The Great Unwinding of Public Education: Detroit and DeVos

Privatization of all things public has slammed Detroit as gentrifying investors seek to put price tags on what was previously public domain. In predatory fashion, privatizers are targeting the city’s struggling students as a new frontier for profit.How weak and vulnerable is public education in Detroit? The Nation’s Report Card, published by an independent federal commission, named Detroit Public Schools the country’s “lowest-performing urban school district” in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015. In 2011, a Republican state legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder repealed a statewide cap on the number of Detroit charter schools. The floodgates were opened and privatizing predators rolled in.

Read the full story here: The Great Unwinding of Public Education: Detroit and DeVos

CURMUDGUCATION: 12 Reasons To Evaluate Teachers

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: 12 Reasons To Evaluate Teachers

 

12 Reasons To Evaluate Teachers

Like giving students standardized tests, evaluating teacher is one of those things that the vast majority of people believe that you do because, well, of course you do. Reasons. You know. Federal policy has required it, and required it with fairly specific provisions, for the past few administrations. Reformsterism focused for quite some time on collecting teacher data in order to fix education. Meanwhile, plenty of principals will tell you that doing the teacher evaluation paperwork and observations and whatever is a big fat pain in their ass and they already know plenty about the people in their building and can they please get back to work on something useful now and they’ve already got twelve meetings today and no time, really, to go sit and listen to Mrs. McTeachalot run through a lesson about prepositions when they already know damn well how good a job Mrs. Teachalot does.

Recently both Fordham and Bellwether thinky tanks released reports on teacher evaluations. Bellwether focused more on teacher eval as a method of steering professional development, while Fordham focused on the old reformster question, “If we’re evaluating teachers, why aren’t we firing more of them?” There’s a conversation between the two groups of researchers here at Bellwether that is semi-interesting, and reading it got me thinking again about the actual point of evaluating teachers.

Teacher evaluation has a variety of historic and theoretical purposes.

1) Identify bad teachers so you can fire them.

Some people remain convinced that you can fire your way to excellence. Other people (like NY Governor Cuomo) are dopes who think that if 50% of your students are failing the Big Standardized Test, 50% of your teachers must suck. This is dumb on so many levels, like assuming that a 20% mortality rate at your hospital means 20% of the staff stinks, or a 10% crime rate in your city means 20% of your police are incompetent. But not only can you not fire your way to excellence, but when you make teacher evaluation a process about delivering punishment and doom, you guarantee that your staff will do everything in their power to game, cheat and otherwise work around the system. The data gathered by such a system is guaranteed crap, not helpful to anyone.

2) Identify bad teachers so you can help them.

Well, there’s a thought. It’s certainly cheaper than steadily churning, hiring, and training new staff. It does, however, require a real commitment to actually helping people, and it requires a culture of trust and support– nobody wants to make themselves vulnerable by letting their weakest traits show. That means that you can have #1 or #2 on this list, but under absolutely no circumstances can you have both. This also opens the question– if you are evaluating in order to pinpoint and assist problem teachers, exactly how often do you need to evaluate, and who really needs to be evaluated?

3) Find out where the teacher can be improved, the better to plan your professional development.

Every teacher worth his or her salt is working on something. Every decent teacher I have ever known can tell you the areas in which she needs work and improvement– and she can probably tell you right off the top of her head because she thinks about these a lot. One of the classic traits of a less-than-stellar teacher is the insistence that she has everything down to science and there is nothing, really, that she needs to work on. The professional development challenge, of course, is designing something that meets the different needs of 100 different teachers. The other challenge is that state governments, sometimes under federal pressure, have a history of defining what professional development is acceptable. Cue the boring PD vendors and the sessions that don’t serve anyone at all. The other evaluation question here is, do we really need evaluations to tell us what PD is needed? Will that really work any better than, you know, just asking?

4) Prove to taxpayers they are getting their money’s worth.

A political favorite and a common reason given by reformsters demanding accountability– the taxpayers must know what kind of teacher bang they are getting for their buck. I’m sympathetic to this point of view– I’m a taxpayer, too. But we immediately run up against the problem of the vastly different expectations of the various taxpayers when they say, “So, are our teachers any good?” We either end up with a fairly specific accountability system that leaves many taxpayers saying, “Well, I don’t really care about that,” or more commonly, we lump a bunch of stuff together and answer taxpayers with, “Yeah, sure, they’re pretty good” and ignore that “good” means completely different things to everyone in the conversation.

