The Rhode Island Department of Education’s Draft Plan for Implementing the ESSA (the federal Every Student Succeeds Act)—Spin and More Spin

On August 21, 2017 there was a quite productive and thought-provoking panel discussion on the topic of the state of public education here in RI at a meeting of the Progressive Democrats of RI. The panelists were knowledgeable and experienced and made many excellent points. They were asked to consider the RI Department of Education’s draft plan for implementing the ESSA, and to explain something that they liked and something that they disliked about it.

I would like to expand on my previous blog post, “Utopian Rhetoric vs. Dystopian Reality in the Draft RI ESSA Plan” found here and explain my objections to the plan on two fronts—accountability via test scores on state standardized tests, and the shift to “personalized” learning. It should be noted that the ESSA plan doubles down on the previously promulgated RI Strategic Plan for Public Education 2015 – 2020, which was heavily weighted toward “personalized” learning.

In the first place, the RI ESSA plan is virtually unreadable, and contains a mind-boggling array of colorful graphs and charts, which boil down to how accountability will be defined for schools and districts. As I said in my previous post, “In substance and format, this plan for education does not resonate with the human spirit. It’s mainly about measurement, accountability, and ranking and sorting of students, teachers, and schools. It occurred to me that persistence in reading this type of mind-numbing informational text is what the Common Core ELA Standards expect. … Have we come so far down a technocratic path that educators no longer communicate their shared vision for educating our nation’s children with prose at a human scale, reflecting human aspirations, human capacities, and human needs?”

Now to the emphasis on standardized testing for accountability purposes. Most Rhode Islanders will remember the fanfare that accompanied RIDE’s shift to the PARCC end-of-year testing from the previous state assessment called the NECAP.  This new test was deemed essential to match the more rigorous standards set out for English Language Arts and Mathematics via the Common Core State Standards. These standards and the accompanying testing were deemed necessary to ensure that all Rhode Island students graduate from high school College and Career Ready and with 21st century skills. I have taken issue with this stance before and won’t repeat my objections here. Suffice it to say that there was considerable pushback against the time-consuming nature of the PARCC, the pressure for online administration, the time and resources wasted in preparing for and administering the tests, as well as the nature of the questions themselves. The test results were discouraging, not surprisingly. So now RIDE has determined that after only a few years of the PARCC, Rhode Island schools will again switch to a different set of assessments.

RIDE announced in April, 2017:

“We’re always looking for ways to improve teaching and learning, and that includes our state assessments. This shift from PARCC to the RICAS [RI Comprehensive Assessment System, supposedly aligned with the MCAS—Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System] and PSAT/SAT [for high school students] is responsive to feedback we have received from educators, students, and families. Massachusetts has a long history as a leader in education, and adopting the RICAS ensures long-term sustainability with a reliable neighboring state partner. The PSAT and SAT are well-respected and accepted by U.S. colleges and universities.” See here.

As I explained in my previous blog post, this is where the rhetoric diverges from the reality: What RIDE leaves out of this enthusiastic shift to the RICAS is that the MCAS 2.0 (new version of the MCAS) is no longer the highly respected MCAS that was developed back in 1993 by actual experts and with stake-holder input. (See any of the multitude of writings by Dr. Sandra Stotsky, an ELA expert who was key to the original MA standards and assessments, was a member of the validation committee for the Common Core State Standards in ELA, and refused to sign off on them because of their deficiencies.) The new, improved MCAS is now aligned with the Common Core State Standards, as are the PSAT and SAT. David Coleman, one of the architects of the Common Core State Standards for ELA, became the CEO of the College Board in 2012. The College Board produces the PSAT/SAT as well as AP (Advanced Placement) exams and the Accuplacer. Here are two articles that detail the mess that David Coleman and his infatuation with the CCSS have made of the SAT:

here

and here

On August 16, 2017 RIDE held a webinar for the August meeting of the ESSA Committee of Practitioners. The webinar was supposed to focus on reviewing the feedback from stakeholders on the draft ESSA plan. RIDE had provided a spreadsheet of the feedback along with RIDE’s responses on its website. (See here.)

I had registered for the webinar but through some fluke of my computer I was not able to get into it. I did, however, email a response to RIDE with a question/concern. So far (August 23, 2017) I haven’t gotten a reply:

Comment from the spreadsheet:

the star system of rating schools [1 to 5 stars] still heavily weights tests as the most important factor and it was clear from meetings and public comment that while it is “an” important factor, it’s not the importance the system places on it.

response from RIDE:

 The reliability and validity of assessment data make it appropriate for use in accountability. Additional data (e.g., SurveyWorks) can still be used to learn more about schools and to drive change. 

I do not understand RIDE’s confidence in the reliability and validity of assessment data when the state is shifting from the PARCC to the MCAS 2.0 (RICAS) and the PSAT/SAT. Even though all are now aligned with the Common Core, the new tests are not equivalent to those students have been taking for the past few years. I am not aware of reliability and validity studies that were done for the PARCC, and I doubt that any have been done for the RICAS. In addition, as you may know, the College Board’s revamping of the SAT to align with the Common Core has come under intense criticism. Please provide the sources for your response. Thank you

 

And now to some of my objections to the enthusiasm for “personalized” learning found in the Strategic Plan and RI’s ESSA plan (encouraged by the federal law itself). On page 9 of the RI ESSA State Plan Companion Guide from July, 2017 (See here. ) is a description of “reimagined schools.” These schools will emphasize “student-centered” learning, also referred to as “personalized” learning, competency based education, and proficiency based education. (Reasonable sounding terms, but actually code words for online learning where students’ digital lessons are adapted to their responses to mainly multiple choice questions via algorithm) The text proclaims:

“Emerging research by the RAND Corporation finds, ‘… overall positive and large student achievement gains from personalized learning exposure.” (emphasis added)

[This is from a 2015 study funded by the RAND Corporation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.]

