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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Be in like Jim!

A friend of mine sent me an email with the transcript of the testimony of Dr. Jim Scanlon, West Chester Area School District superintendent, which he is presenting today (7/29/15) to the Pennsylvania House Education Committee.

Another friend said we need to move to West Chester...
Unless all of our superintendents can be like Jim.

Remember when we all wanted to be like Mike?
Well, now we have a more important cause...

Please note that any underlined sections are my emphasis.

House Education Committee Hearing
July 29, 2015
Testimony by Dr. Jim Scanlon, Superintendent, West Chester Area School District.

Chairpersons Saylor and Roebuck, and members of the House Education Committee, thank you for taking time to hear from practitioners in our public schools about the amount of testing taking place in our classrooms.

My name is Jim Scanlon and I am in my seventh year as superintendent of the West Chester Area School District, a district of about 11,600 students. I was a superintendent in Wilmington, Delaware for three years and in Quakertown in Bucks County for 7 years. I attended public schools in Pennsylvania and most of my educational career has been spent working in public schools in Pennsylvania.

I have seen new initiatives take place each time a new governor is elected.
I have watched mandate after mandate come down from the Pa Department of Education, Pa Board of Education, or our state and federal legislators. Schools have had to adjust to these new rules on annual basis.

There are so many aspects to educating children today – aside from the basics of teaching and what happens in the classroom. Schools must grapple with funding and politics, they have to deal with the social development of our children in an age where Social Media has changed everything. We must continually analyze our use of technology – for educational purposes and for communicating. We have to do our very best to educate the increasing number of special needs children in our districts. We have to provide adequate professional development for our staff. We have to fulfill our contractual obligations with unions. We also have to deal with our aging facilities. And, we have to answer to our taxpayers who fund it all.

And then, there’s assessment. We are asking our students to do something that’s entirely unfair: To spend weeks and weeks filling in bubbles, taking standardized tests and having their entire educational ambition directed toward passing them. This is not what public education was intended to do, nor should do. I understand that the intent is accountability, but this is just not a good way to measure student progress. Educators around the nation are starting to speak out – and more and more states are re-examining the way they do this. I believe in accountability. I believe in very high standards for our students. I do believe that tests can be a good thing. But not the way we are being forced, by the state and federal government, to give them.

We officially began the PSSA testing window on April 13 and we ended on May 27 when we finished with the high school Keystone Exams, a new graduation requirement. That’s a month and a half out of our 9 and a half month school year! There is very little learning that takes place in this time, but there is a tremendous amount of anguish. And this year was the worst ever. I saw it in the faces of our students, staff, and parents. It is killing our public education system.

Beginning with the class of 2017, even a straight ‘A’ student who doesn’t do well on Keystones won’t receive a diploma, under state law. This past school year approximately 86% of our students passed the Algebra and English Literature exams and about 78% passed biology. This is much higher than the state average. As we sit here today, our high schools are instructing 60 students in a remedial course on Keystone exams. Another 100 students will be scheduled in remedial courses in the fall, which means they will have to pull out of an elective in which they have already registered. Many of these students will be applying to college, and I know that some will be accepted by January of their senior year but if they don’t pass all three Keystone Exams, or an online Project Based Assessment, they will have their acceptance letters rescinded. It will happen.

Every superintendent in the commonwealth can provide you with an example of a student who was accepted to major university but didn’t pass one of the Keystone Exams with each of the past two graduating classes. We had one student pass the AP Biology exam with the highest score of 5, acceptance to Johns Hopkins but did not pass the Biology Keystone exam. We had another student fail the Algebra and Biology Keystone Exam but received a scholarship to a culinary arts school because of the program he attended at the Technical School. If that student was a junior today, he would be removed from his electives, the technical school, and be placed in remedial courses in order to pass the Keystone Exams or a Project Based Assessment. Because he will miss out on the technical school courses, he most likely won’t get involved with culinary arts and won’t be eligible for a college scholarship. Decisions about assessments have a huge impact on the future of many students!

