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standardized testing

Get investigations of DeVos back on track

by Dan Burns on April 14, 2017 · 1 comment

devosAnd a couple of additional items.

In the lead-up to billionaire Republican megadonor and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ confirmation, numerous media outlets published deep-dive investigations into DeVos’ background, significant political contributions, potential conflicts of interest, far-right ideology, and negative influence on Michigan policies.
But since she formally took over at the Department of Education, the investigative work seems to have mostly dropped off; coverage of DeVos has focused more on her public gaffes than the inner workings of the agency she now runs. It certainly doesn’t help that DeVos and her department have struggled with media transparency. As education media writer Alexander Russo wrote, “DeVos takes press questions at events only occasionally, has yet to grant a formal interview with a major national education reporter, and heads a department that only intermittently provides answers in a timely manner – through a spokesperson whose name reporters are forbidden to use. The agency has even struggled to put out her weekly schedule in advance of public events.”
It’s time for investigative journalists to dig deeper and shine light on DeVos’ priorities, such as early staffing decisions at the Education Department. There’s certainly plenty to explore — many of the temporary staffers in the Education Department are veterans of the right-wing think tank echo chamber on “education reform,” and some have anti-LGBTQ and anti-black track records. Like DeVos, almost none have spent significant time as educators.
(Media Matters)


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Myths about schools and testing

by Dan Burns on May 27, 2015 · 0 comments

schoolSeveral items.

However, advocating that all students must read at grade level—often defined as reading proficiency—rarely acknowledges the foundational problems with those goals: identifying text by a formula claiming “grade level” and then identifying children as readers by association with those readability formulas.
This text, some claim, is a fifth-grade text, and thus children who can “read” that text independently are at the fifth-grade reading level.
While all this seems quite scientific and manageable, I must call hokum—the sort of technocratic hokum that daily ruins children as readers, under-prepares children as literate and autonomous humans, and further erodes literacy as mostly testable literacy.
(The Becoming Radical)



       Think of modern education reform, or Rhee-form, or deform, as being a three legged stool, bellying up to the bar of privatization. The legs include taking away teacher’s due process rights and dismantling unions, increasing privately run schools through publicly funded charters, and focusing on student test scores to make high stakes hiring and firing decisions.  

    All three legs are pretty rickety.  I would like to focus on that third leg, using test scores for high stakes hiring and firing decisions. Modern reformers want to turn this leg into a debate about whether teachers should be evaluated. It makes it easy to win, but it is a lie on their part. Teachers welcome evaluation. Teachers want feedback in order to get better. We just don’t want evaluations that are bad for our profession, and therefore bad for students. Just because teachers do not want Rhee-valuation, does not mean we don’t want evaluation.

     If we want the best teachers to work in the toughest schools, punishing them for doing it is not the way forward.  Our preeminent research institution, the National Academies, have warned against using testing for firing and hiring decisions.  Even the testing company themselves have warned against using tests for rating teachers.

     With even close inspection, the reasoning is obvious. For example, local lawyer and former DFL Senate candidate Mike Ciresi has said that Democrats who voted against modern reform “lacked courage”. Apparently it is brave to fight for A.L.E.C. proposed legislation, but cowardly to side with the National Academies of Research. Think about it like this. What if Mike assigned his best lawyer in the firm the most difficult cases with all the evidence and odds against them. Then he assigned all the piece of cake cases to his weakest lawyer. Chances are, the weakest lawyer might actually have a better record, get the bigger bonus, and would actually keep their job. Is the public defender who takes on death row cases less of a lawyer than the corporate lawyer who gets Lehman Brothers off?
        We are just now starting to see the consequences to students because of this obsession with test scores. The idea that it is “cowardly” to side with research is the biggest problem in this debate. This article explains it beautifully.  

However, factors other than the teacher account for roughly 85-90% of the variation in students’ test scores. Teachers account for only 10-15% of the variance in scores

The modern reformers have a credo that places all the blame on teachers. They like to tell us that, “If we ignore every single factor that affects students, except teachers, then anything bad that happens is all the fault of teachers.” Can you argue with that logic?

     The very company that scores teachers, The American Institute of Research, says not to use test scores.  They point out that as the percent of students with disabilities increases, test gains decrease.  I am trying to see how this is not obvious to modern reformers. Urban schools have a much, much higher percentage of children with disabilities, which makes improvement gains more difficult. Oddly, do you know who has almost no children with disabilities? Charter Schools don’t really serve many disabilities. Still they are twice as likely to underperform traditional schools, but I digress towards a different leg of modern reform. See the most extensive study on Charters here.

I predict that when the state results are made public, you will see a disproportionate amount of teachers of students with serious learning disabilities and teachers in schools with high levels of poverty labeled ineffective on scores. And that label will be unfair.

And here is the punch line and bottom line ladies and gentlemen:

It is not cowardly to stand up to modern reform because it is bad for kids. The market model, that often doesn’t even work well in the market, really fails when trying to create educated human beings.

Over time, the students who need the best teachers and principals will see them leave their schools in order to escape the ‘ineffective’ label.


MN GOP Education Agenda: No Surprises

by Dan Burns on March 30, 2011 · 0 comments

In other words, about as wrongheaded as can be. Minnesota crazed teabaggers Republicans are passing their education agenda through the legislature, and it sux.  Lowlights include:

– Continued emphasis on standardized testing as a means of assessing teacher performance. Emphasizing standardized testing as a be-all and end-all, or anything close to it, is a joke.

– Destroying the teacher tenure system.  Here’s commentary on what a despicable agenda item that is.  I’d add that right-wing squealing on this issue is a preposterous red herring, because the vast majority of teachers are pretty damn good.

More below the fold.
–  Vicious cuts to higher education.  Another anti-knowledge item, brilliantly explicated herein, got tacked onto that one.

–  Vouchers, a miserable idea whose time has long since passed.

That’s not all, but it will do to go on.  These bills will certainly run up against Governor Dayton’s veto, and what the end result might include is not something on which I’m prepared to speculate, yet.  Except that it won’t be what our schools need:  more resources, less emphasis on facile nonsense like endless standardized testing, and an end to scapegoating education professionals in a desperate effort to divert emphasis from the real problems, namely, handouts-for-the-haves governance and the brute anti-intellectualism of conservatism itself.

Of course, if I was virtually half-witted, too, yet somehow managed to get elected to the state legislature, too, maybe I wouldn’t see much use in “book learning,” either.