RIDE may have missed this conclusion from the same RAND report:

“The achievement findings are largely positive and promising.

They indicate that compared to peers, students in schools

using personalized learning practices were making greater

progress over the course of two school years and that

those students who started out behind were catching up

to perform at or above national averages. We conducted a

set of rigorous sensitivity analyses and concluded that they

generally support these results. However, it is important to

use caution in interpreting these results as causal effects of

personalized learning. Although the analyses used the best

estimation strategies possible given the nature of the data

and limits to implementing a strong experimental design, it

was not possible to separate personalized learning effects

from other potential school effects.” (emphasis added)

report found here


Keep in mind that the July, 2017 RIDE ESSA plan is touting a RAND study from 2015. Here’s what EdWeek said on July 11, 2017:

“There’s new evidence to suggest that customizing instruction for every student can generate modest gains in math and reading scores, according to a report released today by the RAND Corp. (emphasis added)

“Despite the promising signs, though, the researchers behind the most comprehensive ongoing study to date of personalized learning describe their latest findings as a “cautionary tale” about a trend whose popularity—and backing from philanthropists, venture capitalists, and the ed-tech industry—far outpaces its evidence base.” (emphasis added)

See here.

and this from EdWeek on July 18, 2017:

“Customizing instruction for every student can generate modest gains in math and reading scores, but it can create major implementation challenges for schools, concludes a report released last week by the Rand Corp. See report here. (emphasis added)

from article here

I visited a Providence middle school this past spring that prides itself on being a blended learning school (i.e. providing one-to-one hand-held devices for each student) and wrote my impressions here. (I am not a fan.)

post found here

As with all things human, the question we need to ask is: Cui bono? (or, Follow the money.) I refer all those impacted by this runaway train for edtech solutions to human problems (and that is everyone) to read the blogs of two impeccable researchers who discuss the downside of digital learning: Emily Kennedy Talmage, a fourth grade teacher from Maine, a state that has also plunged headlong into “personalized” learning and has experienced its pitfalls—her blog is “Save Maine Schools;” and Alison Hawver McDowell, a parent from Philadelphia and opponent of Competency Based Education, community partnerships, and the newest financial travesty: Social Impact Bonds, aka Pay for Success—her blog is “Wrench in the Gears.” She has written an entire blog post devoted to what’s been happening in Rhode Island. See here.

For an inkling of the privacy concerns with students using digital platforms such as Summit Basecamp, see this article by Leonie Haimson, a passionate champion of student data privacy from New York:
post found here

For an introduction to the hazards of the wifi radiation coming from the ubiquitous use of hand-held wireless devices in classrooms, see this page from the Environmental Health Trust’s website, describing how advocates for the health and safety of students in schools in the state of MD have been pressing for attention to this issue and taking steps to protect children.

See here.

Why is it that these serious concerns do not appear to be on the radar screen of anyone making policy decisions for school children in Rhode Island?

 

P.S. sorry for the formatting issues–I haven’t figured out how to transfer my writing from Microsoft Word to wordpress without glitches.

Please respond with questions and/or comments!

 

 

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Some Thoughts on the Common Core State (sic) Standards and the PARCC Testing (from April, 2015)

My name is Sheila Resseger. I retired from a career as an English Language Arts teacher at the RI School for the Deaf in the fall of 2011. Since that time I have been researching the Common Core so-called State Standards and the accompanying PARCC testing. I find them fatally flawed. I have been speaking out against them in forums, in the House and Senate education committees at the General Assembly, and in print. Recently I have had Op-Ed letters published in the Providence Journal and in RI Future online. I have spent countless hours day in and day out for several years now—researching, posting, commenting, and connecting with others. What possible motive could I have other than a deep-seated desire to ensure that every student has the opportunity to thrive in an education system that honors and respects their individuality, their heritage, their talents, and their struggles.

Some people say that the Common Core standards are fine, but that the implementation has been botched. Or they advocate decoupling the standards from the testing. Those who believe this do not understand the nature of the standards or the motives of those who developed and promoted them. The most obvious indictment of the standards themselves is the lack of transparency in the choice of drafters, and in the make-up of the small cadre of people who actually crafted the standards. Where were those who had years of experience actually teaching k-12 students? Where were those with expertise in early childhood education, first and second language learning, literacy development, or the struggles of students living in high poverty neighborhoods? They were not there. Who was there? Those representing the college testing agencies—the College Board and ACT. The Common Core standards were developed with the testing uppermost in mind. Is it any wonder that the lifeless curricula developed by Pear$on to prepare students for the tests that they also publish are in reality all-prep, all the time? If you take the time to examine the practice tests for the PARCC, you will see that the critical thinking so touted by the promoters of Common Core and PARCC have become a caricature of critical thinking. The 21st century technology skills demanded by the computerized testing are the low-level skills of pointing and clicking, dragging and dropping, and typing in a small box.

