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Is The Big Standardized Test A Big Standardized Flop
"Since No Child Left Behind first rumbled onto the scene, the use of a Big Standardized Test to drive accountability and measure success has been a fundamental piece of education reform. But recently, some education reform stalwarts are beginning to express doubts.

There are plenty of reasons to doubt the validity of the Big Standardized Test, be it PARCC or SBA or whatever your state is using these days. After almost two decades of its use, we've raised an entire generation of students around the notion of test-based accountability, and yet the fruits of that seem.... well, elusive. Where are the waves of students now arriving on college campuses super-prepared? Where are the businesses proclaiming that today's grads are the most awesome in history? Where is the increase in citizens with great-paying jobs? Where are any visible signs that the test-based accountability system has worked?

Two years ago Jay Greene (no relation), head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, was writing about the disconnect in test scores-- if test scores were going up, wasn't that supposed to improve "life outcomes." Wasn't the whole argument that getting students to raise test scores would be indicative of better prospects in life? After all, part of the argument behind education reform has been that a better education was the key to a better economic future, both for individuals and for the country. Greene looked at the research and concluded that there was no evidence of a link between a better test score and a better life.

Here on Forbes.com this week, contributor Frederick Hess (director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-tilted thinky tank) expressed some doubts as well. AEI has always supported the ed reform cause, but Hess has often shown a willingness to follow where the evidence leads, even if that means challenging reform orthodoxy. He cites yet another study that shows a disconnect between a student's test scores and her future. In fact, the research shows that programs that improve "attainment" don't raise test scores, and programs that raise test scores don't affect "attainment."

Test scores can be raised with several techniques, and most of those techniques have nothing to do with providing students with a better education. Drill the test prep. Take at-risk students out of electives and make them take test-related courses instead. And have teachers learn, over the years, how to teach more directly to the test. But do you want higher test scores or better education? Because those are two unrelated things.

The end result is that the test scores do not tell you what they claim they tell you. They are less like actionable data and more like really expensive noise.

Hess and Greene represent a small but growing portion of the reform community; for most, the Big Standardized Test data is God. For others, the revenue stream generated by the tests, the pre-tests, the test prep materials, and the huge mountains of data being mined-- those will be nearly impossible to walk away from.

But there is one critical lesson that ed reform testing apostates should keep in mind. The idea that the Big Standardized Test does not measure what it claims to measure, the idea that it actually does damage to schools, the idea that it simply isn't what it claims to be-- while these ideas are presented as new notions for ed reformers, classroom teachers have been raising these concerns for about twenty years.

Teachers have said, repeatedly, that the tests don't measure what they claim to measure, and that the educational process in schools is being narrowed and weakened in order to focus on testing. Teachers have said, repeatedly, that the Big Standardized Tests are a waste of time and money and not helping students get an education. Teachers have been saying it over and over and over again. In return teachers have been told, "You are just afraid of accountability" and "These tests will finally keep you honest."

After twenty years, folks are starting to figure out that teachers were actually correct. The Big Standardized Test is not helping, not working, and not measuring what it claims to measure. Teachers should probably not hold their collective breath waiting for an apology, though it is the generation of students subjected to test-centered schooling that deserve an apology. In the meantime, if ed reform thought leader policy wonk mavens learn one thing, let it be this-- the next time you propose an Awesome idea for fixing schools and a whole bunch of professional educators tell you why your idea is not great, listen to them."
petergreene  standardizedtesting  testing  standardization  2018  schools  reform  education  measurement  nclb  rttt  parcc  sba  frederickhess  jaygreene  teaching  learning  howwelearn  howweteach  policy  schooling  publicschools 
september 2018 by robertogreco
CURMUDGUCATION: The Social Justice Argument
"The charter-choice system, as currently conceived and executed, promises a possible maybe rescue for some students while making the vast majority of non-white non-wealthy students pay for it, while simultaneously lulling policy makers into thinking that the problem is actually being solved, all in a system that allows charter operators to conduct business without being answerable to anyone.

