Posts Tagged ‘Blueprint for Education Reform’

Better tests? Better get some better answers first. Part 1

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

Here’s part 1 of my follow up to last week’s post about common core state standards and the developing related national assessments.

This week has seen a major flap over the Obama administration’s plans for testing under a new ESEA. The brouhaha started with remarks by President Obama at a student forum on March 28. In answer to a student’s question about whether there could be less testing, the President went on a riff against standardized tests and over-testing which brought back some fond memories of 2008 candidate Obama.

He railed that we’ve “piled on” too many standardized tests. He asserted that such tests should be given only “occasionally” as is the practice at his daughters’ private school, and even then shouldn’t have high-stakes attached. “Too often,” he said, “what we’ve been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools.”

Well, a few people found it remarkable to hear this strong anti-test rhetoric from a president whose Department of Education is prepared to expand standardized testing to unprecedented levels in its proposal for reauthorizing federal education laws.

Most notable was what teacher Anthony Cody wrote about Obama’s response on his Education Week blog, Living in Dialogue, where he concluded that, “Either President Obama is trying to mislead people, or he is unfamiliar with the policies being advanced by his very own secretary of education, who was seated just a few feet away from him at this event.”

Almost immediately, someone from the Dept. of Education contacted Cody, asking him to post a “correction” to his “misinterpretation” of the President’s remarks.

Cody, who is a co-organizer of this summer’s Save our Schools March, came back with four questions for clarification, which the USDE’s press person eventually answered. You really need to read the whole exercise in bureaucratic doublespeak here.

But the upshot of the USDE’s argument is that we will have better tests. More formative assessments as opposed to one-shot tests. Tests of critical thinking as opposed to bubble tests. Growth measures as opposed to year-to-year apples and oranges comparisons. A “new generation of tests.” Tests scored by computers! Better tests.

At best, our children’s futures depend on that promise being real and realizable.

OK. So what are the odds that we will really have better, more accurate and helpful tests?

Here’s just one description of these “better tests” by a report by the International Center for Leadership in Education:

A new, next generation assessment program will accompany the Common Core State Standards. These assessments range far beyond the usual multiple-choice and short-answer questions. Instead, students will have to apply their knowledge to real-world situations through performance events…. Some performance events will take weeks to complete. These performance events will move instruction and assessment from Quadrants A (Acquisition) and B (application) to Quadrant D (Adaptation).

So, the odds are not too good. More in Part 2.

Students: When will we ever be good enough?

Saturday, February 12th, 2011
South Shore students in the snowy street

South Shore students in the snowy street

“You want a real school turnaround? Invest in us!”

That’s the heartwarming (and heartbreaking) message from Chicago Public Schools students who have been speaking out forcefully in the last few days, calling on public officials to stop looking down on them and start working for all students, not just some.

Last week, a YouTube video produced by a group of students from Sullivan High School on Chicago’s North Side took on mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel’s debate comment that “If you take out Northside, if you take out Walter Payton (both test-in schools), the seven best performing high schools are all charters.”

The students thought that didn’t sound right, so they did some research and found out that, in fact, NONE of the top performing high schools in Chicago was a charter school.

According to Don Moore, head of local education advocacy group Designs for Change, as reported by NewsTips,

Not only are no charters among Chicago’s top-ranked high schools; not one charter is among the twelve Chicago high schools with 50 percent or more of students meeting standards. Unlike charters, eleven of the top performing schools are governed by Local School Councils, which select their principals for four-year performance contracts. (The twelfth, Rickover Military Academy, has an advisory LSC.)  Also unlike charters, all twelve are staffed by unionized teachers.

Newstips adds,

Beyond that is a concern that school policy will be based on prejudices rather than facts. Emanuel’s misstatement “shows that the people that people think know everything aren’t really looking into the problems they say they want to fix,” said Christina Henriquez.

Christina, that problem goes all the way up to the federal level, where the Blueprint for Education Reform has been found to be based on very little real evidence, too.

South Shore student’s letter

Catalyst magazine printed a letter from a student at South Shore, Makyla Bell, asking why the current students were not going to be allowed to move into the brand spanking new high school building, which now sits mostly unused across the street from the current old high school facility.

I have been impacted greatly by the board’s decision to not allow us into the “new” South Shore school. I’m not going to act like we don’t know why. It is said to us every day that we aren’t allowed to go to the new school because we aren’t good enough, or we don’t deserve it….It just adds more to the overwhelming pile of nay-sayers saying we aren’t good enough. When will we ever be good enough? When will we ever deserve anything? When will anyone ever help us? Maybe they’ll decide when it’s too late, or maybe when our future has already been mapped out for us to fail. With everything going on in our environment, we still come to school every day and are prepared for our short and very dim, expected-to-be unsuccessful journeys. And once again, still we stand, mentally tarnished and physically worn out.

Earlier this week, Channel 2 News did a story about the students who are having to walk over to the new building for one class per day just to meet local occupancy rules, which I wrote about last week. The cruelty of this plan was only compounded by the fact that the sidewalks had not been shoveled, so students had to walk out in the street.

