Saturday, August 6, 2011
Maybe Dick is on to something, but not in the way you think. Army's one pronged approach is not the final answer. Education reform is going to need to be a multi-pronged approach. How much weight is put on each factor in the education equation is where the great debate comes in.
But, what if we went with Army's suggestion and opened school choice to everyone? The free market competition principles he is counting on would eventually point to the solution. Eventually we would see a trend towards families focusing on getting their kids in to certain schools. We could then analyze what reform programs are being used in those schools, what the demographic make-up of the student and teacher populations is, and what the curriculum is. The market would not only determine what the desired purpose of public education is, but also what the best way is to deliver that product.
Granted this is not the quick fix that everyone is looking for. Alas, that is one of the weaknesses of the American culture. We want fast solutions. We have an obesity problem that has arisen within the last 5-10 years, depending on who's data you look at, (Boston Drs. finding underweight children ) but we want a fix in the next two. We have been increasing our spending and debt for decades, but think we can fix that in a couple weeks. Patience is a virtue we still pursue but do not possess. For those who say we can't afford to lose a generation, consider the Chinese, or Progressive, timeline which considers change over a century or two acceptable.
The biggest threat to public education right now is a rush to judgment.
Friday, August 5, 2011
Whether you like or dislike the recent action in Washington regarding the debt ceiling, it must be acknowledged that Tea Party members in Congress had a big influence on the process. They stood apart from many traditional Republican House and Senate members in holding to conservative principles, which was no surprise to tea party members around the country. Republicans are traditionally thought of as the party of conservatives, but tea partiers felt an alienation between themselves and some Republican candidates after years of disappointing performance in office, and thus offered and supported their own candidates who more closely matched their values.
The term RINO was used a lot to describe some Republicans who talk the party talk but vote on the other side of the aisle. That moniker may have described a few Republicans who were easily dismissed by conservative voters. But there was yet another subset of Republicans who, even though they considered themselves conservatives, were also rejected by the voters. These are progressive conservatives.
Progressive conservatives look like conservatives on most social issues such as marriage, procreation, and faith. Because they publicly stated they supported the conservative position on these issues, conservative voters were left scratching their heads when they saw these people's votes on related issues. The problem is that PC’s still believe it is government’s role to solve the problems in our country, even when those problems cross into the social realms. So, while they can cite scripture about taking care of the poor, they won’t leave that to individuals and churches, but will instead support government programs to funnel money and resources to the poor. (And remember, “poor” in America is a relative and often broadly defined term.) They believe in a free market and capitalism, but not a totally free market and capitalism with a required dose of social consciousness. They believe the states have a role in education but don’t trust that the states are up to filling that role. They will talk a lot about the need for education reform, but voters need to pay attention to exactly what goes into the progressive conservative’s definition of education reform.
An article in the American Thinker looked at Teach For America’s Kaya Henderson and Students First's Michelle Rhee, both strong advocates for education reform. Their focus has been on teacher quality and TFA has been working to flood the education field with their quality members. Rhee supports tenure reform, charter school expansion and changes to the teacher negotiating process that reduce the power of unions. She has been spreading the word across the country about tying teacher performance to high test scores, even though the DC school system, which she headed from 2007-2010, is now involved in a teacher cheating scandal with regard to test scores. It must also be noted that DC’s student test scores have been dropping since Rhee instituted her sweeping changes to the make-up of the DC teachers.
However, with those two major problems hanging over her, you have to wonder why schools would jump on her reform bandwagon. And there is another problem with her reform package. All these reforms go after only one part of the education equation: teacher impact. There are many other elements of student success, which is what her Student's First program supposedly focuses on, that have been examined and tested that are not in her basket of programs including:
- Family income
- Social Promotion
- Alternative Teacher Certification
- Early Childhood Intervention/Schooling
- Class size
- Daily hours
- Merit Pay
- Teacher diversity
- Political Correctness
Is Rhee a progressive conservative? Maybe. The definition needs some fine tuning. Does she play a little fast and loose with policy? Most likely. Does she get under the skin of the bureaucratic establishment? Yes! Does she have THE answer for education reform? Not yet.
