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.

 

 

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My Remarks re: Request by Achievement First Charter Schools to Expand in Providence

The RI Department of Education will be holding a Public Hearing on the request for expansion by Achievement First tonight, November 9, 2016 at 5:00 at the Providence Public Library Auditorium, 150 Empire Street, Providence, RI 02903. These are the comments I emailed to RIDE on this matter. I plan to go to the hearing and summarize these comments tonight.

Good Evening,

My name is Sheila Resseger. I retired in 2011 from a career as a teacher at the RI School for the Deaf. I also worked as a sign language interpreter at CCRI for a number of years. I am speaking against the expansion of Achievement First. My main concern is that all of the public school students of Providence and throughout RI deserve fully-resourced schools, with small class sizes, with full teaching staffs of thoroughly prepared teachers, full support staffs including nurses, social workers, counselors, and librarians, safe/clean/welcoming buildings, and a range of course offerings including art, music, drama, and phys ed. The majority of these children will be short-changed if money is siphoned off to additional charter school classrooms. Beyond that, I am concerned about the quality of the teaching and curricula at Achievement First, which is overly focused on accountability via test scores.

I have found out that Achievement First is advertising for the position of Teacher-in-Residence. This is essentially an on-the-job training position, which does not provide the background knowledge that novice teachers who graduated from an accredited teacher preparation program will have had the benefit of. Achievement First is one of three charter chains that partners with the Relay Graduate School of Education. This title is misleading. A number of scholars have suggested that it is not a graduate school at all.

When discussing the Relay Graduate School of Education, “Daniel Katz, Director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation at Seton Hall University sums it up like this:

“It is a “Graduate School of Education” that has not a single professor or doctoral level instructor or researcher affiliated with it. In essence, it is a partnership of charter school chains Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First… Relay’s “curriculum” mostly consists of taking the non-certified faculty of the charter schools, giving them computer-delivered modules on classroom management (and distributing copies of Teach Like a Champion), and placing them under the auspices of the “no excuses” brand of charter school operation and teachers who already have experience with it.

“Pennsylvania and California made worthy decisions in rejecting the Relay Graduate School of Education.”

Unfortunately the CT State Board of Education very recently voted to accept the RGSE despite testimony from many knowledgeable and experienced professionals who warned against it.

See here

For example, here is testimony from Robert Cotto, Jr., currently the Director of Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity College and a Lecturer in the Educational Studies department, as provided to the State Board of Education in CT on November 2, 2016.

“Relay deviates wildly from the structure and guidance required of other programs in CT that educate and certify new teachers. Created by the charter school industry and venture capitalists, Relay places its students into classrooms before extensive preparation, provides online modules in place of coursework, and assigns a teacher partner to supplement this “on-the-job” training. Relay calls this inferior preparation “a graduate school” and says it is for the good of Black and Latino students. As Ken Zeichner and other scholars have noted, there is no rigorous evidence to suggest this approach as an improvement or innovation to teacher and public education. …

Relay is “selling a subpar training program as a “graduate school” despite lacking real professors, courses, accreditation, or even State approval as a school or program. The combination of limited training and placement into primarily charter schools with high teacher turnover nearly assures that Relay students will leave the teaching profession quickly. When this happens, Relay will not hold any responsibility since they are not accountable in the same ways as other teacher education programs”

See here

Here is additional testimony from Ann Policelli Cronin at the same Hearing: 

“I have been recognized as Connecticut’s Distinguished English Teacher of the Year. I have been a district level administrator responsible for English education for 23 years and in that role have supervised and evaluated hundreds of teachers and both created and implemented innovative, state-of-the-art programs, which have won national awards for excellence. I have taught graduate level teacher education courses for 10 years. And, most recently, I have been a consultant in inner city schools identified as “failing schools”. I also recently was an advisor to a Connecticut university seeking accreditation for its teacher preparation program.

“Therefore, I know what good teaching is. I know how to prepare prospective teachers to be good teachers and how to help in-service teachers to grow and develop. And I know what kind of accreditation is necessary for a teacher preparation program.

“Based on that deep and broad experience as an educator, I can tell you that the Relay Graduate School of Education is a totally inadequate teacher education program.

“It offers its students the mentoring of “amazing teachers” instead of academic course work. In fact, the spokespersons for Relay shun the academic work of established teacher preparation programs. I have been and, in fact, still am one of those “amazing teachers”. I have mentored teachers and taught them my skills. There are teachers around the state who could tell you how they benefited from that mentoring. But mentoring is absolutely, definitely not enough. …

“Prospective English teachers need to know how cognition and intellectual engagement develop in children and adolescents because it is that understanding that dictates curriculum. They need to know the research from the past 45 years regarding the teaching of writing because, without that knowledge, they will not be able to teach their students to become effective writers. They need to know literary theory because it is that theory that dictates all pedagogy for the teaching of reading and the teaching of literature. They need to know the grammar and conventions of our language and what research says about effective ways to teach that grammar and those conventions to students. They need to know the research about learning being a social endeavor and know how to create the kind of classroom that incorporates that research, the kind of classroom that is a true community of readers, writers, and thinkers. For all of that, a teacher education program requires academic course work. Mentoring is not enough.”

