Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Next Up: Zombie PARCC

If you aren't a regular reader of Campbell Brown's The 74 website, that's probably just as well. But this week there are two pieces there worth seeing.

One is this piece by Robert Pondiscio, one of the best yet in the genre of "we will now go ahead and agree with what public school defenders have been saying all along" writings that have become all the rage. It is an excellent argument against the Big Standardized Test, and it comes from reform-ville. Go ahead and read it.

But even as Pondiscio is joining the chorus of test deniers, the 74 is also running a piece by Brendan Lowe entitled "Primed for Amazon-Style Question Shopping, New Meridian Opens Fresh Chapter for Maligned Common Core Test."

Uh-oh.

First the good news. PARCC is just about down to two members. But if you thought it was just going to quietly take a deserved spot on the trash heap of history, well, meet Arthur VanderVeen. VanderVeen has been around. In the late nineties he founded a company to develop digital curriculum, but it failed. He was an executive director of College Board and sold the SAT as a way to meet federal high school assessment requirements under NCLB. He worked in NYC schools, starting under Joel Klein overseeing assessment, then bumped up to Chief of Innovation, where he founded the NYC iZone program focused on ed tech and personalized [sic] learning. Then he was the vice-president of business strategy and development for Compass Learning (which was eaten up by Edgenuity a few months after he left). He's exactly the kind of guy whose LinkedIn profile sounds like this:

Highly effective leader who integrates strategy, talent management, and disciplined execution to create successful, sustainable, and profitable enterprises. 20 years of leadership experience in business development, strategic partnerships, and product management in K-12 education. Expert in assessment management and personalized learning technologies. Has focused his career on fostering strategic public-private partnerships that deliver innovative products and services to K-12 schools.

After leaving Compass, VanderVeen became president and CEO at New Meridian, a company that hypes its ability to "to produce highly flexible assessments that accurately measure the skills that matter most." They look to collaborate with districts or states, or help states and districts that want to collaborate with each other. Their executive team includes three former Pearson execs and two College Board vets. The Gates and Hewlett foundations are among the financial backers.

That sounds like a lot of test items. If only there were a way to find a whole mountain of items that was lying around unused because the parent company that created it was tanking.

VanderVeen is the founding CEO of New Meridian, a nonprofit he created with other assessment industry veterans to make a run at acquiring the rights to PARCC’s question bank. VanderVeen’s team prevailed in April 2017, and now New Meridian is moving to adapt PARCC to an environment where multi-state consortia are going the way of the dinosaurs.

VanderVeen's vision is an Amazon of testing items, a giant catalog through which zombie-PARCC can be chopped up and sold off-- repeatedly-- for parts. This strikes me as a challenging for a couple of reasons. One is that PARCC's test bank has never exactly won rave reviews; there's a reason that many states dropped the thing and it's not just because it was expensive and Common Core became a toxic brand. The other is that creating a test isn't just a matter of writing the items-- the mix of items is also critical. In zombie terms, you can't build an effective zombie out of six heads and no legs.

Still, some states that have gone it alone have been a mess. Tennessee's attempt was a technical nightmare. And Florida (state motto: there's nothing about education we can't screw up) had its own series of do-it-yourself disasters. Why will this be better? Because VanderVeen is a more gifted salesman. As he explains it:

They never had to operate in the discipline of being customer-centric and really deliver value and ask questions. Is a 14-hour test too long? Might states balk at that? Is the cost too high? Are the constraints of working with a single vendor just not going to be acceptable to states? They didn’t have to think about that until they did. In an open market, states, or customers, have choices, and states made choices, and they walked away.

In other words, they spent too much time thinking about the educational implications of the test instead of managing a product for the marketplace.

Will this be a hard sell? Apparently not, because so far eight states, DC, and two other "entities" have signed up for this ( IL, MD, NJ, NM, MA, RI, LA, CO).

But wait, you say. The PARCC was launched with a big pile of taxpayer money. If it folds, don't taxpayers deserve a refund? Read carefully and you'll see that New Meridian won the right to be "the exclusive agent authorized to license test content owned by CCSSO and jointly developed by the former PARCC states." So PARCC is a true zombie-- not actually dead, but with its corpse animated by some force other than its own life.

Of course, the zombie solution may be great for people looking for an easy escape from PARCC, but it will require an elevated level of attentiveness from PARCC opponents. As Lowe reports, Phil Murphy won the New Jersey governor's seat in part by promising to get rid of PARCC, but as his Department of Education looked to replace PARCC, they hired-- you guessed it-- New Meridian to do the job. So New Jersey will replace PARCC with zombie PARCC.

So there it is. Even as folks on the reformy team speak out against the BS Tests, the fact remains that they are just too much of an asset to go away quietly. If you leave a pile of millions of dollars lying around, even if it is soaked in pig urine, somebody will be unable to resist the urge to pick it up.

Should Your Three-Year-Old Attend On-line School?

The short answer is, "No." Or maybe, "Hell, no."

You may wonder why the subject even needs to be discussed, and the short answer to that is, "Because somebody's already doing it."

