Monday, December 31, 2012

The End of Education

by Russell Hvolbek 

I argue that as we absorb the socio-economic values of our age, an age ruled by business, we have drifted away from what we in the educational community should be doing: teaching students to think, to see, to read, and to write.

Education as a dwelling in the human experience of reality is ending. As with the Roman Empire, it is ending with a whimper, not a bang.

The root of the problem is that we have absorbed the socio-economic and intellectual values of our age, an age ruled by business and science. The pragmatic values of business and science have become the values of our educational practices. Within these two orientations there is little understanding of and no place for the life enhancing studies of philosophy, history, literature, and the arts. Today we train students. A practical utility determines our thinking.

Pragmatic and useful things, of course, are easy to evaluate and quantify, but when the useful is quantified it precipitates a judgment: 5,500 square foot houses are superior to 1,500 square foot houses. An “A” is superior to a “B” and an “A” student is superior to a “B” student. Measurements. Judgments. The accountant’s truths are what are now deemed important.

That the accountant’s truths seem clear and distinct to us is a statement about the seriousness of the problem. For such ideas have become our common sense. The objectifications we now deem as truths are merely the dominating judgments our age. We have forgotten that they are all based upon ingrained and unanalyzed prejudices, and that every judgment is a statement about the values of the person making the judgment. Today we have fallen in love with objectively quantifying reality and see it as a solution to our problems. Today students are judged and judge themselves based upon such pitiful scales, the scales of measurement.

Moreover, the goals of business humans are to make money and do it as efficiently and quickly as possible. They desire exact facts and data to help them make money. Business humans live for a goal.

We have created educational institutions that do the same. We have reduced education into a goal, a goal that is antithetical to education itself. Our educational practices are ruled by haste, guided by the belief that acquiring information is important, but simultaneously and contradictorily that the information serves a higher end, viz., getting a good grade; which in turn serves a higher end: getting into college; which in turn serves a higher end: getting a good job; which in turn serves a higher end: getting a house on Mullholand.

This prevents students from entering into the process of learning itself. They are taught to learn information for a reason ulterior to learning itself: a grade. This alienates them from the simple joy of learning, an activity that is a process and cannot be quantified. Examinations are reduced to the recollection of data and facts as though disparate data can fascinate anyone, much less be retained.

Learning for an objectively determined social goal has serious consequences: It justifies cheating and lying and deceptions of all kinds. Why not cheat if the only concern is the grade?

There are personal consequences to this orientation. Since we all become what we do, when we cheat, lie, and deceive for our goal, we become cheaters, liars, and deceivers in quest of our goals. Barry Bonds ended up playing baseball for the record books, not for the love of the sport. Cheating the system was justified and rewarded with fame and the money that our social and business values dictate as our ultimate success.

The reduction of things to the quantifiable and to an end makes shallow a world that is deep; it makes dull a species that should be complex; it makes unthinking, uninvolved humans; it reduces human life to quantities: more money, more fame; more things, higher test scores. We aren’t interested in education; we are interested in getting things out of what passes for education.

Strangely, even in educational institutions the word education is not analyzed. It is a word that everyone believes they clearly understand. Like the words love, spirit, evil, justice, the word education fits easily into each and every culture’s biases, into each and every human’s prejudices. Thus it flits between being used by anyone and everyone for their own benefit.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, responding to what he saw as the dismal state of education in Germany after Bismarck unified the Reich, writes that an education is learning to see, to think, to read, and to write.

These are fundamental and powerful words, and they can be applied to any subject in the educational curriculum. In every subject students need to learn how to see, to think, to read, and to write.

Let us think about these words. They are all verbs. They are not like our goal-oriented cultural assumptions about education that posit goals as the point of education. Verbs are not closed, exact words. They are not facts, and they are not mere information. Verbs designate activities. This means that education is an activity, a process, and an ongoing involvement done for the sake of the involvement itself. When one applies oneself to this task, this thinking and seeing what thinking and seeing might be, one is in the process of being a student. One begins to get an education when one initiates the process of seeing and thinking.

Nietzsche elaborates by writing: “to see” means “accustoming the eye to calmness, to patience, to letting things come up to it postponing judgment, learning to go around and grasp each individual case from all sides … not to react at once to a stimulus, but to gain control of all the inhabiting, excluding instincts. Learning to see, as I understand it, is . . . called a strong will: the essential feature is precisely not to ‘will’—to be able to suspend decision.” In education, haste is not the path.

Thus education in all matters demands openness to the other and not imposing a knee-jerk opinion upon the subject matter. The subject must be allowed to teach the student.

When one learns to see one will have become altogether “slow, mistrustful, recalcitrant. One will let strange, new things of every kind come up to oneself.” Seeing is to lie “servilely on one’s stomach before every little fact, always prepared for the leap of putting oneself into the place of, or of plunging into others and other things.”

Seeing allows oneself to be struck by the seen, the other, the flowers, the poem.

In this sense, seeing requires that we forget the name of the thing being seen.

All objectivity is bad taste, merely a symptom of one or another prejudice. The businessman may want objectivity. The student wants nuance.

Thinking, writing and reading are separate but similar skills that must be learned. “Thinking wants to be learned like dancing, as a kind of dancing.” “One must be able to dance with one’s feet, with concepts, with words.” Writing is learning to dance with a pen, a brush, a basketball, on a wrestling mat or on a soccer field. Reading is learning to dance with a text, a mathematical formula, a technique, a physics equation, an atom.

What a strange point! Dancing? Reading, writing, and sports are a type of dance? Yes. Dancing is relating, it is being moved by the other and moving with the other. Dancing is a relationship of movement, a relationship of evolving steps and meanings. Education is an evolving dance with intellectual ideas.

