Monday, April 25, 2011

Waiting for School Reform: Charter Schools as the Latest Imperfect Panacea

by by Alan R. Sadovnik — March 17, 2011  Teachers College Record

This commentary uses the documentaries "The Cartel" and "Waiting for Superman" to critique the current neo-liberal agenda of over-emphasizing the success of charter schools and painting traditional public schools for low-income children as dismal failures. The author provides empirical evidence to the contrary and argues that a more balanced agenda that supports the replication of excellent models of urban schools, both charter and traditional, be adopted.

Click here to view the complete article.

ALAN R. SADOVNIK is Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of Education, Sociology and Public Administration and Affairs at Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey, where he is the Co- Director of the Institute on Educational Law and Policy and the Newark Schools Research Collaborative, and Coordinator of the Educational Policy track of the Ph.D. Program in Urban Systems. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Playing Golf under Educational Accountability rules

Another perspective on high stakes testing: Playing golf under Educational Accountability rules.
by Jack McKay, Executive Director, The Horace Mann League of the USA.

What if we applied the guidelines of public education accountability to golf?
For golfers to improve, there needs to better methods of golf accountability. Even after all of the new technology, new equipment, and improved instructional practices, the nation’s average golf scores were stagnant.  One policy maker stated, “We can not continue to spend money on our nation’s courses and golfers unless we see some drastic improvement.  Simply put, our golfers are no longer ranked high, internationally as before.  Our nation’s golfers are at risk.”  Following is what could happen to the game of golf if “Leave No Golfer Behind” (LNGB) accountability was imposed.
The first major change would be to establish a modest standard that all golfers need to meet to become a “real” golfer.  The standard or passing score, for example, would be a score of 80 or lower (In golf, the lower the score the better.). There would be one “round” day each year where all golfers would be expected to score 80 or lower to be considered a “real” golfer. 
Second, with the expectation that all golfers basically had the same potential ability, physical make-up and basic aptitude, the handicapping system would be eliminated.  There is the expectation that no matter where the “less able” golfer played or the equipment used – from the country club course to the urban, par three theme-parks, all needed to be considered the same on the “round” day.
Third, on the state-wide “round” day, all golfers would submit their scores to be analyzed and reviewed by the “Golf Standards Commission.”  The Commission would release the “club score to the media so the community would have a reference point of the well being of their golfers and the effectiveness of their golf courses and staff. 
Fourth, each pro would have his or her groups’ average score for review.  The pro’s own evaluation, and in some cases promotion to “head pro,” would be based on the success of his or her group of golfers.  If the average of all the golfers at the course did not reach the 80 level, the golf course was considered a “failing” golf club. 
After an analysis of the results, the pros for the failing golfers would start to hold extra golf clinics on driving, chipping, putting and distribute books and DVDs on how to improve at golf.  If only the less able golfer would try harder, keep the head down and the right elbow in, golf scores would improve significantly.  If only the “less able” would be more serious and try harder at playing golf.
The less able golfers soon realized that some other golfers in their group were naturally good, while others had no chance of reaching 80 by the time the next “round” or in their lifetime.  The more able golfers and the pros also realized this difference in ability and encouraged some of the “less able” to transfer to another golf courses or selling their clubs and find another game – maybe gardening or boating. By eliminating the “less able” at their course, average golf scores at course would certainly improve.
However, behind the scenes, most of the “good” pros at the failing clubs were updating their resume in hopes of finding a “better” golf club.  Ironically, the best pros left for the good golf courses.  Another unanticipated situation was the increasing number of pros encouraging their golfers to use multiple “mulligans” during the game.  A new level of creative score keeping at  golf.  (Modified Campbell’s Law:  The more important the score takes on, the more likely it, and the people who depend on it, will become corrupted.  For example, Enron, elections, and Houston schools)
Sixth, the “less able” felt it was not fair that they had to compete with golfers who had better clubs and golf balls and came from the “better” golf courses.  There was frustration and hopelessness for many.  Some simply gave up on golf.
Another unintended consequence of the NGLB accountability standard was that golfers, who enjoyed the friendly competition, quit because they felt that without a golfing handicapping system, it was impossible to compete fairly in the weekly events. 
The Golfing Standards Commission, hearing that there was an increase in golfer discontent, held hearings to find out why golfers were having such difficulty improving their golf score.  Despite the comments from golfers that there were differences in ability, equipment and courses, the Standards Board said that all potential golfers must score 80 or lower, even if they grew up in a community that didn’t have a golf course.
After a couple of years, it seemed that the game no longer had a sense of fairness, especially since the handicapping system was discarded. Most of the more able golfers moved to the better courses (further compounding the average golf scores of the marginal courses) or joined “private” golf courses.  (Interestingly, private golf clubs didn’t have to deal with NGLB regulations nor have to publish their golf scores in the local media.)