By now you've probably heard the new old saying that kindergarten is the new first grade, with academic learning that used to be a staple of 6-year-olds now pushed down to 5-year-olds. We can blame that on many factors, including the parental desire to give their child an extra competitive edge, but arguably this is yet another problem we can blame on Common Core Standards. Some of the worst problems with the standards are found in the earliest grades, likely because of the use of backwards scaffolding-- the standards writers decided what a high school graduate should be able to do, and then just worked backward from there ("If we want them to bench-press 100 pounds in 12th grade, then we should start with 5-year-olds bench pressing 50 pounds and add 4 more pounds every year"). It seems logical, as long as I completely ignore the developmental capabilities of small children.

The demands of the Core and Core-related testing has panicked many school districts into getting students started on academics sooner and ignoring what we know about the developmental capabilities of littles. Now we frequently hear noise about 5-year-olds not being ready for kindergarten, which has put the pressure on the Pre-K providers. In Florida, where huge numbers of littles are deemed "not ready for kindergarten," pre-K providers have been threatened with losing funding if their "graduates" can't pass a standardized kindergarten exam.

Never mind that everything we know says this approach is wrong. Much research says that early academic gains are lost by third grade; some research says that pre-school academics actually make for worse long term results. If most of your 5-year-olds are not ready for kindergarten, the problem is with your kindergarten, not your 5-year-olds.

Turning to technology does not help. A study released earlier this year by the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine, found that most "educational" apps aimed at children five and younger were developmentally inappropriate, ignoring what we know about how littles actually learn.

This does not bode well for Utah Preparing Students Today for a Rewarding Tomorrow (UPSTART), an online Pre-K program that got its start from a federal grant that the state, which gave no funding to pre-K, gladly embraced. That was in 2015. A 2016 study found no real academic benefit from the program, but today UPSTART is still growing strong and pushing into seven other states, with grant money fueling a chance to extend their reach further. It promises that just fifteen minutes a day, five days a week will make your child ready for kindergarten. It makes other promises, such as being "easy for the child to use independently" which is an impressive claim for anything being used by a 4-year-old.

It has been an oft-repeated item that the big guns in the tech industry raise their children tech-free (-ish). Recently, the New York Times ran a piece suggesting that the digital divide will not be between haves and have-nots, but between those the nonwealthy living screen-dominated lives and the wealthy who live screen-free. Groups like Defending the Early Years have come out strongly against cyber-school for littles, and nobody is writing stories about wealthy families pulling their children from tony Montessori schools in order to plunk them down in front of a computer. But as the reach of tech companies grows, software is seen as a cheap way to bolster education in poor communities. Are we moving toward a world in which the wealthy are taught by humans and the nonwealthy by screens? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we already know that the best, healthiest, most productive thing for pre-K children to be doing is play. And while something as simple as 15 minutes a day, five days a week may seem like no big deal, it normalizes computer time for children, gets families used to having data collected, pushes academics much too soon, and in return provides no proven benefits. Send your little to a play-based pre-school and leave the screen turned off.

Originally posted at Forbes

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Is This The End Of Ed Reform Policy?

From time  to time Mike Petrilli (Fordham Institute) grabs himself a big declaration and goes to town. Last week, the declaration was "We have reached the end of education policy."

He frames this up with references to Francis Fukuyama's book about the end of history, and I don't know that he really ever sticks the landing on creating parallels between Fukuyama's idea (which he acknowledges turned out to be wrong) and his thoughts about ed policy, but it establishes an idea about the scale he's shooting for-- something more sweeping and grandiose than if he'd compared ed policy to video game arcades or no-strings-attached sex.

His thesis?

We are now at the End of Education Policy, in the same way that we were at the End of History back in 1989. Our own Cold War pitted reformers against traditional education groups; we have fought each other to a draw, and reached something approaching homeostasis. Resistance to education reform has not collapsed like the Soviet Union did. Far from it. But there have been major changes that are now institutionalized and won’t be easily undone, at least for the next decade.

Okay. Well, first I'd argue that he has it backwards. It was reformsters who championed centralized top-down planning and the erasure of local governance, often accomplished with raw power and blunt force, so if somebody has to be the Soviet Union in this analogy, I think they fit the bill.

He ticks off the gains of the reformist movement. Charters are now fact of the landscape in many cities. Tax credit scholarships, a form of sideways voucher, are also established. He admits that the growth of these programs has slowed; he does not admit that these reform programs reach a tiny percentage of all US students.

One data point surprised me-- one fifth of all new teachers are coming from alternative certification programs, which is really bad news for the teaching profession and for students. We'll have to talk about this.

Testing, he says, in claiming a dubious victory, is less hated than it used to be, maybe? He makes some specious claims here about the underlying standards being stronger and the tests being more sophisticated and rigorous-- none of that is true. He says that teacher evaluation systems have been "mostly defanged," citing ESSA, but from where most teachers sit, there's still plenty of fang right where it's been. "School accountability systems," he claims, are now less about accountability and more about transparency. No-- test centered accountability continues to serve no useful purpose while warping and damaging educational programs across America.