The problem (see First Part) is real. The solution being inflicted on public education is making things worse, not better. It is making some folks rich and providing excellent ROI for hedge funders, but neither of those outcomes exactly equals a leap forward in social justice. There's a whole argument to be had about charter booster motives; I figure that some are in it because they believe it will work better and some are in it because they believe it's the last great untapped well-spring of tax dollars. Ultimately, their motivation isn't as important as this: their solution will not actually solve anything.

No, Seriously. Solutions?

Warren Buffet actually suggested one of the best solutions that will never happen-- No Choice At All.
If the only choice we had was public schools, we'd have better public schools.

The point is valid. Far too much of reformsterism looks like an attempt to weasel out of having to pay for education for Those People. If the rich were trapped in schools with Those People, we would have so many resources focused on public school that it would make a scholar's head swim. If charter operators focused all their energy and resources on demanding that public schools be fully funded and completely supported, we'd be in a different situation. Some would most likely say that such solutions are not possible because entrenched bureaucracies and teacher unions and the Big Institutional Blob stand in their way, and as someone who has spent his adult life within just a small-town version of that BIB, I won't pretend that public education doesn't suffer from all sorts of bureaucratically generated nonsense inertia.

But what the reformsters are also complaining about is that when they walk into the room and say, "This is what you should do," the folks in education don't slap their heads and yell, "My God, you're right! We've been so foolish. Here, inexperienced amateur, please tell us what to do!"

They are so absolutely certain that they are right, and that people working in the education field should just listen to them, right now. And that certainty in their own righteous rightness has also stopped progress on the pursuit of social justice.

As rich and powerful people with an interest in education and social justice, they could have gathered together summits of stakeholders, talked to educational experts, brought together people who have worked on these problems their whole lives-- and then listened to all of those folks. They didn't. And now they've largely lost the ability to tell the difference between factors that are part of the actual problem, and factors that just piss off the wealthy and well-connected by thwarting their will.

Yes, the army is losing the battle for educational social justice on many fronts. The solution is not to try to raise an entirely new army, but to support and supply the army you already have in the field. That doesn't mean you just encourage them to keep doing what hasn't worked, but you have to talk to them to understand what's really happening and what they really need.

I'm a high school English teacher. I'm not wise enough to know the solution for an educational social justice solution in this country, and I'm not powerful enough to gather together all the people who could help work it all out. But I know enough to know that A) an increasing gap between rich and poor has exacerbated existing problems of social justice in our country, with those problems being reflected, expressed and sometimes amplified in our schools and that B) the charter choice system currently being foisted on many parts of the country doesn't fix any of those problems.

To charter choice advocates: Your problem is a real problem, but your solution is not a solution. Whether you're blinded by devotion to your ideology or your intent to make a buck or just your lack of understanding, your vision is impaired. You need to clean your glasses, take a step back, and look again."
petergreene  socialjustice  schools  publicschools  education  2015  privatization  policy  warrenbuffet  reform  edreform  capitalism  markets  charterschools 
october 2015 by robertogreco
CURMUDGUCATION: Gates Says Some Stuff
"Like many teachers, I could not tune in to Bill and Melinda Gates' trip down Ed Reform Memory Lane because I was busy doing my actual job. This seems metaphorically perfect-- Gates talks about schools while, meanwhile, teachers are in schools doing actual work. However, I've scanned some accounts of the speech from this afternoon, and I think I've piece together the general drift of his gist. So let me channel my faux Gates voice to summarize what you, I and all of us missed today.

So, hey there.

It's been fifteen years since we started trying to beat public education into submission with giant stacks of money, and it turns out that it's a hell of a lot harder than curing major diseases. Turns out teachers are not nearly as compliant as bacteria. Who knew?

Actually, there's a whole long list of things that came as a surprise to us. Teachers and politicians and parents all had ideas about what ought or ought not to be happening in schools, and damned if they would just not shut up about it. At first stuff was going great and we were getting everyone to do just what we wanted them to, but then it was like they finally noticed that a bunch of clueless amateurs were trying to run the whole system, and they freaked out.