In the spirit of our country’s founding, where state sovereignty allows individual states to try their own governing experiments and adjust for their own demographics, trusting that they would find what works best for them, we should look at the various reform programs tried in the different states and find which ones work best. A place to start is Florida which uses a package that includes: school accountability, literacy enhancement, student accountability, teacher quality, and school choice. Florida is “closing the achievement gap that has eluded allegedly more progressive states. When it comes to education progress, Florida is a star performer. Moreover, its success has come in spite of a challenging student demographic profile and relatively modest resources.”
Most of the significant change came in the “accountability” part of their reforms. Their students are required to take an annual test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and schools are graded on those test results. Student progress is measured from one year to the next (unlike NCLB) which prevents an entire school from being compared to another school with a "preferred demographic portfolio."
In contrast, several teachers here in Missouri have confided to me that they were told by their administration, when they had students in 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades who could not read well and were struggling because of it, not to worry about focusing on the reading. The student “would eventually get it.” Whether this policy came as a result of lack of funding to provide reading remediation or, misplaced compassion that held that instruction in such basic skills in the upper grades would be demeaning or, a true lack of understanding of the development of reading skills, it led to literally hundreds of frustrated students and teachers over the years.
It should be noted that many FL parents and teachers are extremely unhappy with these measures, and the Florida legislature is already looking at phasing out the FCAT (a NCS Pearson product) and relying on end of term exams instead. Teaching to the test, which didn't always match classroom curriculum, and too much pressure on the students are the main complaints. This is the major problem with all such standardized tests. The difference in Florida's situation was what they did with the scores. Schools were "offered a specific fiscal incentive ... to try to reach as high a grade as possible. Bonuses were given for obtaining an A or raising one’s grade from one year to the next. Conversely, schools receiving an F grade twice over a four-year period were asked to carry out a variety of reforms."
Florida is also able to boast that on NAEP tests they have now risen from ranking of 43rd in the country to 8th, so they need to be careful not the throw the baby out with the bath water. Something they are doing is right. Could it be that when we put a little pressure on our kids to perform they do perform, but we have a culture that listens to them complain about it?
Thursday, August 4, 2011
Allison Sherry reported, "Republicans face two quandaries regarding education policy: They need to distinguish their positions from Obama’s centrist education reforms, and they need to win over the Republican base, fueled by some Tea Party energy, that will push for the U.S. Department of Education to be dismantled altogether." There is no clear education platform among the candidates, but that may be partly explained by the fact that there is no consensus among the base as to what the basic purpose of public education is. Until we agree what it is supposed to do, it will be difficult to determine if public education is getting the job done.
Among the many elucidated purposes of education in this country are:
- to prepare our young people with the highest possible preparation wherever they come from, wherever they are headed,
- to ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college and career and prepared to complete a postsecondary degree or certificate with value in the workplace.
- to provide a thorough understanding of and facility with the tools needed for a lifetime of learning.
- to provide US industry with a well trained workforce to ensure the continued growth of the US economy.
- to provide instruction on being a successful citizen, able to meet all challenges: technical, civic, spiritual and community that can be expected in life.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
In the Berkley County Schools in West Virginia, a case is making its way through the appellate court system brought by the parents of the student in Musselman High School in that district against the school district. The case is about a student who created a page on a social media site that was used to ridicule and harass another student and the school's response to this action. I'll jump to the end and tell you that the case was brought by the parents of the student who created the page because they believed the school had no right to punish their daughter for something she did outside the school and that her actions were protected by the first amendment.