The era of broad policy initiatives out of DC is over, says Petrilli. Hallelujah, says I. Only policy wonks would think it's a great thing if state and federal bureaucrats crank out new policy initiatives every year. Every one of them eats up time and effort to implement that could be better spent actually educating students. The teaching profession is saturated with initiative fatigue, the exhaustion and cynicism that comes when high-powered educational amateurs stop in every year or two to tell you that they know have a great new way for you to do your job that will totally Fix Everything. One does not have to spend many years in the classroom to weary of the unending waves of bullshit. It would be awesome if those waves actually stopped for a while.

Petrilli's claim is that they have, and that now is a time for tinkering with actual education practices, but his list sucks. "To implement the higher standards with fidelity" No. No no no no NO no no, and hell no. "With fidelity" is reform talk for "by squashing every ounce of individual initiative, thought, and professional judgment out of classroom teachers. "With fidelity" means "subordinating the professional judgment of trained educators to the unproven amateur-hour baloney of the Common Core writers." "Improve teacher preparation and development" is a great goal, except that I don't think that means "train teachers to do better test prep and go through their days with fidelity." Then we have "To strengthen charter school oversight and quality," which seems like a great idea, though "strengthen" assumes that there is anything there to strengthen in the first place, which in some states is simply not so (looking at you, train wreck Florida). Charters need to be reigned in-- way in-- and if that means that many operators will simply leave the charter school business, well, I can live with that. Work on the whole Career and Technical Education thing, a goal that I have a hard time getting excited about because in my corner of the world, we've been doing it well for fifty years. If you think CTE is a brand new thing, you are too ill-informed to be allowed anywhere near CTE policy.

Petrilli tries to create a sense of urgency with the same old tired stats. NAEP is stagnant. Students graduate without "academic preparation to succeed in what's next," a made-up statistic that assumes we know exactly what a student needs to know in order to succeed at any path in life, and we don't. It's like saying we don't know how to measure height, and we don't know how tall you have to be to jump over this fence, but we are certain that fifty percent of US children are too short.

But Petrilli's larger point is wrong, anyway. Ed reform has already set its sights on competency based proficiency based personalized [sic] learning education technological mass customized schooling. ESSA opened the door for it, and the same scent of money and data mining that drew reform sharks and well-meaning chum artists to Common Core and charters and the Big Standardized Test is drawing a crowd for these Next Big Things, even as they push legislatures to get rid of rules that hamper this newest market grab.

There is not so much homeostasis as the realization that many old reform initiatives have reached a dead end, a blockade of diminishing returns and unrealized promises, and the crowd is moving on to the next shiny thing.

But Petrilli gets one thing absolutely right:

The leadership for this Golden Age of Educational Practice is not coming from Washington, and it’s not coming from the states. It needs to come from each of us.

Granted, it's not clear who "us" is, but still-- in a year in which reformsters repeatedly "discover" and announce things that teachers have already know for years, this is the most teachers have already known this for years-iest.

You don't always learn it in teacher school, but you learn it soon enough in the field. You hope the students will love learning enough that they will help propel your work. You hope that parents will have the time and emotional resources and devotion to help propel their students forward. You hope that your building administration will have your back and that your district leaders will work hard to give you the tools and freedom and support that you need. You hope that state and federal political leaders will make decisions that make your job easier rather than harder. You hope that the academics and wonks who crank out Bold New Ideas will come up with ideas that are actually useful and which help you become a better teacher. You hope that publishers create materials that provide more assistance than speed bumps.

But you learn quickly that, regardless of whether your hopes are realized or dashed, if learning is going to happen in your classroom, it's on you and nobody else. If your students are going to grow in knowledge and wisdom and strength, becoming more fully themselves and grasping one more piece of what it means to be fully human in the world-- if any of that is going to happen in your classroom, it's on you. Nobody from DC or the state capitol or a thinky tank is coming to help you.

It's all on you.

That's okay. As Jose Luis Vilson often says, we got this. Even if nobody is going to help us get it, we will still get it, because we have to, and because that's why, mostly, we signed up for the gig.

Practice is where the action has always been. Education reformsters have tried to create a title of education reformers for themselves, but the real education reform, the real growth and change and experimentation and analysis of how to make things work better-- that work has been going on every single day (including summers, thank you) since public schools opened their doors. Whether bureaucrats and legislators and thinky tank wonks or rich guys with too much time on their hands have been cranking out giant plans or just twiddling idly while waiting for their next brainstorm, teachers have been honing and perfecting their practice, growing and rising and advancing every single day of their career, doing everything they can think of to insure that this year's students get a better shot than last year's. Just one more reason that the whole "schools haven't changed in 100 years" is both insulting and ignorant.

So thinky tanks and reformists and wealthy dilettantes and government bureaucrats can continue fiddling and analyzing their fiddlings as they search for the next great Big New Thing in policy. In the meantime, teachers have work to do.





ICYMI: Light Up Night Hangover Edition (11/18)

Last night was my town's big Light Up Night parade, which includes a huge parade (well, huge by our standards) fireworks, and cold children. But I still have some reading for you. Remember-- sharing is caring.

If People Talked To Other Professionals The Way They Talk To Teachers

A painfully hilarious piece from McSweeney. Just in case you're one of the three people who hasn't already seen this.

Former Camden Superintendent on Testing, Drawbacks Thereof

From our catalog of reform dudes discovering insights that we've been saying for years. It's still a pretty sharp indictment of testing.