I have to tell you. Right now as I'm sitting here, it still doesn't occur to me that all the pushback might be related to the fact that I have no educational expertise at all, and yet I want to rewrite the whole US school system to my own specs. Why should that be a problem? I still don't understand why I shouldn't be able to just redo the whole mess without having to deal with unions or professional employees or elected officials. Of course nobody elected me to do this! I don't mind, really-- happy to take over this entire sector of the government anyway, you're welcome.

I have noticed that when you give teachers really shitty feedback based on crappy tests, they prefer that you just shut up and leave them alone. This is bad. How will they know whether they're crappy teachers or not, or whether they're doing well or not. Surely they don't think by just using their professional judgment and paying attention to their students they'll be able to figure out how they're doing all by themselves? Where are the numbers and the charts and the data? I tell you-- it's almost as if they think they understand things about teaching and education that I do not, and that surely can't be right.

I'll admit-- we were a bit naive about rolling all our ideas out, and by "we" I mean various state governments that we spent our money on. Those guys just screwed up the implementation. I know the ideas themselves were sound because, you know, I do. I mean, not everybody messed it up. In Kentucky they stayed the course on using standards to prep for those tests, and damned if that test prep didn't pay off in higher test scores. What else could anyone possibly want.

And resistance to Common Core. Well, some of that was just crazy people telling internet lies. And the rest was people who just wanted to assert their autonomy, like all the people who work in public education wanted to make a point that they don't actually work for me. My bad. Sometimes I forget that there are people like that. Although Melinda will tell you that teachers actually all love the Common Core. Love it.

Look, I'm a simple man. I had some ideas about how the entire US education system should work, and like any other citizen, I used my giant pile of money to impose my will on everyone else. It's okay, because I just want to help. We're not done yet-- I'm going to keep trying to fix the entire teaching profession, even if nobody in the country actually asked me to do it. And no, I don't intend to talk to anybody actually in the profession. What do they know about teaching? Besides, when you know you're right, you don't have to listen to anybody else."
2015  billgates  gatesfoundation  policy  influence  money  politics  education  schools  commoncore  petergreene  us  schooling 
october 2015 by robertogreco
CURMUDGUCATION: Writing: Not Unteachable, Often Mistaught
"I am not a five paragraph snob. I have used it my entire career and will continue to do so, primarily because many students come to me as fans of the Uniblob-- a giant mass of verbage and almost-sentences that have fallen out onto the page like toothpaste squeezed out a tube by a spasming fist. If we can get thoughts organized into paragraphs and some sort of simple progression, I absolutely call that a win.

But, as I'm not the first to observe, the FPE can be like training wheels-- useful when you're getting started, but an obstacle once you're really ready to ride.

The FPE ultimately becomes a Fill In The Blank question with five large paragraph-shaped blanks. The FPE encourages students to start by asking the wrong question. They ask "What can I use to fill in each of these blanks" or "What can I write to satisfy the assignment." These questions are most likely to produce inauthentic, lifeless, pointless pieces of writing-- but inauthentic, lifeless, pointless writing that meets the requirements of the teacher's (or standardized test scorer's) checklist.

The correct question to start with is, "What do I think about this?" A good follow-up question is "What's the best way for me to say it?"

The answers to those questions are absolutely personal. In his piece, Thomas compares himself to a colleague-- one puts words down as a first step, and one as a final step. That broad variety is, of course, normal. Some writers must be still to think, and some must be active. Some must be silent and some must be vocal.

There is no One Right Way to write. This is maddening for some teachers and some students. Where the hell is our list of rules? Unfortunately, the real list is short and only sort of helpful:

1) Figure out what you want to say.
2) Figure out a good way to say it.
3) Say it.

Most writing problems are really thinking problems, and the traditional way to solve them is to take thinking out of the equation. This is solving the problem by substituting a different problem. This is having trouble deciding what to order in a restaurant, so you go watch a movie about food instead. Templates and FPE are just a way to say, "Never mind thinking. Just fill in the blanks with what you believe the authorities will find acceptable."