See here

I urge you to reject Achievement First’s request to expand, and to be vigilant in not allowing the Relay Graduate School of Education to get a foothold in RI.

Thank you

Sincerely,

Sheila Resseger, M.A.

Retired teacher, RI School for the Deaf

 

RIDE wants our input on transitioning to the ESSA!

My Notes on the RIDE Community Forum on Education: the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), November 2, 2016

From the RIDE website:

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 July 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”

 From Mary Ann Snider at the forum (Mary Ann was formerly the Chief of Educator Quality and Instructional Effectiveness for RIDE, in that capacity directing the Office of Instruction, Assessment and Accountability for the State of Rhode Island—now apparently the Deputy Commission of Ed):

Overview of ESSA:

ESSA provides more flexibility to states than NCLB.

RI is ahead of other states because we already have our Strategic Plan. [grrrr]

ESSA components:

  1. Goals, accountability, and report cards (NCLB was too narrow)
  2. Federal funding allocations
  3. Supports for educators and “leaders”
  4. Supports for all schools and students (every child well supported, to achieve equity)
  5. Academic standards and assessments
  6. School improvement strategies—growth and development of all schools

There needs to be a plan for schools that have been struggling for a long time.

A consensus of ideas will go into RI’s ESSA plan.

Guiding Principles (for rigorous and relevant teaching):

  • Every student. Every voice.
  • Re-imagine schooling, but “not in a crazy futuristic way”—schools have been designed in old-fashioned rows—outdated
  • High expectations for everyone
  • Empowerment to make decisions in an informed way
  • Responsibility (NCLB focused on compliance; with ESSA, it’s shared responsibility)

RIDE is not thinking of changing the Strategic Plan.

The participants were randomly sorted into small discussion groups depending on which color paper they were given on entering (with the agenda printed on it). We were told that when we arrived in the room we were assigned, we were to choose a role badge, i.e. a sticky strip with a pre-printed label—teacher, parent, student, policy maker, etc.

I was fortunate in my group that most of the participants happened to be teachers, and most of them also were teachers of English language learners. In fact, several of them were taking courses in teaching ELL students at RIC, and their professor was also in the group. There was one parent of special needs children, and several others as well.

There were two facilitators in the group. One would facilitate discussion of two questions while the other one typed the comments into a laptop, and vice versa with the other two questions. We were told specifically that none of our names would be used—we would just be identified by our role/badge. RIDE plans to shape all the input from all of the groups into a plan, with multiple provisions for feedback. The final plan is due to the federal DOE next summer.

 Guiding Questions for the small group discussions:

  1. Reimagined Schools: If you were to choose a school for your child, what would you look for in the school?
  2. High Expectations: How would you know that the school is supporting every student to be successful?
  3. Empowerment: What might raise concerns about a school? How can we support schools to continuously improve?
  4. Responsibility: How can we make sure that the entire school community can play a role in improving the school?

There was great consensus among the participants in my group on a number of points. Schools should be safe and welcoming, with caring adults. Students should be provided with a full range of offerings, including the arts, music, and phys ed (and recess!). There was discussion about the inappropriateness of the PARCC, particularly for students with special needs and ELL students. Teachers were concerned that they were not given the autonomy to teach their particular students at their developmental level. The facilitator asked for specific anecdotes, and several of us were able to provide them. In response to the fourth question, which implies a desire to engage parents in decisions about their children’s education, I brought up that parents who have decided to Refuse the PARCC for their children were intimidated into complying, rather than respected for their views. The other participants seemed to agree. People in the group felt free to express their experiences and opinions. How they were translated into notes and what will become of them once they make their way to RIDE is an open question.

Closing and Next Steps

When we got back to the large group, we were treated to some closing words by Mary Ann Snider. There was no sharing of what the small groups had discussed. We arrived to find a piece of paper on our chairs, with what would typically be called a feedback survey. However, this paper was termed an “exit ticket.” I found this disturbing. When coupled with the term for the labels we wore in the small groups as “badges,” it was clear that RIDE is already using the buzzwords of the EdTech fashioners of our dystopian 21st Century “innovative” learning. (See Alison Hawver McDowell’s blog Wrench in the Gears and Emily Kennedy Talmage’s blog Save Maine Schools for much more on this.)

See here

and here

and here

So these questions and our responses are meant to inform RIDE’s plan to accommodate ESSA requirements to our Strategic Plan. When seeing what has been going on behind the scenes with the intensified push for digital “personalized” learning, one has to wonder what is the point of these forums. Even so, I encourage everyone who can, to attend one of the four remaining forums.

  • Northern Rhode Island: Wednesday, November 9 at Lincoln Middle School
  • West Bay: Monday, November 14 at Coventry High School
  • East Bay: Thursday, November 17 at Portsmouth High School
  • Southern Rhode Island: Monday, November 21 at South Kingstown High School

 

See here for what has been going on in RI regarding pushing the agenda of “personalized” learning.  (pages 13-16 for RI)

For info on what RIDE is doing vis-a-vis ESSA, go to

RIDE’s ESSA update link.