Seattle High School TGeacher Shares the Wonder of Books with Students

This is so awesome-- a book store field trip. Read this and then start thinking about how you're going to do the same thing in your community.

Students Protest Zuckerberg-backed Digital Learning Program

Valerie Strauss with details about the Brooklyn students who walked out on Summit Learning.

You Are More Than Your EVAAS Score  

Justin Parmenter with words of encouragement aimed at NC teachers, but applicable to many others.

ReadyNation Prepares for More Next Gold Rush  

Impact investing, pre-K, and a pair of new governors make for a depressing game of connect the dots at Wrench in the Gears.

Public Schools for Private Gains

From the Kappan.

Balance Is The Key

How is privatizing the weather like privatizing school?

Building an Early Childhood Resistance Movement

Defending the Early Years continues the work of standing up for the littles.

Disruption Using Technology Is Dangerous To Child Development and Public Education

Nancy Bailey sorts out some of the issues of ed tech and the threat it poses to children (and teachers).

The Best Woman for the Job

Nancy Flanagan reflects on meeting the glass ceiling in the world of music and teaching.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Summit Builds Its Own Facilitators

Education Dive just became the latest site to ooh and ahh over Summit Charter School's in-house facilitator factory.

The focus of the story is a molecular biologist who has decided to try his hand in the classroom-- specifically a classroom in one of Summit Charter's chain of charteriness. Summit, you may recall, is the chain that garnered back from Mark Zuckerberg, that offers its program for free to any school that wants it, and plans to spin that part of the business off into a Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative controlled enterprise soon.

Summit is all about the mass-customized, computer-centered personalized [sic] learning, and you can see the implications in the language the article uses.

As we watch the proto-teacher in action, the article describes "the lesson he is leading in the classroom." (Emphasis mine). Not teaching. Leading.

Bobby's classmates thought "We'd better get a guide over here soon."
The head of the Summit residency program, Pamela Lancke, describes a good candidate as someone who is "open to classrooms looking different than what they might have experienced themselves" a well as being comfortable with students moving at their own pace. The latter qualification seems bizarre-- exactly where might we find a teacher who's uncomfortable with students moving at their own pace? But part of the pitch here is to contrast Summit neo-teachers with Mrs. Strawy McStrawman.

"The role of teacher is very different — more of a facilitator and coach than a lecturer," Lamcke said, adding that if someone is proud of being a “great orator,” he or she probably wouldn't thrive in a Summit school or any other personalized learning environment.

Seriously-- have you ever heard a teacher say, "My big strength is my oratory skills." And the implication that this somehow all radical new is silly. I was in teacher school in the 1970s when we heard incessantly about being the guide on the side instead of the sage on the stage. I'll wager there isn't a teacher anywhere in the country who doesn't know about this. So why hasn't direct instruction died out? Because in many cases, it works. Because students will say, "Can you please explain this to me?" Because if you are not more knowledgeable about the content than your students are, why are we taxpayers paying you?

The Summit answer is "to facilitate and coach while the students work through their computer-delivered lessons." This model is not popular every where. Just last week, Brooklyn students became the latest to protest Summit's program. They join schools like Cheshire Schools in Connecticut in rejecting a program that students describe as staring at a computer all day or being expected to teach yourself.

The article could address this pushback-- instead it just lets Lamcke say that A) it's a mystery but B) it's probably because stodgy old Mrs. McStrawman can't shift her thinking.

But then, Summit's program is bold-- at the top of their webpage they quote a group of Silicon Valley parents who asked "What happened to the American public high school and what can we do to fix it."

The pitch describes the perfect candidate as one who believes all students can be successful, who wants to work in a diverse cohort, who believes in a personalized path for every student, who has a growth mindset, and who is interested in teaching as a profession. If so, why aren't you in an teacher prep program? And why doesn't the list include anything about being a person with content knowledge.

The one-year residency program yields a preliminary single subject teaching credential, which in California is a credential that lets you teach for five years while you complete various bits of coursework. And when you're all done, you're first in line for a job at a Summit Charter School.

There are things--well, thing, anyway-- to like about this model. A teacher internship with four days a week of shadow/team teaching for an entire year, with the fifth day spent meeting with other interns for further development-- that's a good framework (though I wonder about the interns' source of income for the year). But the framework doesn't seem to be filled with much substance, and some of the details the EdDive article reports are just silly.

Molly Posner, an academic program manager with Summit, starts the morning by having residents write down any feelings of frustration they want to express, whether that's in essay or poetry form.
"You could just write down the words to your favorite break-up song," she says. Then, she has them crumple up what they wrote and throw it away — a symbolic act of clearing their minds and focusing on what they still need to complete. For the rest of the morning, they work individually and in groups to address remaining questions about their final projects.

I won't pretend that some traditional teacher prep programs don't waste time on similar silliness. But that doesn't excuse it. And Summit's program seems lacking in actual content knowledge development. And ultimately you've been trained to be a facilitator.

This is one of the innovations of the charter movement; if you can't find teachers willing to work in your stripped down beat up version of a school, just grow your own. It's not an innovation I welcome. Some combination of sage on the stage and guide on the side is still preferable to the tutor in the computer.