In conclusion, the fact that students are not getting educated is not their fault. They were weaned into these socio-cultural values. Students are not participating in their education. Students are being trained to live for goals and new electronic devices. Goals have become a narcotic that society accepts as education, which they are not.

Education is not chasing a grade. It is not chasing a college or a job. If you do that you may get what you want, an “A” or a “B,” but you will never be educated. An education is a process. It has a beginning but no end. It continues throughout life. It is learning to see and think.

Ultimately an education is a deep unfolding involvement with life here on earth. The deeper the involvement in seeing and thinking, the more complex is the dance in which you participate.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 06, 2012 ID Number: 16686, Date Accessed: 12/31/2012 8:12:01 PM

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Deepening the Dialogue: Public Education

By Anthony Cody 

This has been a remarkable year for education. What was previously a one-sided conversation about education reform has signs of becoming a dialogue in which teachers are heard. The sleeping giant is waking up, as was seen in Chicago in September, when grassroots organizing paid off as teachers there were able to win their strike. Voters began to wake up as well, as we saw arch-reformer Tony Bennett defeated in the state of Indiana by a National Board certified teacher, Glenda Ritz. Once again, it was a grassroots coalition of parents and teachers that led her to victory. And in the closing days of the year, the actions of the educators at Sandy Hook belied the negative portrayal teachers have recently endured. We have a long way to go on the road to better public schools, but we have some clear models to follow, and we are gathering the strength to be heard.
This year has also been a productive one here at Living in Dialogue. With the help of more than a dozen guest bloggers, we have posted about 175 entries. The ten-part dialogue with the Gates Foundation generated lively discussions of the core issues of education reform. As the year draws to a close I offer my favorite dozen posts from 2012, with short excerpts from each.
As state after state rewrites their education laws in line with the mandates from Race to the Top and the NCLB waiver process, the teaching profession is being redefined. Teachers will now pay the price - be declared successes or failures, depending on the rise or fall of their students' test scores. Under NCLB it was schools that were declared failures. In states being granted waivers to NCLB, it is teachers who will be subjected to this ignominy. Of course we will still be required to label the bottom 5% of our schools as failures, but if the Department of Education has its way, soon every single teacher in the profession will be at risk for the label.
This revelation came to me as I read the Score Card on Education prepared by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), authored by Dr. Matthew Ladner and Dan Lips. This is a remarkable document. It provides their report on where each of the states stands on the education "reform" that has become the hallmark of corporate philanthropies, the Obama administration and governors across the nation.
It seems that ALEC considers itself engaged in a battle of epic proportions, yet many teachers are too busy working to even realize that their profession is being redefined in state after state. I would offer another quote from Winston Churchill:

One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half.
In his speech launching the (RESPECT) project last week, Secretary Duncan laid out what he feels are the problems afflicting the teaching profession.
The Department has solutions to each of these problems - but they often have pursued policies that actually make things worse. Here are the problems, and the solutions the Department of Ed has offered -- many of which are mandatory if states wish to qualify for Race to the Top or escape the ravages of NCLB.
The crazy-making thing about all this is that teachers are not stupid. We know when we are being systematically disrespected. We know that in order to have a career in teaching, we need some degree of security. We cannot survive if our jobs depend on constantly rising test scores. The supposed "bargain" we have been given is one that makes our work, especially those of us in high poverty schools, all about test scores. The Department of Education is attempting to create a reality distortion field, where we will somehow believe the spin, mistake all these new mandates for "flexibility," and miss the fact that all these terrible test-scored-driven policies being introduced across the nation are driven by their policies.
Bad news, Homer. We are not in opposite land. Here in the USA, cold snow falls down, and test scores are indeed a sword hanging over our heads. And the agency most responsible for this is the US Department of Education. Real respect is all about being forthright and truthful. We will know it when we hear it.
Beyond this, what are the problems with using test scores or VAM ratings as one of a number of indicators of teacher performance?
Value Added Methods are not rendered reliable when they are combined with other measurement methods. We have solid evidence of the problems associated with VAM - which exist with the use of raw scores as well.
You can see from this list that the Miss America contest also uses "multiple measures." Fully 65% of a contestant's score is derived from talent and interviews, and only 35% depends on appearance! Does this mean looks don't matter? Hardly! Just as a certain sort of physical beauty permeates this contest, test scores permeate the measures that are now being used for teacher evaluations.
The teachers of the United States have been entered in a very ugly sort of contest, where there will be few winners and many losers. The biggest losers will be our students, who will find that contrary to the bland reassurances of our highest officials, basing 40% of a teacher's evaluation on test scores will indeed promote teaching to the test. It will indeed make teachers reluctant to work with English language learners and Special Ed students. And it will drive good teachers out of the profession, exacerbating the already high turnover rate in the schools that are in the greatest need of stability.

Number 9: Is Seniority for Teachers Bad for Students?
There is a reason that states (and nations like Finland) with strong teacher unions tend to have better education systems. When we invest in schools, and give teachers a sense that their experience and expertise is honored, that they will have academic freedom and autonomy in the classroom, they are happier with their work. They stick with it, and are driven, not by a fear that their students' scores will be low resulting in the loss of pay or job security. They are driven by their passion to inspire their students with new challenges, to create outstanding work, to investigate the world around them in new ways. This sort of teaching is not the product of some perfectly aligned testing and evaluation system. It is the product of the passion for teaching and learning that drew so many of us to work with children in the first place.