The tragic truth is that the American public has been duped by the mantras of failing schools, international competitiveness, and the need for higher, more rigorous standards. Children have become a commodity, processed through a pipeline of readiness or not for employment in multi-national corporations whose rationale is profit and not respect for the individual as a worker or a member of an inter-dependent society.

Parents in RI and across the country have informed themselves and are speaking out in the hundreds of thousands by Refusing to have their children participate in a testing scheme that has no validity and serves to rank and sort children, teachers, and schools, and wastes enormous amounts of precious resources to boot. What is their motive, other than a deep concern for the well-being of their children, other people’s children, and our very democracy.  With all of the challenges facing us in the 21st century, we need to go beyond the 3 R’s, beyond “grit, tenacity, and perseverance,” and open up education to art, drama, music, dance, history, languages, and philosophy. These cannot and should not ever be measured by standardized tests. Our children deserve an education that promotes engagement, empowerment, and empathy. The Common Core and PARCC are taking us in the opposite direction, with dire consequences for our society. They must be challenged and dismantled.

Utopian Rhetoric vs. Dystopian Reality in the Draft RI ESSA Plan

The RI Department of Education has been working hard to comply with the federal Department of Education’s guidelines for submitting a plan for implementation of the 2015 iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, previously revised and enshrined into law as No Child Left Behind in 2002. The federal DoE has strict parameters that must be met by the states, and this understandably constrained what RIDE needed to submit. The plan has supposedly been informed by stake-holder input, and is now provided to the public for comment, until June 30.

“The law gives an opportunity for us to further develop our work and our resourcing plan for Rhode Island’s Strategic Plan for PK-12 Education, completed in 2015, using ESSA as a lever to achieve our state-developed vision.  The U.S. Department of Education has asked all states to submit a plan for transition to ESSA, and our goal at the R.I. Department of Education (RIDE) is to complete our plan and submit it by September 2017. Over the course of the 2016-2017 school year, RIDE will be engaging with the greater education community with critical questions surrounding our state plan through multiple channels.”

See here for info from RIDE and option for public feedback.

Obviously, RIDE is enthusiastic about the Strategic Plan, which also was supposedly developed with stakeholder input. That is debatable. (See this Op-Ed in the Providence Journal by Carole Marshall, a retired teacher from Hope High School in Providence: Marshall’s Op-Ed

More about The Learning Accelerator as mentioned in Marshall’s Op-Ed: “The Learning Accelerator is the catalyst to transform American K-12 education through blended learning at scale. TLA accelerates system-wide learning around the practices, conditions, human capital supports, and measurement needed to create highly personalized, data-rich, mastery-based schooling.

“Follow us @LearningAccel”

For more on The Learning Accelerator in RI see pages 13-16 of this post.

I consider myself a master reader, having enjoyed and benefited from reading a multitude of both fiction and non-fiction works since about age 9. I spent my professional career as an English Language Arts teacher in the middle school and high school at the RI School for the Deaf. I also administered English language, reading, and writing assessments to students in preparation for their IEPs. (Individual Education Plans) With this as background, I must confess that I could not tolerate reading through the entire draft plan. Why? In substance and format, this plan for education does not resonate with the human spirit. It’s mainly about measurement, accountability, and ranking and sorting of students, teachers, and schools. It occurred to me that persistence in reading this type of mind-numbing informational text is what the Common Core ELA Standards expect. For the potential dystopian result of this focus, see the February 2013 draft report by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century, especially page 44 for examples of “affective sensors used while a student is engaged in Wayang Outpost, an online tutoring system” Report found here. I doubt I would fare very well if my affect were assessed while reading this RIDE ESSA plan.

So, is this the type of reading that we want to force-feed our children, as the Common Core State (sic) Standards promotes (informational text—not even expository text, which includes personal memoir, essays, history, and philosophy—to the exclusion of novels and plays)? Have we come so far down a technocratic path that educators no longer communicate their shared vision for educating our nation’s children with prose at a human scale, reflecting human aspirations, human capacities, and human needs? Still, I read enough to get the gist of the proposal.

I have objections to the premises on which the RI Strategic Plan for Public Education 2015-2020 is based. You can read the full plan here Therefore I have objections to the draft ESSA plan, which is largely based on the Strategic Plan, as noted above.

A major problem in my opinion is the stealth assumption that the Common Core State Standards are a valid and effective set of standards in English Language Arts and Math on which to base curricula. I have written about this before, as have many others who are actually knowledgeable about child development, literacy development, second language acquisition, math proficiency, and the education of children with significant cognitive, perceptual, sensory, behavioral, and emotional difficulties. See here. The Common Core standards are fatally flawed. Many authentic educators and curriculum developers have also written extensively about the flaws of the PARCC testing, the standardized assessment that has been administered in RI in ELA and Math for the past few years to measure student proficiency according to the Common Core standards. (Here is one of many posts, this one by an experienced ELA curriculum developer, Robert D. Shepherd,

quoted on Diane Ravitch’s blog

Despite several years of RIDE’s aggressive promotion of the PARCC as a necessary improvement over the NECAP, the previous state assessment system, we are now told that:

“We’re always looking for ways to improve teaching and learning, and that includes our state assessments. This shift from PARCC to the RICAS [RI Comprehensive Assessment System, supposedly aligned with the MCAS—Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System] and PSAT/SAT is responsive to feedback we have received from educators, students, and families. Massachusetts has a long history as a leader in education, and adopting the RICAS ensures long-term sustainability with a reliable neighboring state partner. The PSAT and SAT are well-respected and accepted by U.S. colleges and universities.” See here. (RI Statewide Assessment Transition)

What RIDE leaves out of this enthusiastic shift to the RICAS is that the highly respected MCAS is no longer the same assessment system as the one that was developed back in 1993 by actual experts and with stake-holder input. (See any of the multitude of writings by Dr. Sandra Stotsky, an ELA expert who was key to the original MA standards and assessments, was a member of the validation committee for the Common Core State Standards, and refused to sign off on them because of their deficiencies.) The new, improved MCAS is now aligned with the Common Core State Standards, as are the PSAT and SAT. (David Coleman, one of the architects of the CCSS for ELA, became the CEO of the College Board in 2012. The College Board produces the PSAT/SAT as well as AP (Advanced Placement) exams and the Accuplacer.) See the results of his “beautiful vision” here.

