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


Making Students Pledge Test Security

Posted: 05 Mar 2017 09:15 AM PST

When it comes to the Big Standardized Tests, we know that one thing is important before all else– not the soundness of the questions or the validity of the test or the value of the scoring or the careful construction of questions that truly measure what they’re alleged to measure. No, only one thing matters most–

Protecting the proprietary materials that belong to the test manufacturer.

You may recall that last year there was a tremendous flap over PARCC questions and the leaking thereof

. Or the continuing issues with the SAT security, or the complete absence thereof.

This may be in part because test manufacturers hate to be publicly outed for the ridiculously bad nature of their materials. There was the infamous talking pineapple debacle of 2012. Or this year when the actual author of some materials on the BS Test in Texas realized she couldn’t answer questions about her own work.

But these incidents are merely embarrassing. The real problem with test security is that when a set of questions become compromised, the test manufacturing company has to make a bunch of new ones, and that costs money.

Bureaucrats and test companies have tried a number of approaches to deal with all this. Pearson got caught spying on student social media and demanding that local administrators punish the students involved in security breaches. And during the PARCC flap, all across the bloggoverse those of us who so much as linked to summaries of the questions were hunted down and slapped.

In Pennsylvania, as in many states, we get “training” for test proctoring that frames the whole gig as “ethical standards of test administration,” so that I understand that my highest ethical duty is not to my students nor to the local taxpayers who hire me nor to the state that certifies me professionally– no, my highest ethical duty is to the company that manufactures the test and demands that I keep their proprietary material secret and safe.

Florida (and Pennsylvania, and Georgia, and several others) also goes after the students themselves, requiring children to sign secrecy pledges . Parents are not always in the loop on this. One recent Florida news report shows the sort of outstanding family talks about school that this prompts–

“When I asked her about her test, she started crying and tells me that she can’t tell me or she’ll be arrested,” Rivera said. “I was shocked.”

That’s a ten year old.

The instructions that are read to the student, and which the student must sign off on, include the usual list of non-cheaty things (don’t help the student next to you) as well as:

Because all the content in statewide tests is secure, you may not discuss or reveal details about the writing prompt or passages after the test. This includes any kind of electronic communication such as texting, emailing, or posting online, for example, on sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

The actual document reportedly says only that the child “understands” the rules about security, but of course a ten year old thinks signing an official-looking document is a Big Deal. The document wouldn’t stand up for five minutes in a court of law, but a ten year old doesn’t know that. On the other hand, I couldn’t tell you when exactly Pennsylvania started in with this because my students absolutely don’t care. They pledge to maintain test security, and they start talking about the test questions roughly the instant they are able. The worst parts of the test still make it immediately onto social media. It’s almost as if these students don’t care about the negative financial impact of sharing the company’s proprietary information.

Reformsters love to use the talking point of putting students’ needs ahead of adult concerns, but this demand that students be subjected to an attempt to intimidate them into silence in order to protect the financial interests of test manufacturers is a prime example of putting adult concerns first. Nobody in state offices is asking, “Gee, is it a good idea to try to bully a ten year old into silence by hinting that she’ll go to jail for talking to her mom about the test?”

It’s abusive foolishness of the highest order. It’s oppressive, Big Brothery, and makes a bizarre statement about what’s most important in the whole BS Test universe. More than that, it underlines the uselessness of the BS Test itself– The only kind of test that needs this super-high level of security is a bad one. Well, that, and a cash cow that folks intend to make a huge profit on. It’s one more reminder that opting out is still a great idea. The fact that some folks think this is No Big Deal, that of course we would make children swear to uphold the secrets necessary for a corporation to profit– that in itself is a sign how completely we’ve lost sight of what really matters here.

ICYMI: In Like a Lion Edition (3/5)

Posted: 05 Mar 2017 06:47 AM PST

As always, I recommend that you pass on, tweet, share and otherwise amplify the pieces that speak to you. It matters which voices we amplify and which we do not.

Milwaukee’s Voucher Verdict

Milwaukee has been doing vouchers for decades now, which means they’re a great place to see exactly how vouchers play out. The answer, courtesy of this in-depth piece by Erin Richards, is not all that well.

School Vouchers– Welfare for the Rich, Racist and Religious Right

Russ Walsh takes a look at what vouchers are really good for.