Number 8: Flipping the Script on Turnarounds: Why not Retain Teachers Instead of Firing Them?
Most of our efforts to turn around low-performing schools assume there is little of value in place at these schools, in terms of the teachers, administrators, and school culture. Thus there is no consideration given to what is lost when teachers or administrators are replaced. The research on the negative effects of staff turnover is a huge clue that we have missed something very important here.
I believe the Department of Education has made a fundamental error with its turnaround strategies, and we ought to turn them upside down. Instead of policies that call for the firing of teachers, we are likely to gain much more by creating schools capable of supporting, developing and retaining them. Of course there will still be individual teachers who need to be ousted, but this should be the job of an effective principal. Our overall strategy will be far more successful when we make it our challenge to keep our teachers and help them grow.
Number 7: The Common Core: The Technocrats Re-engineer Learning
Standards equal standardization, and, in my mind, standardization and centralized control are the objectives of the technocrats, and these are the biggest villains of all. The stakes attached to tests are the tools of coercion, by which teachers and students will be rewarded or punished for the extent to which they comply. But in the big picture, the final objective is not tests, but uniformity, and adherence to a centrally conceived and approved version of truth. I think the Common Core is the vehicle for this technocratic vision, and it should be firmly opposed for this reason.
Number 6: Payola Policy: NCTQ Prepares its Hit on Schools of Education
The NCTQ receives funding from dozens of foundations, such as the Broad Fund. And the work of NCTQ continues to seek to reshape schools of education. Their current project is to "evaluate" all 180 schools of education in the country. In advance of this evaluation, they have released a report titled: "What teacher preparation programs teach about K-12 assessment." The report highlights as models districts that have won the Broad Prize, such as Charlotte-Mecklenburg:
All educators in CMS are trained in Data Wise, a structured system to improve instructional and organizational practices based on data, and every school has a data team. Teachers, administrators and coaches can access a wide variety of learning data on the district's online learning portal, which gives them the capacity to meaningfully track student performance and adapt quickly to learning difficulties.
The reports states:
It is fair to say that the school districts in the nation that do the best in the face of the challenge of educating disadvantaged students have become obsessive about using data to drive instruction.
Our schools of education ought to be in a position to think clearly and freely about the challenges our schools face. They are certainly not perfect, but their ability to take an independent stance on education policies and practices is crucial for us to avoid a complete groupthink. But this sort of ideological unanimity in support of "obsession over data" is what our education "reformers" apparently want, and the foundations driving the corporate reform agenda will do what it takes to get it.
The trouble with Groupthink, as Janis points out, is that it can be disastrously wrong. Once we get swept up into this momentum, and more and more of our values and livelihoods hinge on this set of beliefs, it becomes harder and harder to break away. And with this particular set of ideas, we are, as a nation, building a huge technological infrastructure of curriculum, instructional tools, assessments and data systems, based on this absolute diehard belief that test performance will drive learning to new heights. Those of us who have voiced skepticism are called Luddites or worse.
What eventually happens in cases like this is that the systems collapse, because reality will not support the endless optimism of the believers. The bubble always bursts, sooner or later. The NCLB testing bubble should have burst several years ago, and probably would have done so had not the billionaire technocrats intervened with the Common Core testing bailout. Now it looks like we are in for a few more years of glorious predictions of the wonderful equitable outcomes the latest and greatest testing technology will deliver, until it doesn't. But in the meantime, our public schools continue to be undermined, and resources continue to be diverted away from classrooms and into the testing/data infrastructure.
We need to pursue the conditions necessary for solid reflective, collaborative cultures at schools. These are dynamic processes that rely on the leadership and inspiration of everyone involved. They require trust to be invested in our school leaders, who in turn need to trust their teachers to engage in this often open-ended work. Constant pressure to raise test scores and top-down mandates destroy this. These external pressures do not add coherence--they subtract it. Teachers need autonomy and time, and they need support, access to partners, the use of strong models of collaboration, and small class sizes so they are not overwhelmed every day. We need to strengthen, not eliminate due process, when we ask teachers to open their classroom practices to one another and reflect honestly about their practice.
In the name of reform, the Gates Foundation has wielded its political influence to effectively shift public funds, earmarked for the service of poor children, away from investment in those children's direct education experience. Through the Race to the Top and NCLB waiver conditions, the US Department of Education has instead dedicated public resources to creating state and federal mandates for the Gates Foundation's costly project -- making sure every aspect of our educational system is "driven by data." The future public expenditures required by the transition to the Common Core, with its greatly expanded assessment systems, will further deplete resources available for classrooms.
History shows that the greatest closure of the achievement gap took place during the years that the US took concrete steps to economically and racially desegregate schools. But in the past two decades this has been reversed, and now segregation is greater than it has been since the 1950s. We hear the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement, but the reality is a reversal of many of the gains of that era, and a dramatically widening gap between the rich and poor.
How did you build support from the community and parents?
Xian Barrett:
The key was to start by listening, rather than talking about what we want. We built relationships by listening. To understand conditions students were learning in and what changes parents wanted and identified issues we could collaborate on. The most obvious one was school closings. Nobody was in favor of the closings, but groups were fragmented. Over four years we built movement that started out as pushback vs school closings, but turned into a rich conversation about what good, equitable education is. It is very important that we focus not only on what is wrong with corporate reform and school closures, but also on the positive side, what do parents and kids want out of their schools.
Adam Heenen shared how this support was maintained during the strike:
We relied on social media and pamphlets to help inform them of what we were doing and why. The parents have our back. We first leafleted last spring at the report-card pick-up day. Over the summer we went door-to-door asking for signatures to get a referendum on the ballot to be able to elect our school board. On Thursday of the picket we spent 3 hrs going door-to-door in our communities as striking union teachers, but also as neighbors, voters, parents, and taxpayers.
Choice in education is an illusion. In some cases it allows a lucky few access to a better school. But those seeking profit rarely want a level playing field - they seek whatever advantages they can get, and often that means leaving behind the special education student and the English learner.
As a parent, I was not only concerned about my own sons. I wanted the best education possible for all the children of our community. The public schools were a legacy handed to us by generations before that built them. It is our challenge to rebuild them into places that fulfill that now tarnished ideal, to educate everyone well. It is critically important that institutions such as our schools be driven not by decisions based on what is most profitable, but instead by our interest in the common good, and by our commitment to providing excellent opportunities for every child, even when this is unprofitable.
In the process by which decisions are being made about our schools, private companies with a vested interest in advancing profitable solutions have become ever more influential. The Gates Foundation has tied the future of American education to the capacity of the marketplace to raise all boats, but the poor are being left in leaky dinghies.
Neither the scourge of high stakes tests nor the false choices offered by charter schools, real or virtual, will serve to improve our schools. Solutions are to be found in rebuilding our local schools, recommitting to the social compact that says, in this community we care for all our children, and we do not leave their fate to chance, to a lottery for scarce slots. We have the wealth in this nation to give every child a high quality education, if that is what we decide to do. With the money we spent on the Bush tax cuts for millionaires in one month we could hire 72,000 more teachers for a year. It is all about our priorities.

