment of the teacher. In some states, more than 50% of a teacher’s evaluation is based on this mathematical algorithm.

So, are standards and the aligned assessments scientific.

No they are not.

In her ground breaking book, Reign of error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the danger to America’s Public Schools (Public Librarys), Diane Ravitch takes on this issue. Here is what she says:

All definitions of education standards are subjective. People who set standards use their own judgment to decide what students ought to know and how well they should know it. People use their own judgment to decide the passing mark on a test. None of this is science. It is human judgment, subject to error and bias ; the passing mark may go up or down, and the decision about what students should know in which grades may change, depending on who is making the decisions and whether they want the test to be hard or easy or just right. All of these are judgmental decisions, not science. (Ravitch, Diane (2013-09-17). Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools (Kindle Locations 1033-1035). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition).

The Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (one of two aligned Common Core assessments) have along with its private corporate sponsors, and neo-liberal foundations such as Gates, Walton, Broad and others, have set up the perfect trap to fail millions of students, blame and then fire teachers, and then bring in privately run charter school management systems.

Think I’m kidding?  What do you think?

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.


Georgia Teachers Continue to Impress: 2014 CRCT Results in Context

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In this post I am going to show why I think Georgia teachers continue to impress, especially when we look at the 2014 CRCT results in the context of the past decade.

In the wake of the Vergara v California tentative decision in which the plaintiffs claimed that lurking in many California classrooms were “grossly ineffective teachers.,” you have to wonder what is their evidence.  They had NO facts to support this contention.  The data they did present was in the form of opinions, and discredited VAM data in which good and bad teachers are identified using student test scores.

For more than 30 years, I worked with thousands of teachers, not only here in Georgia, but in many other states, and countries.  When I first read the Vergera v California decision, and saw the phrase “grossly ineffective teachers,” I had to admit that I must have lived in another universe.  There may be ineffective teachers in our classrooms, but the court case only reinforced my view that the teaching profession is under assault, and that the assault is being led by what Diane Ravitch calls, The Billionaire’s Boys Club.  In the Vergara case, the club member was David Welch, founder of Students Matter, an organization set up just for the Vergara case.  Welsh was able to use millions of dollars to hire a legal team of who’s who in constitutional law, which was the basis for the Vergara case.

Around the country, state departments of education are releasing the results of standardized tests, many of which are mandated through the No Child Left Behind Law.

In Georgia, we give the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) to students in grades 1 – 8 in reading, language arts, math, science, and social studies.  At the high school level End of Course Tests (EOCT) are given in math, science, social studies, and English language arts.

On June 13, the Georgia Department of Education released the 2014 CRCT scores for the state, along with scores from last year for comparison (school and district results will be released later this month).

Figure 1 shows the 8th grade CRCT test results for the past seven years in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies.  The line graph clearly shows that scores in all tested subjects have trended up.  Since 2008 (actually, we can go back to 2000, the year the CRCT’s were used) the scores have gone up.  Three linear trend lines are included in the chart for reading, math and science, and all of them show growth, not stagnation, or depreciation.

There are 8 graphs in the chart.  The blue, red, green, purple, & light blue shows the CRCT scores for the five tested subjects that are identified on the right side of the chart.  The other three graphs are straight lines, each trending up, that shows the linear trend for reading (at the top), then science and finally math.  If, like the judge in Vergara Lawsuit claims, that there is a causal link between student scores and teacher ability, then we might conclude that teachers in Georgia are doing a good job “and have caused student scores to go up.”****

Figure 1. CRCT 8th Grade  Scores with Linear Projections for Tested Subjects

Figure 1. CRCT 8th Grade Scores with Linear Projections for Tested Subjects

***However,  I don’t believe that there is a causal link between student test scores and teacher ability.  If there is, it’s very small.  There are simply too many other variables that affect student’s ability to do well on standardized tests.  Very credible research shows that at best, only 30% of student’s academic success is attributable to schools, and that teachers are only a small part of the effect of school.  As noted elsewhere, the most significant factor affecting a student’s academic success is socioeconomic status (See, Berliner and Glass, 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education.)


Look at Figure 2.  In this chart, we’ve used a control chart using average scores calculated from 8th CRCT scores in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies.  We might think of this as a student’s “CRCT Average” (aka Grade Point Average).   Based on the data for the past seven years, we have calculated the upper and lower control limits for the CRCT Average, and we see a controlled increase in scores over the years.   There are no radical changes from one year to the next, and indeed, over the seven-year period, student scores fall within predicted limits.

We can say, based on this data, that Georgia teachers have done nothing but help students improve their scores on the CRCT standardized tests.  Perhaps we could add that as students work with Georgia teachers, scores go up.

Figure 2. Trend of Average Score on 8th Grade CRCT's in Tested Subjects
Figure 2. Trend of Average Score on 8th Grade CRCT’s in Tested Subjects


When we look at the average scores for Georgia on the 8th grade battery of CRCT tests in reading, language arts, math, science and social studies, we notice that the variation is within the limits we would expect, but more importantly, the variation in scores has decreased over time.

This is important.  Public school education in Georgia, based on these data show a system that is stable, not unstable, nor failing.

Figure 3. Variation of CRCT Scores
Figure 3. Variation of CRCT Scores

Improving education is clearly a goal of teachers.  By and large teachers are dedicated professionals who are interested in helping their students learn, and learn to love the subjects they teach.

Teaching is an art, not a business that some think can be regulated by an accountability system that provides little flexibility for teachers to carry out their work with students.  The so-called reform of education is based on an industrial culture that sees teaching as a mechanical system that can be measured, weighed and evaluated using spreadsheets.  This nonsense.


This is a serious problem, in Georgia and around the country.  Bureaucrats (many of them former teachers) at the Georgia Department of Education have become convinced that teachers and schools can be monitored and evaluated with big data that is pouring into their computers at an ever increasing rate.

This is not what teaching and learning are about.

As long as this blog exists, it will be based on the art of teaching and the wisdom of practice.

It appears to me that the wisdom of practice is alive and well in Georgia.  What do you think?


Common Core Protest Poster by Joyce Murdock Feilke

Joyce Murdock Feilke has created and published this poster, that came about from her experiences in Austin, Texas as a Texas School Counselor.  In several earlier posts, her experiences were featured on this blog, and you can read about them here.

The powerful message of this poster is clear in these words, but more evident in her deeds and courage in standing up to school officials in the Austin Independent School District.  In her position as school counselor started speaking out about the dangers of the “high stakes testing” environment for elementary age children after she observed the signs of traumatic stress in children in her Texas school. She considers the punitive, authoritarian environment this obsession with testing has created as institutional psychological abuse.

Joyce is a strong advocate for children, and continues to give her voice to the growing resistance of Common Core. With this message, which she wrote after giving her resignation in protest of the “bullying” environment to children, Joyce advocates against the CCSS and it’s “one modality fits all” pedagogy, as well as the Pearson designed state tests and Pearson materials that are being promoted in the public schools.

Joyce is a career educator who believes that to maintain a strong democracy, our country must provide a public school environment that models democratic behavior, and not totalitarianism. Joyce believes that our nation’s children are our most precious resource, and they are being endangered in this harmful environment of CCSS.

Figure 1. Common Core Protest Poster: We Should Have Listened to the Lorax. Used with Permission of Joyce Murdock Feilke
Figure 1. Common Core Protest Poster: We Should Have Listened to the Lorax. Used with Permission of Joyce Murdock Feilke