I dare anyone to look into the eyes of the Sullivan students in their video, or to read Makyla’s letter, and not feel deeply ashamed about what we are doing to some of our most promising young people. This has got to stop.

Elite schools and small class size

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Sidwell Friends School has a history of small class sizes

Don’t miss this debate on CNN between a class size researcher and the co-founder of Parents Across America and head of NYC’s Class Size Matters, Leonie Haimson. She’s so good she quickly gets him arguing on her side and has time left to go after the hypocrisy of Bill Gates and Mayor Bloomberg in sending their children to private schools with class sizes of 15 or less, while forcing low-income urban schools into a position of having to raise class sizes every year.

The Obamas don’t escape this charge, either. Class sizes at the Sidwell Friends School, which Malia and Sasha attend, range from one teacher for every ten students in the lower grades to one teacher for every 16 students in some fourth grade classes.

In a thoughtful essay, “Mr. President, we want your children’s education, too,” D. C. public schools graduate Rachel Levy expresses her disappointment with comments President Obama made recently on the choice he and the First Lady made about where to send their daughters to school.

In response to a Today Show question about whether he would send his daughters to a D.C. public school, he said that the D. C. schools were still struggling, that they had made great strides (presumably under scary education broom-wielder Michelle Rhee) and that parents with less clout than the Obamas should still have similar choices. In other words, Levy says, “the president subtly plugged his own administration’s plans for education reform while using the coded language of the urban neoliberal elite.”

If the new school reformers’ policies, which you and your administration support, are the right ones, why don’t you send your own children to the very schools where such policies are being implemented? If that is not possible, why send them to a school that is in many ways the mirror opposite of your revolutionary reforms?…Mr. President, if we should all have your healthcare, as you have said we should, then shouldn’t we all have your children’s quality education, too?

Good questions, ones that the president ought to answer.

If it’s in the movies, it must be true

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Out of what can only be a Golden Globes afterglow, the Chicago Tribune tips its editorial hat to an over-hyped documentary to support its continued attack on teachers.

Here’s how they put it:

“In the film ‘Waiting for Superman,’ director Davis Guggenheim showed that a consensus — Democrats and Republicans, academics and parents — is gathering behind accountability and smart reforms.”

Yes, the Trib’s proof of this “gathering consensus” comes from an obvious propaganda piece designed, bankrolled, and promoted to push education strategies that have generally not worked or are too expensive to replicate on a large scale.

This is consensus? I think I can say with less hyperbole that “Waiting for Superman” has incited a national discussion of public education nearly as divisive as Sarah Palin’s crosshairs map.

Even for the notoriously teacher-hostile Tribune, today’s editorial is surprisingly combative, no doubt due to the outpouring of response to their “Trib Nation” request to readers to write in about an adult other than a parent who most profoundly affected them. Letters overwhelmingly and movingly described a favorite schoolteacher.

Dang! Now the Trib editorial board needed to figure out a way to use this as one more excuse to go after teachers and their unions.

No worries. After ungraciously commenting, “We expected nothing less,” the Trib goes on to claim that, in fact, EVERY teacher should be a hero, EVERY teacher should be a profound influence on their students, EVERY teacher should go above and beyond, and the Trib’s efforts to “fix” the teaching profession would simply make that happen.

And apparently, the “evidence” that their fixes would lead to that result also comes out of movieland (see, for example, Hillary Swank in “Freedom Writers”).

Here’s what they admit/claim they have been pushing:

We have pushed for an education system that draws excellent people into teaching, rewards them for success and clears out ineffective teachers….We’ve supported reducing the power of seniority and tenure so excellence prevails.

Actually, they have been pushing for more inexperienced non-educators like Teach for America interns in the nation’s classrooms. How exactly does that guarantee “excellence”? And why wouldn’t the Tribune want our children to have experienced teachers with advanced degrees, accomplishments which are valued in every other profession?

We’ve supported teacher evaluations that are tied to students’ test scores and classroom observations. We’ve supported incentive pay to retain the best teachers.

True, but the idea of linking teacher performance evaluations, jobs, and salaries to student test scores has no research basis. In fact, the research on these practices is overwhelmingly negative.

We’ve supported charter schools to increase choice and competition.

Yes, but research is clear that charters don’t provide a better education. So, we have to wonder why the Tribune is such a fan.

Truth, not phony consensus

For the best, freshest review of the truth about public schools that powerfully counters the phony rhetoric coming out of the corporate media, read this “Chicago Manifesto,” a charge to Chicago’s mayoral candidates prepared by a new group called CReATE, just published in Substance newspaper.

The manifesto addresses the myths and realities of current school reform hype, offers a more grounded vision for public education, and provides an impressive list of academics as references for further information.

“The most important work in America”

Actually, if the Trib ed boarders had been paying attention to the Globes, they would have heard Globe-winning Glee writer Ian Brennan say this in his acceptance speech: “Thank you to public school teachers. You don’t get paid like it, but you’re doing the most important work in America.”

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.