The power of stories to destroy public education as we know it

by Dennis Sparks
Just as stories can instruct, provide guidance, energize, and help create a desired future, they can also provide a narrative for destruction that becomes so broadly accepted that it is viewed as an unquestioned truth. Here’s an example.
The prequel:
A few enormously wealthy individuals and organizations such as ALEC that are ideologically opposed to government services and/or who see the privatization of government functions as an essentially untapped profit center focus their resources and efforts on remaking public education for their benefit.
Through an unrelenting litany of criticism they have convinced many Americans that their public schools are failing and that they must be radically changed. If these “reforms” are not implemented with urgency, these ideologues say, the United States’ world dominance will fade as “government schools” deprive American’s of their freedom.
The storyline and the plan:
What business does is good. It is efficient and effective. What government does is bad. It is inefficient and ineffective. With a small number of exceptions, everything government does can be better done by private enterprise.
Public schools are government schools. They are therefore inefficient and ineffective. Education, therefore, can be better provided by charter schools and online providers, regardless of evidence to the contrary.
Demonize public education, teachers, and teacher unions. Use the imprimatur of “reform” to shift public resources to for-profit companies.
Exploit this country’s financial crisis to achieve ideological ends. Blame public education for economic problems, including the outsourcing of jobs.
Begin with low-performing schools because of the long-standing challenges they face. Then expand “reform” to suburban schools using low standardized test scores and teacher evaluations as evidence of their ineffectiveness.
Transfer public money with minimal public oversight and accountability to corporations that manage for-profit schools and provide standardized testing, among other services.
Consign to “traditional public schools” students whose high-cost special needs make them less profitable. Then blame resource-starved schools for not succeeding with those students and begin anew to find new ways to drain those schools of their remaining resources.
Money that would benefit students is siphoned off as corporate profit.
Public money is spent to serve non-public purposes (for instance, schools that promote an ideologically-driven form of science education) without transparency and public accountability.
The “traditional” schools that remain continue to serve the neediest students, and they do so with even fewer resources.
In Michigan and other states the narrative I’ve describe is the rationale for a wholesale, ideologically-driven assault on public education that will affect a generation or more of students in virtually every school system. It is ideologically-driven because its proponents have not offered a shred of evidence—scientific or otherwise—to support this massive, destructive experiment.
Those of us who value and whose life prospects were expanded through public education can only express our outrage and lament its passing in the face of a lame-duck Republican legislative juggernaut which will destroy in less than a month what it has taken decades to build.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dissemination or contamination?

news | Published in TES magazine on 14 December, 2012 | By: William Stewart

On the floor above Sir Michael Barber’s office is a white Portland stone balcony that offers one of the most impressive views in London.
Sitting just underneath the capital’s biggest clock face, with the Thames below, it allows you to take in Britain’s great centres of power with a quick turn of the head - from the financial muscle of Canary Wharf and the City in the east, to the Houses of Parliament in the west.
During the Second World War this was where Winston Churchill used to stand and watch Luftwaffe aircraft following the river to drop their bombs on London. At that time, it was briefly commandeered as the Ministry of Supply; today, the magnificent 1930s Art Deco slab that is Shell Mex House is at the centre of another empire - an empire of education.
And Barber, the former history teacher standing in Churchill’s place, is at the heart of what some view as a new global battle for Anglo-Saxon values and the future of the world’s schools.
This week, yet another batch of results from assessments of pupils’ numeracy and literacy was released.
There is nothing unusual about that in today’s hyper-accountable education system of targets, tests and tables. But Tuesday’s results are published only every four or five years. They are not national but global, and come from schools in more than 60 countries, spread across six continents.
These are measures of effectiveness that could influence the development of entire nations. They can convey the kind of worldwide education superstar status that is currently enjoyed by Finland. Alternatively, they can ruin politicians’ careers, trash pet projects and prompt prolonged bouts of national soul-searching.
The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (Timss) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (Pirls) may not be as famous as the Programme for International Student Assessment - better known as Pisa - but they are part of the same movement that, in the space of a decade, has transformed the way countries across the world draw up their education policies.
Andreas Schleicher, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) official who runs Pisa, remembers how education was seen by the world’s power brokers in the mid 1990s, before such international comparative studies existed. “You had a meeting of about 30 education ministers sitting around the table and everyone would tell you ‘We have got the best education system in the world,’” he recalls. “If you have a meeting of ministers today, it will always start with ‘We have seen in Finland this and this’, and ‘How did you actually do that?’ It has really changed the debate. It has globalised the field of education. I think it has been very important.”
Many people, not least our own education secretary Michael Gove, see this revolution as an undeniably good thing. They view the studies as providing valuable information about what actually works in education - evidence that policymakers would be negligent to ignore.
But others have serious reservations. These critics have concocted an acronym for what they see as an “illness” that is damaging schools around the world. They call it the Global Education Reform Movement - Germ.
Resistance is mounting to this “disease” among concerned educationalists from as far afield as Finland, New Zealand and Scotland. They are alarmed that its symptoms of competition, choice and constant measurements of teacher and pupil performance are leading to a homogenised, Americanised or anglicised global schools system that ignores many of the most important things in education. They argue that it has narrowed curricula, brought in an excess of testing and is making pupils’ lives a pressurised hell.
“It is like an epidemic that spreads and infects education systems through a virus,” according to Pasi Sahlberg, the Finnish education official who coined the acronym Germ. “It travels with pundits, media and politicians. Education systems borrow policies from others and get infected. As a consequence, schools get ill, teachers don’t feel well and kids learn less.”
Barber, unsurprisingly, disagrees. His story - how a former trade union official rose from fighting street politics for the Labour Party to advising Tony Blair in Downing Street and then became a knight of the realm, consulted by world leaders and sought after by a Conservative education secretary - is the story of how schools policy went global.
Born in 1955, Barber read history at Oxford and went on to teach the subject at secondary schools in Watford and Zimbabwe. After returning to England, he worked in the education department of the NUT, the most militant of teaching unions in the 1980s era of classroom strife and strikes.
During this period he joined the infamously “loony Left” Hackney Labour Party in East London and even unsuccessfully fought the 1987 general election.
But it wasn’t until the mid 1990s that he really came into a position of power. By then he had risen to become the NUT’s head of education and left for Keele University. In his role as an academic he was drafted in to help write New Labour’s first education policy.
The programme he drew up with David Blunkett, the former shadow education secretary, was to become one of the most analysed and pored-over packages of reform in the history of world education.
It provided the meat behind Blair’s famous 1997 “education, education, education” election pledge and interestingly, considering Barber’s later conclusions, included an infant class size limit.
At its centre were the numeracy and literacy strategies - top-down, target-driven and massively prescriptive, and widely judged a success.
For Sahlberg at least, these strategies - together with the 1980s Conservative testing and table reforms they were built on - represented the birth of Germ. But the surveys that were to spread the movement had barely begun.
“When I was originally in the Department (for Education and Employment), when some international benchmarking came out, basically what we did was worry about where it would appear in the media,” Barber remembers. “If we were good, we wanted to be on the front page and we ended up on page 17. If we were bad, we wanted to be on page 17 and ended up on the front page. And then we forgot about it until next time.”