This is from Appellate Judge Niemeyer's opinion on the case:
The district court entered in favor of the defendants, concluding that they were authorized to punish Kowalski because her webpage was "created for the purpose of inviting others to indulge in disruptive and hateful conduct," which caused an "in-school disruption. Reviewing the summary judgment record de novo, we conclude that in the circumstances of this case, the School District's imposition of sanctions was permissible.The specifics of the case read like a made for tv movie about the social viciousness of high school teenagers. (warning: explicit language is quoted)
"On December 1, 2005, Kara Kowalski, who was then a 12th grade student at Musselman High School in the Berkeley County School District, returned home from school and, using her home computer, created a discussion group webpage on MySpace.com with the heading 'S.A.S.H.'... Kowalski claimed in her deposition that 'S.A.S.H.' was an acronym for 'Students Against Sluts Herpes,' but a classmate, Ray Parsons, stated that it was an acronym for 'Students Against Shay's Herpes,' referring to another Musselman High School Student, Shay N., who was the main subject of discussion on the webpage....After creating the group, Kowalski invited approximately 100 people on her MySpace 'friends' list to join the group. MySpace discussion groups allow registered users to post and respond to text, comments, and photographs in an interactive fashion. Approximately two dozen Musselman High School students responded and ultimately joined the group....Ray Parsons responded to the MySpace invitation at 3:40 p.m. and was the first to join the group, doing so from a school computer during an after hours class at Musselman High School. Parsons uploaded a photograph of himself and a friend holding their noses while displaying a sign that read, 'Shay Has Herpes,' referring to Shay N. The record of the webpage shows that Kowalski promptly responded, stating, 'Ray you are soo funny!=)' It shows that shortly thereafter, she posted another response to the photograph, stating that it was 'the best picture [I]'ve seen on myspace so far! ! ! !' Several other students posted similar replies. Parsons also uploaded to the 'S.A.S.H.' webpage two additional photographs of Shay N., which he edited. In the first, he had drawn red dots on Shay N.'s face to simulate herpes and added a sign near her pelvic region, that read, 'Warning: Enter at your own risk.' In the second photograph, he captioned Shay N.'s face with a sign that read, 'portrait of a whore.'... One student stated that 'shay knows about the sign' and then stated, 'wait til she sees the page lol.' The next comment replied, 'Haha.. screw her' and repeatedly stated, 'This is great...' "Shay N's parents filed a harassment suit at school. The school administrators concluded that Kowalski,
"had created a 'hate website,' in violation of the school policy against 'harassment, bullying, and intimidation.' For punishment, they suspended Kowalski from school for 10 days and issued her a 90-day 'social suspension,' which prevented her from attending school events in which she was not a direct participant Kowalski was also prevented from crowning the next 'Queen of Charm' in that year's Charm Review..."This girl was elected "Queen of Charm" the previous year?! (What, in the name of all that is good, were the qualifications for that title?) She was also not allowed to participate on the cheerleading squad for the remainder of the year. At her father's request, school administrators reduced Kowalski's out-of-school suspension to 5 days, but they retained the 90-day social suspension.
What's important for parents to take away from this suit is that, though Kowalski admitted she created the page, she claimed in her defense that she never posted any of the disparaging remarks. The school officials still held her accountable for the hate speech. And even though she created the page on a home computer, they contended that the school,
"may regulate off-campus behavior insofar as the off-campus behavior creates a foreseeable risk of reaching school property and causing a substantial disruption to the work and discipline of the school,"Another critical element of the case is that the school's actions were justified and held not in violation of free speech rights because they had provided each student with a copy of the Student Handbook at the beginning of the year which included the School District's Harassment, Bullying, and Intimidation Policy, as well as the Student Code of Conduct. Though students were not required to sign this policy specifically, their receipt of the book held them accountable to the standards therein. The policy also provided that violators would be suspended and that disciplinary actions could be appealed.
Parents need to be aware what their children are doing on social media not only for the harm that can come to them, but the harm that they can do to others and what punitive actions that might bring.
A final note on this sad case. It is the height of arrogance that parents of the student who created a venue for others to publicly harass another student brought the suit because, as a result of the school's actions, their daughter,
"became socially isolated from her peers and received cold treatment from teachers and administrators. She stated that she became depressed and began taking prescription medication for her depression."Gee I wonder what Shay N. must have felt like after the attack. Are those parents worried about that girl's feelings? Nowhere in the opinion does it mention whether Kowalski ever apologized to Shay. That would have been a better first step.