CO: Charter Battles First Amendment

It's a reminder, again, that some charter operators feel certain they don't have to play by the same rules as the rest of the country.

Victory Preparatory Academy in Commerce City, Colorado, is getting hauled into court over an alleged violation of First Amendment rights.

VPA (6-12) and Community Leadership Academy (PK-5) are run by CEO Ron Jajdelski, a man who leaves a pretty tiny internet footprint. His LinkedIn account lists only his current job. But the sixty-ish CEO does turn up in a few spots. He appears to have attended Saybrook University's School of Organizational Leadership and Transformation.  He apparently holds a patent for "an ornamental design for a media storage device."

According to the school website, Jajdelski was involved from day one:

The school was conceived in March 2003, when several community members met to discuss education reform in Adams County School District 14. The discussion was facilitated by Ron Jajdelski, Executive Director at Commerce City Community Enterprise, a local grassroots non-profit focusing on empowering citizens to lead local change. These visionaries continued to meet and develop the school’s mission, programming and culture.

His school has had issues before. In 2015, there was a flap that began with a parent believed her sixth grade daughter was being bullied. She called Jajdelski and ended up feeling bullied herself, wiuth Jajdelski suggesting that he daughter should just change schools. A video of the exchange went viral-ish, and Jajdelski ended up explaining to news media that his tone was based on his belief that the parent was trying to bully him.

That was perhaps not the most professional exchange, and it's not a one-off. Other parents reportedly had similar experiences. And then there's VPA somewhat aggressive marketing approach. In 2016, Jajdelski and his wife Tina, who is also an administrator for the charter, put on the school's electronic billboard, "Don't risk your child's future to failing Adams 14 schools." When questioned about it, Jajdelski said the message would stay up "despite if it bothers some people."

The current set of issues take us back to September of 2017:

During a school assembly Sept. 28, 2017, the students stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but, when it came time to recite the school’s own pledge — “I … accept the VPA challenge to be a noble knight, and I pledge to do my best for myself, my family, my school and my community” — many of them refused to stand as a form of silent protest, according to the lawsuit.

The students said they were protesting "a lack of school spirit and a lack of opportunity."

"We are only focused on our grades and testing, and we want to have experiences like other schools down the street," Pineda told Denver7's Connor Wist.

Students were sent back to class, the recalled to the auditorium so that Jajdelski could grill them about the protest. The students presented him with a letter about their protest (the letter was previously posted on Scribd but has since been taken down) and Jajdelski did not handle this well.

He threw all 120 students out of school and called the police.

Mary and Joel Flores arrived to pick up their son and were met by police, who tried to calm the crowd and tried to buy Jajdelski some time. But then he escalated to saying that if they didn't take their son and leave school grounds, "Jajdelski would press charges and everyone would be arrested." The parents wanted an explanation, but that wasn't going to happen, and the police indicated they could not protest on school property. There is, of course, video.

The Flores own a Spanish-language newspaper, and they reported the story on the front page. Within a week, the school sent them a letter informing them that because of their reporting, they were banned from school property. The school charged them with detaining, filming and photographing students, and "You also intentionally chose to create a false narrative with students, the public and the media regarding VPA student activities and school administration decisions."

So, there are many layers here. First, schools may not legally require students to stand and recite the pledge to the US flag, let alone somebody's made up pledge to their school. Second, journalists can't be banned just because they say things you don't like. And third, anybody who had five minutes of formal How To Be A School Administrator would know both of those things. But the Jajdelskis appear to be just one more example of what happens when you let amateurs play school.

Yes, there are some unanswered questions in the record at the moment.Why did the Flores wait a full year to file their suit? And, yes, it's entirely possible that the Flores are one of Those Types of Parents-- the ones who are an enormous PITA to their child's school.

However, there are no possible answers to any of those questions that make Jajdelski's actions Not Wrong. Once again, we have charter operators acting as if the school is their own private kingdom, not subject to any of the rules observed by every public school in the country. We'll see how this turns out.









Friday, November 16, 2018

Lessons From Lansing

At the beginning of the week I made the drive to Lansing, Michigan (shorter trip than flying, and I like a good drive) at the invitation of a member of the State Board of Education at their meeting on the subject of competency based education. I'll try to distill what I told them for this space at some point; in the meantime, there's video out there somewhere.

I'd never been to Lansing before, never addressed a state board of education before. It was an adventure, and there were a few lessons to be gleaned from the trip. In no particular order:

Architecture

While many state capitals favor a sort of neo-classical architecture, Lansing's main government building mall feels a lot like Soviet Bloc circa 1964. Their capitol building has a dome, but to my eyes it's weirdly elongated, like someone squeezed a photo while editing it. I'm sure the fact that it was mid-November and starting to snow didn't help.

The Coalition

Much notice has been paid to how Trump's election goobered up the left-right coalition of reformsters. The resistance to reform has also long been an alliance of left and right folks, whose concerns and goals have not always perfectly aligned. I was invited down there by a GOP board member who is allied with some activists on the right end of the spectrum, after being recommended to him by someone also on the right in the world of the resistance. I don't think I'm particularly far left, but I'm far left of these folks. And during the lunch break, I was invited to dine (okay-- grab something in the cafeteria) with my host and two of his Democratic colleagues.