We recently received data from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA). The interpretation of this data is extremely confusing and frustrating because of the regulations attached to it. As you may know the test changed last year to better match the new PA Common Core Standards. PSSA is now a test to determine if a student is college and career ready. Typically scores drop for the first year or few years when a test is changed, and this year the scores are extremely low, particularly in math. State-wide only 30% of 8th grade students are proficient in math compared to 74% last year. Perhaps the scores are lower because many 8th grade students not only had to take the PSSA but were required to take the Algebra Keystone Exam also. Or perhaps the whole thing is a mistake? Do you really believe that in one year, our students’ ability to do well in math dropped by 44%? The tests are simply not an accurate reflection of reality.

As of last year, Act 82 (Educator Effectiveness) was passed. School districts are using this data to measure evaluation scores for teachers and administrators. We use a score called Valued Added also known as PVAAS, which is an expected gain in student scores from one year to another. As scores go down, so will teacher evaluation scores. How can we remotely think any of this data is reliable to be used as an evaluation tool when the test has changed in the middle of implementing another mandate?

However, just as we have adjusted to rule changes in the past, we will figure out the new rules to this game and adjust accordingly. What we won’t be able to figure is the fact that 86% of our 8th grade students passed the Algebra Keystone Exam but only 54% of our 8th grade students passed the 8th grade math PSSA. So does that mean that 42% of our students will be eligible to graduate but they will not be considered college or career ready? State and federally mandated testing has been around for a long time --- But it’s become a massive burden that is stifling creativity and love of teaching and learning and having a negative impact on the learning environment.

While our district has embraced high standards and accountability, we now spend the first seven months of the school year preparing to take standardized tests, then we spend approximately six weeks giving tests to students. Unlike private and parochial schools, public schools are mandated to use these tests to determine graduation for students, and for teacher and administrator evaluations. It is positively stressing us – and our system – to the max.

Our teachers, students, and parents all say the extreme amount of time focused on testing is causing ridiculous amounts of stress in the classroom, faculty room, and at home. The angst is palpable as you walk through our hallways. There is no time for creativity, exploration and collaboration.
Over Memorial Day weekend, I sent an email to our parents and school community telling them how I feel about the increase in testing, and asking them to contact their legislators if they felt similarly. That email went viral, as they say, in days. It had been shared around the state and soon around the country. I received emails from New Jersey, New York, Georgia, and across Pennsylvania. People were so happy to see someone standing up for public education – and speaking out against this ridiculous amount of testing.

Teachers and parents have literally sent me hundreds of examples of how students are worried, anxious, and depressed. The rules for taking these exams are crazy, as well. Every bulletin board has to be covered so kids can’t make a reference to anything for help. Springtime in a school should be full of excitement and learning. It shouldn’t look like a place that’s closed up for the summer. The rules allow students to take as much time as they need but once they close the booklet, the session is over and they can’t return to it. There is no research to support that any of these test environments are helpful, supportive, or represent good pedagogy.

That negativity is already beginning to drive down our test scores. Learning should be challenging, but also enjoyable and exciting. Teaching should be dynamic and creative. We’re missing so much of that because of these tests. Our own son is a first grader this year, and already my wife and I are discussing the possibility of opting him out of PSSA testing when the time comes for him to take them. I want to be proud of the system in which my sons are educated. I’m not sure how much longer I will be able to continue to do that.

Time and again I hear stories of kids who are so stressed out and fed up with the extreme amount of testing and the pressure associated with it that they are enrolling in private schools, instead. Just this past weekend I spoke with a parent who told me her son’s anxiety about school began in third grade when he first had to take the PSSA’s. We had one high school student who was actually pulling her hair out because she was so stressed about having to pass her Keystone. And we’re starting to see some of our best teachers retire early or leave to teach in private systems – citing the ridiculous focus on standardized testing – as the reason.

