If only teachers could grade legislators

The Florida legislature is considering a bill that would require teachers to grade their students’ parents. As you can imagine the bill has garnered quite a bit of attention nationwide from education experts and in the state from teachers themselves. Almost universally it has been ridiculed though that has not slowed it down in the Florida Legislature. Where we all think more meaningful parental involvement would be beneficial, most of us think the unwieldy ht it with a hammer bill isn’t the way to go.
It did however get me to thinking, what if teachers could grade legislators, what kind of grade would they get?

Listening in class, D minus: There are very few members of the legislature that were teachers or worked in the education profession but that doesn’t stop them from meddling and thinking that every notion that pops in their heads won’t somehow improve education. They have also shown very little interest in listening to those on the front lines of education. Rick Scott’s transition team had only one teacher on it out of 23 people and he taught at a virtual schools

Completing Assignments, F: The Florida constitution requires the state to fund education at a world class level, instead the legislature has chosen to cut education funding in order to pay for tax breaks to special interests (and I don’t want to hear the argument that they are the group that creates jobs because if that is the case then they have failed too). They also ignored the people with the class size amendment, preferring to fine districts or violating it rather than properly funding it.

Critical Thinking, F: Their keep proposing the same solutions, vouchers, charter schools and merit pay, despite the fact the first one violates the constitution and the last two have been proven in study after study not to improve education that is right friends not one study has said those two things work. Their other solution, virtual schools, have been ripe with fraud and the jury is still out on how effective they will ultimately be.

Conduct, F: Rather than looking for solutions that would be beneficial to our children and schools they have engaged on a smear campaign against teachers and their unions proposing solutions that will only serve to weaken public education and force more teachers from the field (less than half of all new teachers last 5 years). Whether it’s by hook (incompetence) or by crook (maliciousness) the legislature has kneecapped our public schools and the children that go there and there seems to be no end in sight.

I give them a failing grade. What about you?

Chris Guerrieri
School Teacher

Silly Florida Education Ideas Make National News

Unfortunately it seems like Florida makes this type of stuff up all the time. -cpg

From the Washington Posts Answer Sheet

by Valerie Strauss

In the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up category, a Florida (no surprise there) state legislator has filed a bill that would require some elementary school teachers to grade parents on how involved they are at their children’s schools.

Schools, students, teachers, now parents: The grading frenzy moves on. The bill, HB 255, was just filed in the Florida House by Rep. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, says:

“Although the school environment has a great impact on a child’s well-being and academic success, parents and the home environment form the foundation of a child’s present and future life. Without proper parental involvement in all aspects of a child’s life, the child’s prospects to be a well-equipped and useful member of society are greatly diminished.”

Yes, Stargel has that right. It is imperative that students have all kinds of support in their home life to be successful at school.

This, though, raises the question of why Stargel and other legislators who think this parent evaluation system is a good idea have voted to evaluate and pay teachers on the basis of how their students do on standardized test scores.

The big movement in teacher evaluation across the country is to link standardized test scores to student pay through a “value-added” formula that fails to take into account any part of a child’s life outside school.

Requiring teachers to grade parents is a nutty idea. Some parents work two or three jobs and can’t be as involved as they would like to be, and, besides, teachers have enough to do already.

Even if it were possible to set up a reasonable parent evaluation system, there could be no real enforcement mechanism, at least not in traditional public schools. Private schools, and even public charter schools, quietly counsel kids out for bad academic performance; traditional public schools can’t.

Now that Stargel has shown that she accepts the fact that home life has a major impact on academic performance, she and her colleagues should now ask themselves just how hypocritical it would be to keep pushing “value-added” assesssment of teachers.

The legislation calls for teachers to assess how involved parents are in meeting teacher requests for conferences and other forms of communication; and ensuring that children are physically ready to attend school, that they show up on time, and that they complete homework and prepare for tests.

The evaluation then would be part of the student’s report card, and a parent could appeal under a process that would be set up by the Board of Education. Of course, though, there is no real way to make a parent do better.

Here’s the list of things that Stargel’s bill says parents are supposed to be doing:

(2) CAUSES FOR STUDENT UNDERACHIEVEMENT.—The following behaviors with respect to the relationship between a child’s home and school are identified as possible causes for a student’s underachievement:

(a) A child is not physically prepared for the school day to inadequate rest or improper clothing, lack of necessary school supplies, or frequent tardiness or absence.

(b) A child is not mentally prepared for the school day due to uncompleted homework or inadequate preparation for tests.

(c) Communication between parents and the teacher is often written rather than through personal contact and often occurs only when a problem has arisen rather than on a consistent basis throughout the school year

Scott and the state legislatures ideas don’t add up

From Practical State.com

Posted by Umpire

With state legislators already drafting legislation that will impact public schools, the time to discuss education reform is now, not the legislative session’s first day. For those who follow trends in education reform, much of the debate centers on increasing performance pay and ending tenure for teachers. Sadly, few people want to discuss equally important issues such as school funding and student poverty. Florida’s education reformers must be willing to discuss all of the issues affecting our schools and not just politically trendy topics that research demonstrates will do little to improve student achievement. The reality is no quick fix exists for public schools. The only way sustainable reform can take place is if all stakeholders including educators, parents, elected officials and community members take action.