After five years, the Golfing Standards Commission issued a statement claiming that there was finally a significant improvement in golf scores and declared the NGLB golfing accountability policy a success.  Their official statement stated:
By having the “round” day and imposing golfing accountability, the annual cycle of poor golf scores is finally being reversed.  By having an emphasis on golfer accountability, we have turned the corner.  The golfers of our nation can be proud of their accomplishments.  We are ranking higher that ever before when we compare our golfer scores to other nationals around the world.

The untold story:
The number of golfers in our nation declined significantly. There were a number of investigations relating to reports that some golf pros form the “good” clubs cheated by manipulating golf scores to make it appear that the average scores at their course were good.  (Like Houston ISD did by adjusting scores and encouraging students to leave school and take the GED.) It appeared that golfing accountability was based on a model used by beef industry  – “test for the best and shoot the rest.” 
As an interesting footnote, during the hearings there was a statement made that NOT ONE decisions about NGLB accountability was based on valid and reliable research about the improvement of golfers.  One of the former golfers testified that it was ironic that the one game that teaches honest, integrity, courtesy and determination as well and planning and risk taking, was now only measuring the number of swings.
By:  Jack McKay, Executive Director
The Horace Mann League of the USA 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

THE BLUEBERRY STORY: A Businessman Learns a Lesson

Contributed by Rosalee Brauer, a retired high school administrator from New Jersey.

A Businessman Learns a Lesson
by Jamie Robert Vollmer 

"If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn’t be in business very long!" 

I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute. My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of in-service. Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife.

I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools I was an executive at an ice cream company that became famous in the middle 1980s when People Magazine chose our blueberry as the "Best Ice Cream in America.”

I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging "knowledge society." Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly.

They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement! In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced--equal parts ignorance and arrogance. 

As soon as I finished, a woman's hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant--she was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload.

She began quietly, "We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream."

I smugly replied, "Best ice cream in America, Ma'am."

"How nice," she said. "Is it rich and smooth?"

"Sixteen percent butterfat," I crowed.

"Premium ingredients?" she inquired.

"Super-premium! Nothing but triple A." I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.

"Mr. Vollmer," she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, "when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”

In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap; I was dead meat, but I wasn't going to lie. "I send them back."

"That's right!"  She barked, "and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them all:  GT, ADHD, ADD, SLD, EI, MMR, OHI, TBI, DD, Autistic, junior rheumatoid arthritis, English as their second language, etc. We take them all! Everyone! 
And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it's not a business. It's school!"

In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, "Yeah! Blueberries!  Blueberries!"

And so began my long transformation. Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.

None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when, and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a postindustrial society. But educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission and active support of the surrounding community.

For the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools, it means changing America.

Please forward THE BLUEBERRY STORY to teachers, parents, politicians and everyone interested in education.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Myth-Based Education Policy

GREGORY J. MARCHANT is a professor of educational psychology at 
Ball State University, Muncie, Ind.

Classroom teachers and education re- searchers continue to live in frustrating times, and not simply because of lack of funding. Just about everything that policy makers think they know about education is wrong. Here’s my “top 10” list of the most commonly cited myths about education that are driving policies today:

