"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, March 9, 2012

2012 Medley #5

Poverty, the Economy, Politics,
Accountability, Evaluations, Testing.

Income More Important Than Race in Achievement Gap
...we should be grateful that the subject is given such prominence. After all, critics insist that any such explanation is nothing but an excuse. They minimize the implications for schools that more than one in five children now live in poverty...almost a ten percent increase over 2008...To put this data into human terms, the increase brings the total number to 15.5 million children. As a result, the U.S. retains the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world...

Are public schools unfairly blamed for America’s economic woes?
...schools are being blamed for the economic failures of the communities in which they are located and for the educational failures of their students. Their teachers are publicly pilloried as overpaid, selfish and a drain on a national economy that requires schools to be run with the efficiency of American business.

My reaction: “What? American business? Efficient?” Whose failing enterprises left 10 miles of waterfront in Youngstown a wasteland of rusting steel, rotting lumber and old tires? And took three quarters of the jobs away from the largest auto producing center in the nation? And left the majority of its adult males without employment? And created a 150-mile stretch of Amtrak from Newark to Baltimore with at least 500 abandoned factories and warehouses that have never been rebuilt? And that was just in he ‘80’s and ‘90’s!

Whose uncontrolled financial speculation led to the more recent troubles of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and the American International Group, along with the disappearance of $7 trillion Dollars in wealth once owned by individuals, pension funds, banks and insurance companies? Are 28 percent of the homes in the United States under water because of union teachers? Can they also be blamed for the 44 percent black unemployment rate in the city of Milwaukee?

Dear Mr. President
If only the policies your administration advocates were...supportive of teachers and what we see as the best interest of our students.

There are words - Secretary Duncan saying to Roland Martin of NBC
The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.
...and the Secretary and you approving of the firing of all the teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. Things like these do not give us confidence that your administration has the best interest of students at heart, and give us great pause in thinking that you really care about teachers.

Education as "Politically Contested Spaces"
Every choice made by an administrator, a teacher, and a student is a political choice. Humans are always in a state of politics, a negotiation of power. To deny this is to push our political nature beneath the surface (that which shall not be spoken) and relinquishing the power to the status quo.

Who is Accountable for Teaching Contexts?
The people supporting school closures and turnarounds act as if all teachers were being given the same level playing field to work from, and were simply not good enough thus justifying mass firings. We all know this is simply not the case.

Some principals are supportive and helpful, while others are vindictive and cruel. Who is accountable for this? Some schools put special education as a priority while others warehouse students with special needs in the “resource rooms”. Who is accountable? Some schools are given funding for arts, music, and gym class every day, while others can only afford one part-time position music OR art. Who is accountable? Some schools invest in small class sizes while others have huge split classes squeezing 40+ students into one room. Who is accountable? Some schools have a full-time social worker and nurse, while many only have a social worker and nurse one day a week at best. Who is accountable? Some schools rely on far too many untrained and uncertified teachers meaning a cohort of children will not be prepared well. Who is accountable? Many schools have excessive teacher turnover. Who is held accountable for the terrible teaching conditions which drive teachers away?

...So let’s hold the people who distribute the resources accountable! Let’s grade our politicians and chief financial officers! “Ineffective” does not even begin to describe the rating they should get....

Phony Stories About Schools
Most find it unbelievable that there was no past golden age of schooling, or that our economy didn't tank because of school failure. (Were GM workers less skilled than Japan's in the 60s? Do the Chinese have a more technologically sophisticated workforce than the USA? Be honest Mr. Gates et al—you went to China for cheap labor.)

What makes folks so susceptible to an almost entirely phony story? Aside from widespread ignorance about statistics. I remember how annoyed I was in the '70s to hear reporters note that, alas, after so much effort, half the kids were still reading below grade level—which was statistically how grade level was defined.

Vince Marsala: Politicians are Wrecking Our Schools
...a successful school vision has an involved community, students, and parents, a stable, experienced staff, adequate resources, and a balanced curriculum. As conservative and liberal politicians continue dragging education back and forth to earn votes and the media's praise, teachers, principals and their professions are being unfairly bashed, and their students are being thought of solely as test scores. When Mercutio died in Romeo and Juliet, he yelled," A plague o' both your houses!" Many educators would say the same to both political parties today.

Evaluating Teacher Evaluation
Using VAMs for individual teacher evaluation is based on the belief that measured achievement gains for a specific teacher’s students reflect that teacher’s “effectiveness.” This attribution, however, assumes that student learning is measured well by a given test, is influenced by the teacher alone, and is independent from the growth of classmates and other aspects of the classroom context. None of these assumptions is well supported by current evidence.
Most importantly, research reveals that gains in student achievement are influenced by much more than any individual teacher. Others factors include:
  • School factors such as class sizes, curriculum materials, instructional time, availability of specialists and tutors, and resources for learning (books, computers, science labs, and more);
  • Home and community supports or challenges;
  • Individual student needs and abilities, health, and attendance;
  • Peer culture and achievement;
  • Prior teachers and schooling, as well as other current teachers;
  • Differential summer learning loss, which especially affects low-income children; and
  • The specific tests used, which emphasize some kinds of learning and not others and which rarely measure achievement that is well above or below grade level.
However, value-added models don’t actually measure most of these factors. VAMs rely on statistical controls for past achievement to parse out the small portion of student gains that is due to other factors, of which the teacher is only one. As a consequence, researchers have documented a number of problems with VAM models as accurate measures of teachers’ effectiveness.

Report: Test-based incentives don’t produce real student achievement

This is a report which was released last May. It's worth reading again. Pay close attention..."The report, together with a number of other studies...serve as a warning to policymakers..."
Incentive programs for schools, teachers and students aimed at raising standardized test scores are largely unproductive in generating increased student achievement, according to a new report researched by an expert panel of the National Research Council.

The report said that standardized tests commonly used in schools to measure student performance — including high school exit exams and tests in various grades mandated by former president Bush’s No Child Left Behind law — “fall short of providing a complete measure of desired educational outcomes in many ways,” according to a summary of the lengthy document.

The report, together with a number of other studies released in the past year, effectively serve as a warning to policymakers in states that are moving to implement laws, with support from the Obama administration, to make teacher and principal evaluation largely dependent on increases in students’ standardized test scores.

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