Assessment sparks change

He says the “big change” came with the first Pisa evaluation, conducted in 2000 and published in 2001.
It made comparatively good reading for those in UK education. But in Germany - which found itself much lower down the table than it expected - the impact was seismic and even led to the invention of a new noun, “Pisa- shock”.
“The results were devastating,” says Schleicher, remembering the effect on his own country. “But without the public concern that Pisa generated, probably very little would have happened.
“The financial investment of the government, the willingness of teaching unions to take a much more reasoned stance to reform, the interests of parents - all this has been instrumental in the remarkable improvements that have been achieved in Germany.”
Schleicher says the response to the Pisa results improved the average progress of German pupils by the equivalent of half a school year.
Since then, Pisa has only got bigger and more influential. Barber has seen official reaction to such surveys moving from worrying about media coverage, through responding to disappointing performance, to a new phase - “a continuous dialogue among education ministers around the world”.
And it is in this third phase that his own international influence has really taken off. In 2005, after a spell advising Blair on “delivery” in Number 10, he joined the global consultancy McKinsey (unofficial motto: “Everything can be measured and what gets measured gets managed”).
The report he published for the firm in 2007, How the World’s Best- Performing School Systems Come Out on Top, used Pisa’s measurements to identify the “top 10” education systems and then analysed what had put them there.
With hindsight, its headline finding that “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers” seems obvious. But at the time it was a wake-up call for countries that had invested billions in expensive policies such as reducing class sizes and achieved at best partial success. Why? Because they overlooked the importance of having good-quality teachers. The coalition government has made that principle central to its education policy and it is not alone.
Last year, Barber left McKinsey to become chief education adviser at Pearson, which uses Churchill’s old wartime stomping ground as its head office and brands itself as “the world’s leading education company”.
With its services - from school improvement and textbook publishing, to exams, testing and curriculum development - provided in more than 70 countries, it is no empty boast.
But it is this integration of the private corporate world with public education that is part of what Germ’s critics find so concerning.
“This process where education policies and ideas are lent and borrowed from the business world is often motivated by national hegemony and economic profit, rather than by moral goals of human development,” Sahlberg has written.
Earlier this year, Barber revealed that during his time in Downing Street, between 2001 and 2005, he had tried to persuade Blair to allow state schools to be run at a profit. But his current role involves much more high-flown ideas about schools than mere profit.
In the third of his trilogy of reports on global education, published recently by Pearson, he argues that to allow “humanity to succeed in the next half century” the world’s education systems must do more than simply impart knowledge. They must help pupils to gain “21st-century skills”, such as leadership and collaboration.
To date, Barber has advised more than 40 of the world’s governments on education and delivery. As far as he is concerned, the globalisation of education policy is “definitely a good thing”.
“This is when you get into the evidence,” he argues. “If you have got strong evidence that something works and then you choose not to do it, what is the ethical basis for that?
“It would be really surprising and actually quite bizarre in an education field to argue that not researching something and not learning about it is a better way to go than learning about it.”
Schleicher also struggles to see any downside to Pisa and its ilk. “It has shown what is possible in education,” he tells TES. “It has taken excuses away from those who are complacent.”
So is this supposedly neo-liberal conspiracy to turn schools into money- making ventures for global business actually about nothing more than finding out what works?
It is Barber who pinpoints one of the more obvious problems with international comparisons. “None of it prevents a government reaching a crass conclusion on the basis of wanting to be like Finland or Singapore,” he acknowledges.
Sahlberg believes that is exactly what is happening. But he does not see it as just an irritating side-effect; to him it is a major concern.
“A good, concrete example is in the Gulf states - the (United Arab) Emirates, for example - where they are purchasing national curriculum documents and entire systems from other parts of the world,” he says. “Abu Dhabi is using the New South Wales curriculum because they want to be sure it is world class.”
But why would that necessarily be a bad thing? Because, Sahlberg says, “these are completely different environments with different traditions”.
New South Wales has “done a very good job” with its curriculum, he says, but only because it was “designed for their schools and their teachers and their thinking”. Abu Dhabi, he insists, cannot rely on having the same kind of teachers as those working in Sydney schools in order to make the system work in the Gulf.
Sahlberg argues that his native country - Pisa star Finland - is often part of the same syndrome. Education tourists who want to import the Finnish system wholesale have to be warned that it will not necessarily work in a different culture without some of the best, most highly trained teachers in the world.
And he thinks there is an increasing risk of this kind of misunderstanding as Pisa expands to include more countries outside the OECD.
There are some systems that “aren’t ready for this kind of OECD comparison” and “have a long way to go before the conditions are right”, he argues, citing Tunisia, Azerbaijan and Qatar as examples.
“These countries have a completely different type of tradition than, for example, Scandinavian countries. It is difficult to believe that they would ever be able to get anything feasible out of this (Pisa) information,” Sahlberg says.
The crude, simplistic appropriation of other countries’ ideas went on long before international education surveys emerged, Barber counters, describing it as an “inevitable risk”. But there seems little doubt that surveys such as Pisa have increased both the risk and the temptation for misguided quick fixes by clearly pinpointing the “top performers” that other countries may feel obliged to emulate.