Gov. Rick Scott recently named Michelle Rhee, who resigned as superintendent of the District of Columbia’s public schools before she could be fired, as his education-reform advisor. Floridians should know that Rhee publicly admitted to taping her students’ mouths shut, causing them to bleed, when she was a teacher. This alone would have caused Florida teachers to be suspended or fired. Rhee also described swallowing a bee in front of her students.

During the coming months, Floridians will hear from Scott and Rhee about merit pay. Elected politicians who maintain veto-proof control of the Legislature also want to tie teacher salaries to student learning. Teachers are more than willing to discuss raising their salaries, which remain 28th in the nation, including performance pay.

Even so, when it comes to tying teacher salaries to test scores, research has shown that teachers do not control about 60 percent of the factors that influence student learning. Achievement is impacted significantly by what occurs in the students’ lives outside of the classroom. Vanderbilt University studied 300 teachers who received an additional $15,000 in salary if they raised student test scores. After three years, the students’ test scores of teachers receiving merit pay was no different than the students of teachers who did not receive more pay.

Successful merit pay requires student performance assessments to consider a variety of measures including attendance, ongoing classroom assessments, traditional letter grades, academic portfolios, and yes, even test scores. Reformers must recognize that teachers are already doing everything they can despite severe budget cuts to increase student achievement without performance pay. Florida schools are not filled with bad teachers.

Reformers such as Rhee also talk about ending teacher tenure as a solution to public schools’ problems. Tenure provides teachers with the right to due process so they cannot be fired arbitrarily. It does not mean they have a job for life.

Teachers do not give themselves tenure. After a teacher has worked successfully for several years, administrators decide which teachers deserve this protection.

Rather than ending tenure, reform should study improving teacher evaluations. Currently, most administrators conduct quick drive-by evaluations that provide teachers with little feedback that they can use to improve. By making evaluations more transparent and objective, teachers will have the opportunity to learn better ways to increase student achievement.

If Scott, Rhee and elected officials want Florida’s schools to rise to the very top in the nation, then they cannot continue to provide funding at the very bottom of all states. Good schools cost money.

Reducing child poverty also must be a priority as research shows students who live in low socio-economic conditions suffer academically. Nearly 66 percent of Broward County’s 281 schools are considered Title I, which means a majority of the students come from low income families. Miami-Dade County has 328 Title I schools.

Education reform cannot be dictated from Tallahassee. Increasing student achievement must be based on research and best practices that have been proven to work rather than political rhetoric. If we hope to achieve long-term school improvement than teachers, parents, elected leaders and community stakeholders must be involved in the process

With respect to Rhee, Santeramo’s piece is hard-hitting. It should be. These are the facts that far too many people dismiss about someone who is turning out to be the face of reform efforts all over the county. Floridians do not realize that education policy is being driven by the most radical of reformists in Rhee, Jeb Bush and Patricia Levesque.

Little evidence of Rhee’s Baltomore teaching tenure exists aside from what she tell us. It was only three years after a short training period with Teach for America. She touts a success level of her student’s test scores that not only is unverifiable, but is too high to believe. Santeremo is also correct in pointing out that the story Rhee herself circulates about taping a child’s mouth shut would result in a firing of a Florida teacher. And yes, even one who was a union member.

Scott’s teacher assessment proposal includes a 50 percent reliance on test scores. This is right out of Rhee’s controversial IMPACT system. This system is the reason why both Rhee and her boss the mayor both lost their jobs. Rhee is disingenuous when she blames the teacher’s union for her defeat, and IMPACT is now in danger of being scrapped by the new DC mayor.

If only teacher unions were as powerful as Rhee asserts and Republicans assume. Such influence would have long ago halted the juggernaut of high stakes testing like FCAT. Politicians like Scott and Bush along with policy makers like Rhee and Levesque are ignoring the voices of parents who realize the monster that high stakes testing became. In what was intended to be a means with which to monitor student achievement became an ends of final judgements on students, teachers, administrators and schools.

They dismiss mountains of evidence and refuse to take into account the role poverty has in a child’s learning. To do so would render null and void their teacher assessment scheme.

Levesque, who has no experience in education, is portraying the Scott plan as one which provides “choice” for parents. What if parents chose not to want their children and their children’s teachers and schools judged by high stakes testing?

You can find the piece by Pat Santeramo at: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/01/28/2038563_public-should-engage-now.html#storylink=addthis


Decloaking Superman

From the blog Education Next

by Diane Hanfmann

I wish there was a hero that possessed the superpowers to fix what ails education in America, truly I do. Would they be able to sneeze and end poverty? Could they blink and make bad policy go away? Would a twist of their wrist send a message into the heads of bad teachers that they should leave the profession? Could a simple slap on the knees serve as a barrier keeping all persons without appropriate background from entering policy making? Perhaps a magical ring could detect political motive trumping student benefit and emit a purple ink onto the face of the perpetrator regardless of distance. We don’t have that.

I reject the substitute. Her vision is blind to poverty and the very lives of the children for which she portrays herself as savior. Her voice is not used to reflect the enormous bulk of literature which correlates poverty to low static achievement measures. You can’t fix a leaky pipe by adding Kool Aid to the water. The woman the media portrays bypasses the leak. That is not super thinking, imho. Her strategy is flawed from the start. Yet she is hyped by the media. I must be missing something.

Interestingly, her vision is eagle sharp on teachers as the blame for bad things. I am reminded of missing the gaping

gunshot wound in the chest of a man but notice instead his pale skin on his toe. Focusing on and coloring the skin via the world’s best dermaologist won’t solve the problem at hand. A hero with the wrong focus should only be called misguided.