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Writer Whitney Downs covered the issue in her Enterprise Blog in the Journal of the American Enterprise Institute.
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, education writer Stephanie Banchero highlighted the increasing impatience among state leaders over Congress’s inability to “fix” No Child Left Behind. Reauthorization of the law, which was enacted during the George W. Bush administration and technically expired in 2007, has been one of President Obama’s top priorities. “I’m calling on Congress to send me an education reform bill I can sign into law before the next school year begins,” he said back in March.Currently, NCLB requires that individual schools and districts show certain levels of student proficiency on statewide language arts and math tests. Schools must not only have a satisfactory school-wide average, but must also demonstrate proficiency among subgroups of the student population, such as special education and African American students. If schools or districts fail to demonstrate “adequate yearly progress,” then a “remedy cascade” kicks in, which include replacing staff or leadership, reopening the school as a charter school, or placing the district under state control.
State officials argue that flagging huge swaths of their schools as “failing” will be deeply destructive–infuriating parents and forcing schools of all sorts to adopt a series of crudely designed federal interventions. To make matters worse for states, the law calls for all schools to demonstrate 100 percent proficiency by 2014–or else face federally mandated sanctions. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stirred controversy in March when he estimated that 80 percent of the nation’s schools would be labeled failing under the current law by fall 2011. While many agree this number is an exaggeration, it’s likely that most states will be identifying more than 30 percent or 40 percent of schools as “failing” to make Adequate Yearly Progress by 2013.
About a month ago, Duncan switched to “Plan B,” laying out a plan in which states could apply for waivers from the accountability requirements under NCLB in exchange for adopting a “basket of reforms.” The plan drew harsh criticism from those questioning the legality and prudence of such an option. A recent Congressional Research Service report about the proposal, for example, found, “Under such circumstances, a reviewing court could deem the conditional waiver to be arbitrary and capricious or in excess of the agency’s statutory authority.”
The waiver proposal–and the accompanying backlash–has left Duncan between a rock and a hard place. By attempting to grant states relief from the law in exchange for the department’s favorite reforms, Duncan alienated many of the crucial education players on the Hill–allies he needs to move reauthorization forward. “Plan B” also gives new ammunition to those who have been sounding the “executive overreach” alarm over the department’s continued role in the Common Core push and the recent Gainful Employment regulations. All of this has most likely weakened the secretary’s position at the bargaining table when it comes to Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization.
This stalemate has left governors and other state education leaders fearful that NCLB isn’t going to be overhauled anytime soon. Faced with the decision to either abide by an inflexible, resource-draining federal law that’s going to label many of their schools failures or to take back the reins on school improvement and accountability, it’s no surprise that many of the new governors are opting for the latter.
Duncan’s dilemma is twofold. First, he’s fighting a losing battle in the court of public opinion when it comes to NCLB and the role of Washington in school reform. In the most recent PDK/Gallup poll, nearly 50 percent of respondents said they held either an unfavorable or very unfavorable view of NCLB, while just 30 percent felt favorably towards NCLB. This is a marked shift since 2008, when the percentages of those favorable and unfavorable towards the law both hovered around 30 percent. When asked who should hold schools accountable for what students learn, state and local government were preferred to the feds by an overwhelming margin of 80-19. Considering that many of these leaders were elected to push back on the Washington establishment, it may very well be a political win for these leaders to turn their back on NCLB and replace it with a state-devised solution.
As Banchero’s piece notes, the Education Department is facing an ironic coalition of union leaders and Republicans. What Duncan does now, and how this might scramble the educational politics of 2012, will be interesting to watch.Five states are already starting to take matters into their own hands, which is where education matters should be in the first place. The WSJ article notes, "South Dakota, Montana and Idaho recently told federal officials they would disregard key aspects of the law. Wisconsin officials plan to ask the U.S. Department of Education if they can substitute a state-developed accountability policy in place of the law, and Tennessee is considering a similar move." This may be a turning point in the status of the DoE.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Many in the education community are concerned that the increased amount of testing called for in the MSIP rules would result in lost instructional time in those subjects. End of Course exams for high school students, in particular, are expanding to more than a dozen subject areas. And the testing requirements are extremely onerous for small schools.