Each of these highly touted assessments—the new MCAS, the PSAT, and the SAT–has its own problems that have been exposed by knowledgeable educators. (See for example this blog post by Mercedes Schneider. )

RIDE’s laboriously crafted ESSA plan is fatally flawed because it does not question the assumption that the CCSS and accompanying assessments are valid for measuring students, teachers, schools, and districts. (Other flaws in the plan, including rhapsodic promotion of blended/so-called personalized learning in the Strategic Plan, deserve their own blog post.) Who will step up to bring sanity and humanity back to our vitally important public education system, and reject the hyper-focus on acCOUNTability via a technocratically narrowed vision of human potentiality? Time is running out.

 

 

 

“A Glimpse Inside a Blended Learning Middle School in Providence, RI”

Visit guided by the coach from the Highlander Institute who has been doing job-embedded training at the school

June 1, 2017

 

How the visit came about:

I had been reading about the Highlander Institute, and had concerns about them and about blended/”personalized”/proficiency based learning in general. (See Emily Kennedy Talmage’s blog post on the way that this agenda was imported to the state of Maine: What is Proficiency Based Learning?. See also Alison Hawver McDowell’s blog posts on digital/blended education and how it has been funded and promoted in RI: Hybrid Learning and Blended Learning Conference is no joke!.)   When looking through the web page of Highlander Fuse Fellows, I noticed a former respected colleague from the RI School for the Deaf. I got in touch with her to find out her take on her experience with Highlander. She got back to me some time later and said that she was impressed by the professionalism and effectiveness of their work. She was aware that I had been posting negative comments about online learning, and suggested that I see for myself. Through her contacts, a visit was arranged at a middle school in Providence, which serves students in grades 5 through 8.

Overall impressions:

This is a public school that opened three years ago, and has had a philosophy of blended learning since the beginning. The key catchwords seem to be differentiation, perseverance, and self-reliance. The emphasis is on “College and Career Ready,” and the content is tied to the Common Core State Standards. The bulletin board on one wall was covered with the pennants of prestigious colleges, with the title: Hey Warriors, What college will you be attending? That being said, the principal and teachers seemed genuinely dedicated to their students’ well-being as well as to their academic progress. The classrooms were arranged with a number of large tables/stations, each of which could accommodate up to about six students. Several teachers had brought in comfortable furniture—small couches and beanbag chairs—and the students were obviously at ease. All classes were orderly without rigid discipline. The only exception was the 7th grade science class, which was large and difficult for the sole teacher to manage. Each student had their own Chromebook. These were in use in all classrooms, except during the small group instructional time that the teacher provided to one rotating group at a time. The other students were expected to work independently at their stations, but they were encouraged to help each other as needed. The Chromebooks don’t go home, but students can log in to their work from a home device. I did not notice any truly innovative use of computer technology on this visit, such as communicating with scientists in real time, tracking an event such as the Iditarod, or creating art, drama, or music.

The Visit:

My colleague, a retired English teacher from a high school in Providence, and I followed the schedule of activities for the visit with several teachers and an administrator from Central Falls who were there to get ideas on blended learning to bring back to their schools.

First the principal of the middle school addressed the group and gave an overview of the school, the students, and the scheduling. He explained that the coach from the Highlander Institute had been coming to provide job-embedding training to the staff, which consisted of co-planning, co-teaching, and giving feedback. She had been in the same Fuse Fellow group with my former colleague from the RI School for the Deaf, and mentioned that she had also done embedded training there. She had taught for a number of years in public schools before working with Highlander.

The school is training teacher leaders in each department, so the Highlander input will be phasing out. They are still figuring out what to do about special ed, ELLs, and new teachers.

According to the principal, two middle schools in Providence have strong reputations, but the other five are struggling. Blended learning gave good data but the students were still not close to proficiency. The aim is to provide differentiated content, but this takes a lot of teacher time to develop. The Pawtucket Learning Academy had come to this school and told the staff about their experience with Summit, which is a personalized platform funded through Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg provided the engineers. Staff from the middle school went to California for a training.

The content is provided on Summit, as well as project work. The playlists with videos are tied to the standards—these are all ready so the teachers don’t have to spend the time developing them. Projects are embedded. The students work on projects collaboratively, on focus areas, and also have mentoring time regularly. Summit assesses cognitive skills throughout. Summit materials are on grade level; this is the core curriculum; there is a need to adjust for different students. While there is no data available yet on the effectiveness, the staff is positive about Summit.

Learning is “self-directed,” with emphasis on “habits of success.” There are mentoring groups, and students’ schedules all include Personalized Learning Time. At that time they do check-ins for goal-setting.