 

 

 

Flexians at Home and Abroad

In her astute and exhaustively documented book Shadow Elite: How the World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market (2009), social anthropologist and public policy scholar Janine R. Wedel describes her novel and insightful concept of “flexians” in this way:

“The new breed of players, who operate at the nexus of official and private power, cannot only co-opt public policy agendas, crafting policy with their own purposes in mind. They test the time-honored principles of both the canons of accountability of the modern state and the codes of competition of the free market. In so doing, they reorganize relations between bureaucracy and business to their advantage, and challenge the walls erected to separate them. As these walls erode, players are better able to use official power and resources without public oversight. (emphasis added)

“Flexians craft overlapping roles for themselves—coincidences of interest—to promote public policies (and sometimes their personal finances as well).” (pp 7-8)

…“Yet while parties to corrupt activities typically engage in them for profit, the same cannot be said of flexians, who seek influence and to promote their views at least as much as money. … The very people who engage in these activities continue to command public respect and influence, sometimes even garnering more. Moreover, national and international governments and organizations are often attracted to, and reward, flexians because they get things done.

“Journalists and public interest watchdogs have excavated and published details of activities by all these players [viz. in the arena of education reform: Mercedes Schneider, Anthony Cody, Susan O’Hanian, Diane Ravitch, and more], but to little consequence.” (p. 12)

Despite the fact that Wedel’s book was published in 2009 and does not consider the global or American agenda to corporatize/privatize public schooling, in my view the same analysis applies. The neoliberal agenda of privatization of the public schools and control of the individual student as eventual consumer/worker drone is being advanced in the 21st century by the collusion of a college-chums network of politicians and corporate elites who exemplify the “flexians” that Wedell describes. This agenda is now on steroids because of exponentially advancing technology, which is driving a surveillance state.

 

The individuals who are profiting financially from this technology (e.g. Gates at Microsoft and Zuckerberg at Facebook), who feel uber-entitled to foist their techno/data mindset on the global society, are in lock-step with other global corporations such as McKinsey and Pearson. The most inappropriate area that these flexians should be involved in is public education. Yet they are hell-bent on disrupting and transforming what needs to be a human interaction between teacher and students into a dystopian eco-system of digital anytime, anywhere learning mediated by artificial intelligence and unregulated algorithms that are inherently lacking in transparency. Their goal is workforce development in the interest of global corporations, rather than encouragement of the latent talent and creativity within each individual student, their co-option of the term “personalization” notwithstanding.

 

Here in RI, we have the First [Flexian] Couple—Governor Raimondo, whose plans for education include a heavy dose of computer-mediated instruction, and First Gentleman Andy Moffit, a once upon a time TFAer (Teach for America recruit) and now an employee of McKinsey and Company. He is the co-author with Sir Michael Barber (formerly partner and head of McKinsey’s Global Education Practice and now Chief Education Advisor at Pearson) of Deliverology 101: A Field Guide for Educational Leaders. What has the British corporation Pearson brought to education in America? Invalid high stakes testing (PARCC), incessant test prep, and curriculum of the poorest quality, as well as data collection and analysis, with the potential for monumental harm, and of course greatest profit for Pearson.

 

In addition to her concept of flexians, Wedel also details how the misapplication of the financial audit to all areas of governmental life has negatively impacted the social sphere.

“… In the go-go 1980s, when Thatcher and Reagan were at the helm in the United Kingdom and the United States, the goal of refashioning the state in the image of the private sector motivated the migration of audits from their original association with financial management to other areas of working life. (p. 196)

“… [t]he idea of audits exploded throughout society and permeated organizational life as the chief method of controlling individuals. The tools and approaches of accountancy became the means through which ‘the values and practices of the private sector would be instilled in the public sector,’ as several anthropologists studying the subject have assessed.” (p. 197)

All of the ills of the corporate education deform movement seem to me to stem from this ill-considered audit/accountability approach that should never have been applied to any public good, particularly one that is responsible for the healthy upbringing of our nation’s children: incessant use of high stakes tests (produced and analyzed as cheaply as possible) to control students, teachers, schools, and neighborhoods; closing of neighborhood schools and creation of charter schools, many of which pursue wholly inappropriate teaching paradigms and enable the school-to-prison pipeline; standardization of curriculum (i.e. Common Core State (sic) (Stealth) Standards, which had virtually no input from those with extensive backgrounds in child development, language and literacy development, students learning English as a second language, and students with disabilities) and which denies dignity and respect to students of diverse backgrounds; ignoring the actual strengths and needs of students with IEPs under the guise of forcing high expectations as measured by the same inappropriate tests used for the general population of students; use of poorly trained TFA temps in primarily high poverty schools; and doing away with tenure and seniority protections with the aim of destroying teachers unions. Is this the America that people struggled, fought, and died to protect and preserve? Or is this the fulfillment of decades of a stealthily imagined dystopia, profiting the very few at the expense of the very many?

Wedel asks: “Who or what can slow the players down? The mechanisms to hold them accountable to either democratic or free-market principles that applied not long ago largely do not effect (sic) these players’ machinations.” (p. 109) So it’s up to those of us who have become aware of the stakes to expose the machinations and dismantle them.