Dismal and dangerous

For Stephen Heppell, who views Barber’s reports as “dismal”, the use of the data to rank countries in this way is “dangerous”.
You take the top five Pisa nations and say ‘Here are the top five world problems’ and ask whether those nations have anything to offer in solving those problems, and there is a desperate mismatch,” the Bournemouth University-based education technology guru has said.
Heppell argues that the Pisa figures are a “deeply flawed” way of comparing systems, and points to seemingly contradictory results from the 2007 Timss report, which suggested that UK pupils were top in Europe at that time.
Schleicher asserts that the two surveys are complementary and measure different things. But the fact remains that they are used to compile worldwide school league tables and are therefore likely to create the perverse incentives associated with any high-stakes performance measure.
And Schleicher admits that one of the most obvious drawbacks has already manifested itself. “Some countries have tried to game the system,” he tells TES. “We had people in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, where (governments) thought ‘OK, we now know what Pisa is, so we should give our students more Pisa-type tests.’
“In the case of Germany, it was some state (governments) that produced booklets to familiarise students with Pisa.”
Schleicher says this is firmly in the past: “We haven’t seen anything like that in the past five or six years.” But he seems unaware of a story that broke in Wales earlier this year.
The Principality is currently going through its own Pisa-shock, having been ranked below the rest of the UK at 30th out of 67 for science, 38th for reading and 40th for maths in the 2009 assessments.
In March this year, it emerged that the Welsh government had published a teachers’ guide on how to incorporate Pisa into lessons. The news prompted immediate accusations that it was trying to prep pupils and “game” the tests, with unions concerned that it would lead to a narrowed curriculum geared solely towards Pisa.
But having been told about the teachers’ guide by TES, Schleicher cautions that if the aim is to win Wales a competitive advantage then it is unlikely to succeed.
“It is a good thing to familiarise students with the nature of the task and we encourage that,” he says. “But the idea that you can train performance or you can shortcut good instruction - I don’t think there is any way to do that.
“Focus your efforts on good, high-quality instruction, that is what the best-performing systems show you.”
But a quick route to a higher place in the tables is exactly what Wales is looking for. Education minister Leighton Andrews has set a target of reaching the top 20 by 2015 and has come up with a 20-point action plan to achieve it.
Schleicher’s insistence that “I don’t think the ranking has that much importance” seems to fly in the face of how Pisa is really viewed.

Justification for reforms

Gove has used England’s apparent slip down the Pisa table between 2000 and 2009 as the main justification for his reforms, ignoring the fact that the 2000 data are, in Schleicher’s words, “a little bit dodgy”.
It is this fascination with headline rankings that particularly worries Sahlberg.
“Policymakers almost always only look at the rank their own country has in maths, science and reading,” he observes. “The US is obsessed by this, you always hear that they are 12th in maths, 15th in reading and 27th in science.
“Pisa has so much more information - for example, on equity and equality - but people are not using this.”
He, like the teaching unions that are sceptical about the Welsh Pisa action plan, believes the obsession is “leading to a narrowing of the concept of education”. Sahlberg again points to the US, saying “there are states now where they don’t require physical education any more”.
It is a criticism that Schleicher initially appears to accept: “You can say of course that Pisa doesn’t measure geography, doesn’t mention art. There are important gaps in the knowledge base and I think that is something that Pisa will progressively resolve.”
But he goes on to completely reject any suggestion that the focus on literacy and numeracy - “critical for the success of young people” - detracts from other subjects. “I don’t accept that,” he says. “I don’t see that kind of conflict.”
Another essential, but less understood, point about Pisa - which helps to explain why quick fixes are unlikely to work - is that it is not designed as a measure of school effectiveness.
“There are many different forms of a student’s work - school is one, (but) it can be private tutoring, it can be learning reading outside school with parents - and we should look at this holistically,” says Schleicher. “What you want is a child that is highly competent.”
So if Pisa is measuring what is going on in homes as well as school then can it be a fair judge of the school system?
“I agree with the criticism that you can’t say that the school system is entirely responsible for Pisa results,” he admits.
But that, patently, is not how Gove, or Andrews in Wales, or many other schools ministers around the world view such surveys.
And it is that kind of misunderstanding or generalisation that goes to the heart of the problems that Sahlberg has with the international comparisons.
It is not the data that are produced by the likes of Pisa that are the problem, but the way in which they are used. And in that respect his frustrations are shared by Schleicher, who rails against the idea that you can “copy and paste” another education system, and Barber, who admits that “you can overdo the weight you put on Pisa”.
In truth, the trio, who continually bump into each other at international conferences, have more in common than you might expect. Sahlberg may campaign against Germ but he is not against Pisa, Timss or Pirls. And he may be against an overly market- and competition-orientated approach to education but he is not against the global sharing of good ideas and practice.
He would like to see the kind of “trust-based” system that operates in Finland gain wider currency as an alternative to the Anglo-Saxon model.
In reality, the debate is not about the globalisation of education policy at all. It is too late for that, as shown by the air miles run up by the likes of Heppell, Schleicher, Sahlberg and Barber as they promote their takes on school reform.
For education, globalisation is already here. Now, the battle is about ideology.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Evaluating Principals Through Test Scores: Harder Than You'd Think