For example, Andy Turgeon, superintendent of the Knox County R-1 School District said,
"Every student at Knox County High School would have to take EOCs in three science disciplines: biology, chemistry and physics. But as a small school, Knox County doesn't offer enough sections of those classes for every student to take all three. [We] can't cut any classes, so the solution is to add more teachers. That would have an undeniable budgetary impact.
An expanded battery of tests would also narrow students' options for tailoring their education to their gifts and interests. Using the same example, students who don't excel in and don't plan to later study science would be forced to take numerous science classes anyway in order to meet assessment requirements."Also concerning is MSIP's decreased standards for areas like physical education and the arts which may result in some districts using those disciplines to offset their budget shortfalls. The Plan also prescribes standards for students as much as five years post-graduation. Fits rather nicely into the cradle to work tracking plan the Department of Education has been working on for decades, don't you think?
The term micromanaging is used in the business world to describe someone who takes oversight measures to the extreme. Instead of improving productivity and increasing work quality, the end result is usually frustrated workers and piles of unread paperwork. When considering all the additional reporting being required by DESE, SBOE and USDOE, one can't help but be reminded of the scene from the movie Office Space where various managers waste additional time reprimanding an employee for not including a standard cover memo on his TPS reports. (See a version of this scene here)
DESE REPRESENTATIVE: (in an exaggerated laid back tone) Mr. Superintendent I noticed that you haven’t had all your 10th grade students complete the chemistry assessments from the MSIP.
SUPERINTENDENT: Yes, I know. But we’re working on it.
DESE: Yeah, that’s good, but uh, we’re going to need you to give that assessment ASAP. It’s in the MSIP. You did read The Plan didn’t you?
SUPER: Yes, I read it, but you see our students already have full schedules so we are having to squeeze the chemistry curriculum into their PE time. Our teachers are working on a novel teaching game that uses the periodic table as a sort of basketball matrix so the kids earn more points if they shoot from the noble gases line than they do if they shoot from the metals. But we’re still working some of the bugs out of…
DESE REP: (interrupting) I see, but if you could just go ahead and give that assessment next week that would be great. And I’m going to go ahead and send you another copy of the MSIP and the reporting forms.
SUPER: But I’ve already got all that paperwork. It’s more a matter of time and budget…
DESE Rep walks off. Super sighs.
State Board of Education (SBOE) Rep enters
SBOE Rep: (in cheery voice) Mr. Superintendent, we need to talk about the chemistry assessment.
Super: (in exasperated tone) I know. I know. DESE was just here talking about that.
SBOE Rep: Um yeah, did you read the MSIP?
Super: I did. I neither understand the point of nor agree with the policy, but you put it in place anyway and I’m left figuring out how to make it happen and pay for it. But hey, thanks for stopping by.
There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to accountability. MSIP5 may have reached that point.
"It seems that we're taking choices away from our students and forcing everybody to be the same," Turgeon said. "That's not what we are."
Perhaps a more accurate statement would be, "That's not who we used to be." Common Core Standards are all about making everyone the same and taking away the potential for individual students to make what someone else has determined is "the wrong choice."
The next State Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Aug. 16. The board will receive DESE's recommendations for MSIP 5 a week before that. That gives DESE about three weeks to work in the revisions each Regional Advisory Committee recommended.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
At a forum held in Washington a few weeks ago, it was reported that the findings show that,
"English Learners are still being denied access to the kinds of classes, resources, and educational opportunities necessary to be successful in college and career."Specifically the CRDC (Civil Rights Data Collection) service asserted,
"Among other things, the data shows that English Learners have lower rates of enrollment in Algebra I , which is a critical gateway course for other advanced math and science courses that act as hurdles that slow or halt a student’s progress towards a college degree."Reading through the survey design I am at a loss to find how the statistics measured and reported led to the conclusion that students are "denied access." The survey design appears to show only that EL's do not enroll in Algebra I and AP courses at the same rate as non-EL's. (It should be noted that these figures are provided by the school district, not the students themselves). Making the leap from that statistic to them being "denied access" is worthy of Guiness mention.