 

 

 

“REFORM” by any Other Name Would Still Stink (with apologies to William Shakespeare)

Ted Siedle presented the results of his forensic analysis of the Employees Retirement System of RI (ERSRI) real estate investments, a talk hosted by the RI Retired Teachers Association (RIRTA), on October 12, 2016. The title of the report is “Beyond Bad: A Generation of Mismanagement of Employee Retirement System of RI Real Estate.”

Here is the full report.

(See the text of Seidle’s speech provided by golocalprov  here )

Mr.  Siedle made the point that Wall Street has gone after public pension funds because they were the last vast pot of money available. While I respect Mr. Siedle tremendously for his acumen in investigating and exposing the disaster that has been labeled pension “reform” in RI (and which has brought high praise from across the country to Gina Raimondo), the public needs to become aware that the other vast pot of money that Wall Street hedge funders are salivating over is public education. They have been nurturing their plan for years by investing in charter schools, but the next frontier will be even more disastrous to public school children, their families, and American society. This plan involves a morphing of our cherished institution of public education for all children (flawed though it has been) into a dog-eat-dog dystopia, made possible by the limitless funneling of children’s educationally derived data to edupreneurs via digital learning. Governor Raimondo is as implicated in this education “reform” as she was in the pension “reform.”

First, some background on Mr. Seidle’s presentation. RIRTA has been the only group with the courage and perseverance to continue to search for the truth about Gina Raimondo’s changes to the Employees Retirement System of RI (ERSRI) while she was state Treasurer. After the recent compromise pension settlement, the RI Public Employees’ Retiree Coalition (RIPERC) (composed of AFSCME Council 94/Retiree Chapter, RI AFT/R, NEARI/Retired, RI Association of Retired Principals, and RI Laborers’ Retiree Council, as well as RIRTA), which had brought the lawsuit, told RIRTA officials that they were on their own if they chose to pursue the matter.

Through two kickstarter crowdfunding efforts, RIRTA was able to hire Ted Siedle, a former SEC lawyer and a contributor to Forbes, to investigate the pension reform as engineered by Raimondo and now managed by Treasurer Seth Magaziner. (Siedle’s  first report in June, 2015 was entitled Double Trouble: Wall Street Secrecy Conceals Preventable Pension Losses in Rhode Island. See here.

When Mr. Siedle requested key documents from Magaziner for his current forensic analysis of the real estate investments, he was informed that RIRTA would have to pay the treasurer’s office $10,000 in order to get them. Though this was a hardship for the group, RIRTA managed to come up with the $10,000 that Magaziner demanded in order to provide the group with key prospectuses and other documents. Magaziner then failed to turn over most of the documents requested, and refused to give RIRTA a full refund. (He returned $2,657.50.) In addition, Magaziner claimed that he had disclosed all the fees paid to managers “that he was aware of.”

According to Mr. Siedle, public record laws have been eviscerated in the last 5 years, so the public cannot find out the specifics on the investments. This secrecy is a serious impediment to addressing the problems. Currently the pensioners have NO VOICE in the investing done by the ERSRI. Mr. Siedle emphasized that this needs to change.

RIRTA had also reached out to Attorney General Kilmartin, but he informed them that he did not have the resources to pursue an investigation.

Siedle stated that what happened with the pension “reform” was a DELIBERATE misuse of pension assets, which resulted in a transfer of wealth from pensioners to Wall Street. There has been an exchange of money from Wall Street to political donations and back to Wall Street. Siedle claims that pension reform was actually a RUSE that Raimondo used to further her personal political ambitions. (Still, the same thing is going on across the country, and some labor leaders are embedded with the looter class.)

He concluded from both of his forensic investigations that POLITICS is driving the pension investments, not the pension performance/results. Otherwise how could the 27 years of deplorable results with the real estate investments have continued without a peep if it wasn’t benefitting someone? Where was the due diligence?

Siedle ended his talk with Why we need to go the distance, and What we need to do. Among his suggestions were these, which I believe also apply to what needs to happen regarding education “reform”:

  1. Expose the harm/lies
  2. Discredit their experts
  3. Spread the word of the massive losses, and that they will grow if nothing is done

So what are some of the lies, and where is the harm of the corporate education “reform” movement that Governor Raimondo is fostering here in RI?

One of the major education initiatives that Raimondo has championed this year is Computer Science in all schools at all grade levels (Computer Science for Rhode Island (CS4RI)), or Everybody Must Do Code. This is supposedly for the purpose of developing computer programmers to fill high-paying jobs in the field that are not being filled due to lack of skilled job seekers. As Andrew Stewart reported in his post “Rethinking Computer Science in RI,”

“One of this reporter’s sources that is currently in the Department of Computer Science and Statistics at University of Rhode Island pointed out that programming jobs are expected to shrink by 8% in the next few years, including in terms of salary. This means that Raimondo could in fact be creating an influx of laborers that would cheapen costs of employing the labor pool, not giving these students a competitive edge in high-paying tech jobs as much as insuring they can only get low wages for their special skill set. …

“However, there is a further dark comedy to this issue. Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, is a longtime education deform advocate and was behind the implementation of Common Core. The state relies on Microsoft for a good deal of computing needs, so much so that ‘[o]n Wednesday [September 28], Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President Fred Humphries will join Raimondo during a coding class at Central Falls High School’, according to a story by Linda Borg in the ProJo. It is a case of the state quite literally rewarding the very people behind the union busting in public education!  [Common Core/PARCC/low test scores/schools are failing/unions are the problem/Charter schools are the answer]

Find Stewart’s post here.