There is nothing less open to standardization than writing, and yet for generations, long before the advent of Truly Terrible Tests, teachers and textbook publishers have tried to make it so. But you cannot standardize, templatize, or rulify writing without turning it into something else entirely.

I kiss my wife because I have a particular feeling, and I follow the impulse born of that feeling at that time. If I kiss my wife because I am concerned about satisfying some Higher Authority's Rules about how I should behave toward my wife, the action I take may bear a superficial resemblance to a kiss, but as I stand there carefully arranging my lips and checking for the approved level of moisture, angle of approach, degree of impact pressure, duration of contact, and any other rules I've been told I must follow for such interactions, the resulting action is something else entirely.

So, can writing be taught at all?

God, I hope so, or I don't know what the hell I've been doing for the past thirty-some years.

Here are some things that I believe work.

Tools. We teach students a variety of tools and techniques. This includes technical tricks like Ways To Make Transitions Happen and analytical tricks like Count All the Forms of Be in Your Paper and See If You Can Make Some Go Away. This also includes sharing and discussing process, so that students can learn a variety of ways that they could, for example, pre-write.

Permission. Particularly if they have wandered down the path of One True Way. I cannot even begin to guess how many students I have dealt with who insist on using approaches to writing that do not work for them at all, simply because they are convinced that's what they are Supposed To Do. Give students permission and encouragement to experiment and wander and try other things.

Write. Write write write write WRITE write write. I am pretty sure that if I simply had students write all the time and I never gave them a lick of feedback, but just kept them writing, they would get better. Feedback, reflection, discussion, sharing and assessment all speed up the process, but the activity central to improving writing is to write. Frequently, regularly, in a variety of modes and purposes, but write.

Individualization. I start with the premise that there are no child prodigy writers, which has to mean that everybody starts in the same place-- Downtown Suckville. Every writer is on a journey from Suckville to Awesome Town, but there is no bus or train that runs there, so every writer has to make the journey in her own way at her own speed. In fact, the trip metaphor only works if we allow for black holes and secret tunnels, because travelers don't even hit checkpoints in the same order. This week Chris may be ready to figure out conclusions but Pat is still wrestling with using less passive voice. Alphonse may be trying to work out writing tools that Fiona doesn't even care about. Every teacher of writing must make her own compromises, because you won't have time to handle the individual nature of learning instruction perfectly. Only you can figure out how you'll deal with that. But there is no tool more important to a writer than individual voice and that is, of course, individual.

So I believe that writing can be taught and fostered and mentored. The tricky part is that there are sooooooo many ways that a teacher can mess things up and get in the way. Templates and the FPE are prime examples of how that can go wrong. Thomas is right; Vonnegut is wrong. Writing is often mistaught, but it is not unteachable."
writing  teaching  education  teachingwriting  howwewrite  fiveparagraphessays  2015  petergreene  thinking 
june 2015 by robertogreco
CURMUDGUCATION: The Graduation Rate
"The problem with the four-year graduation rate is the same as with many other reformy measures-- it can't be easily fixed by legitimate means, it doesn't count circumstances that really are wins (see above examples), and it carries high stakes for the individual schools. Put it all together, and you have a high motivation to fudge, game, and cheat the system.

We really-- REALLY-- need a conversation about why, exactly, we believe that someone who takes five (or even six) years to successfully complete high school is a problem or a failure. Why is it so crucial that students graduate by a certain timetable-- and why is that actually MORE important than whether they graduate with a full education or not?

Let's keep counting the graduates, but let's stop counting the years."
graduationrate  2015  education  highschool  policy  schools  flexibility  petergreene 
june 2015 by robertogreco
CURMUDGUCATION: Can We Rebuild Social Capital?
"Can We Rebuild Social Capital?
I often disagree with his answers, but Mike Petrilli frequently asks excellent questions.

In the recent National Review, Petrilli is spinning off Robert Putnam's latest book about America's children and discussing the idea of social capital. The problem is simple, and clear:"the fundamental reality of life for many children growing up in poverty in America today is the extremely low level of 'social capital' of their families, communities, and schools."