I suspect (as do they) that when it's time to give focus to what they want to see rather than what they don't, they will find some things they disagree about, but at the moment they are allies. More importantly, they are able to talk to each other respectfully and with the assumption of good intent.



Legislative Tricks

Not the first time I'd heard of this one, but the game has been played, again, in Michigan.

Why is there now a conversation about CBE going on in Michigan? Because rather than talk about proposing it publicly or tossing it around in the appropriate committees with appropriate public discussion, legislators snuck it into the budget. This is a cool old trick. Let's say you want to support plastic widgets in your state, but you don't want to bring it up publicly because plastic widgets are controversial. Just add to the budget a $100 million grant item to foster the development of the plastic widget industry. Nobody has to talk about it, and if you do a really good job nobody will even notice it's there except the plastic widget industry folks. Michigan did that with CBE instead of plastic widgets.

The lesson here is always pay attention to the budgeting process in your state. Just because nobody announced a legislative plastic widget initiative doesn't mean there isn't one.

How The Bully Pulpit Works

As several members of the board noted, it's not that they haven't heard about CBE. They've heard plenty-- it's just all been happy talk about how wondrous it is. When a political chief, like a governor, decides to push a program, one of the levers they have is the ability to bombard key people with information of a certain flavor. I don't think I'd really thought about this a lot, but after my trip, my list of qualifications for elected office-- any elected office, no matter how minor, obscure or boring-- is the ability to study up on a subject and think for themselves. Honestly, I think I'm better with someone from the Other Side who can actually think like an independent grown-up than I am with someone from my own side who just follows along with whoever is next up the food chain.


The DeVosian Shadow

As you might imagine, it's still there. One of the board members is a DeVos BFF. She listened politely and then sweetly and passive aggressively put me in my place. It was kind of cute in a church lady kind of way.

Stand Up

This was a different thing for me. I'm used to taking my shots from behind a keyboard, or working in front of a self-selected-for-friendliness crowd, or working an audience of teens, or performing with either an instrument in my hand or my back to the audience. But if we're going to keep saying that teachers (active and retired) are education experts, then we should be prepared to stand up and speak our truth, without apologizing for it. Asking the opinion of an actual teacher is exactly what outfits like state boards of education should be doing, and lots of other groups, too. More of us should be putting ourselves out there, or pushing our colleagues who have the gift out there, and when the chance to speak comes, we need to take it. So I'm glad I did that.

Also, as far as Lansing goes, I am told there are very nice parts outside of the area in which I spent my 16 hours.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

You Can Do The Research

For some people research is fun. Seriously. I play in an old traditional town band, and a few decades back, I decided I would try to work up a history of the group. The project ended up taking me about thirty years to research and write. I read every local newspaper from 1854 until 1965. I have an entire cardboard box of bound notes and file cards.  I have been asked from time to time how I ever did such a thing, and while it would be nice to attribute it to my mighty reserve and sterling moral fiber, the real answer was that it was fun. Seriously. The writing was fun, but the research was really, really fun.

Some of us are wired that way, just as some of us are inclined to love curling or antique auto restoration. Unfortunately, "I love to spend hours in the library" doesn't earn you much social capital in high. Double unfortunately, much of what passes for "research" assignments n high school barely qualifies as research at all. The average shake and bake assignment boils down to "Go find information about this subject that has already been researched, collected, and written up by an expert in the field. The repeat back what they wrote, only don't use their exact words because that would be plagiarism." A rehashed report, even one that requires a number of sources (aka the one source that the paper was taken from plus however many other unexamined sources are required to fill out the bibliography), will not awaken the slumbering research beast within you.

I'll just check one more thing, then break for lunch. What? It's supper time?
My point is that, even if you've never been bitten before, it is not too late for you to be bitten by the research bug, and if you are actively involved in political and community issues, that bug can serve you well. And there's always more to discover. What I'm going to share now are tools that I learned about at the recent Network for Public Education conference in a presentation by the indispensable Mercedes Schneider, Andrea Gabor, and Darcie Cimarusti. Schneider writes as much as I do (more, actually, because she keeps cranking out books) but also does the legwork of unearthing new information for her pieces. Gabor is a great journalist, whose latest book about ed reform is sitting by my couch. Cimarusti has been an effective citizen activist for education (you mat know her online as Mother Crusader).

So here are three resources that you can easily make use of from the same location you're sitting in to read these words.

Form 990

Tax-exempt organizations, nonexempt charitable trusts, and section 527 political organizations file this form, and it will tell you a ton about the organization, including, in some cases, who is contributing to it. These are filed with the IRS, but they are also public information, and several websites on line will help you find the forms you seek (I have been using Foundation Center, but there are other options out there). Google 990 finder.

Different sorts of organizations fill out different versions of the 990; some have to report every single donor, and some don't. Schneider has uncovered a lot of juicy information following 990 trails, including the surprise revelation that Eli Broad's silent partner in Education Post was Laurene Jobs.

One pointer. As you can see from Schneider's tale to tracking EdPost, some groups like to fuzzy up their paper trail by using shell names. So you may be interested in "The National Watermelon Foundation" but can't find anything because they are actually legally filed under the name "Ocelots Hate Brussel Sprouts Association." Just be creative, scan websites for details, and keep making your best guess. Research requires some art and creativity.