Visiting the classrooms:

At this point only the fifth-grade classes are using Summit for their online platform. We saw two classrooms using Summit. We also visited a 7th grade science classroom and a 6th grade ELL/ELA classroom. (ELLs are self-contained in ELA but are “pushed in” with an ELL teacher for other classes.) They plan to expand Summit to the upper grades year by year. The other classes use Google Classroom, Imagine Learning, and other platforms.

While the teacher was working with one small group, the other students in the class were at stations. Most were working independently on their Chromebooks. They were allowed to and encouraged to help each other if they had questions. In the science classroom, two of the small groups were supposed to be following printed directions for conducting an experiment. The teacher was working with a different group. She had no additional staff in her classroom. The project groups were having difficulty and the teacher had to interrupt her work with her small group to go over to point out what they were supposed to do. This was not working very well for any of these three groups.

In one of the classrooms I talked with a student working independently on a reading assignment on his Chromebook. There was a short article followed by multiple choice questions. I asked him how he was doing and how he liked it. He said he liked to earn points and also to see his progress and his Lexile score. A student in another class was working independently on Summarizing. She was taking notes from the screen, but actually she was copying the notes word for word. I asked her about it, and she said she had been having trouble passing the assessments. They had to score at least 8 out of 10 to pass. When I asked her to explain to me what Summarizing meant, she seemed to have no idea.

In another classroom the teacher was working on concepts about plants with a small group, using a textbook. She asked questions and the students each wrote the short answer on a small whiteboard, and then showed their answers to the teacher. While I was watching, most of the children got the answers wrong.

The highlight of the visit for me was the ELL/ELA teacher’s classroom. This teacher had many years of experience, and was just starting to get involved with the online platforms. While she worked with one group, other students worked independently on Chromebooks, and a special ed teacher worked with three other students. The ELL teacher had the text of a Michael Jackson song printed for each student, and they followed along with a video/audio of the song. This video had been provided through Summit. One of the students had recently arrived and knew no English. She was clearly made to feel a part of the group.

Two teachers addressed the group of visitors:

One of the teachers was the ELL teacher whose classroom we had visited. The other was an ELA leader of 7th grade. She would not start using Summit until 2018, but uses station rotation and playlists for some students. They are moving to a grading system by “mastery” according to the standards. She explained that she uses teacher-created resources and provides tech-free days to prevent the students from getting dependent on the technology. She wants them to understand the purpose of using the technology for particular tasks, and not to assume a need to use them for everything. She said that teachers have autonomy in what they choose to teach. She also explained that she had done a survey to see whether students preferred reading actual books, or online. To her surprise they preferred books. Yet there are not many books in the school. Money for a classroom set of books is hard to get, so they use opensource books. She states that the school has standards but no “curriculum.”

Two 5th grade students addressed the group, discussing their experience with Summit and answering questions:

The students were exceptionally poised and articulate. With Summit they first take a diagnostic test, then practice, and then take the Content test. When a student passes a Content test, the class snaps their fingers and claps. Students must get at least 8 questions out of 10 correct to pass. The students are required to take their own notes on the lessons. One student explained that she learned how to take notes from the Summit materials in the first few weeks of school. They are free to take a lot of notes or a little, and they can use their own notes, but only their notes, during the Content test. She has worked at her own pace and is already on the 7th grade level in science, and appreciates that students can work at their own pace. When asked what was frustrating about using Summit, both students said that the questions don’t match their notes—there is a disconnect. Apparently they have to make inferences to figure out the answer. Both students were enthusiastic about Summit and preferred it to “traditional” teaching.

 

My ongoing concerns:

Who are the people who actually develop the online content, and what are their qualifications? Do they have k-12 classroom experience?

What is the quality of the online materials from a content standpoint as well as a pedagogical standpoint? Can teachers access the content and questions that their students miss? Can they provide feedback to Summit?

Are students who are not highly motivated to “persevere” able to access the materials independently? What happens to the students who consistently do not meet the 8 question goal to pass each Contest test?

Does the “mastery” equate to deep processing of the material, available for connections to future learning, or is it fleeting?

The students are expected to work at grade level and acquire proficiency in the Standards, but no one seemed to question the validity of the standards.

The topic of privacy of the student data was not brought up.*

Neither was the topic of the potential dangers of the wifi radiation.**

The experienced teachers seemed able to incorporate the technology into their teaching. Will inexperienced teachers be able to provide authentic teaching/learning if they rely exclusively on the online platforms?

 

Note on a whiteboard in one classroom:

Day 5

Ss will explore and engage at their own pace and ability on self-directed playlists to describe that energy in animals’ food was once solar energy.

Read and comprehend literature at high end of grade 5 text complexity band proficiently and independently.

 

On a bulletin board:

Are your PLT [Personalized Learning Time] goals

Specific

Measureable [sic]

Attainable

Relevant

Time-bound

???

 

P.S. Some background information on “Summit Public Schools”

WHO WE ARE • Organizational Leadership

Diane Tavenner
Chief Executive Officer
Diane Tavenner is the Founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools (SPS), a leading charter management organization serving California and Washington State. Summit’s graduates are completing four-year college degrees at twice the national average. Newsweek and US News & World Report have ranked Summit among the top public schools in the nation. In partnership with Facebook, Summit is currently working to scale personalized learning by making its Personalized Learning Platform (PLP) available to schools across the country for free through the Summit Basecamp program. [emphasis added]

Diane serves as the Board Chair of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) representing the majority of California’s 1,300+ charter schools. Diane also serves on the board of Transcend, The Primary School and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. Diane is a member of the Spring 2013 cohort of the Pahara-Aspen Education Fellowship, a leadership program within the Aspen Institute and a fellow in the Broad Academy.