Also see here

The Microsoft connection pops up again in this article about GE Digital. See here.

“At a meeting Tuesday with 7 of 12 new GE Digital employees, Governor Raimondo sought their advice, explored what type of schooling had prepared them for jobs here as the company creates its new information technology center and asked if they’ll volunteer to teach computer science in the public schools.

“That last request would help with Raimondo’s initiative to prepare more young people for the kinds of jobs GE Digital offers, which are expected to pay, on average, more than $100,000. To get computer science into all K-12 public classrooms, Raimondo said she’s relying in large part on volunteers, beginning with Microsoft and including many from the Lifespan hospital system.” (emphasis added)

The article goes on to say that “Lindsey Curran, who just moved from Boston to Providence for her new job as a user interface engineer, told Raimondo about her undergraduate work in English and film but said a 12-week boot camp she took in Boston to learn web development prepared her to land the GE Digital job.” From this Raimondo infers that all children starting in kindergarten need to take computer science?? How about a well-rounded education? BTW, who can predict the type of employment that will be available 12 years from now when these 5 year olds graduate from high school (if there will even be such a thing as high school by then.) Using “volunteers” is a low blow. This young woman would be about as effective as a Teach for America recruit. Why have actual computer science teachers been totally disregarded?

On another education front, Governor Raimondo “says she’s open to using the SAT as a graduation requirement for high school students.

“The Democratic governor tells WPRI-TV the college admissions exam is better than it used to be because it’s aligned to Common Core standards.” See here.

I had my suspicions about the new SAT from the beginning, because David Coleman, the mastermind of the (to my mind) deeply flawed ELA Common Core standards had not only taken charge of the College Board, but also determined to align the SAT to the (to my mind) deeply flawed ELA and math Common Core standards. Now, if Manuel Alfaro, former executive director of assessment design and development at the College Board, is to be believed, it seems that the new SAT is itself deeply flawed. I understand that many believe that replacing the PARCC with the PSAT/SAT for high school students would be a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case. Here are some highlights (or lowlights) from the observations from the former executive director, as reported in this post by Mercedes Schneider, an impeccable education blogger and author: See her full post here.

“On an earlier post I stated that a large number of items on operational SAT forms were extensively revised or rewritten during form construction and review. On a recent post, I asked:

  • Who is reviewing these items? Surely, Content Advisory Committees would have expressed concerns about item quality to College Board executives.

“As you might imagine, members of the Content Advisory Committee raised issues and concerns frequently and forcefully. Some members of the committee sent emails to David Coleman; others expressed their concerns during face-to-face meetings; and others sent emails to the leadership of the Assessment Design and Development group.

“Of the many concerns raised by the Content Advisory Committee, here are the top three:

“Item Quality: Committee members were very concerned with the quality of the items the College Board brought to committee meetings for review. Their biggest concern was the large number of items that were mathematically flawed; items that did not have correct answers; and items that did not have accurate or realistic contexts. Some members even went as far as stating that they had never seen so many seriously flawed items.

“Development Schedule: Committee members felt that schedules did not allow them enough time to perform thorough reviews. Given the large number of items they had to review (and the poor quality of the items), they needed more time to provide meaningful comments and input.

“Development Process: Committee members felt that the process used to develop the items was inadequate. They felt that the process lacked the rigor required to produce the high quality items necessary for item data to be useful.


“Given the Content Advisory Committee’s critical feedback about the items they reviewed in preparation for, and during, meetings with the College Board, we can infer that the pretest item pool was of poor quality, at best. The committee and College Board staff/contractors worked hard to improve the items before they were operationally administered to students. I must give credit where credit is due: they did their best.

“How, then, did so many flawed items end up in the pretest item pool? If the committee and College Board staff/contractors did their best to fix the items, why did the College Board need to include extensively revised items on operational SAT forms?

“The reason was—concerned students, parents, and educators—that the Content Advisory Committee reviewed the items, for the first time, after operational SAT forms were constructed.

“To clarify my last sentence: The Content Advisory Committee reviewed the items for the first time, not before they were pretested, but after the items were assembled into operational SAT forms.”
If these allegations are true, it should be clear that the new SAT is a disaster and cannot possibly offer valid information to students, families, schools, and colleges. Further, many colleges have abandoned demanding SAT/ACT scores from prospective students. So why is our Governor contemplating the use of the SAT as a graduation requirement?

And then there is the connection of First Gentleman Andy Moffit to corporate education reform, via TFA and McKinsey. Please see my previous blog post for more on this here

The hedge funders and edupreneurs, birds of a feather with Raimondo/Moffit, envision a future of all-digital-all-the-time for the children of the masses, while their own children enjoy what should be a free, appropriate education for all, consisting of small classes, the arts, science labs, and field trips, guided by human/humane teachers. For a fuller understanding of this dystopian future, please see this post (n.b. Bristol Warren Regional School District is participating in the League of Innovative Schools.)