Campaign Finances

Candidates for office who operate in your state must file paperwork, usually with your state's state department. Just google [your state] campaign finance reports. Some states have user friendly search engines within the records, and some don't. You'll just have to keep whacking away until you get it. For larger campaigns you may find yourself wading through pages and pages; lots of folks have their own workarounds for these, but you can use old-fashioned blunt force. The reports will tell you who is backing the candidate and who received money from the campaign. This is how some folks figured out that Betsy DeVos's American Federation of Students was behind a million-dollar contribution to the Scott Wagner (failed--ha!) campaign for governor.

Little Sis

I knew something about the first two tools, but Little Sis was a revelation that just blew me away. Little Sis (opposite of Big Brother-- get it?) is a database of connections. Plug in a person or an organization, and Little Sis will show you the people and organizations to which your entry is tied. Best of all, they have a tool called oligrapher that will render the connections as a web, the better to visualize how the various pieces tie together. You can click your way through the connections all day-- it's like eating potato chips. Bitter, disturbing potato chips.

See these tools applied to a particular project by looking at the report "Hijacked by Millionaires." Or just go to the site and play.

One note about Little Sis-- they depend on the help of citizen researchers across the country, and you may find gaps in their data base. If you can, feel free to help plug them. Connections can't go in without documentation of some sort, but the site will tell you the rest of what you need to know to help.

All of these tools provide one of the researcher's sweetest, most seductive thrills-- seeing something you weren't even looking for so that you think, "Hmmm-- well that's interesting." There's an entire world of rabbit holes waiting for you to fall down them. More importantly, there's a whole world of information that is accessible to you, so that you don't have to wait for someone else to answer the question that has been gnawing at you. You can do the research.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Anti-Test, Pro-Computer

Chalkbeat today notes the growing trend of reformster discontent with the Big Standardized Test, a thread which apparently emerged at the latest soiree thrown by the Center for Reinventing Public Education, a group that has pushed ed reform for years.

But intentionally or not, Matt Barnum  also captured part of what is driving this shift.

Some members of the Thinky Tank set (with Jay Greene in the forefront) have been noticing that test results don't seem to really mean anything. But there's another reform group that is sour on testing:

The way we’re doing [assessment] now — that is so time-, age-, grade-based — is really constraining for those innovators that are developing models that will support all kids.

That quote comes from Susan Patrick of The International Association for K-12 Online Learning  (iNACOL), an organization whose bread and butter is tech based education, and which has thrown itself whole-heartedly behind Competency Based Education and Personalized [sic] Learning. Their opposition to the BS Test is signaled by Patrick's quote. If they are going to sell a system that lets students learn whatever whenever at whatever speed they wish, they need to remove the issue if a giant standardized test at the end f the ear.

In other words, the old approach to ed reform is cramping the style of reform 2.0. The 2.0 version is pointed firmly at the unbundling of education so that stdents can acquire their competencies and proficiencies and badges wherever and whenever and from whomever. This shift has the double advantage of a sort of ju-jitsu move-- people who are busy running away from the BS Test can be ushered straight into the Competency Based Proficiency Personalized tent. Reform 1.0 has become a marketing tool for Reform 2.0

It's worth noting that even some of the reformsters themselves haven't caught on yet. The repeated complaints about testing at the event drew this bemused quote from Sandy Kress, one of the creators of No Child Left Behind and therefor one of the fathers of the test-centered education reform movement:

“I was worried, frankly, about the conversation earlier today” on testing, he said during one panel. “How it is that the reform community gets to a position of wanting to throw it out as opposed to improve it? I don’t know, I don’t get it.”

Oh, honey. First, let's pause to note for the bazillionth time the irony of reformsters saying things that public ed supporters used to say all the time (how many times have we asked why it was necessary to trash and replace public schools rather than fixing them). Second, some in the reformy community want to throw them out because they've finally begun to understand that the tests don't do what anybody ever said they were going to do (and they never will). But more importantly, a whole bunch of folks in the reform community have decided to cash in on the Next Big Thing, which is education delivered via computer using mass customization, marketed as personalization (and which will set the stage for the Next Next Big Thing).

This is what happens when your ed reform movement is powered, not by education professionals making educational judgments based on their professional expertise, but by educational amateurs who are not knowledgeable about education, but who are adept at attracting piles of money. This is what happens when you unleash market forces in the education world. This is what happens when the people behind the curtain aren't saying "This would really help students" but are instead saying "We can make a buttload of money with this." Until the Next Big Thing. The Big Standardized Test is now the Last Big Thing. It doesn't work well enough to present expanding possibilities, and people who actually care about education want it gone.

This shift isn't going to happen overnight. Testing has put down deep roots, particularly in the way that test scores have been widely accepted as a proxy for school and teacher effectiveness. For people who want simple answers, test scores are about as clear and simple as they come (never mind whether they're accurate). Testing is cemented in education law. But then, ESSA opened the door wide for proficiency competency based algorithm driven mass personalized education customization. Damn-- I hope somebody comes up with a good name for this monstrosity slouching toward the classroom before it's all the way here.