By Jackie Zubrzycki 

New research attempts to determine the best way to measure principal effectiveness using students' test scores—and finds that the task is trickier than anticipated.

Principal evaluation presents a number of questions: Should principals be evaluated based on the performance of teachers they didn't hire? Should they be measured for their immediate impact or for growth over time? How can we actually compare one principal to another working in an entirely different school or district context?
In the new research, Jason A. Grissom at Vanderbilt University and Demetra Kolgrides and Susanna Loeb at Stanford University propose and examine several possible methods of using test scores to evaluate principals, adjusting, in each case, for the background characteristics of the students that might affect academic performance. They analyze three broad approaches to evaluation: tying principal performance directly to schools' performance ("school effectiveness"); comparing different principals' performance at the same school ("relative within-school effectiveness"); and examining growth in student achievement over a principal's tenure ("school improvement").
Tying principal performance directly to test scores ("school effectiveness") may seem too blunt. "You're capturing principal performance, but you're capturing a number of other things, too," Grissom said in an interview. And yet, in the end, the researchers found that this measure aligned most closely with what the researchers called "nontest measures of performance," like surveys of parents. However, this may mean that those outside indicators were reflecting the general performance of the school more than the performance of the principal, Grissom said.
The other methods may be theoretically more appealing, as they attempt to narrow in on what the principal actually controls. But they present logistical and practical challenges—and the results, the researchers write,"inspire less confidence." Comparing different principals' performance at the same schools is difficult because principals don't leave their jobs frequently enough to compare accurately between principals. (Nor would we want them to!) Assessing principals' growth over time might be more effective, but it requires a large amount of data and, in this run-through, was not particularly reliable. Neither of these measures matched up well with the "nontest measures of performance." They also didn't match up with each other.
So, in the end, this research doesn't necessarily clarify matters for policymakers looking to come up with effective principal evaluation tools. The paper concludes with a caution: "The warning that comes from these analyses is that it is important to think carefully about what the measures are revealing about the specific contribution of the principal and to use the measures for what they are, which is not as a clear indicator of principals' specific contributions to student test score growth."
But policymakers are moving toward tying principal evaluation and effectiveness to student achievement. Several states, including Florida, where this research took place, have laws requiring principal evaluations to be tied to students' test scores.
Grissom said in an interview that this doesn't mean that districts should avoid looking at test scores at all. "It means that you have to be thoughtful about it, and cognizant of what you're measuring. And you want to use it in conjunction with other sources of data if you're going to use it for accountability," he said. That lines up with recommendations the two national principal associations put out earlier this year.
A look at the effectiveness of evaluation systems actually in place in large districts or in states that mandate this kind of connection could be revealing. This study's data comes from the Miami-Dade public school system 2003-2011. Grissom says that he and his colleagues will likely look at systems in practice in Miami and potentially elsewhere.
Meanwhile, principal effectiveness will be the topic of an upcoming forum and public discussion hosted by the ASCD, as we shared last week.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Good News and Bad News on International Comparisons

from the Harvard Educational Review

The good news is that data from the recently released 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) show that U.S. 4th and 8th graders scored higher in math and science than the global average. In addition, according to the Progress in International Reading Study, U.S. students rank among the world's leaders in reading literacy. 
The bad news is that gains made in 4th grade are not sustained into 8th grade, where mathematics and science achievement failed to measurably improve between 2007 and 2011. Further, students in other countries are reaching advanced levels at rates seven times that of U.S. students.
The TIMSS tests were administered to students in 63 countries and 14 regions, including nine U.S. states that were able to submit large enough sample sizes to be included. Students in Florida, Massachusetts, and North Carolina excelled in international comparisons in several subjects. Massachusetts' 4th graders were outperformed only by Singapore in science, and Minnesota's 4th graders did better in science than all students but those in Singapore and Taiwan.
Although U.S. students trailed only seven nations and jurisdictions in 4th grade math scores, the achievement in math by East Asian countries continues to outpace the United States, increasing the international achievement gap, which has persisted since 1995. In a statement on the release of the data, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, "Given the vital role that science, technology, engineering, and math play in stimulating innovation and economic growth, it is particularly troubling that eighth-grade science achievement is stagnant and that students in Singapore and Korea are far more likely to perform at advanced levels in science than U.S. students."
For the first time, Russian students outperformed U.S. 8th grade students in math, but Finland's math scores dropped compared to their stunning performance in 2007 and came in lower than students in Massachusetts and Minnesota. Fifty-three percent of Finnish 8th graders reached either the "high" or "advanced" level in science, compared to only 40 percent of their peers in the United States.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