I reject the substitute. Her presentation to the public is irksome to me. I am reminded of media handlers and words which sound good but beneath them lie a whole new plan. I can’t say she knows what she is doing as she has no background in education. I do and I am aware of her use of placing static achievement measures in the face of the public, who is ill equipped to place such information in context. Certainly. this plays to her advantage. Wouldn’t a hero teach the public and work at fairness in presentation of information?

Her visual field is missing the evidence of looking at policy which dictates teacher behavior. Why not look at NCLB and . in my state, the A+ Plan? Even I , a mere mortal, can show this supposed hero detriments of such policies.

She doesn’t look. She is no hero and she has the glory. More worrisome, she has power.

Her rise is fraught with question but one certainty I found is her connection to bilionaires. Her test score claims are

uncertain. Erasures and other events during the time of her leadership add to the mystery surrounding the boost of this lady into stardom. Her choice to fire 266 teachers and then discover a budget surplus does not point to super powers of investigation.

I reject this substitute. She pushes merit pay and vouchers.. Why call someone a hero when their platform includes implementing practices research shows ineffective in education? Do heroes suggest wastes of energy and damage on thier mortal neighbors? Would Robin crusade that Batman should walk to the next crisis and leave the Batmobile in the garage? Would Spiderman shoot his web at the good guys t o immobilize them and their aid efforts? Would Superman give his crusader outfit to a mortal person and send them to the phone booth without instructions on flying? Did Batman protect Gotham by holding and promoting checker tournaments ? How little is her concern with our nation’s children that ineffective practice is touted?

I guess there actually may be one tie in with superheroes. Ms. Rhee used tape to keep all her class’s mouth shut, somewhat reminiscent of a Spiderman web shooting. Imagine the teachers who haven’t done so. Imagine theteachers who advocate for better things for our students and schools. Imagine the teachers with appropriate background to address issues in education? Imagine teachers with a visual field that includes a larger scope?

If Ms. Rhee is the best example of a hero for America’s teachers, parents, and policy makers, we are in more trouble than even she states.


Bill Proctor, chairman of the Florida House K-20 Education Committee, talks education

I am not optimistc we will see anything but union busting and teacher bashing reforms. -cpg

From TampaBay.coms gradebook

by Jeff Solocheck

The Florida Legislature renewed its discussion on teacher quality and performance pay issues this past week, with several hearings in both the Senate and the House. The question hasn’t been whether a revamped version of last year’s vetoed Senate Bill 6 will come up this year, but rather what the details will be. The Senate opened the doors to anyone who wanted to come offer ideas, with no language on the table, while the House started its conversation with a detailed proposal from Jeb Bush’s Foundation for a Better Florida. House K-20 Committee chairman Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about his expectations of this year’s effort to push for change to the ways teachers are contracted, paid, evaluated and certified.

I’m wondering where you see this headed now. There’s definitely going to be a bill, it looks like, and I want to know how closely the two houses are working on it and how much input you are seeking from outside groups.

Well I guess two things. No. 1, most of the committee hearings that I am acquainted with on education in the House have been predominantly testimony from representatives of the various segments of the education system. We really haven’t had any testimony, any hearings dealing specifically with bills, that I am aware of. …

I guess I am thinking when you had at the subcommittee Patricia Levesque making a presentation on the recommendations she had from the Foundation (for a Better Florida).

Okay. All right. I saw when Patricia made those. But as far as I know no one has filed a bill with the recommendations. I am sure they will be considered. I’ve met with Patricia on several occasions just to try to understand the proposals they are putting forth. But those are not in any type of bill form now and I don’t know they will be.

Do you think there is more of an opportunity for people to have a meaningful participation in this discussion this year than last year? Because last year a lot of people felt shut out.

I think there has been a considerable amount. Of course the commissioner and his people have had meetings with the superintendents. They have had meetings with the teachers unions. I met with Sen. Wise earlier this morning. He has gone to a number of teacher meetings. But basically the SB 6 that we had last year, there were two main parts to it. One of them had to do with what we are calling teacher tenure. It’s really service contracts, professional service contracts. And the other one had to do with performance pay. There has been widespread discussion of those two topics.

Are those things for sure going to happen this year?

I can’t tell you anything for sure. I can tell you I don’t think there’s any question that we in the House will be looking at those topics.

What do you envision? What kinds of things do you think are important in that legislation? What does the House want?

Well, to say what the House wants, I don’t know that I’m qualified. But I can tell you where I think we’re heading, to some extent. But you’ve got to realize of course I’ve got to be consistent with what the leadership is looking for, what the governor’s office is looking for. And we’ve got to be compatible with what the Senate is looking for. So I could tell you what I think is going to be the main frame of those issues. But it doesn’t mean that’s going to come out that way at the end of the day.

I want to know the way you describe it.

I think you’re going to find an approach to teacher employment that will not be a tenure system. Now, will there be a probationary time? Will there be one year contracts? Three year contracts? All of that is up for discussion. But I do believe there will be an adjustment of the tenure system as we now know it.

Performance pay, I can only say at this moment it is very likely that how we come out will be fairly consistent with what the commissioner and others have negotiated with the federal government in the Race to the Top.

Are you concerned that there will be another outburst by teachers who are angry with what’s going on that will stop things or make it more difficult to accomplish?