I can find nothing in the numerous tables provided that shows the study's attempt to meet with those who had the opportunity to enroll and chose not to, or an attempt to explain why EL's did not qualify for Algebra I. It is also important to note that the survey wanted to know if student's were enrolled in Algebra I in 7th or 8th grade. There was no follow up question that determined if and when they did finally enroll in this class. There was also no data provided that indicated when they began learning English. Was it in kindergarten? Was it in 6th grade. If the former, why were they not semi proficient by 7th grade? If the latter, is it really fair to say that they are unfairly being denied access to complex science and technology courses in a language they are not facile with?
The CRDC service is on a mission to find what's wrong with American education and demonstrate some sort of institutional bias. Rosalinda Barrera stated in her article that, "we need to see them [EL's] as an untapped resource for developing a multi-lingual STEM workforce that has the potential to keep the U.S. competitive in an increasingly competitive global economy."
Am I missing something? We seem to have plenty of non-English speaking students in the sciences. Look around your typical college level science or technology course. The room is crammed with students who checked some box besides "Caucasian" on their application. Even more likely, the person standing in front of the room is speaking heavily accented English, as it is their second language. The Rate My Professors site is loaded with comments from students complaining that they could not understand the TA who taught their class 90% of the time (even though a tenured professor is being paid to put their name on the syllabus), because the TA spoke with such a thick accent.
The data points that CRDC did collect are also interesting. The ethnicities they tracked were American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Black, and White. Strangely there were no boxes for Jewish, Arab, or Mongol. These too are distinct ethnicities that could potentially speak English as a second language. Apparently we are not too concerned with them entering STEM classes. A statement from the forum spells out who we ARE concerned with entering STEM classes. Congressman Rúben Hinojosa spoke at the forum and highlighted his work to support greater educational opportunities for residents of south Texas and his efforts to support and strengthen minority-serving institutions (MSIs), especially in south Texas, in hopes of creating an education pipeline for students living in the mostly agrarian region. These efforts clearly address only one box on the CRDC forms. Is that what the DOE is going to focus on?
Our country has a history of people immigrating here with little or no English skills, participating in education (or sometimes not) and succeeding. Could it perhaps be the case that the EL's who fail to enroll in these classes simply do not have the drive of others who do succeed? The tables available for review from this report do not give this type of detail and it is unclear whether a cause for the data was looked for. A statical correlation does not mean a causative correlation. There were no tables or reports on talks with those EL's who did not enroll to find out WHY they were not in more STEM or AP classes.
Our take away from this report should be an understanding of what can happen when we gather "data" and then look to create policy changes to change the "data." This report is a precursor to the Longitundinal data base being developed by the DOE and the three consortia. Take note how data is being analyzed and used.
During her remarks at the forum, National Teacher of the Year Michelle Shearer, who teaches chemistry in Frederick, Maryland, shared some teaching techniques she uses that she believed other teachers can use with EL students: "Using examples when teaching a new concept, using visuals, making lessons relevant to students’ lives, and validating students’ use of their native language." The first three techniques seems obvious as teaching tools, regardless of the type of students in the class. Her last recommendation begs the question: When students use their native language to communicate a concept to a roomful of non speakers of that language, is it effective? Do we really want to promote, or validate, such communication? Do we applaud speakers at the UN, who speak in their native tongue, simply for doing so, or do we employ translators and applaud only when we agree with the content of their speech?
Ms. Shearer claimed that, most importantly, students will need the 4Cs: "critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and communication skills" in order to succeed in the global market. If what students really need is the 4c's, then why are we focusing so much on getting them into STEM courses?