5) To find awesome teachers to give merit bonuses to.

Well, we know that merit pay doesn’t work. We also know that, since school districts don’t turn a profit, the traditional model of merit pay in which workers share the company’s spoils doesn’t apply. I someone going to tell taxpayers, “We have so many great teachers this year that we need to raise taxes to provide fair merit bonuses?” Yeah, I didn’t think so.

But even beyond all that– a merit bonus system will twist and warp the school. Because the merit will be based on something easily measurable, and that means some teachers will twist their practice toward that practice, even if it’s bad practice. To see what I mean, just imagine a merit system in which a teacher got a bonus for every student in her class who got an A in that class. What do you imagine would happen next? All merit pay systems are either a variation on that approach, or systems based on elements over which the teacher has no control at all and which therefor don’t effect anything except how powerless and demoralized teachers feel.

6) Prove to politicians/bureaucrats that current regulations are being followed.

Ah, the culture of compliance. What is Big Standardized Test based accountability except the state and federal governments saying, “You’d better teach that Common Core stuff, and if you don’t, we’re going to catch you and teach you a lesson.”

7) Let teachers know whether or not they are meeting expectations.

One of the uniquely unnerving things about teaching, particularly when you start out, is that nobody ever tells you what exactly you are expected to do. Go in your room, and teach kids some stuff. Some schools are terrifying in their non-directedness. Let me tell you a true, amazing thing– I have been in my school district as either a student or a teacher since 1969, and not once in those 47 years have we had an actual functional curriculum for the English department. Seriously. And I know we’re not alone- plenty of districts have things on paper that are in no way connected to reality.

Nobody hands a teacher a job description. Administrators rarely set teachers down and say, “This is what we expect of you.” So teachers acquire official or unofficial mentors, tune in to the school culture, use their own expertise and acquired experience, and listen as administrators and school leaders convey expectations in less formal and structured ways. I know this level of freedom horrifies some people; I think it is one of the strengths and glories of many districts. But could it help teachers to have a more formal expression of how they do or do not meet expectations? Sure.

8) To implement somebody’s cool new idea about how to make teaching more awesome.

Oh, good lord! Principal McNerburger went to a conference and now he’s all hyped up about freakin’ Madeline Hunter.

9) To protect teachers.

God save us from sucky administrators who want to fire Ms. Whipple because he doesn’t like the way she wears her hair or Mr. Whinesalot because he’s a political activist for the wrong party. God save us from the school board member who’s mad that some teacher won’t play his kid on first sting or give his kid the lead in the school play or won’t agree to go out with him on a date, and so calls up the administration and says, “I want that teacher gone! Fired!! Do iT!!!”

For that matter, God save us from evaluation systems that use shoddy tests and unproven formulas to generate a number that is no more reliable or consistent than rolling dice.

10) To compare teachers to other teachers

Because stack ranking is fun, and finding winners and losers is really helpful? No– because public education is where bad corporate management ideas go to die. Private industry long ago noticed that stack ranking is just bad for business. To do so in education is exponentially worse, because any system that allows you to compare a tenth grade English teacher in Virginia with a third grade music teacher in Alaska is a deeply, profoundly stupid system.

11) It’s paperwork.

Some combination of state and federal meddling has created a new form that must be filled out. There’s numbers that have to go in here and checkmarks over there and mostly principals just want to get back to doing their actual jobs, which means that your evaluation form may have been filled out before Principal Swiffboat even set foot in your classroom to “observe” you. But as long as the paperwork looks good, nobody anywhere in the system cares about its relationship to reality.

12) Because, you know. Reasons, and stuff.

This is one of those things that administrators are supposed to do. The administrators doing it may have no actual purpose or point in mind, but they know it’s a Thing They’re Supposed To Do, so here we go.

The thing is, you can’t pick more than one or two of these; they are almost all completely mutually exclusive. Yet, on the state and federal world, as filtered through the thinky tank policy wonk lens, the goal is to do some combination of most of these.

And some of these require major overhauls. If you want, as the Bellwether discussion suggests at one point, a system that meets teacher needs for professional development and growth, you need to pretty much scrap everything we’re currently doing and start from scratch. People who think that we can look at BS Test results and thereby identify teacher professional development needs are clearly smoking something. That is like looking at an elephant’s toenail clippings and deciding sort of fertlizer nutrients are needed for all the rice fields of Asia.