Hmmmm. Well, I don’t speculate on what others might do. But I think it would be difficult for anyone to argue that there hasn’t been widespread consultation with others on this issue, including teachers and the teachers union. My understanding was, they may not be in complete accord on tenure but I think they’ve reached some common ground on performance pay.

I know some districts are asking that you just do what Race to the Top says and just let it be a pilot program until you can see what works. Is that an idea that holds some water?

I have not heard that. I met with a group of superintendents and we had a pretty good discussion of the two topics along with several others. But I have not heard that as being a pilot program. I think we are beyond the pilot program time. I think we have got too many districts involved in Race to the Top. … There was a relatively small number that didn’t sign on in the final analysis. But it’s like anything else. You’re not going to please everybody. If we can come to agreement with the majority that’s probably the best we can do. But I do believe that something definitely akin to what the Department of Education came up with — I should say likely, I shouldn’t say definitely — in their Race to the Top program is where we’ll start and it may be where we end up.

Do you think the collective bargaining rules and laws will stand in the way at all?

It’s hard to say until you see how the bill is written in the final analysis if you would anticipate any conflict between the two. I would hope not. But I really don’t know why it should. I think most of what you bargain for is still open for bargaining. But I think how people are paid and … if we’re talking about pay for performance to say we are going to pay for performance, I don’t know that’s a violation of any union collective bargaining standards. And I don’t know that tenure is sacrosanct within the bargaining process. I don’t know how many professions or organizations bargain away lifetime employment.

What about the issue of testing. That’s another thing I’ve heard superintendents touch on, that they think kids are tested too much already. Do you think there’s a way to do this without putting more testing on kids?

Well, I don’t know. I don’t know that I necessarily agree with the notion that there is too much testing already. Unless schools have changed dramatically since I went to one and I taught in one, we generally had tests at the end of each week. And we had tests at the end of each unit. The question is probably, are we going to have some sort of standardized tests as opposed to teacher-made tests. And I think you will see more. But a test is a test. If you’re going to have a test at the end of each unit, I don’t think it makes a world of difference if you’re going to have a standardized test on that unit or if it’s a teacher-made test. As long as the test relates to the curriculum.

Okay. What’s the time frame going to be for all this? Is it going to be something that happens fast? Or will there be lots of debate and go to the end of the session?

That’s a guess. … Next week is not a committee week. The following week is a committee week. At the end of that week we should know pretty well, we’ll at least be able to roll out some ideas and see where we are in relation to where the Senate is.


School Reforms don’t make the grade

From the Orlando Sentinel

by Scott Maxwell

We’re hearing some interesting ideas for “reforming” schools nowadays — from a legislator’s desire to grade parents to gubernatorial advisors who want taxpayers to cut checks for home-schoolers.

So I thought maybe we should look closer at these ideas — and run them by the region’s top school officials.

Let’s start with the home-schooling.

Gov. Rick Scott’s educational advisers are talking about redirecting public-school money to parents who home-school their kids.

Want specifics? Too bad. Our governor isn’t much into such things. Scott’s office didn’t respond to a request for more details.

But let’s think about this for a minute.

You take a dirt-poor mother of three and offer her vouchers — say $5,000 a kid — if she wants to “home school” her children.

So she can send them to public school and get nothing. Or she can keep them at home and collect 15 grand to spend on who-knows-what.

“How would we know that money would be used for the student?” asked Osceola School Board Chairman Cindy Hartig:

“Think of the drugs you could buy with that,” said Seminole County School Board Chairman Dede Schaffner.

Obviously the majority of parents wouldn’t do such a thing. But the bigger question is still there: Where’s the accountability?

We have politicians obsessed with standardized tests to prove results. And yet now they’re talking about just giving school money to anyone who wants it?

The real goal seems to be the continuing effort to de-fund traditional public education in this state. Lawmakers would rather give money to private schools, charter schools, virtual schools — apparently even home schools — than meet the constitutional requirements of a properly funded school system.

“Public education would lose,” said Candace Lankford, the Volusia County board member who leads the Florida School Boards Association. “And students wouldn’t necessarily gain.”

Parents are, of course, free to home-school their kids. But they shouldn’t expect to tap into money that was collected for public schools. (And by the way, the same goes for you retirees who attended public schools up North but gripe about paying taxes for schools down here. It’s called a society. And you’re part of it whether you like it or not.)

Now, on to grading parents.

The concept behind Polk County Republican Kelli Stargel’s bill is decent enough. She wants more parents to be involved with their kids’ education.

Amen. Who doesn’t? President Barack Obama gave voice to that sentiment just last week, saying in his State of the Union speech that “responsibility begins not in our classrooms but in our homes.”

But Stargel’s demand that teachers start labeling some parents “unsatisfactory” is unsatisfactory itself.

Most school officials were troubled by several aspects of the proposal — including the presumptuous nature of a teacher, who may know nothing about a parents’ work schedule or home life, labeling parents a failure.

Volusia County schools Chairman Stan Schmidt (also a Republican) doubted the bill would even be taken seriously. “What would happen to parents who receive poor grades?” Schmidt asked. “Is the state willing to fine the parents? Require them to take parenting classes? Take away the children?”

And while we’re asking questions, I have another one for Rep. Stargel: Why are legislators in this state obsessed with butting their noses into other people’s business?

You people scream bloody murder about “federal intrusion” — but try to control everything from term limits for city councils to tax rates for county commissions.

And now you’re trying to dictate policies that should be set by local school boards.

You have more than enough of your own problems.