We can do better. We have to do better.

It’s time to step back and look at what we’ve done. The solution needs to be found with educators and business people at the table. Some people say we need to run schools like a business. Any good business would conduct a cost-benefit analysis when so much money is being spent on something that creates so much customer dissatisfaction. I don’t believe we are reaping any benefits from the costs spent on standardized testing in this state. I also believe we need to empower local school districts – with oversight and guidelines - to make decisions about graduation requirements and how to measure student progress toward the Pa State Standards.

I would be happy to work with anyone on developing a better accountability plan that maintains high standards, meets the needs of students and prepares students for college and career readiness. We should partner with businesses to make graduation requirements more meaningful and connected to the world of work.

For example, I attended the Pa Free Enterprise Week session last week at Lycoming College. 2,400 students spent a week working with business people from across the state operating a business, preparing cash flow charts, balance sheets, stock holder reports and marketing plans. Each graduate of that week automatically qualifies for a $20,000 scholarship to Lycoming College or an $8,000 scholarship to Penn Technical College. I’d rather pay for students to attend one of these camps as a graduation requirement rather than $600,000 we are spending to remediate students on a Keystone Exam.

I look forward to future discussions. Let’s get back to teaching and learning, and do what’s right for our kids and our state.

Pennsylvania parents thank you, Jim Scanlon! 
A true teacher has to teach, and you are doing your best 
to educate the citizens and politicians of our state. 
We support you and will help any way we can.

Be in like Jim.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Where do all these "Innovative" ideas come from?

ALEC, of course...

Remember Schoolhouse Rock from Saturday morning cartoons? Well, it seems the democratic process has been changed without any democratic process. Walking the fine line between ethics and legality are our "friends" at ALEC. Watch this 2 minute updated version of the Schoolhouse Rock video on how a bill becomes a law TODAY... So wrong.

This NBC news report about the shady influence ALEC has on our laws is a MUST SEE.  Our tax dollars are being stolen by politicians who are not even earning their pay. They are literally submitting ALEC's fill in the blank bills. Teachers call that plagiarism.  A lot of politicians see it as fair play.

Is your school district pushing online and blended learning? Do well-intended and probably unaware school leaders and teachers have you convinced that these are good ideas? Well, click here to read ALEC's model bill pushing them both. Does your district have competency based report cards? Push back. In the same model bill, ALEC states, "Students progress based on demonstrated competency."

If your school district is claiming to have innovative and 21st century ideas, it is as easy as searching the ALEC website to know where these ideas are coming from. Push back against one-size-fits-all policies at the district level and demand teacher autonomy. If we allow teachers to select the teaching approaches they find most effective with the group of students they have each year, we will not get cookie cutter ideas churned out by lobbyists hoping to destroy our schools.

Remember, the children of the folks writing and pushing these ideas are in private schools. Their "21st century" ideas for "innovation" are for other people's children. Our children.

We must spread the word and make sure our local school boards and school administrators avoid any and all ideas promoted by ALEC. Even more importantly, we must make sure our state politicians hear from Republicans, Democrats, and Independents that we are all aware of ALEC and do not approve.

The Center for Media and Democracy has a website called ALEC Exposed that tracks the undemocratic influence that is overtaking democracy in our country. Diane Ravitch reported on ALEC again today. She states, "ALEC has model legislation for charters and vouchers, for online learning, and for anything that breaks public education and removes teacher professionalism."

As always, we can not trust the name of a bill. If it sounds good, we must do our due diligence. For example, ALEC has an education model bill titled, "The School Board Freedom to Contract Act". But surprise, it is about outsourcing to cut costs so districts can upgrade technology. No doubt this will lead to more online learning and less teachers teaching. This is all about making money from public school tax dollars with FLASE narratives about what is the best way for our kids to learn. ALEC and its allies often site that "research" shows something, but often that "research" is funded by a foundation tied to ALEC or its members.