Honestly, I don’t think we will ever have a good teacher evaluation system in this country. It would require everyone to be on the same page about the purpose of schools, the role of teachers, and the outcomes we want to see in all those areas, and I don’t think that level of agreement is either possible or even desirable.

I think the best we can hope for is a system that isn’t toxic and bad and damaging to public education, which is pretty much the kind of system that NCLB, RTTT, and Waiverpalooza gave us. I expect something simpler from Trump-DeVos, in which anyone who is identified as a trained, experienced teacher is automatically rated “Awful” or “Sad” in a late-night tweet. For what it’s worth, I have a whole system for serious teacher evaluation ready to go as soon as someone is ready to help me launch my consulting business. But in the meantime, I think we’re going to be stuck with one of the above.

CURMUDGUCATION: The Only Subjects That Matter

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: The Only Subjects That Matter

 

The Only Subjects That Matter

There’s a message that has been delivered loud and clear for the last decade– only two subjects in school matter. Only reading and math affect a school’s rating. Only reading and math scores factor in teacher evaluation. Only reading and math come with state-approved Official Standards. Only reading and math are on the all-important Big Standardized Test, now believed by an entire generation of school children to be the entire purpose of schools.

History? Science? Music? Art? Well, there are still some parents out there who remember these as being part of school, and so there’s not full support yet for getting rid of them (kind of like some folks are sure that cursive writing has to be part of school).

This has left other disciplines in a bit of a bind.

On the one hand, it would be a kind of boost to folks who teach history and science and all that other cool stuff if they were part of the whole test-driven school set-up. If history were on the BS Test, schools wouldn’t just cut history classes, or only offer history to students who don’t need test prep remediation classes.

Don’t even think about it.

And yet, what the experience of math and reading shows us is that the bad amateur standards and the horrible tests exert a power warp and twist and distort the subject areas into a dark, sad, stunted dark mirror image of their best selves. I have filled a million miles of blog with the business of explaining and depicting the badness, but the bottom line is that when you design a course of study around the goal of being to measure it with bad multiple choice questions– well, it’s like trying to jam a buffalo into a mason jar– only, unfortunately, in this case the mason jar is made of some unyielding adamantium substance, and so it is the buffalo that loses the fight.

So one the one hand, science standards have been greeted by sciencey folks because they will get science off the list of Unimportant Subjects. On the other hand, lots of sciencey folks are afraid that the science standards kind of suck. Said the American Society of Physics Teachers of the Next Generation Science Standards (Draft 2), “the wording of many of the NGSS performance expectations is confusing to the point that it is not clear what students are actually supposed to do,” and that “the science content of the current form of NGSS contains so many errors that most science teachers and scientists will doubt the credibility of the entire enterprise.”

I myself worry a lot about history. I’m an English teacher, but I will argue till your ears are blue that history is the single most important subject of all and the root of all other education. But what to do about that?

Witness Massachusetts, where history is marked for inclusion in the Big Standardized Testing Expansion Pack, a move that has been questioned by Barbara Madeloni (Massachusetts Teacher Association). As the state bureaucrats consider more testing, she stood before them to object

“I cannot believe that you are being asked to add more testing to that regime,” she said. “It reflects a profoundly bureaucratic and technocratic view of what it means to learn.” 

She is absolutely correct. But the editorial writers of mass.live are also correct when they write that history cannot continue to be considered a second-class citizen. The problem is that we’ve reached the point where they see no way to do that but by testing.

Ideally, such improvement could be implemented without a standardized test. But if there is no test, there will be no incentive within school systems to improve history education, a fact Madeloni omits when decrying the MCAS model.

The problem that the editorial writers overlook is that there could not be a worse subject to examine through a BS Test than history (though there are others that are just as bad). History is the antithesis of a One Right Answer field of study. It’s a field in which “answers” look a lot more like conversations, a shifting and dynamic balance between facts and human perception and background and perspectives. This is why so much school history instruction is so bad- to avoid any debate or upset or confusion or controversy, we stick to what is “settled” which is, generally, boring names and dates. There was a guy named Columbus who sailed the ocean blue in 1492, and we’re going to stop right there before anyone gets bent out of shape.

History’s answers are four-dimensional. Standardized test questions are one-dimensional. And so here we go, jamming a buffalo into a mason jar.