Besides, the latest test scores and graduation rates suggest things are actually improving in Florida’s schools.

Leave the school policies to those who were actually elected to handle them.

As Seminole’s Schaffner said: “We are the closest to the issues. Let us do our job.”

If Tallahassee lawmakers want to do something productive, they could properly fund our schools in the first place. That would be better than ideas that are heavier on shtick than substance.

Scott Maxwell can be reached at smaxwell@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-6141.

NCLB responsible for the dumbing down of America

I think I wrote about this three yeas ago. -cpg

From the Hill.com

by Emmanuel Touhey

President Obama placed special emphasis on education in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, mentioning it 10 times in all. With Congress set to renew the ‘No Child Left Behind’ law this year, The Hill’s Comment Editor Emmanuel Touhey sat down Thursday with Education Secretary Arne Duncan here in Washington, D.C. They discussed the approach Congress should take to overhauling the law, school vouchers, the DREAM Act and proposed rules governing for-profit colleges and universities.

The Hill: ‘No Child Left Behind’ is up due for reauthorization this year. What exactly do you want to see fixed in the law?

Secretary Duncan: There are a number of things that I think are broken with the current law that working in a bipartisan way we can have common sense fixes. I think the law is too punitive, too prescriptive, it’s led to a dumbing down of standards, and it’s led to a narrowing of curriculum. We need to fix all of those things. We have to reward success, reward excellence, look at growth and gain, not just absolute test scores. We have to be much more flexible. When I ran the Chicago public schools, I almost had to sue this department for the right to tutor my children after school. It made no sense why I had to fight this department to help kids who wanted to learn after school, so we have to really get out of the way there. We have to continue to raise standards. We’ve seen 40 states provide leadership, and do that, and we need to provide a well-rounded curriculum, so reading and math are important, but science, social studies, dance, drama, art, music, foreign languages, physical education, all those things. We want the new law to be fair, to be focused to be flexible. And we think we can do these things working together this year.

The Hill: You said recently that education reform is a chance for bipartisan governing. Education is something that both parties have rallied around, but in the current climate where there is a lot of talk about budget cuts, do you think that is possible?

Secretary Duncan: I do think it’s possible. It’s possible and we want to continue to invest in education, not in the status quo but in this new vision of reform in where we’re going. But I think what folks haven’t really understood is reauthorizing the law, that’s a legislative fix, that doesn’t cost a nickel. There is no price tag attached with that. So these are two separate conversations, and we need to have them both and we need to have them at the same time, but fixing the law, we need to do and we need to do now, and there’s no dollars attached to doing that.

The Hill: Are there any programs that you would like to see actually cut that you think are not necessary now?

Secretary Duncan: We’re making some very tough calls on our budget. We’re looking to consolidate 38 programs into 11. We’re trying to streamline, we’re trying to become much more efficient and focus scarce resources in those areas that are making the biggest difference. And we hope Congress will understand that while we’re looking for an increased investment in education, we’re trying to do business in a very tough way and make some tough choices ourselves.

The Hill: Are you in favor of one single bill, or several small bills?

Secretary Duncan: I’m open to that conversation. What I’m interested in is getting to the right outcome, and whatever the best way to get to the finish line makes sense. I don’t think we need another thousand-page, thousand-pound bill. Maybe we do it in 100 pages, and do it in a way that folks can really understand it and be thoughtful on it. Whatever it takes to get there, what I want to get is to the right finish line. We did a national conference call Wednesday with Senator Harkin, Senator Enzi, Senator Alexander, they were very, very positive on this. And the goal is to get a bill to the President before the recess in August. And there are a lot of reasons why it may not happen, but if you ask me today, I’m actually very hopeful.

The Hill: As a practical matter, which do you think would be better, doing a number of small bills – John Kline in the House has talked about that possibility.

Secretary Duncan: Yeah he’s talked about that. I actually was in Minnesota with Congressman Kline on Friday and we talked about that. I talked about maybe the idea of maybe doing a smaller bill, he was interested in that, and I think that conversation will continue. So I don’t know if there’s an exact right answer on it. For me it’s been very clear about where we end up, and what’s the best way to get there.

The Hill: You did spend some time with him visiting some schools in Minnesota, what did you talk about in terms of education and moving forward?

Secretary Duncan: We talked about a range of things. I just have so much respect for Chairman Kline. He’s thoughtful, he’s smart and he’s committed on this issue. We share fundamentally a need to fix the current law. He has about 26 or 27 schools in his district. Under the current law almost every single one is going to be labeled a failure in the coming year. And we went to some phenomenal schools, they’re not a failure by any stretch, any definition of what failure is. So schools that are being mislabeled, that are being stigmatized is very demoralizing to hard working teachers, very confusing to parents, and we need to work together to fix it and to do it now.

The Hill: Speaker Boehner has introduced some legislation regarding the school choice program here in the District. Are you in support of that legislation?

Secretary Duncan: I’m just really pleased that the Speaker’s really focused on education. I think the more we have these conversations that’s helpful. In the past as you know we’ve fought hard to keep children who are in those current programs, in them, not have them leave schools. We didn’t push for renewal of it. And what I’m really interested in is not just saving one or two or three children, but in turning around these chronically underperforming schools. And as you know, we’ve put $4 billion behind these efforts, these school improvement grants, and I don’t want to just save a handful of children and leave 500 in the school to drown. We want to fix the entire schools, turn them around, and that’s the focus of my efforts.