Common Core Conversation

If you are interested in the ebb and flow of the Common Core conversation on social media, this is a fascinating site that breaks down the connections and major players in the twitterverse of CCSS discussion.

Pennsylvania Is Wild West of Property Taxes

While I’m not sure that we’re the wild west of anything, this is a good look at how Pennsylvania leads the nation in really screwing up the property tax piece of education financing.

Misconceptions about Charter Schools

A nice simple breakdown of some common ideas about charters and why those ideas are wrong.

Three Myths About Reading Levels

Psychology Today published this simple and brutal look at the widely misused and misunderstood business of reading levels.

Four Reasons the Arts Are the Most Important Academic Discipline

Nancy Flanagan makes the case of the arts in education.

Schools of Last Resort

Jennifer Berkshire talks to the only teacher in the LA school board race and how she was turned from a reformer into a public school advocate.

Obedience School

Blue Cereal Education on how we save the system and miss the point.

School Vouchers Are Not a Proven Strategy for Improving Student Achievement

When the economists turn on you, you know your reformy idea is in trouble. The Economic Policy Institute adds to the stack of articles showing that vouchers are a waste of time and money.

Finally, here are a couple of videos to watch.

You’ll have to follow the link to watch Diane Ravitch on Tavis Smiley.

Enjoy PBS while you still can.

Intelligence Squared sponsored a debate about then proposition that charter schools are overrated.

Education44: Obama USED Parting Shot

Posted: 04 Mar 2017 02:29 PM PST

March continues to come in like a lion who really wants to create a blog about his experiences over the past five or eight years. We have looked at FutureEd and The Line

, two new websites that are make sure we can all still get to hear the voices of a bunch of ed reform types who wouldn’t shut up for the last decade. FutureEd has set out to plug Common Core and all the fun things that came with it, while The Line seems dedicated to making sure that Chiefs for Change and the Broady axis of reform still get the word out (I am wondering if Peter Cunningham, previously tasked with this important work at Education Post, is feeling abandoned).

But good lord, that’s not all. Because who needs a website to get the word out about their hard work then the folks at the Obama Department of Education.

Oh, the fun we had trashing public ed

That’s right– a bunch of USED refugees have created a website as a monument to eight years of.. well, we’ll get to that. Of all these sites, Education44 most explicitly promises to keep its eyes on the rear-view mirror of education policy:

Under President Obama – the 44th President of the United States – the U.S. Department of Education worked to make America’s promise attainable for more students. The administration’s agenda

focused on protecting access to a high-quality education for all students while reforming and innovating public education to produce greater equity.

Here you will find the legacy of the Obama administration’s work, and a balanced platform where you can learn about policies and ideas for improving public education.

That link takes you to our first legacy document– John King’s exit memo that attempts to sum up the many accomplishments of the Obama-Duncan-King Ed Department. Those missions that have been accomplished are:

1) Greater access to pre-school and more high school grads. Are the pre-schools any good? Did schools fudge numbers to get more “grads.” Oh, let’s just not talk about that.

2) Higher standards and better assessments. Oh, honey. Trying to take credit for Common Core without saying its name is ballsy, but dumb. Those standards were craptastic, and we’ll be years trying to undo the damage. And no– the assessments aren’t better, and the administration’s insistence on placing the Big Standardized Test at the center of the educational system will long stand as one of the most destructive, toxic, and foolish legacies of the administration.

3) More personalized learning through technology. Well, at least they admit that’s what they’ve been up to. It is a dead end–and an expensive one– so thanks, Obama, for that special gift.

4) Historic investments in higher education. Yeah available loans were increased, allowing even more students to go into debt. Hooray?

5) Early learning. Here they brag about the grants used to extend all of their bad educational ideas (standardization, test-driven ed, computer-based instruction) down to the 0-5 year old crowd. Admit it– you guys have no idea whether any of that resulted in actual learning or not. All we can be sure of is that it warped a lot of small children’s childhood while getting them a good head start on having their digital privacy violated.

6) Opportunity and success. This is super-vague, but I gather that they are pleased with ESSA (despite its punch-in-the-face to their department) and also, they are serving the hell out of underserved students. Somehow.

7) Innovation and evidence of what works in education. They have gathered evidence from grant-spurred programs that provide evidence of the evidence-based approach to education that really works, because they have evidence. Somewhere. Honest.