This Huff Post piece on a Bill Moyers segment called, The United States of ALEC, reports on the many ways ALEC is hurting our democracy and on ALEC's attack on our schools.

It states, "Today, 17 states offer 33 programs that allow parents to use taxpayer money to send their children to private schools. This includes traditional vouchers as well as tax-credit scholarship programs that give individuals or corporations tax reductions if they donate to scholarship funds. My home state of Arizona adopted this tactic.
Vouchers are only one side of ALEC's education agenda. If they can't get public funds for private schools, they try to privatize the public schools."

And continues, "This is already happening in more ways and in more places than you might think. For-profit companies are managing many charter schools, including online schools where students rarely see a teacher. Although a new study raises serious concerns about virtual schools, they can deliver profits for investors."

Read more here.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Coming after suburban schools...

We have watched as school "choice" has destroyed urban school districts, closed neighborhood schools, and treated children as robots and data creators. ALEC, The American Legislative Exchange Council is referred to as a bill mill. ALEC creates model "Cliff Notes" bills for politicians and has now targeted us. I wrote about ALEC here. Seems like our politicians are taking short cuts written by lobbyists with some really questionable agendas.

ALEC has many goals, including ending public education as we know it. In this article their agenda is crystal clear. ALEC "...has decided to drop the pretense that vouchers have anything to do with social and racial equity, and is now pushing vouchers for the middle class—a project which, if pursued enough in numbers, will progressively erode the public school system and increase the segregation of students based on race and economic standing."

"School vouchers were never about helping poor, at-risk or minority students. But selling them as social mobility tickets was a useful fiction that for some twenty-five years helped rightwing ideologues and corporate backers gain bipartisan support for an ideological scheme designed to privatize public schools."

"In state after state, politicians were in on the trick. They would sign limited voucher programs into law as “civil rights” measures only to gradually expand the programs to higher-income white families."

ALEC knew that involving well-intended progressives would be easier of they claimed they were offering "choice" to help undeserved  groups. "ALEC makes this abundantly clear when it recommends in its talking points that legislators not adjust the amount granted based on family income. The upshot of this is that vouchers will be a welcome bonus for well-off families whereas poor families may not be able to afford private school tuition even with the extra money. This, in turn, will lead to increased segregation "based on race, socio-economic status, disability,  (and) English language (proficiency)..."

They infiltrated our cities in the name of social and racial equality, but ended up segregating the schools, leaving most public school students in underfunded public schools, and making charter school investors rich. And now they are going to find an angle to try make suburban parents want "choice." Ah, marketing.

What will ALEC's suburban marketing plan be? Only time will tell. Keep your eyes open for vouchers and claims that sound too good to be true.

Caveat emptor:  A Latin term that means "let the buyer beware." Similar to the phrase "sold as is," this term means that the buyer assumes the risk that a product may fail to meet expectations or have defects.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Know the clues...

I subscribe to an anti-public education foundation's email updates. You should, too. It makes it mighty easy to see where the "latest and greatest" ideas that are popping up in many public schools come from... and why we should reject them.

Sign up here to follow the Nellie May Foundation and see for yourself.

Clue #1 that this is anti-public school: Sounds wholesome and caring

"The Nellie May Foundation is for anyone looking to put students at the center of education."

Clue #2: Pushes the term, "College & Career Ready."

Clue #3: Describes personalized learning as partly or completely computer-based (Such as blended learning).

Clue #4: Encourages a data driven classroom.

Clue #5: Promotes one good idea, along with several corporate reform ideas.

Can you tell which idea is the good one...?
Ask yourself, "Which ideas would elite private schools implement?"

A. Throw out grades
B. Competency-based education
C. Authentic Assessment

Authentic assessments are local, teacher designed research projects that students perform to demonstrate their knowledge in various learning styles.