Prior to Summit, Diane was a public school teacher, administrator and leader in traditional urban and suburban public schools throughout California. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in administration and policy analysis from Stanford University.

[See the article for live links.]

Summit Public Schools–Who We Are–Leadership

 

Funding and Strategic Partnerships:

Bill & Melinda Gates foundation, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Charter School Growth Fund, et al

Summit Public Schools–Who We Are–Partners

 

 

*Here are some of the privacy concerns about Summit brought up by Leonie Haimson, a leading advocate for the privacy of student data, last October, 2016:

“Summit is sharing the student personal data with Facebook, Google, Clever and whomever else they please – through an open-ended consent form that they have demanded parents sign.  A copy of the consent form is here. [See the article for live links.]

“I have never seen such a wholesale demand from any company for personal student data, and can imagine many ways it could be abused.  Among other things, Summit/Facebook claims they will have the right to use the personal data ‘to improve their products and services,’ to ‘conduct surveys, studies’ and ‘perform any other activities requested by the school.’ …

“The Summit platform has never been independently vetted for security protections – or shown to yield any educational benefits, and I believe is a very radical way to outsource instruction and student data to private companies.”

Serious Privacy Concerns

 

**For an introduction to concerns about the safety of wifi radiation in schools, see what is being done in Maryland:

Safe Tech for Schools Maryland

 

“Medical researchers are pointing to an array of psychological, emotional, and physiological health issues screens pose to children at the same time that schools are integrating wireless networks and one to one device initiatives into classrooms. In response to these concerns, many schools worldwide are replacing wireless systems with wired systems, limiting time children spend on screens and developing policy to address health concerns posed by school wireless networks.
Wi-Fi in School Report of the Children’s Environmental Health and Protection Advisory Council
Letters from Physicians CEHPAC’s Public Comments
Maryland State Children’s Environmental Health and Protection Advisory Council Website
Local/State/National and International Policy action on Wireless and Children

See the full press release from Maryland

 

And here is a recent article from Worcester, MA:
Worcester Schools Draft Warning on Wireless Devices

 

 

Sheila Resseger

June 3, 2017

 

Please leave comments, concerns, and questions!

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, re: the Nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education

Dear Senator Whitehouse,

I am writing as your constituent, as a long-time resident of Cranston, RI, as a parent of two young adults who graduated from Cranston Public Schools, as a retired teacher from the RI School for the Deaf, and as a current after-school tutor. I have been researching the “reforms” perpetrated on America’s public schools by both the Bush (No Child Left Behind) and Obama (Race to the Top) administrations since I retired in 2011. As a life-long Democrat, I was dismayed and deeply disturbed that egregious changes were pushed on public schools by the Obama administration with Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. I am speaking primarily of the Common Core State [sic] Standards and the PARCC testing, as well as the shaming of public school students, teachers, and schools as “failing” due almost exclusively to poor scores on fatally flawed standardized tests. This has been a travesty with exponentially harmful results.

Now that we are faced with the potential of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, my level of dismay and disturbance has deepened. Ms. DeVos never attended a public school, has never worked in a public school, and has never sent her children to a public school. She has benefited from inherited wealth through her father and her husband. I in no way begrudge her her fortune, though it is galling that one can access huge amounts of money without having personally worked for it. Nor do I challenge her right to give money to the causes that she believes in. However, I have to draw the line when her modus operandi has been to use her (unearned) millions to influence public policy to align with her personal belief system. (See

and here) This meddling by millionaires should not be tolerated in a democracy.

Ms. DeVos’s views on public schooling are an open book. She considers “government schools” to be a monopoly, and to be a failing one at that. Granted that there are deep problems with many of our public schools, problems that are negatively affecting the children and families served by them. But many of these problems have been exacerbated during the last 15 years by the under-funding of schools, so that the necessary resources are not being provided, and at the same time by pursuing an ill-conceived agenda of test prep/test/and punish, which causes more harm than good.

The mantra of “failing schools” has been taken up by both right wing Republicans and left wing Neoliberals. (bipartisanship for the wrong reasons) Their antidote includes these remedies: more rigorous standards, harsher discipline, more frequent testing with high stakes attached, and alternate schooling, including charter schools, choice to attend a private or parochial school on taxpayer funds, and online learning. These “choices” have not been proved to be successful on any level. In fact the research shows that they are counter-productive. Yet according to Betsy DeVos’s history and public comments, this is the agenda that she will be proud to promote.

Someone needs to stand up for the protection of the public institution of publicly funded, transparent, and accountable neighborhood schools. America’s students need and deserve a person in the influential position of Secretary of Education who has made a career of developing expertise in the best ways to understand the learning needs of our diverse population of students and to implement policies that promote the well-being of all of our children. America is a diverse society, and our challenge is to empower children and youth to become thoughtful and compassionate adults who will complement each other’s differences to ensure a stable and vibrant society. What we absolutely do not need is an everyone-for-yourself vision of sectarian silos promoted by individual “choice.”