The problem with any deliberate attempt to build social capital, as Petrilli correctly notes, is that nobody has any idea how to do it. Petrilli accuses Putnam of suggesting that we throw money at the problem. Well, I haven't read the book yet (it's on the summer reading list), so I can't judge whether Petrilli's summation is correct or not.

But Petrilli himself offers three strategies for addressing the issue. And as is often the case, while he raises some interesting and worthwhile questions, his line of inquiry is derailed by his mission of selling charters and choice.
1. Invite poor children into schools with social capital to spare.

No, I don't think so. Social capital is about feeling supported, connected, and at home in your own community. You cannot feel at home in your own community by going to somebody else's community.

Schools contribute to social capital by belonging to the community, by being an outgrowth of the community which has significant role in running those schools. Inviting students into schools that are not in their community, that do not belong to those students and their families-- I don't think that gets you anything. Social capital finds expression in schools through things like evening gatherings at the school by people from the community. It depends on students and families who are tied through many, many links-- neighbors, families, friends. It depends on things as simple as a student who helps another student on homework by just stopping over at the house for a few minutes. These are things that don't happen when the students attend the same school, but live a huge distance apart.

Making a new student from another community a co-owner in a school is extraordinarily different. But anything less leaves the new student as simply a guest, and guests don't get to use the social capital of a community.

2. Build on the social capital that does exist in poor communities.

The basic idea here is solid. Putrnam's grim picture aside, poor communities still have institutions and groups that provide social capital, connectedness, support. I agree with Petrilli here, at least for about one paragraph. Then a promising idea veers off into shilling for charters and choice.

Education reformers should look for ways to nurture existing social capital and help it grow. Community-based charter schools are one way; so (again) is private-school choice.

Churches, service organizations (in my neck of the woods, think volunteer fire departments), and social groups (think Elks) are all community-based groups that add to social capital. Unfortunately, as Putnam noted in Bowling Alone, those sorts of groups are all in trouble.

One of the fundamental problems of social capital and these groups is a steady dispersing of the people in the community. People spend too much time spreading out to come together. Spreading them out more, so that their children are all in different schools and no longer know each other-- I don't see how that helps. Social capital is about connection.

3. Build social capital by creating new schools.

Exactly where does a high-poverty community come up with the money to build a new school? The answer, he acknowledges, is for charter operators to come in from outside and create a new school from scratch. He also acknowledges that it's an "open question" whether such schools create any new social capital.

I would also ask if it's really more inexpensive and efficient to spend the resources needed to start a new school from scratch than it is to invest those resources in the school that already exists. Particularly since with few exceptions, that new school is created to accommodate only some of the students in the community. If the community ends up financing two separate but unequal schools, that's not a financial improvement, and it is not creating social capital.

Do we actually care?

In the midst of these three points, Petrilli posits that growing social capital and growing academic achievement (aka test scores) are two different goals that are not always compatible, and we should not sacrifice test scores on the altar of social capital.

On this point I think Petrilli is dead wrong. There is not a lick of evidence that high test scores are connected to later success in life. On the other hand, there's plenty of evidence that social capital does, in fact, have a bearing on later success in life. High test scores are not a useful measure of anything, and they are not a worthwhile goal for schools or communities.

Petrilli's is doubtful that lefty solutions that involve trying to fix poverty by giving poor people money are likely to help, and that many social services simply deliver some basic services without building social capital, and in this, I think he might have a point.

And it occurs to me, reading Petrilli's piece, that I live in a place that actually has a good history of social capital, both in the building and the losing. I'm going to be posting about that in the days ahead because I think social capital conversation is one worth having, and definitely one worth having as more than a way to spin charters and choice. Sorry to leave you with a "to be continued..." but school is ending and I've got time on my hands."
socialcapital  mikepetrilli  petergreene  community  communities  busing  education  schools  testscores  testing  poverty  cityheights  libraries  reccenters  connectedness  support  edreform  reform  robertputnam  society  funding  neighborhoods  guests  connection  academics  inequality  charterschools 
june 2015 by robertogreco
CURMUDGUCATION: An Open Letter to My Alma Mater Re: TFA
"So how the heck did you end up in bed with Teach for America?