Clue #6:  They promote sleek and beautifully produced videos and use attention grabbing questions, like this one: “Need a crash course in student centered learning?” Or this one: “It’s 2015. So why is our education system still functioning like it is 1915?” The PR copywriters often put an opinion out there like it is fact. I know that my children’s teachers and many others do not teach like it is 1915.

They often steal language that was developed by teachers, like when they use the term, student centered.

 Watch this propaganda video to see how these marketing experts try to persuade us that public schools are old fashioned and that computer programs and online learning personalize education (as opposed to teachers). Key clue warning phrases are, "Students work at their own pace," and "Learning happens anytime, anywhere."

The video makes a claim that all four principles it mentions MUST work together for learning to happen. It states, "This is not an a la carte approach." (Read: this is a standardized approach.)

All of teaching is an a la carte approach. Experienced teachers know when to utilize different strategies. These sleek propaganda videos and articles are marketing tools funded by people who will profit from our tax dollars. 

The more you know, the more you see the pattern. Please communicate with your school administrators and school board members when you see the clues. We must speak up and stop the infiltration of corporate reform ideas in our schools. Remember, if America's best private schools aren't implementing these ideas, neither should America's best public schools.

 It can be tough to know who to trust these days... know the clues.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Stealth testing?!

What would you do if you were in the standardized testing business and realized that more and more parents were refusing to let their kids take your high profit assessments? Perhaps you would team up with the tech industry to design "educational" games and programs that secretly recorded student scores without the kids even knowing. Perhaps you would think that kids just love computer games and you could trick them into thinking that it is fun, and trick their parents into believing that your products increase learning.

We are all somehow getting used to giving up privacy, as each stoke of our keyboard records our shopping habits, auctions off our IP address to the highest bidder, and posts an ad on our screens in split seconds. We accept that if we search a personal topic, some company will quickly advertise a product or two related to it, even if we don't want anyone to know we searched it. But is there a line to be drawn? Are our children to be used as data creators to keep the demand for "educational" tech products high?

Trust teachers, not technology.

The tech industry, like the testing industry knows a lot about its own field, but what do they know about teaching and learning? In this research summary, MIT has published the work of a professor and a researcher from Florida (One of the worst states for detrimental education reforms). To an MIT alum, this "... approach that embeds performance-based assessments in digital games..." may sound like a golden idea. But then again, MIT grads are not highly trained and experienced in developmental psychology, teaching, and learning.

"They argue that using well-designed games as vehicles to assess and support learning will help combat students’ growing disengagement from school, provide dynamic and ongoing measures of learning processes and outcomes, and offer students opportunities to apply such complex competencies as creativity, problem solving, persistence, and collaboration. Embedding assessments within games provides a way to monitor players’ progress toward targeted competencies and to use that information to support learning."

If there is any "growing disengagement from school" it likely comes from state mandates and pressure on teachers to raise test scores. I know lots of creative and innovative teachers who have students excited about learning.

"These stealth assessments are intended to measure levels of creativity, persistence, and conceptual understanding... during game play. Finally, they consider future research directions related to stealth assessment in education."

Who'd have thought it would come to this?

Last time I checked, teachers provide feedback to schools and parents about creativity, persistence, and conceptual understanding in students. School districts are actually already paying teachers to do their jobs, why should they also pay for technology to do so? Some would question the use of tax dollars. But the bigger question is the ethical one regarding testing children when they do not know they are being tested. If you were being tested, wouldn't you want to know? As a parent, don't you want to know when your kids are being tested? Wouldn't you want to be able to see the test questions?