A critique of Betsy DeVos’s likely plans for the nation’s schools, based on her herculean efforts to date on behalf of charters and choice, was well expressed by Rebecca Mead in the December 14, 2016 issue of The New Yorker: “Betsy DeVos and the Plan to Break Public Schools”

“One can fully credit DeVos’s commitment to her cause—one might even term it her crusade—while also seeking to evaluate its effectiveness. How have such DeVos-sponsored initiatives played out thus far in her home state? Earlier this year, the Detroit Free Press published the results of a yearlong investigation into the state’s two-decade-long charter-school initiative—one of the least regulated in the country. Almost two-thirds of the state’s charter schools are run by for-profit management companies, which are not required to make the financial disclosures that would be expected of not-for-profit or public entities. This lack of transparency has not translated into stellar academic results: student standardized-test scores at charter schools, the paper found, were no more than comparable with those at traditional public schools. And, despite the rhetoric of “choice,” lower-income students were effectively segregated into poorer-performing schools, while the parents of more privileged students were better equipped to navigate the system. Even Tom Watkins, the state’s former education superintendent, who favors charter schools, told the newspaper, ‘In a number of cases, people are making a boatload of money, and the kids aren’t getting educated.’

“After DeVos’s nomination, the editorial-page editor of the Free Press, Stephen Henderson—whose own children attend a high-performing charter school—wrote a searing indictment of Detroit’s experiment. ‘This deeply dysfunctional education landscape—where failure is rewarded with opportunities for expansion and ‘choice’ means the opposite for tens of thousands of children—is no accident,’ he wrote. ‘It was created by an ideological lobby that has zealously championed free-market education reform for decades, with little regard for the outcome.’ DeVos was at the center of that lobby; her lodestar, Henderson wrote, ‘has been her conviction that any nontraditional public school is better than a traditional one, simply because it is not operated by government.’ …

“Missing in the ideological embrace of choice for choice’s sake is any suggestion of the public school as a public good—as a centering locus for a community and as a shared pillar of the commonweal, in which all citizens have an investment. If, in recent years, a principal focus of federal educational policy has been upon academic standards in public education—how to measure success, and what to do with the results—DeVos’s nomination suggests that in a Trump Administration the more fundamental premises that underlie our institutions of public education will be brought into question. In one interview, recently highlighted by Diane Ravitch on her blog, DeVos spoke in favor of ‘charter schools, online schools, virtual schools, blended learning, any combination thereof—and, frankly, any combination, or any kind of choice that hasn’t yet been thought of.’ A preëmptive embrace of choices that haven’t yet been thought of might serve as an apt characterization of Trump’s entire, chaotic cabinet-selection process. But whether it is the approach that will best serve current and prospective American school students is another question entirely.”

Betsy DeVos’s advocacy for public taxpayer money to flow via vouchers to religious schools poses a threat to the separation of church and state that has been embedded in our Constitution and is espoused by most religious institutions themselves. (from Politico: “Trump’s education pick says reform can ‘advance God’s Kingdom’” by Benjamin Wermund, 12/02/16  See this article

“The billionaire philanthropist whom Donald Trump has tapped to lead the Education Department [Betsy DeVos] once compared her work in education reform to a biblical battleground where she wants to ‘advance God’s Kingdom.’

“Trump’s pick, Betsy DeVos, a national leader of the school choice movement, has pursued that work in large part by spending millions to promote the use of taxpayer dollars on private and religious schools.

“Her comments came during a 2001 meeting of ‘The Gathering,’ an annual conference of some of the country’s wealthiest Christians. DeVos and her husband, Dick, were interviewed a year after voters rejected a Michigan ballot initiative to change the state’s constitution to allow public money to be spent on private and religious schools, which the DeVoses had backed.

“In the interview, an audio recording, which was obtained by POLITICO, the couple is candid about how their Christian faith drives their efforts to reform American education.

“School choice, they say, leads to ‘greater Kingdom gain.’ The two also lament that public schools have ‘displaced’ the Church as the center of communities, and they cite school choice as a way to reverse that troubling trend.”

See also)

For these reasons, I urge you to question Ms. DeVos in her upcoming Hearing very specifically about her beliefs and priorities for the nation’s public schools if she should be confirmed as Secretary of Education. If she cannot agree to the following statements, I urge you to send a clear message that her agenda will not be tolerated, and to urge your colleagues to defeat her appointment. Thank you

Do you agree:

  • that America is a pluralistic society that honors and respects the diversity of its communities?
  • that the American public education system is an essential public good that is financed by public dollars and accountable to the local communities in which the schools exist, and which functions best with transparency and public input?
  • that public money should not be transferred to for-profit entities?
  • that public money should not be transferred to religious schools, which would violate the principle of the separation of church and state?
  • that the function of public schools is to nurture the talents and interests of each individual student, empowering them to become knowledgeable, discerning, and active participants in a diverse society, rather than workers in a global economy?
  • that well-educated, career teachers have a responsibility to nurture the curiosity of their students, and to value the heritage of their students while opening them to the full reality of America’s historical place in the world?

 

Sincerely,

Ms. Sheila Resseger, M.A.

Retired teacher, RI School for the Deaf

 

RI Commissioner of Education Ken Wagner, Achievement First Promoter

The Achievement First charter chain (also in NY and CT) wants to greatly expand in Providence, and the decision will be made soon. Providence’s internal auditor has conducted an analysis and “estimates that the district public schools will lose between $28 and $29 million annually by the time Achievement First reaches full enrollment [if the proposed expansion goes through]. The analysis by the Rhode Island Department of Education estimates that the district will lose $35 million, of which $8 million comes from the city in local aid. The rest comes from the state.“

See article here.