8) Support for education and the teaching profession. Oh, please. The last eight years were just as hostile to teachers and public education as any other years ever (with the possible exception of the next four years). You treated us like the problem, ignored our voices, and drove us out of the current and future profession. The department tries to get applause for its ambassador fellowship program that accomplished jack. Okay, not quite true– it made the department pat itself on the back for allowing a handful of teachers to come pretend to be listened to. Meanwhile, the department claims that we were all clamoring for better feedback on professional development. Incredibly, King gives them credit for pursuing the program of finding great teachers and moving them around to needy schools, a policy idea that never, ever actually happened anywhere (which is good, because it was a dumb idea). They would also like credit for “helping” the profession by meddling in college teacher prep programs. Dammit you guys– you were never our friends, ever.

9) Strong students support. Here’s a list of some grant programs. Whoop-de-doo.

10) Protection of student civil rights. It was one of their more creative approaches to strong-arming state and local ed leaders. Of course, in Trumpistan, there will be no such activity.

11) College affordability. Well, the department made a big fat ton of money on college loans, but I don’t think that much helped people who wanted to go to college.

The exit memo then lists assorted policy ideas that a future department should follow to continue the Great Work. This is kind of sad, since even when the new department continues the old department’s initiatives (like, say, a fetish-level love and pursuit of charter expansion) they’ll never admit it. I would feel badly for all the department folks who will suffer the frustration of feeling as if they have a lot of expertise to offer, but nobody will listen to them– but that’s exactly how teachers were treated by their administration, so my sad feelings are not happening.

What else can we find at Education44? Well, there are some collected items from elsewhere, like Arne Duncan’s WaPo piece about how sucky Trump is for rolling back trans student rights. There are more pieces about all the cool programs that the department used to run. There’s an attempt to argue

that the School Improvement Grants were not the colossal waste of time and money that others have made them out to be.

There’s a buttload of “fact sheets,” so perhaps the idea here was that the Ed department would rescue valuable information form the ravenous maw of the Trumpites. As the site sadly notes at the bottom of the page: “Education44 is the legacy website for the Obama administration’s Education Department. Our content includes historical material via links to external websites. Some links may not work.”

The problem with a legacy site for 44’s ed department is that their legacy was kind of lousy. They pursued a lot of anti-teacher, anti-public ed policies. They abandoned Democrat principles and constituencies in favor of neo-liberal and lipsticked-pig conservative programs. They pushed testing to the center of the American education system, and then when it became obvious that the testing emphasis was having a toxic effect, they shrugged their shoulders and said, “How could such a thing have happened?” They ignored teachers, pushed charters as a way to undermine public schools, and suggested that students with special needs just needed teachers who would expect harder. They turned proper funding into a zero-sum winners-and-losers contest. And by botching their response to troubled schools, they made it possible for future departments to dismiss the whole idea of providing financial support for schools.

In fact, by botching pretty much everything, they built broad support for getting rid of the department entirely.

Right now is a tough time for a supporter of public education. I am so very not happy that Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump are here, but at the same time, this site reminds me that I am not sorry that the Obama-era department is gone.

Posted by Peter Greene

No Jail Time For 19-Year-Old In Idaho Coat-Hanger Assault Case : The Two-Way : NPR

An Idaho judge concluded an attack on a black, mentally disabled teenager, in which his white teammate kicked a coat hanger up his rectum, was not a sexual assault or racially motivated attack.

It began when a fellow football player gave him a hug. A second player inserted a coat hanger into his anus, and a third kicked it farther in. Not a sex crime or racial attack, the judge ruled. The Twin Falls, Idaho, newspaper writes that supporters of the victim see the sentencing as “a slap on the wrist for a privileged white teen who preyed on a disabled teammate from the only black family in town.”

His conviction could be dismissed entirely.

Source: No Jail Time For 19-Year-Old In Idaho Coat-Hanger Assault Case : The Two-Way : NPR

The Strong Smell Of Pool Chlorine Is Actually Urine Plus Chlorine : Shots – Health News : NPR

Scientists have now identified an easy way to measure pool urine—by looking for traces of a common artificial sweetener. Urine in pools mixed with chemicals can pose a potential health threat.

Certain sweeteners are designed to go right through you and don’t break down readily in pool water, which means it can be isolated and measured. Scientists have calculated that one 220,000-gallon, commercial-size swimming pool contained almost 20 gallons of urine.