And if you have any doubt about the dubious roots of stealth testing, know that the report above was funded by the MacArthur Foundation, which is chaired by a former Pearson executive:

Dame Marjorie M. Scardino is the chairman of MacArthur's Board. She was for 16 years the chief executive of Pearson, an international education and media group headquartered in London whose business was primarily education, but also included The Financial Times Group, Penguin books, Pearson Education, and half of The Economist Group. - See more at:

Dame Marjorie M. Scardino is the chairman of MacArthur's Board. She was for 16 years the chief executive of Pearson, an international education and media group headquartered in London whose business was primarily education, but also included The Financial Times Group, Penguin books, Pearson Education, and half of The Economist Group. - See more at:

 Check out their entire Board of Directors here. Not an educator in sight.

I have heard the MacArthur Foundation's name all over NPR, and guess what? NPR promoted the idea of stealth testing here. NPR reports:

"The major textbook publishers, plus companies like Dreambox, Scholastic and the nonprofit Khan Academy, all sell software for students to practice math and English. These programs register every single answer a student gives." Do these names ring a bell? Ask your kids... you may be surprised.

"The companies that develop this software argue that it presents the opportunity to eliminate the time, cost and anxiety of "stop and test" in favor of passively collecting data on students' knowledge over a semester, year or entire school career. Valerie Shute, a professor at Florida State University and former principal research scientist at ETS, coined the term "stealth assessment" to describe this approach."

"Stealth assessment doesn't just show which skills a student has mastered at a given moment. The pattern of answers potentially offers insights into how quickly students learn, how diligent they are and other big-picture factors."

"Invisible, integrated assessment, to me, is the future," Kimberly O'Malley, the senior vice president of school research at Pearson Education, told me. "We can monitor students' learning day to day in a digital scenario. Ultimately, if we're successful, the need for, and the activity of, stopping and testing will go away in many cases."

Do we really want Pearson monitoring our kids daily?

The government has actually weakened  student privacy laws and is working hand-in-hand with the tech companies to get them a piece of our tax dollar pie. That is why groups like Student Privacy Matters are important.

COPPA, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act sounds like a law that protects our kids... but not that much.

Forbes reports, “The primary goal of COPPA,” wrote the FTC in the FAQ, “is to place parents in control over what information is collected from their young children (under 13) online.”

Under 13? What happened to minors being under 18?

"The Rule, according to the agency, 'applies to operators of commercial Web sites and online services (including mobile apps) directed to children under 13 that collect, use, or disclose personal information from children, and operators of general audience Web sites or online services with actual knowledge that they are collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from children under 13.'
The document covers issues including COPPA enforcement, privacy policies and notifications, geolocation data, verifiable parental consent and COPPA in schools."

That means that if your kids are 13 or older, nobody is asking you permission for anything on-line. 
Had enough yet?

If parents don't push back, not only are our tax dollars being squandered, but our children are being data mined as part of their school day and have become mere commodities instead of precious human beings learning in their own unique ways.

"Jennifer Jacobsen, a Connecticut public school parent and privacy advocate stated, 'My children do not go to school to have their meta-data analyzed. They do not go to school to have advertising embedded within their on-line instructional materials. They do not go to school to have every detail about them uploaded and accessed by people I do not know. They do not go to school to be employed as unpaid product development specialists or forbid, plugged into a laptop all day. They go to school to be inspired, enlightened, impassioned seekers of knowledge, to become able citizens and follow their dreams.'" Read more here.

 Talk to your neighbors, friends, school board members, and take action before it is too late.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

PA's phony test scores & why opting out matters

The education of our children is in the hands of politicians who mostly receive their information from non-profits who hide their anti-public school agenda, and are voting on things they know little about...

If you can read this, be prepared to weep as you see who is ruining public education for our kids...
Read more here.

In Pennsylvania, the buzz has been about the results of the new "rigorous" PSSA & Keystone Exams. The Keystone State Education Coalition , Diane Ravitch , and Peter Greene all reported that scores have dropped. Wonder why?

"Besides making the tests harder, the State Board of Education also recently voted to change scoring metrics, raising the bar on which scores constitute a proficient rating, meaning a passing grade."