The shift to digital learning that Governor Raimondo, along with Commissioner Wagner and RIDE (and the RI Strategic Plan for Public Education 2015-2020), are pushing is essentially an educational experiment, with virtually no actual research to recommend it. Not only that, but there has been mounting evidence that too much screen time is harmful to children, especially young children—educationally, physically, neurologically, emotionally, and behaviorally. An introduction to the potential harm of WiFi radiation from these hand-held devices can be found here

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, a psychotherapist and addictions specialist, has published articles here and here and written the book Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking our Kids—and How to Break the Trance. Why would those with power and influence push such a drastic change in how education is provided to all RI public school children without investigating the potential harm to those children first?

Are POLITICS, ambition, and greed driving the education “reform” decisions as they apparently did for the pension “reform?” Who is accountable for the actual performance/results of these policies–not according to flawed data from flawed tests, but as they are experienced by the vulnerable children caught in the system?

 

 

Our Schools–Back to the Future

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

poster-maslows-hierarchy-of-needs

While I am in complete agreement with the serious concerns that Nancy Bailey (See here ) and Peggy Robertson (See here) have brought up in reaction to the PBS NOVA program “School of the Future,” I found some of the segments encouraging. Watch here These segments emphasize the value of human interaction and the importance of caring about students rather than pushing the mindless morass of digital modules/digital badging/data monitoring, assessment, and tracking that many of us are alarmed about with “21st Century Learning.”

So I’ll begin with what I felt was positive about the program. The teacher at the Bronx, NY elementary school acknowledged that many of the students arrived at school with “baggage.” The segment discussed the “disruptive nature of adversity,” and stated that the prevention of the negative effects of this challenge was the “human buffer.” Children need to feel nurtured and safe, and that adults care about them. Yes! I also was pleased with the middle school in Columbia, Illinois. One of the techniques portrayed for helping this age group improve their learning was the use of Essential Questions, which guided their understanding of an entire unit. While frequent quizzes sets off alarm bells, I found that the strategy of reinforcing the previous day’s lesson with a short quiz every day seemed valuable. In needing to retrieve the past day’s learning, students were strengthening their long-term retention of the material. The key was that the quizzes were not scored, and so were not high stakes. From my experience teaching Latin to deaf high school students, frequent practice, even if not frequent quizzing, serves to solidify students’ learning.

While I am deeply suspicious of charter schools as a remedy for so-called failing public schools, I thought that the East Palo Alto Academy, a charter school, emphasized what high school students need to be engaged in their learning. The school has a small student body, which makes it logistically easier to match students with caring adults. The class included in the segment was a “restorative justice” class. I didn’t notice any computers in use. The aim was for teachers to create curricula that were culturally responsive and thus engaging for students. Students were graded on essays, presentations, and class participation. They were also encouraged to pursue their passions outside of the school day, such as at the Hip Hop Club. The school couples high expectations with love, support, and understanding.

Across the freeway from East Palo Alto is Palo Alto, an affluent area with two elite high schools. Here the students were under intense pressure to be academically successful. At Henry M. Gunn High School, the community had to confront “the dark side of intense academic expectations” when they suffered a spate of student suicides. This led to a re-evaluation of the stress levels the students were experiencing. The administration realized that they needed to focus on student well-being, not just achievement scores. So they added in down-time to the schedule—a longer lunch time and longer time to pass between classes. This gesture may not be a panacea, but it is a step in the right direction.

Now to the segments that I found problematic. Here is where the frenzied push for technology as the answer to “personalizing” education was on view. In one segment, the video went back to the end of World War II, when the US Air Force faced a challenge to upgrade their pilots to the task of flying jet airplanes. They now had to deal with planes that were more powerful, had greater speed, and depended on more complex technology. The comparison was made from this military/training challenge to student learning in public schools. The problem was framed as needing to adapt to the needs of millions of individual children rather than provide a standardized education geared to the average child. The answer? digital technology! Max Ventilla from AltSchool discussed the “21st Century Profession” as using digital technologies to build on the students’ own capabilities. The goal is called “mass customization.” This may be plausible, but it is not the only, and certainly not the best, way to frame the need for true personalization.

When Carol Dweck, the promoter of the notion of “Growth Mindset,” was interviewed, she made a startling statement: “The intersection of technology and psychology is a wonderful intersection. We want children to engage joyfully in a learning process.” Why does the Nazi phrase placed at the entrance to Auschwitz and other death camps come to mind—“Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free)? The viewers were then treated to a segment with Sal Kahn of the online Kahn Academy. According to Kahn, students prefer working with a computer to working one-on-one with a human being because they are inhibited when learning with a person. Why?  because they don’t want to be seen to fail, and they don’t want to feel that they’re wasting the other person’s time. Instead, they gleefully and effectively engage with computer modules chock full of bells and whistles, earning points along the way. Woohoo!