Despite serious misgivings and recommendations against the expansion from Providence City Councilmen Bryan Principe and Sam Zurier, the Providence School Board, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, and Providence Public Schools, RI Commissioner of Education Ken Wagner is pushing for it.

“Wagner wrote that Achievement First, once it expands, will create almost 2,000 new ‘high-quality educational opportunities’ for the roughly 15,000 students who attend historically low-performing schools in Providence.” What needs to be kept in mind, though, is that the labels high-achieving and low-performing are based almost exclusively on students’ scores on the fatally flawed PARCC assessments, which are based on fatally flawed ELA and Math Common Core State [sic] Standards and curricula.

Wagner’s claims of the benefits to Providence from the expansion are based on “an analysis by the Rhode Island Innovative Policy Lab at Brown University [which] reported that if approximately 2,200 more students attend the charter school from kindergarten through grade 12, these students will cumulatively generate between $590.6 million and $727.3 million in mean lifetime earnings.” [and all of these earnings will be spent in Providence?]

from the same article

There is no guarantee that students enrolled in the elementary level Achievement First charters will continue through the proposed middle and high school levels and graduate from Achievement First. There is no evidence that scoring high on the PARCC in elementary school will in fact turn out to translate into college admittance, retention, and graduation. Even if the majority of the elementary students enrolled in Achievement First now do eventually achieve the goal of college graduation, who can say that there will be good paying jobs for them when they graduate? Many of today’s college grads are underemployed, or unemployed, despite their college degree, and burdened with obscene college loan debt that they will never be able to pay off.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t at all see what the potential life-time earnings of AF grads has to do with the impact on current students in the Providence Public Schools. What is the benefit for the 13,000 students who will be left out? Isn’t that what a fiscal impact statement is supposed to address? Wagner chooses to disregard the carefully presented opposition view from Providence’s internal auditor and from RIDE itself that adding 2000 students to Achievement First, primarily from Providence, will have a devastating impact on the remaining 13,000 students. Apparently these 13,000 unlucky students will have had the same chance as any others to apply for the 2,000 additional slots, so that is as much of an advantage in this business as they can expect.

The report that Wagner referred to and is relying upon, prepared by the RI Innovative Policy Lab at Brown University, was apparently spear-headed by its Director, Justine “Hastings, who has declined numerous requests for an interview [from the Providence Journal reporter, and who] is a member of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors.

“Among her numerous publications are articles on school choice and college attendance, school choice and academic achievement, and the effect of school choice on motivation and academic outcomes.

“According to her résumé, she has received grants from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which promotes decentralized school leadership and more school choice for families.”

See here

Rhode Islanders may remember that the same (Enron alum) John Arnold whose foundation awarded grants to Justine Hastings was a huge contributor to Governor Gina Raimondo’s political ambitions, and a huge fan of her pension manipulating scheme while she was state Treasurer that cost retirees their COLAs and gave huge fees to hedge funders. So is it just a coincidence that Wagner relies on a report by someone with a charter/choice mindset and pushes for a charter expansion that could have disastrous results for the students and taxpayers of Providence and the state of RI?

An Open Letter to my Friends and Fellow Education Warriors on the Right

It was with dismay and deep concern that I read your responses to the posting on the Parents Across RI facebook page about the Providence Student Union’s event “Youth Meeting: Resisting Trump.”

I hope from the bottom of my heart that this ill feeling does not succeed in dividing us from our shared mission of exposing and derailing the soulless technocratic vision of education coming from the corporate elites, aided by their flexian (See my previous blog post here) counterparts in government at all levels, including functionaries at the federal and state departments of education. I have gotten to know you through fb posts, through face to face informal planning meetings, and through sitting next to you on panel discussions informing parents about the harms of Common Core et al. I respect and trust you as well-informed and well-intentioned partners.

This is not a simple case of sore losers, or of Democrat vs. Republican. The distrust that many people of all ages and ethnicities feel of a Trump Presidency has been engendered by his own words, and by the words and actions of some of those who admire him. As a descendant of generations of Eastern European Jews who were persecuted and ultimately annihilated, I am acutely sensitive to the discrimination that Others feel, and the fear that this discrimination engenders. I have a close friend whose grandson was adopted from Guatemala. This child has no rational reason to fear being taken from his family, but he is terribly upset by what he thinks may happen to him with Donald Trump as President. His situation is far from unique. It’s imperative that we listen to the fears and concerns of young people, and work with them to make sure that the praise-worthy ideals of our country–that each of us in our diversity as human beings deserves respect, dignity, and fairness–are upheld.

The Providence Student Union has been brilliant in its tireless activities to prevent the state from using the high-stakes assessment as a graduation requirement. Through lobbying at the state house and reaching out to elected officials in creative ways, they have also succeeded in expanding bus passes for students, and in creating ethnic studies courses. (BTW, as a former anthropology major in college, I wholeheartedly believe that by exposing all students to the heritage and struggles of their own and other ethnic groups, we will ultimately heal the ugly divisions that have plagued us from the beginning of our country.)

Yes, we need to heal the deep divisions and distrust that have been revealed by this ugly campaign season, but in order to heal we cannot cover up the hurt and proceed as if the mean-spirited rhetoric did not happen. The challenge is to be able to empathize with Others’ trauma and move forward with mutual respect and a willingness to work side by side with those with whom we may disagree, for the common (sorry for the pun) good. I sincerely hope that we are up to the challenge.