That .01 percent can still cause health problems

Source: The Strong Smell Of Pool Chlorine Is Actually Urine Plus Chlorine : Shots – Health News : NPR

Sensing Chaos, Russia Takes A ‘Wait-And-See’ Approach To Trump : NPR

David Remnick and Evan Osnos of The New Yorker say Russia was caught off guard by Trump’s election. “Nobody expected, frankly, that [he] was going to win,” Osnos says.

Source: Sensing Chaos, Russia Takes A ‘Wait-And-See’ Approach To Trump : NPR

U.S. intelligence agencies agree that Russian leaders approved a hacking campaign during the 2016 election, aimed at destabilizing the U.S. political system and hurting Hillary Clinton. The only problem, two New Yorker magazine writers say: They didn’t actually expect Donald Trump to win.

And they’re not sure anymore that they’re happy about it.

An Ebola Hero Had A Baby In Liberia. 4 Days Later She Was Dead : Goats and Soda : NPR

She survived the virus and made the cover of Time magazine as an ‘Ebola fighter.’ Now she’s dead at 28, leaving behind a husband and their four young children.

Source: An Ebola Hero Had A Baby In Liberia. 4 Days Later She Was Dead : Goats and Soda : NPR

Salome Karwah had lived through civil war, survived Ebola and served as a global face of humanitarianism in Liberia. But skittish hospital workers refused her care after a post-natal collapse, and she died days after giving birth to a son. “When I was depressed, she was there to comfort me,” says her husband, the father of her four children. “When I was downhearted, she was there to reawaken me. And she was always smiling.”

Read Salome’s story.

David Berliner on The Purported Failure of America’s Schools | VAMboozled!



A blog by Audrey Amrein-Beardsley

Source: David Berliner on The Purported Failure of America’s Schools | VAMboozled!

My primary mentor, David Berliner (Regents Professor at Arizona State University (ASU)) wrote, yesterday, a blog post for the Equity Alliance Blog (also at ASU) on “The Purported Failure of America’s Schools, and Ways to Make Them Better” (click here to access the original blog post). See other posts about David’s scholarship on this blog here, here, and here. See also one of our best blog posts that David also wrote here, about “Why Standardized Tests Should Not Be Used to Evaluate Teachers (and Teacher Education Programs).”

In sum, for many years David has been writing “about the lies told about the poor performance of our students and the failure of our schools and teachers.” For example, he wrote one of the education profession’s all time classics and best sellers: The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, And The Attack On America’s Public Schools (1995). If you have not read it, you should! All educators should read this book, on that note and in my opinion, but also in the opinion of many other iconic educational scholars throughout the U.S. (Paufler, Amrein-Beardsley, Hobson, under revision for publication).

While the title of this book accurately captures its contents, more specifically it “debunks the myths that test scores in America’s schools are falling, that illiteracy is rising, and that better funding has no benefit. It shares the good news about public education.” I’ve found the contents of this book to still be my best defense when others with whom I interact attack America’s public schools, as often misinformed and perpetuated by many American politicians and journalists.

In this blog post David, once again, debunks many of these myths surrounding America’s public schools using more up-to-date data from international tests, our country’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), state-level SAT and ACT scores, and the like. He reminds us of how student characteristics “strongly influence the [test] scores obtained by the students” at any school and, accordingly, “strongly influence” or bias these scores when used in any aggregate form (e.g., to hold teachers, schools, districts, and states accountable for their students’ performance).

He reminds us that “in the US, wealthy children attending public schools that serve the wealthy are competitive with any nation in the world…[but in]…schools in which low-income students do not achieve well, [that are not competitive with many nations in the world] we find the common correlates of poverty: low birth weight in the neighborhood, higher than average rates of teen and single parenthood, residential mobility, absenteeism, crime, and students in need of special education or English language instruction.” These societal factors explain poor performance much more (i.e., more variance explained) than any school-level, and as pertinent to this blog, teacher-level factor (e.g., teacher quality as measured by large-scale standardized test scores).

In this post David reminds us of much, much more, that we need to remember and also often recall in defense of our public schools and in support of our schools’ futures (e.g., research-based notes to help “fix” some of our public schools).

Again, please do visit the original blog post here to read more.