States Nervous About New Common Core School Standards

Terri McCarter teaches common core mathematics to third grade teachers during TNCore training at William Blount High School in Blount County, Tennessee. (AP Photo/The Daily Times, Mark A. Large)
In Kentucky this year, the percentage of elementary and middle-school students who rated “proficient” or better on statewide math and reading tests declined by about a third. Kentucky high schoolers also experienced a double-digit percentage point decline in both subjects.
Those results may sound dismal, but they were better than state education officials had expected. Kentucky is the first state to tie its tests to the new national Common Core standards in English and math, and state officials had projected that the new, tougher standards could yield declines of as much as 50 percent.
Kentucky’s experience is likely to be repeated in dozens of other states. Forty-five states have signed on for the Common Core in both subjects, while Minnesota has adopted them just for English. The standards, which were developed jointly by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and released in 2010, are designed to be more rigorous than the current standards in most states, and to encourage deeper critical thinking.
Chris Minnich, incoming executive director at the Council of Chief State School Officers, says all 46 states are beginning to implement the standards, though few are as far along as Kentucky.
“Generally most of the states are in the information sharing and training stage with their teachers,” he says.
National standardized tests linked to the Common Core will be released in 2014, and Minnich thinks that many states will see dramatic changes that school year.

Anticipated Backlash

Education experts say those changes won’t be easy.
“I don’t think people fully realize the challenges that will come when the reality sets in that so few of our kids are college and/or career ready,” former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said recently, speaking at an education conference in Washington, D.C. The conference was sponsored by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which Bush created to promote some of the ideas he backed as governor, including early reading tests,  vouchers and charter schools.
“Moms and dads are going to be mad,” Bush said. “The reality is going to create problems for elected officials across the spectrum.”
Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education, Terry Holliday, knew this year’s results might cause a backlash from parents and students, so his department partnered with the state’s Chamber of Commerce and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, an education advocacy group in the state, to help get the message out to parents about what was in store.
“Everybody knew it was coming,” Holliday says.

Federal Involvement

In addition to the shock of the initial test results, there has been growing concern about whether implementation of the standards will reduce local control of schools and make it easier for the federal government to dictate what schools teach.
Proponents of the standards maintain they were developed by states without federal involvement.
“When we started this discussion with the chiefs and the National Governors Association, there wasn’t anybody from the Department of Education in the room,” Holliday says.
But the Obama administration did provide incentives for states to adopt the standards through its competitive Race to the Top grant program and the waivers it granted to states seeking to avoid certain provisions of the No Child Left Behind law. In both cases states had to adopt college- and career-ready standards, such as the Common Core, though they had the option to develop their own alternative. The federal government also provided support for the development of standardized tests pegged to the standards.
However, Minnich doesn’t think those federal incentives are the reason so many states have signed on for the standards.
“If I was sitting in a commissioner’s position,” he says, “I wouldn’t have done anything to get federal money if it wasn’t the right thing for my state.”
But the perception of federal involvement in the Common Core has persisted, with political ramifications. Weeks before Bush spoke in Washington, an education chief he championed, Indiana Republican Tony Bennett, lost to a challenger, Democrat Glenda Ritz, who made it known she intended to raise questions about the state’s adoption of the standards.
While it’s unclear whether Ritz’s stance on the standards actually swayed the election, Bennett saw it as a ploy to attract the support of Tea Party Republicans who have been skeptical of the standards.
“She was fairly direct in trying to curry favor with the ultra-conservatives,” he said, speaking the day after the election.
Ritz, who had been backed by the state’s teachers union, defended her position, saying that teachers in the state felt as though they had not been asked for input on whether to adopt the standards.
“We’re going to have to look at the Common Core,” Ritz said. “We need to be sure that we’re on the right track for what Indiana wants.”

Utah’s Concerns

Two groups of states are working to develop competing sets of tests based on the Common Core standards. Ritz says she’d like to reconsider Indiana’s participation in one of those groups and the terms under which it was issued a waiver for No Child Left Behind.
Political pressure already has led another state to pull out of one of the testing groups: In August Utah announced that it would no longer be participating in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
Several months before Utah pulled out, its state Senate passed a resolution urging the State Board of Education to reconsider its adoption of the Common Core.
“My initial concern with the Common Core was the level of influence and control that would eventually come from the federal government,” says state Senator Aaron Osmond, who introduced the resolution. “Utah is a very conservative state, we’re very concerned about what is taught in our schools.”
Osmond has since revised his view somewhat, and says he sees value in making it easier for states to compare academic performance and for students to move between states without falling behind.
However, he still believes Utah was right to leave the testing consortium, because now that it’s less invested in developing one of the tests, it can be freer in deciding which of several Common Core tests to adopt. And while his position on the standards has softened, Osmond anticipates that there will still be several bills introduced in the state’s next legislative session objecting to implementation of the Common Core.

Fact or Fiction

There’s been concern elsewhere about how the Common Core standards will affect what teachers teach. Ideally, the new standards would be implemented with extensive professional development for teachers, but there wasn’t funding to support that in Kentucky – the education department worked to establish networks of teachers to train each other – and funding has been scarce in many other states still recovering from the recession.
Recently, English teachers have expressed concern about the push for more non-fiction, including government documents, in the curriculum. Ideally, that reading would be pushed across all subjects, including science and social studies classes.
In practice, though, English teachers across the country have reported that they’ve borne the brunt of the new emphasis on non-fiction, according to the Washington Post, in some cases sacrificing units on poetry to make room for the new material.
But David Coleman, president of the College Board and one of the creators of the English standards, emphasizes that it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Fiction remains at the center of the Language arts classroom,” he said, speaking at Bush’s education conference.
Coleman emphasized that schools will control how the Common Core is implemented, and how teachers teach it.
“Standards do not educate children, localities do,” he said. “If you have a common standard, what’s exciting is that you have lots of different ways to get there.”

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