So what do we do? If I were a history or science teacher, would I accept promotion to First Class Core Subject and then try to teach my discipline properly as a sort of guerrilla activity while doing my minimum test prep. Thousands of English teachers are faking compliance with the standards– maybe that could work for other disciplines. Still, the daily pressure of being pushed to commit educational malpractice– I mean, is getting on the Subject That Matters list worth it?

The fact that we have to even discuss such a twisted choice is one more measure of the damage being done by the era of test-driven management of test-centered schools (and this is without even getting into the bizarrely stupid and terrible local tests being committed by schools in subjects like music and phys ed just so those subjects can haz “data” too). Subject areas are now that at-risk kid in your room who thinks the only attention he can get is negative attention, but maybe that’s better than being ignored.

This is what we’ve done. We have not reduced the Subjects That Matter list to two– reading and math. We have reduced it to one– the only subject that matters is testing, a subject that has little or nothing to do with education. If you are having trouble jamming a buffalo into a mason jar, you need to spend less time considering technique and more time questioning whether you’re engaged in a futile and ultimately stupid endeavor.

We can talk about lots of different threats to public education right now, and some may be noisier or flashier, but if I were to become emperor of the education world, the first thing I would do is banish the Big Standardized Test completely. There’s no single act that could do more to radically improve education in this country.

CURMUDGUCATION: ICYMI: Christmas Digestion Edition

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: ICYMI: Christmas Digestion Edition

 

ICYMI: Christmas Digestion Edition

Yes, it’s Christmas day, but I am a creature of habit, so for those of you who, for whatever reason, have some time on your hands, here’s this week’s list of read-worthy writing. Have an excellent day!

When It Comes to Charter Schools, Facts Matter

Wendy Lecker’s interview with Robert Cotto, Jr. about some of the claims being made by charters in Connecticut (and elsewhere)

Anatomy of a Failure: How a Promising LA Charter Came Apart at the Seams

One more look at how the world of charters really works. Or rather, how it doesn’t work at all.

The Complicated History of America’s First Union-Backed Charter Effort

The title is a tiny bit misleading, but here, again, a story of exactly how a charter effort comes off the rails.

The Charter School Profiteers

Allie Gross was going to teach in a Detroit charter to make a difference. What she found changed her mind. This piece is from 2014, but it’s yet another good look inside the charter machine.

The Movies That Doesn’t Exist and the Redditors Who Think It Does

This is not directly related to education at all, but it’s still a fascinating look at how we spread and hold onto “facts” that just aren’t so.

Protect Public Ed

44 teachers of the year have combined forces to speak up for public education. There isn’t much at this site yet, but it’s worth paying attention.

China Helps Game SATs

Reuters continues to be teh go-to source for journalism about the SAT. Here’s a closer look at how China maintains a thriving cheating industry for the venerable test.

Is This The Most Dangerous Member of Trump’s Cabinet

The Big Think, a website outside the education community, with a consideration of Betsy DeVos as the most destructive proposed cabinet member

What School Grades Really Say

An editorial from Evansville, Indiana takes a cold hard look at which school grades actually tell us (hint: not how good the schools are)

The RNC Issues Statement about Our “New King”

The RNC Issues Statement about Our “New King”
by dianeravitch
The Republican National Committee issued this statement to celebrate Christmas:

Diane Ravitch's blog

The Republican National Committee issued this statement to celebrate Christmas:

“WASHINGTON – Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Reince Priebus and Co-Chair Sharon Day released the following statement celebrating Christmas:

“Merry Christmas to all! Over two millennia ago, a new hope was born into the world, a Savior who would offer the promise of salvation to all mankind. Just as the three wise men did on that night, this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King. We hope Americans celebrating Christmas today will enjoy a day of festivities and a renewed closeness with family and friends.
“Even as we celebrate, we must also remember those among us who are less fortunate. Many on this day are without hope, and need the kindness and compassion of those around them. It is our prayer we will rise to meet the material, emotional, and spiritual needs of individuals…

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Now Here’s A Sheriff Who Really Knows His Law.