The Hill: Can you do both though? Allow his legislation, and Sen. Lieberman is also doing a similar bill, and your efforts side-by-side?

Secretary Duncan: Well I’m happy to have the conversation and continue to talk it through. Again I think the more all of us are focused on education that’s a good thing, and we’ll continue to talk with Speaker Boehner. As you know he was a real champion in the previous authorization of No Child Left Behind, worked very hard in a bipartisan way, and I think he’s going to be a crucial leader as we move forward this year.

The Hill: The Cardinal Archbishop of Washington was his guest at the State of the Union, so this seems to be something that’s important to him, I just want to press you on it. Do you think that his piece of legislation should go forward?

•Talking with Arne Duncan
Secretary Duncan: Well I haven’t read his piece of legislation, so I don’t know the specifics. I haven’t in the past supported the continuation of the voucher program. When I got here what I fought hard to do was to keep the current students in the program and what I’m most interested in is thinking about how we help every single student in this country be more successful.

The Hill: And new students maybe coming back into it, at the moment you’re not willing to go there?

Secretary Duncan: We hadn’t supported that in the past. Again my focus has been on these school improvement grants to significantly fix the schools here in D.C. As you also know D.C. is one of the places that won our Race to the Top grant, so we’re very heavily invested here in transforming the entire school system in D.C. Again not just saving one or two children.

The Hill: What do you say to the parents who have been invested in those programs themselves, that live in the District, that can’t because you don’t support that legislation as of now?

Secretary Duncan: Again, every family, every student that was in that program, we absolutely fought hard to keep them in that program.

The Hill: But new people that want to go in.

Secretary Duncan: Right, well we want to, I’m repeating myself here now, fix the entire program to make the District a high performing District.

The Hill: The DREAM Act almost made it in the last Congress, but didn’t. The president talked rather passionately about immigration in the State of the Union, you’ve also described it as personal to you. Can you elaborate on why the DREAM Act is personal to you?

Secretary Duncan: I will and I’ll also say how disappointed I am that it didn’t pass. I mean it was a big step in the right direction but ultimately this has to pass. When I ran Chicago’s public schools, I had about 400,000 students in my system. About a third of them, more than 100,000, were from the Hispanic community. Many of those were people who came to this country as 4- or 5- or 6-year-olds with their families, don’t have status. In my school system they worked extraordinarily hard. They got good grades, stayed in school, were often on the student council, were community leaders, played on sports teams, served in the neighborhood. And then when it was time for them to graduate, the dream of going to college wasn’t there for them. And that was just absolutely heartbreaking to me. That students who hadn’t committed any crimes, who had done nothing wrong, had done quite the opposite, quite the contrary, have played by all the rules, have been assets, for us to not take advantage of their skills and talents as a community and as a country, is absolutely backwards to me. And my wife and I set up a small, we don’t have much money, but we set up a small scholarship program to help some of these students. We had one young man who graduated from high school, was working 40 hours a week at a gas station trying to pay his tuition, the full freight at the University of Illinois-Chicago, it made no sense to me whatsoever. We should all work hard in college. I know I had a job in college, but you shouldn’t have to work 40 hours a week pumping gas to try and pay your tuition. And I just think as a country we’re leaving tremendous talent on the sidelines at a time when we need every smart, talented, innovator, entrepreneur, and to deny this community the chance to go to college is fundamentally backwards.

The Hill: So what happens now?

Secretary Duncan: I’ll do whatever I can to help this come back. I don’t know timing, I don’t know what the next move is, but I was just deeply, deeply disappointed that it didn’t pass.

The Hill: Have you had any conversations with the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the House, Lamar Smith or others on the Republican side of the aisle to moving this?

Secretary Duncan: I haven’t had a conversation with him directly. I have had conversations with folks from both sides of the aisle, and I just think as a country we missed a real opportunity to strengthen our nation by helping more young people go to college.

The Hill: Final question for you is on the lawsuit from the Association for Private Sector Colleges. What’s your reaction?

Secretary Duncan: We’re happy to continue working with them, and I’ve said repeatedly that our ultimate goal in this country is to see many more young people graduate from college, the president has drawn a line in the sand, he’s said by 2020 we need to again lead the world in college graduation rates, and that’s really the north star of all of our work. We think the vast majority of for-profits do a very good job of helping people get back on their feet and retrain or retool and get skills to be competitive in the global marketplace today. We have unfortunately some bad actors that have taken advantage of folks and left them with tremendous debt and without the skills they need to be successful. And so as we work through all of this, we want to really draw that line in supporting those folks who are doing great work, but also letting those know that where they’re abusing this situation, that where they’re taking advantage of taxpayer money, that where they’re taking advantage of disadvantaged folks who are trying to better their lives, and leaving them in a worse position and not a better one, that we simply can’t tolerate that.

The Hill: Any final words as we close on the possibility of cuts that are been talked about?

Secretary Duncan: These are very tough economic times, but there’s nothing more important than continuing to dramatically improve the condition of education. You saw in the State of the Union how passionate and how committed the president is on this issue. I don’t know if you’ve seen the president anytime ever talk so thoroughly and from the heart about education in a State of the Union Address. We want to work hard together and in a bipartisan, bicameral way, to improve the quality of education and to help our country get where we need to go.