1. The Teacher Training Myth. Being an expert in a content area is not enough to be an expert teacher. A master teacher knows how to teach the content. Putting a computer programmer in a classroom as a teacher after a few weeks of education courses shortchanges the students and the teacher.
2. The Merit Pay Myth. Bad teachers don’t become good because of more pay, and good teachers are not in it for the money. However, more resources would help both. Besides, we have no simple, objective, fair way to evaluate teacher performance.
3. The Bad Teacher Myth. Most teachers are good and dedicated. However, we do lack controls for the few who aren’t, and there is a need for better professional guidance. Teachers need a professional association like lawyers and doctors have, not a labor union. Those associations need to establish standards and criteria for different levels of expertise in the teaching profession.
4. The Early Childhood Myth. It’s not that early childhood doesn’t matter; it is critical. However, lack of follow-through, especially at the transitions into middle and high school, is equally important. Without it, most progress made during the early years fades away.
5. The Money Myth. Doing more with less is a fantasy. Most profiteers who thought they could make money by running public schools have failed and abandoned their efforts. At this point, we get what we pay for in educating our children, especially our poor children. Poor schools need resources, not punishment for low performance.
6. The Time Myth. Time matters, both how much is available and how it is used. The school year is too short, with long breaks that run counter to student learning. Staff days for teachers and half-days for students should never count as full instructional days.
7. The Testing Myth. Standardized achievement tests provide a snapshot of a limited kind of learning that is very sensitive to the demographic background of students. When students’ test scores are averaged by teacher, school, or state, these aggregated scores reflect too much of the background of the students to be used to gauge the quality of instruction. If teachers reported student progress on education standards, rather than grades, costly testing could be greatly reduced.
8. The Myth of Grades. High school grades are good indicators of performance and, compared to the SAT, are as good as or better predictors of college success. However, letter grades and student honor roles at the elementary level should be considered malpractice. There need to be more efforts to increase intrinsic motivation and to develop standards- based report cards.
9. The Charter School Myth. Charter schools constitute outsourcing, not educational programs. Research suggests that some charters are better than the regular public schools; some are worse. Charter schools are not a way to improve education as much as they are a funding alternative. Real improvement comes from developing programs with goals and direction, not from simply letting someone else do it.
10. Achievement Gap Myth. Schools can’t fix the achievement gap alone, period. Schools can’t overcome the culture of failure firmly established in some homes and neighborhoods. Race and income have been interpreted as indicators of parent values. Eliminating most of the gap requires interventions in homes and communities.

The beliefs of the general public and policy makers tend to be shaped by the uncritical eye of the media, and myths and political agendas end up driving our education policy. For our children’s sake, we all must speak up to dispel the myths.       

Source: April 2011      Page 80.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Test or invest? How NCLB treats schools serving the nation’s neediest students

by Linda Darling Hammond

The biggest problem with the Act is that it mistakes measuring schools for fixing them. It sets annual test score goals for every school—and for subgroups of students within schools—that are said to constitute ‘Adequate Yearly Progress.’ Schools that do not meet these targets for each subgroup each year are declared in need of improvement and, later, failing. This triggers interventions (notification to parents of the school’s label and a three-month period to write a school improvement plan). Students must be allowed to transfer out of ‘failing’ schools at the school’s expense; schools stand to be reconstituted or closed, and states and districts stand to lose funds based on these designations. Unfortunately, the targets—based on the notion that 100% of students will score at the ‘proficient’ level on state tests by the year 2014— were set without an understanding of what this goal would really mean.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

NCLB: The Truth and Consequences of NCLB

Several educators provide information about the NCLB legislation and the unintended consequences.  This video was produced by AASA.  Following are some examples of the unintended consequences:
1. Labeling a failing school to allow poorly performing students to change schools, but generally the more able students leave the failing school.
2. Emphasis on passing the test rather than having the time for students ask why.  Instead the child is taught there is one right answer when taking the test.
3. Emphasis is placed on helping those students close to the passing level rather than helping all students improve academically.
Click here to view video.

Comparing Authoritarian or Libertarian Conservatism

Rachel Maddow (MSNBC) explains the difference between the two points of view in the "conservative" movement within the Republican Party.

According to Maddow, one point of view is the "authoritarian conservatism" side that supports big and intrusive policies and the other side is "libertarian conservatism" that supports small and "leave me alone" type of government.  In this video, Maddow claims that while most conservatives claim to be leaning towards the "libertarian" side, their actions tend to lean towards the "authoritarian" side, e.g., limiting women's rights, limiting educational opportunity and curtailing a number of social programs that benefit the poor.

Click here to view complete video.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Trouble with 'Innovation' in Schools

Gregory Michie

Applause followed, but I left feeling deflated. I believed the media studies course was beneficial for many of our school's seventh and eighth graders. At its best, it gave them space to voice their opinions on issues, to become more critical consumers of media messages, and, broadly speaking, to become more literate. Maybe even more importantly, it provided an outlet for the kids to express themselves creatively.
But none of that seemed to matter much when held up against the new priorities. It became clear to me that afternoon that we'd taken a few more steps down a perilous, narrow path in Chicago. We'd reached a place where the value of any classroom project or school program would ultimately be judged by whether it boosted reading or math scores on the yearly standardized tests.

View the complete article.  Click here

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