I suspect that you may have been attracted by the social justice sales pitch. Teach for America has cycled through several versions of what its mission is supposed to be, but they have all been centered on some vision of social justice. And yet none of those visions have been rooted in reality.

Fix the teacher shortage? There isn't one, actually, and in places like Chicago, New Jersey and Cleveland, actual teachers are being shown the door to make room for TFA recruits. In New Orleans the district actually lost a lawsuit for summarily firing 7,500 teachers, many of whom were replaced with TFA bodies.

Improve high-poverty schools? One of the problems of high-poverty schools is a lack of stability. How exactly does it help to bring in people who have no intention of sticking around for more than a few years?

Teacher diversity recruitment? Studies of the teacher pool show that we do not have a diversity recruitment problem. Minority teachers are actually entering the field at higher rates than white teachers. The problem is that they are also leaving the field at a faster rate than white teachers. And remember those thousands of unjustly fired NOLA teachers? Three quarters of those were black.

There are additional problems with the TFA model. Most notable is the frontal assault on professionalism. Allegheny has been a pre-professional college for decades. Most of my fellow freshmen were pre-med, and the ones who weren't pre-med were pre-law. I can't imagine Allegheny ever supporting a program predicated on the notion that with five weeks of training, any undergrad would be good to go for providing legal or medical services out in the world. Allegheny's teacher program only allowed undergrads to become teachers with the understanding that they would be heavily supported, carefully supervised, and required to complete graduate-level studies of education within five years.

But TFA is founded on the notion that teaching isn't really so hard-- any smart person can basically walk into a classroom and do just fine. This is turn has dovetailed with the agenda of those who want to turn teaching jobs into high-turnover, short-term, easily replaced and therefor low-paying positions. Additionally, TFA buys into and sells the notion that the only measure of educational achievement is standardized test scores, as if raising those scores is the only important work that a teacher does.

Why would Allegheny support a program that claims that any reasonably bright college grad with no educational training beyond a five week summer session is ready to fly solo in a classroom?"
tfa  teachforamerica  2014  petergreene  training  education  policy 
september 2014 by robertogreco
CURMUDGUCATION: Students Travel in Packs
"We don't talk about this much, but one more problem with the reformster agenda is that it takes each student as an isolated unit, a human being with no context. The picture of "individualized" education often portrayed by folks like Knewton (the mad number crunching scientists at Pearson) is that we feed Pat into the Giant Data Bank and the GDB spits out Chris a student that the magic formulas claim is just like Pat. "Here's how Chris learned this stuff," says the magical computer. "Just teach Pat the same way."

This is an odd approach for many reasons, but one of the oddest reasons is that it assumes that Pat and Chris are discrete isolated student units with no real context or social setting.

In reformsterland, people are disconnected and no relationships exist. Teachers and students interact in a Strictly Business manner-- teachers deliver instruction and students respond to it by becoming capable enough to score well on standardized tests. But at least teachers and students interact in some manner; in reformsterland, students do not interact with other students at all. The relationships they form, the culture that they create in their schools-- none of this actually exists. In reformsterland, students travel in isolated bubbles, unaffected by any of the other bubbles around them.

It's ironic, because in reformsterland every one of those bubbles contains an identical data generation unit (formerly known as human children). One size fits them all, and I suppose it doesn't matter which one of the other bubbles is their "friend" because they're all interchangeable, and relationships don't affect anything anyway.

It's just one more way in which reformsterland does not resemble the real world. Because in the real world, students travel in packs, and the packs are interesting and vibrant and affecting because every person brings something unique to the table. And the possible combinations of all these humans are infinite in number, staggering in complexity, and endless in influence, whether reformsters want to recognize their existence or not."
education  policy  edreform  onesixefitsall  standardization  school  instruction  standards  individualization  relationships  howweteach  howwelearn  learning  teaching  business  standardizedtests  data  petergreene  2014 
september 2014 by robertogreco

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