Education reform is not always data driven

From the Washington Times Answer Sheet

By Alfie Kohn

The relationship between educational policies and educational research is both fascinating and disturbing. Sometimes policy makers, including those who piously invoke the idea of “data-driven” practice, pursue initiatives they favor regardless of the fact that no empirical support for them exists (e.g., high-stakes testing) or even when the research suggests the policy in question is counterproductive (e.g., forcing struggling students to repeat a grade).

Sometimes insufficient attention is paid to the limits of what a study has actually found, such as when a certain practice is said to have been proved “effective,” even though that turns out to mean only that it’s associated with higher scores on bad tests.

Sometimes research is cited in ways that are disingenuous because anyone who takes the time to track down those studies finds that they actually offer little or no support for the claims in question. (Elsewhere, I’ve offered examples of this phenomenon in the context of assertions about the supposed benefits of homework — along with details about some of the other ways in which research is under-, over-, or mis-used.)

Then there’s the question of what happens when the press gets involved. It’s no secret that the reporting of research is often, shall we say, disappointing: A single experiment’s results may be overstated, or a broad conclusion vaguely attributed to what “studies show” despite the fact that multiple qualifications are warranted. Possible explanations aren’t hard to adduce: tight deadlines, lack of expertise, or a reporter’s hunger for more column-inches or prominent placement (hint: “the results are mixed at best ” is not a sentence that advances journalistic careers).

Whether ideology may also play a role — a tendency to play up certain results more than others — is hard to prove. But last week I found myself wondering whether The New York Times would have prominently featured a study, had there been one, showing that taking tests is basically a waste of time for students.

After all, the Times, like just about every other mainstream media outlet, has been celebrating test-based “school reform” for some time now — and, in its news coverage of education, routinely refers to “achievement,” teacher “effectiveness,” exemplary school “performance,” and positive “results” when all that’s really meant is higher scores on standardized tests. The media have a lot invested in the idea that testing students is useful and meaningful.

So we probably shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that the Times ran a lengthy (30-something-inch) story on the second page of its national news section last week under the headline “Take a Test to Really Learn, Research Suggests.” And it should be equally unsurprising that the study on which the story was based didn’t really support that conclusion at all.

(I’m picking on the Times because of its prominence, but many other news organizations also featured this article and described the study in similar terms. Other headlines included: “Taking a Test Helps Learning More Than Studying, Report Shows,” “Learning Science Better the Old-Fashioned Way,” and “Beyond Rote Learning.”)

We should begin by noticing that the study itself, which was published on-line in the January 20 issue of Science, had nothing to do with — and therefore offered not the slightest support for — standardized tests. Moreover, its subjects were undergraduates, so there’s no way of knowing whether any of its findings would apply to students in K-12 schools.

The real problem with the news coverage, though, is twofold: On closer inspection there are issues with how both the independent variable (“Take a Test”) and the dependent variable (“Really Learn”) are described.

What interested the two Purdue University researchers, Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Jannell R. Blunt, was the idea that trying to remember something one has been taught can aid learning at least as much as the earlier process of encoding or storing that information. Their study consisted of two experiments in which college students either practiced retrieving information they’d learned or engaged in other forms of studying. The former proved more effective.

The type of retrieval practice used in the study was an exercise in which students recalled “as much of the information as they could on a free recall test.” But the idea of retrieval practice need not involve testing at all. In an e-mail message, Karpicke told me, “The NY Times article emphasized ‘testing,’ which is unfortunate, because that’s really irrelevant to our central point. . . .Students could engage in active retrieval of knowledge in a whole variety of ways that aren’t ‘testing,’ per se.” For example (as he explained in a subsequent message), they might put the book aside to see how much of it they can recall, try to answer questions about it, or just talk about the topic with someone.

In other words, the experiments didn’t show — and never attempted to show — that taking a test works better than studying. They were really comparing one form of studying to another.

Then there’s the question of outcome. When I said a moment ago that the study showed retrieval practice was more “effective,” the most appropriate response would have been to ask what that word meant in this particular context: More effective at what?

In the first experiment, students were asked both verbatim questions and inference questions that drew on concepts in the text they had been given. In the second experiment, they either took a short-answer test of the material or were asked to create concept maps of that material from memory.

The researchers seemed impressed that practice retrieving facts worked better than making concept maps (with the text in front of them) at preparing students for a closed-book test even when the test itself involved making concept maps. But the students were tested mostly on their ability to recall the material, so it may not be surprising that recall practice proved more useful.

I would argue that this result says less about how impressive the method was than about unimpressive the goal was. Karpicke and Blunt weren’t investigating whether students could construct meaning, apply or generalize concepts to new domains, solve ill-defined problems, draw novel connections or distinctions, or do anything else that could be called creative or higher-order thinking.

Now if testing — or any other form of retrieval practice — were shown to enhance those capabilities, that would certainly deserve prominent media attention. But this study showed nothing of the sort. Indeed, I know of no reason to believe that tests have any useful role to play in the promotion of truly meaningful learning.

The main contribution of the articles that were published about this study is to remind us of the importance of reading the actual studies being described. To understand why the description of this one was misleading, try to imagine a newspaper running a more accurate account — one with a headline such as “Practice Recalling Facts Helps Students Recall Facts.”



Legistlature looking for help

From the blog, Florida Common Ground

Governor Rick Scott has put a renewed emphasis on education. He’s working to keep the best teachers and expand school choice through charter schools and virtual education. He is committed to ensuring that Florida has an education system to produce a workforce that is prepared to compete in the new, global economy.