In plain language, what the State Board of Education did was tell schools and kids how high to jump, then tell them it wasn't high enough. You bet they are going to blame teachers and schools. That is why it is so important that you understand what cut scores are. Read more here.

"It's like a high jumper who is told 6 feet is the height he has to obtain to win: He jumps 6 feet and is considered a winner and then he is later told that that height is now suddenly 7 feet so he's a loser," (Bethlehem Area Superintendent) Joseph Roy said. "Even if he jumped 6 1/2 feet the next year, is he a non-proficient high jumper? Even if he improved over the past standard?"  Roy said he can't understand the state's attitude on testing.  "Who benefits from the obsession with standardized testing? Parents don't care for it, teachers know it distorts teaching and learning in negative ways, and students with overall good academic records will be denied graduation," he said."

 It is time to call them on their numbers game and reclaim education for our children.

So these cut scores, in the end, are decided with little teacher input. Don't think that 58 teachers on one committee and TWO on the final committee represent all teachers. The Board of Education should consist of people who are experts on public education, right? Read the list of PA Board of Education members here. Not many have education backgrounds aside from having been students.

"The board of education is distinct from the department of education. It is made up of 22 gubernatorial appointees who serve six-year terms." They are all appointed, so basically parents have very little say in the education of our children.

So how do parents tell politicians that we do not appreciate our kids being used to create data that isn't even valid or reliable) that rates schools and teachers? There is only one choice for parents who want a voice, and that is to utilize our right to opt out. If we could simply go to the polls and vote on education issues directly, I am very confident that parents and grandparents would flood the booths to pull the lever that screamed, "NO!" No more wasting the educational time of our kids, no more standardization, no more identifying children as "basic" or "proficient." They are human beings and cannot be quantified or standardized.

The joke is on us. We must consider using the only voice they have given us - a polite and respectful opt out, or we are also pawns in their game.

Click here for an easy opt out guide.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The sky is falling - a manufactured crisis.

Wouldn't you feel mad if powerful people created a problem where there wasn't one, and then not only profited from your tax dollars, but used your children or grandchildren as pawns to make it happen, all at the while sacrificing the education of your kids? Welcome to the back story on what is happening in American education, and education around the globe.

"Most people have no idea about the privatization movement. They don’t know that the narrative of crisis (“our schools are failing, failing, failing”)–repeated again and again–is intended to clear the way for privatization." -Diane Ravitch

Former Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, has been reporting this truth for some time. Here she shares a post from Pennsylvania teacher, blogger, and public school activist, Peter Greene. Before reading it, please understand that "privatization" is a tricky term because charter schools (which are the goal of current "education reformers," are Public Private Partnerships.

Charter schools can't take over until there is an  elimination of local control (read school boards), which will bring the end of public schools nationally.

The World Bank defines Public Private Partnerships this way: "There is no one widely accepted definition of public-private partnerships (PPP). PPPs are typically medium to long term arrangements between the public and private sectors whereby some of the service obligations of the public sector are provided by the private sector, with clear agreement on shared objectives for delivery of public infrastructure and/ or public services."

Venture capitalists and Hedge Funders love PPPs. Too bad they are often terrible for kids, communities and schools. This formula of crying, "failing failing, failing" is exactly what has happened to our city school districts. Just look at Philadelphia to see that charter schools and "privatization" are not the answer.

Greene sums it up simply:

"Step one, create a crisis.
 Step two, take power away from the community, dissolve the local school board, give it to the mayor,  the governor.    
 Step three: cash in."

What is happening in Philadelphia is what many politicians and their corporate supporters want for ALL schools, even successful suburban ones. Don't be fooled. The sky does not have to be falling.

Speak up to support public education before it is too late.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Measuring temperature with a tablespoon...

Standardized testing has a place in our schools. Yes, you did read that correctly. It should have the same place it had if you went to school before 1990. A small place, a non-stressful place, a private place where scores are used to help students and are not on big data bases. It is high stakes standardized tests that, in my personal opinion, have no place in our schools. What is the difference? Keep reading. Every citizen should know...