Now Here’s A Sheriff Who Really Knows His Law.
by mikethegunguy
There’s a little town in the middle of Indiana called Goshen which is the birthplace of the great Hollywood movie director, Howard Hawks, but will now become famous as the residence of America’s most intelligent, perceptive and downright stupid champion of the 2nd Amendment, namely, Brad Rogers, who happens to be the Sheriff in Goshen and recently opined at length in a local newspaper about the importance of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ —>

Mike The Gun Guy™

There’s a little town in the middle of Indiana called Goshen which is the birthplace of the great Hollywood movie director, Howard Hawks, but will now become famous as the residence of America’s most intelligent, perceptive and downright stupid champion of the 2nd Amendment, namely, Brad Rogers, who happens to be the Sheriff in Goshen and recently opined at length in a local newspaper about the importance of 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’

rogers              The editorial begins with a question about whether safe storage laws should be required for everyone in Indiana who owns a gun.  And Rogers demonstrates his profound knowledge of Constitutional law by stating, “The elephant in the room is the government making those laws” because the government, according to this eminent scholar, exists only for the purpose of ‘protecting’ rights, and since we have the right to own a gun…

View original post 528 more words

EXTRA: Retired Ohio School Superintendent Describes the Scandalous Operation of ECOT

by janresseger
Bill Phillis, Executive Director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, interviews Keith Richards, retired school superintendent of several Ohio school districts over a 40 year career.

In this series of youtube videos, Mr. Richards describes his experience with the unscrupulous, online charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, known in Ohio as ECOT.

Keep in mind that when Mr. Richards uses the term, “community schools,” he is describing charter schools. Ohio law refers to charter schools as “community schools.” —>

janresseger

Bill Phillis, Executive Director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding, interviews Keith Richards, retired school superintendent of several Ohio school districts over a 40 year career.

In this series of youtube videos, Mr. Richards describes his experience with the unscrupulous, online charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, known in Ohio as ECOT.

Keep in mind that when Mr. Richards uses the term, “community schools,” he is describing charter schools.  Ohio law refers to charter schools as “community schools.”

Part I

Part II

Part III

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From 2011: Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools | From BustED Pencils

From BustED Pencils blog…

Had the good fortune tonight of having someone on Facebook share this article written by Joanne Barkan in 2011. We continue to preach the truth about what she wrote back then: “A few billion dollars in private foundation money, strategically invested every year for a decade, has sufficed to define the national debate on education;… Read more »

Source: From 2011: Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools | BustED Pencils

Despite the headline, MLive article doesn’t really tell us how the DeVos family influences education policy in Michigan

Despite the headline, MLive article doesn’t really tell us how the DeVos family influences education policy in Michigan
by Jeff Smith (GRIID)
On Saturday, MLive ran yet another questionable story on the political influence of the DeVos Family, entitled, How the DeVos family has helped shape education policy in Michigan. This story is on the heals of an article that MLive ran last Monday that also demonstrates lazy journalism on the leading Grand Rapids news source…

Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

On Saturday, MLive ran yet another questionable story on the political influence of the DeVos Family, entitled, How the DeVos family has helped shape education policy in Michigan. This story is on the heals of an article that MLive ran last Monday that also demonstrates lazy journalism on the leading Grand Rapids news source.screen-shot-2016-08-01-at-12-31-15-am

The article is centered around President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. However, the story frames the issue in such a way as to soften, even minimize, the level of influence that the DeVos Family has had on education policy in Michigan.

In the second paragraph, the MLive article states:

“In addition to DeVos’ leadership roles for several education policy organizations, she and her family have used their money and influence as a means to shape major education policy initiatives in Michigan.”

The article never mentions what leadership roles Betsy DeVos plays in…

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Friday Fun – 2016 Favorite Books and Movies

Jamie Wallace writes…

Friday Fun – 2016 Favorite Books and Movies
by nhwn
Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: The end of the year is coming up fast, and pretty soon everyone will be posting their “Best of” lists for 2016. We thought we’d get started early by asking about favorite BOOKS and favorite MOVIES (after all, both involve writing and both are all about stories).

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I’m not ready to choose a definitive favorite book for the year, but I can name a FEW favorites: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrick Backman, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

As for movies … I’m not even 100% sure which movies I managed to catch this year, but I did love Swiss Army Man with Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame; the Harry Potter spinoff, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ; and I have to admit that I also enjoyed Suicide Squad.

I still have SO many 2016 book and movie releases to catch up on, though … LOTS to read and watch! (I can’t wait!)

Live to Write - Write to Live

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION:  The end of the year is coming up fast, and pretty soon everyone will be posting their “Best of” lists for 2016. We thought we’d get started early by asking about favorite BOOKS and favorite MOVIES (after all, both involve writing and both are all about stories). 

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I’m not ready to choose a definitive favorite book for the year, but I can name a FEW favorites: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrick Backman, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah.

As for movies … I’m not even 100% sure which movies I managed to catch this year…

View original post 418 more words