As many others have pointed out, technology is a tool for learning, and has a place, particularly with older, mature students. What all students need the most, however, is thoughtful, creative, dedicated, and sensitive human teachers to decide which technology may be beneficial at which times, and to engage students with empathy, encouraging them to explore their own potential and empower their own voice. Did we really need neuroscience to teach us this?

 

PARCC: How Do I Loathe Thee?—Let Me Count the Ways (with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Some thoughts in response to “PARCC results: R.I. sees improvement, but achievement gap grows”

 “Wagner denied that the test is too hard, a common criticism. Instead, he said Rhode Island has much work to do to put a rigorous curriculum in every school, ramp up teacher training and redesign the way schools, especially high schools, are structured.”

See the article here.

I urge everyone who thinks the PARCC is a valuable assessment, worth the time, money, and curricular resources it gobbles up, to Google PARCC practice tests and avail themselves of the many sample tests for ELA and math at all grade levels. Parents and grandparents with advanced degrees and even teaching experience report that the questions are confusing and designed to trick students. Many cannot figure out the answers that the test developers expected. And this doesn’t even get into the fact that the tests are designed to be administered on computers, ignoring the drawbacks this presents for younger students or any other students who are not computer savvy. Yet Commissioner Wagner insists that all students will take the tests on computers next year, even though students who took the tests with paper and pencil in 2015 did somewhat better. Why the urgency to transition completely to computerized testing? (This is a rhetorical question.)

“Rhode Island students who took the 2014-15 PARCC exams by computer tended to score lower than those who took the exams by paper, raising further questions about the validity and usefulness of results from the tests taken last school year by more than 5 million students in the multi-state Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

“The differences were sharpest on the English/language arts exam, where 42.5 percent of Rhode Island students who took the test on paper scored proficient, compared to 34 percent of those who took the test by computer.” [This dwarfs the 2% uptick in ELA scores in 2016 compared to 2015.]

See the article here.

 

Standardized tests in R.I. reveal ‘readiness issue’ with online testing

Posted Feb. 10, 2016

“PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island students who took the latest standardized tests on computers performed lower than those who took them on paper, raising questions about the fairness and the validity of the assessments, according to some school superintendents. …

 

“State Education Commissioner Ken Wagner acknowledges that Rhode Island has “a readiness issue” with online testing. He also said, however, that the differences in results are not significant enough to question the validity of the tests. [!]

“‘Increasing technology is the right way to go,’ he said. ‘People have assumed that if there is a difference in scores, that the online ones are too low. But one could argue that the paper scores are too high. It’s not clear which is the right score.’ [perplexing logic here]

“Wagner agrees that these results have ‘shined a light on the need to address the digital divide.

“‘But that doesn’t mean that the test isn’t measuring what it’s supposed to,” he said. “I haven’t heard anyone say we should go back to index cards.'” [!]

See article here.

Yet here is more from other states on the discrepancies between PARCC scores on paper and pencil vs computer:

“In December, the Illinois state board of education found that 43 percent of students there who took the PARCC English/language arts exam on paper scored proficient or above, compared with 36 percent of students who took the exam online. The state board has not sought to determine the cause of those score differences.

“Meanwhile, in Maryland’s 111,000-student Baltimore County schools, district officials found similar differences, then used statistical techniques to isolate the impact of the test format.

“They found a strong “mode effect” in numerous grade-subject combinations: Baltimore County middle-grades students who took the paper-based version of the PARCC English/language arts exam, for example, scored almost 14 points higher than students who had equivalent demographic and academic backgrounds but took the computer-based test.

“’The differences are significant enough that it makes it hard to make meaningful comparisons between students and [schools] at some grade levels,’ said Russell Brown, the district’s chief accountability and performance-management officer. ‘I think it draws into question the validity of the first year’s results for PARCC.’ … Assessment experts consulted by Education Week said the remedy for a “mode effect” is typically to adjust the scores of all students who took the exam in a particular format, to ensure that no student is disadvantaged by the mode of administration.

“PARCC officials, however, said they are not considering such a solution. It will be up to district and state officials to determine the scope of any problem in their schools’ test results, as well as what to do about it, Nellhaus said. In the short term, on policy grounds, you need to come up with an adjustment, so that if a [student] is taking a computer version of the test, it will never be held against [him or her],’ said Briggs, who serves on the technical-advisory committees for both PARCC and Smarter Balanced.

“Such a remedy is not on the table within PARCC, however.

“’At this point, PARCC is not considering that,’ Nellhaus said. ‘This needs to be handled very locally. There is no one-size-fits-all remedy.’

[Apparently this is not being handled by Wagner/RIDE.]

“But putting that burden on states and school districts will likely have significant implications on the ground, said Casserly of the Council of the Great City Schools.

“’I think it will heighten uncertainty, and maybe even encourage districts to hold back on how vigorously they apply the results to their decisionmaking,’ he said.

“’One reason many people wanted to delay the use [of PARCC scores for accountability purposes] was to give everybody a chance to shake out the bugs in the system,’ Casserly added. ‘This is a big one.’”