The first thing you must know is that the source of your information is of the utmost importance. The US government and many non-profit organizations call themselves education reformers. See this site. These folks want changes and do not want any democratic process in creating these reforms. Not one vote has been made to endorse what they want. They hire Madison Avenue PR firms and try to convince the public that their perspective is the only perspective. Which of course, it is not. Their definition of a high stakes standardized test is as follows:

"A high-stakes test is any test used to make important decisions about students, educators, schools, or districts, most commonly for the purpose of accountability—i.e., the attempt by federal, state, or local government agencies and school administrators to ensure that students are enrolled in effective schools and being taught by effective teachers. In general, “high stakes” means that test scores are used to determine punishments (such as sanctions, penalties, funding reductions, negative publicity), accolades (awards, public celebration, positive publicity), advancement (grade promotion or graduation for students), or compensation (salary increases or bonuses for administrators and teachers)."

Their definition pretty much explains why I do not support high stakes standardized testing. Let me explain...

If you think back to your own childhood (assuming you are over 30 here), you may recall a day or two of standardized testing a year. The test scores were reported back to the schools and the schools decided how to utilize the results to help students. Period.

High stakes tests of today are used in many ways, most of them to penalize students (Think Keystone Exams), schools, and teachers. These tests were never designed to be used in these high stakes ways.

"For several important reasons, standardized achievement tests should not be used to judge the quality of education. The overarching reason that students' scores on these tests do not provide an accurate index of educational effectiveness is that any inference about educational quality made on the basis of students' standardized achievement test performances is apt to be invalid.
Employing standardized achievement tests to ascertain educational quality is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon. Tablespoons have a different measurement mission than indicating how hot or cold something is. Standardized achievement tests have a different measurement mission than indicating how good or bad a school is. Standardized achievement tests should be used to make the comparative interpretations that they were intended to provide. They should not be used to judge educational quality. Let's look at three significant reasons that it is thoroughly invalid to base inferences about the caliber of education on standardized achievement test scores." (Emphasis mine) Read more here.

I believe in accountability, but as an expert in my field, I know that standardized test scores don't actually hold schools or teachers accountable. They do however, destroy communities, close schools, fail students, withhold diplomas, kill passion for learning, and often for teaching. The politicians and non-profit folks who promote these education reforms seem to send their children to private schools, so maybe they aren't as invested in public education as the rest of us. Or maybe they are invested, but in a totally different way... like financially invested.

“I will not take the time here to unpack the strategic plan coordinated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and three people within the Department of Education who have turned their strategic plan into a public policy called 'The Race to the Top.' You should read Diane Ravitch’s new book to get a clear picture of how this has all been done very legally with the help of the best lawyers that money can buy, millions of dollars thrown at the Harvard Education Department, and with tens of millions of dollars to hire the best Madison Ave. Advertising and PR firms and the best web designers (go to “PARCC” or “Common Core” online). What you need to know is that none of the people behind this plan have any respect for public schools or public school teachers." Read more here.

If you haven't read Reign of Error yet, it is not too late. Take a look here.

Also, check out fairtest's arguments against high stakes standardized testing. "The materials selected for this page make the case against relying on test scores to make critical educational decisions about students or schools - or what is called high stakes testing. Common examples include retaining a child in grade or withholding a students high-school diploma solely on the basis their score on a test, or relying on test scores to determine whether a teacher or school should be sanctioned or rewarded.
A large body of evidence exists against using standardized tests for such decisions. New evidence is being collected as states and district increasingly use tests for such purposes. This page presents the arguments and evidence to help you build a case against high-stakes testing in your own community."

Write me if you have specific concerns or questions. This impacts all of our schools, urban, suburban, and rural. Time is of the essence. I want our public schools to be around for my grandchildren and their children, do you?