The Florida Senate is also working to ensure education reform is a conversation – amongst all Floridians. Today, the Senate Pre-K-12 Committee is holding a hearing to gather comments on “teacher quality and student success.” However, being a Friday, most Floridians are working and are unable to attend such a meeting. To ensure feedback is given on this important issue, the Senate has developed an e-mail account, educationinput@flsenate.gov, for all Floridians to send in their views.

I applaud this initiative and hope all parents, educators, citizens and students let their voice be heard.

Florida Senate looking for feedback on education reform

Does Race to the Top Mean more Federal Control

From the New American

by Sam Blumenfeld

Race to the Top, which President Obama glowingly spoke of in his dismal State of the Union address, is a $4.35 billion U.S. Department of Education boondoggle to get state and local education systems to adopt national reforms affecting curriculum and teacher preparation. Its stated aim is to encourage charter schools, improve teacher instruction, and get state systems to adopt common academic standards. Teacher unions don’t particularly care for the charter school idea.

But the real aim of the program is to create a national education system conducted from Washington, much like the centralized systems in Europe and Asia. The money of course is the incentive for states to comply with so-called national standards. In countries without a Constitution like our own, such national standards can be imposed on a nation whether or not the people want them. But in the U.S., states have to be bribed to give up their independence.

It should be noted that $4.35 billion is more than 4 thousand million dollars. Probably more good could be accomplished by giving 4,350 small businesses a million dollars each to spur economic growth. But that would be no more legitimate than what the federal government is now doing in education. Perhaps an exemption from taxation would be a better way to create jobs.

The funding for the program comes from the ED Recovery Act as part of the American Recovery Reinvestment Act of 2009. Instead of using that money to pay off some of our enormous federal government debt, it will be used to feather the nests of those educators who know how to compete and apply for grants as they pretend to improve education. As long as they can fill out the complicated forms showing that they are able to comply with all of the conditions set forth in the program, the money will be awarded.

The program was announced by President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on July 24, 2009. By now all but eight states have applied for the grants. Already Florida and New York have been awarded $700 million each, $500 million to Tennessee, $400 million to Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio, $250 million to Massachusetts and Maryland, $100 million to Delaware and $75million to Rhode Island. Does anyone really believe that the money will make any difference in the quality of education in those states?

If one examines the history of the federal government’s throwing money at the public schools, one finds that conditions have only gotten worse. Literacy skills have declined, math and science have seen no discernable improvement in student achievement. But we keep doing the same thing over and over again, which is a symptom of insanity

The state of Texas has refused to take part in the program. Gov. Rick Perry has said that the Obama administration’s grant program is an unacceptable intrusion in the education system of Texas, even though Texas education officials and a consulting firm financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had been working on preparing the application forms to receive a hefty grant from the ED.

“We would be foolish and irresponsible,” Gov. Perry said, “to place our children’s future in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and special-interest groups thousands of miles away in Washington.”

However, Terry Grier, Superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, disagreed with the Governor. “I’m disappointed,” he said. “It was potentially a lot of money for our state. I’m not one to sell my soul for money, but I have 100,000 kids in Houston who don’t read at grade level, and I don’t agree with people who say resources don’t make a difference.”

When the Houston schools decide to adopt a good intensive phonics reading program, such as Alpha-Phonics, or Sue Dickson’s Sing Spell Read & Write, their reading problem will disappear. The money they are presently spending on reading programs that don’t work is a waste of resources. Apparently Supt. Grier has never read “Why Johnny Can’t Read” by Rudolf Flesch. It was published in 1955, probably before he was born.

The father of all federal programs to improve education is The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, signed into law by President Johnson, which has thrown several trillion dollars at education with no discernable positive results. Title One of that act, Compensatory Education, has not improved literacy among the culturally deprived minority it was supposed to help. What it did was create a Title One establishment composed of directors, assistant directors, special ed teachers in each school district. They now have a vested interest in making sure that the reading problem is never solved, because a solution would put them all out of work. The last thing these “educators” want are reading programs which would make Title One unnecessary.

As for the Race to the Top, there are no lack of critics who see it differently from the way the President or his Secretary of Education see it. The teachers’ unions don’t like it because of the emphasis on charter schools, which, by the way, are public schools with fewer rules and regulations. Diane Ravitch, a long-time critic of the public schools, said that evidence “shows clearly that choice, competition and accountability as education reform levers are not working.”

A coalition of civil rights organizations, including the Urban League, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Rainbow Push Coalition released a statement that “Such an approach reinstates the antiquated and highly politicized frame for distributing federal support to states that civil rights organizations fought to remove in 1965.”

So the Race to the Top may eventually find itself at the bottom of all of these futile reform efforts to improve education. The only real way that education will be improved is if the government gets out of the education business and leaves it up to the private sector to provide educational services to the American public. Private schools and home- schooling are thriving while the public schools struggle to teach children to read.

But even though the message is clear, our politicians are blinded by piles of money in the billions and trillions, while socialist control freaks see the government schools as the means of harnessing the young for future service to the socialist state. Sanity and reason no longer reign in American public schools. Only confusion and failure greet the children at the public school door.

The Race to the Top is in reality a race to the bottom, for more government education means more failure, more frustration, and more unhappiness for millions of American children. We should all be happy that over a million children are being home-schooled by their parents, are learning to read and write, are being taught traditional American history, and are being prepared to become the leaders of an increasingly illiterate nation. And none of it is costing the American taxpayer a dime. That’s progress!