Six Reasons Not To Get Excited About New SAT Scores

A few weeks ago the big--well, not big, medium-sized, maybe--news came from the College Board, which announced that both participation and scores are up, as well as the percentage of college-ready students. Here's why you can comfortably not care.

It's 8 Points

The average score "jumped" from 1060 to 1068. That's 0.7%. If your child retook the test in hopes of a higher score, and that's all they squeaked out, nobody would be trading high fives.

A great job-- but will the SAT tell you if you're ready?


It's An Average (And It's Not News)

If Michael Jordan comes to stay with my family, the average number of points scored in an NBA game goes up dramatically for my household. Nevertheless, the number of points I've scored in an NBA game remains zero.

In fact, the SAT score has always been subject to the make-up of the group taking the test. For years, while folks were chicken littling about dropping SAT scores, what was actually happening was that more and more low-scoring students were taking the test. Meanwhile, each sub-group was actually improving their scores, even as the low-growing sub-groups increased in number. Averages are a lousy way to measure how students are doing.
Participation Numbers Are Coerced

Over the past two years, several states have phased in a requirement that every student (usually in the junior year) must take the SAT. Right now, fifteen states require it, while a few others push it as an alternative. This has been a huge coup for the College Board, which is fighting to keep its market share. It's equivalent of having a state declare that all state employees must drive a Ford as their personal vehicle.
It also means that an increase in participation numbers doesn't mean that individual students are flocking to take the SAT of their own free will.

The College Board Has No Idea Who's College Ready

The increase in students who have hit the benchmarks is not exactly awe-inspiring-- from 46% to 47%. But the benchmarks themselves are not exactly Gospel. Here's the College Board explaining benchmarks while simultaneously demonstrating their command of passive voice:

Students are considered college- and career-ready when their SAT section scores meet both the Math and the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing benchmarks.

Are considered college- and career- ready by whom, exactly? Based on what? Will the guy who's hiring welders say, "Your SAT verbal is really solid, so that's good enough for me"? Will the college theater department say, "You've got good SAT math scores, so you clearly have a future studying acting"?

The college board admits that college readiness is a continuum, not a solid cut-off line. They also advise that no student should be discouraged from attending college based on SAT scores. The language suggests that the benchmarks aren't so much based on an understanding of what math and reading skills are needed for college- and career-readiness, but are more of a number-crunching exercise based on previous testees: "
Students with an SAT Math section score that meets or exceeds the benchmark have a 75 percent chance of earning at least a C in first-semester, credit-bearing college courses in algebra, statistics, pre-calculus, or calculus." These sorts of studies have been conducted in the past, but that means the benchmarks are always looking backwards. 
The Gains Should Be Bigger
In 2012, hot off his stint as co-creator the Common Core, David Coleman was hired to run the College Board. His immediate goal was to redesign the SAT, making it more Core-aligned. Having rewritten the standards for schools across the country, he now set out to create a new SAT that would more closely fit what those standards were producing. So the test prep that was taking over classrooms throughout the US should also have been test prep for the SAT. Scores should have climbed through the roof.
The College Board initially made some noises about the new SAT being impervious to test prep, but that tune has changed.
The SAT Measures SAT Test Prep
Both this year and last, we've been told that the free Khan Academy tutorials have boosted SAT scored tremendously. The point is supposed to be that getting coached to a good SAT score is no longer a privilege of the rich, but is available for free to anyone (with an internet connection). The boosters are so excited about the Free To Everyone point that they seem to miss the other part of what they're saying-- the SAT measures how well the student has been coached to take the SAT. We could talk about the ways that the test favors students from a particular socio-economic background, but in many ways that's part of the same point-- the SAT measures SAT-taking skills.
The SAT is still scrambling to avoid sinking into irrelevance, while colleges and universities increasingly drop the SAT requirement for admission and research continues to show high school GPA a better predictor of college success. Today's news may give them a helpful boost, but there's no need to organize a parade just yet.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

ICYMI: Armistice Day Edition (11/11)

Some reading from this week. Remember to share what you find interesting.

Five Myths About Pay for Success

Yet another method for Wall Street to undermine education in order to make a buck.

How Canada Became an Education Superpower

As always, I'll dispute the metrics used, but still an interesting look at how Canada handles education.

The Truth About Charters College Acceptance Rates

An op-ed from the El Paso Times explains why folks should hesitate to be impressed by charters that claim all their grads go to college.

Not Just Philanthropy

How the philanthropists who back ed reform consider political contributions an important part of their strategy (or maybe vice versa).

The Backlash Against Screen Time at School  

The headline is completely misleading, but this article provides another nice follow up on the silicon valley wonderschool, AltSchool.

Why I Dread Returning To American Public School  

She's coming back from Germany, where families pay a little more, and get a lot more.

The Long Record of Voter Rejection of Vouchers  

A great compendium by Edd Doerr of all the times voters have said no to vouchers.

Bill Gates Throws More Money Around     

The TFA-er founded Educators For Excellence is just another reformster astro-turf shell game-- but Gates is shoveling money at them.

Why Don't People Vote for Public Education?

Nancy Flanagan addresses one of those great modern mysteries.

Grit Is Sh!t     

A look at how grit becomes an excuse to avoid helping students who need the assistance.