“Comment from homeschoolingmom:

“The PARCC website allowed anyone to take a sample test. When I, as an adult, took the computer test, it was FULL OF BUGS! One screen, nothing showed up when I typed, but when I was shown a summary at the end, every key stroke was recorded. Some questions had you pick from several options, whether your answer would be a whole number, mixed number, etc. There had to be the right number of boxes in the right order for you to input one number of your answer into each box! That was confusing. Some questions had multiple parts, but the 2nd and 3rd parts were not visible unless you scrolled down, and I missed answering some problems all together. When I got to the end, it told me to go back and review my answers, which I tried to do. I was able to fill in a couple of missed problems, but when I tried to correct that answer that recorded miscellaneous key strokes, I was locked out, my test was gone. I think BUGS made online scores LOWER!!”

 

reference here

 

Now let’s consider the appropriateness and reasonableness of the PARCC tests themselves. We have only the word of the test maker, Pearson, and those at RIDE who accept Pearson’s word, that these assessments are valid. Valid means that they assess what they claim to assess. Is this true?

Russ Walsh, an adjunct professor and respected reading specialist, recently “decided to take a close look at the PARCC sample test reading comprehension passages and try to assess their readability, and therefore, their appropriateness for a testing environment.”
He concluded that for most grade levels, “the passages chosen are about two grade levels above the readability of the grade and age of the children … .”

http://russonreading.blogspot.com/2015/02/parcc-tests-and-readability-close-look.html

Obviously, children take these tests independently. Children’s independent reading level is by definition below their instructional level. Tasks at their instructional level are accomplished with teacher and class support. Tasks at the students’ frustration level cannot provide meaningful information about what they know and can do and where they struggle. This sets children up to fail, lowers their self-esteem, and makes it more difficult for them to engage in learning. This is counter-productive and also terribly costly of time, money, and school resources. While adversely affecting all students, the negative impact is exponentially worse for struggling students.

“Less than 22 percent of black and Latino students scored proficient in English compared to a statewide average of almost 38 percent on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a challenging test rolled out last year amid dismal results.

“Less than 9 percent of English language learners reached the state standard, and that number fell to less than 6 percent for special-needs students.”  (emphasis added)

(quote again from

“PARCC results: R.I. sees improvement, but achievement gap grows”)

 

According to RIDE, the PARCC test is aligned to so-called rigorous curricula based on the Common Core State [sic] Standards, which prepare students for critical thinking and problem-solving and thus for the tests. What is the nature of the curricula that are aligned to the Common Core and the PARCC?  Tragically, the answer has been poor quality workbooks from publishers like Pear$on (coincidentally also the producer of the PARCC and remedial materials) that focus narrowly on text-dependent questions on short passages or excerpts from informational or fiction texts.

The next level of curricular harm rushing pell-mell (i.e. in a recklessly hasty or disorganized way; headlong) toward a school near you is 1:1 digital learning/incessant testing/monitoring/tracking. This is being referred to as “personalized” learning, student-centered learning, or competency/proficiency based education, accomplished through the use of digital devices. Despite the fact that actual academic benefits have never been confirmed through peer-reviewed research, the edtech edupreneurs are chomping at the bit to sell ever more hardware, software, and data analysis systems to cash-strapped school systems in the name of “innovation” and global competitiveness. See here for the actual harm to developing children that this frenzy for bogus teaching/learning with hand-held devices all day every day is perpetrating on our children: here

When the general public hears the word “personalized,” they have a right to believe that this means a human teacher working with a reasonable number of students so that human connections can be made. This is the antithesis of what “personalized” learning means to the edtech mob, however. Here is a great explanation of the difference from Alfie Kohn:

“When -ized is added to personal, again, the original idea has been not merely changed but corrupted — and even worse is something we might call Personalized Learning, Inc. (PLI), in which companies sell us digital products to monitor students while purporting to respond to the differences among them.

“Personal learning entails working with each child to create projects of intellectual discovery that reflect his or her unique needs and interests. It requires the presence of a caring teacher who knows each child well.

“Personalized learning entails adjusting the difficulty level of prefabricated skills-based exercises based on students’ test scores. It requires the purchase of software from one of those companies that can afford full-page ads in Education Week.”

quotes found here

Here’s more on this aspect:

“So the problem with personalization via adaptive software isn’t simply that “it doesn’t work.” It’s that it might work — work to obliterate meaningful and powerful opportunities for civics, for connection, for community. Work to obliterate agency for students. And work not so much to accelerate learning, but to accelerate educational inequalities.”

See here

 

Rather than doubling down on a fatally flawed set of ELA and math standards and the inflexible curricula and assessments aligned to them, RIDE policy makers need to break out of the PR bubble of “rigor,” “innovation,” individualized digital learning, and misguided data collection. Students at all levels, and particularly the most vulnerable students—those who have cognitive/perceptual/neurological/sensory/emotional/behavioral challenges, those whose families live in high-poverty neighborhoods, those from non-English speaking homes, those who are homeless—need personal, not “personalized” a la computer algorithm, attention from well-prepared, dedicated teachers who are sensitive to their interests and needs, and who have the autonomy to create curricula that engage students where they are rather than disengaging them and reinforcing the worst stereotypes about their ability to succeed.