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garfield's got

From the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Facebook page:

Today AFT President Randi Weingarten sent a message of support to the teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School who are standing up against the fixation on high-stakes testing by refusing to administer the state’s high-stakes test. The school’s student government and PTSA both voted to support the teachers.

Dear Garfield High School Teachers:

Thank you. Thank you for taking a courageous stand against the fixation on high-stakes testing and its harmful impact on our ability to give our students the high-quality public education they deserve.

Your actions have propelled the national conversation on the impact of high-stakes testing. Every educator understands that appropriate assessments are an integral part of a high-quality education system. But an accountability system obsessed with measuring, which punishes teachers and schools, comes at a huge cost to children. This fixation on testing has narrowed our curriculums and deprived our students of art, music, gym and other subjects that enrich their minds and make learning fun. Teachers have been forced to spend too much time on test preparation and data collection, at the expense of more engaging instruction. Ironically, this fixation on high-stakes testing actually does the opposite of what its proponents tell us it will do.

Learning is more than a test score, and teaching and learning—not testing—should drive classroom instruction. We need to be focused on growing and nurturing the minds of our students—to ensure that they can think creatively and analytically. It’s no longer enough to teach kids to memorize a bunch of numbers and terms; they must think critically and be able to absorb and interpret knowledge. We must ensure that our children are able to not only dream their dreams but also achieve them. At the same time, we must prepare students for civic engagement and to value that we all have a collective responsibility to one another.

The AFT and tens of thousands of educators, parents and students stand with you in this effort. The AFT passed a resolution at our national convention last summer focused on rebalancing our national education priorities and ensuring that teaching and learning drive our education policies. And we are focused on uniting communities across the country around this issue.

Thank you for leading this conversation.

Randi Weingarten

AFT President

On another note…


When will enough be enough?

From Think Progress:

Ohio School Board Votes To Arm School Janitors

The Montpelier Exempted Village Schools Board of Education in Montpelier, Ohio voted unanimously on Wednesday night to allow handgun training for four custodians, who will then tote firearms on the school’s campus. In an explanation of this policy that echoes the National Rifle Association’s infamous claim that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” school Superintendent Jamie Grime claimed that “having guns in the hands of the right people are not a hindrance. They are a means to protect.”

To read this article in full, go to Think Progress.

Let’s hope that we can come to our senses about guns and violence and begin to understand that it is systemic in our society and deal with it as a cultural problem starting with our endless wars, a bloated “defense” budget, the OKness of torture in our society, the terror that is wrought on innocent people in Pakistan by drones which are handled by kids with joy sticks, the way we accept the plight of the people living in Gaza and allowing the NRA to buy off our representatives.

When will enough be enough?

Now on to charter schools.

I would recommend listening to the following video while reading the next section of this post:

In the state of Washington we are already hearing rumblings from ALEC mouthpiece, the Washington Policy Center, about lifting the cap on charter schools.

We knew this would happen. Enough is never enough for those who see dollar signs.


In Massachusetts, EduShyter describes what’s happening there in the post:

The Liftin’ O’ the Cap

…charter schools in Massachusetts do not have to fill vacancies in the last half of the school year, or in grades 10, 11 or 12 as filling empty seats with new students might cause the dilution of the culture of excellence, much as that ice cube in your glass has diluted the strength of your whiskey.

capThat nip o’ green in the air can only mean one thing lasses and lassies. It’s that time of year again, in which the masses rise up to demand an end to the artificial constraints on excellence and innovation, other wise known as the charter school cap. Perhaps in your state this annual celebration of obfuscation wears a different label—the Texan tip’ o’ the 10 gallon? The NYC fedora lift? Here in Massachusetts we call it simply ‘The Liftin’ O’ the Cap.’  So reader, pour yourself a glass of the strong stuff and settle in as I share with ye a fanciful tale indeed.

About that waiting list…

No doubt your state is home to a lengthy waiting list of students trapped in union-stifled public schools. In Massachusetts we call this list a “waiting list” and it is growing lengthier by the day. According to the state charter lobby, which announced its Liftin’ O’ the Cap campaign just this week, there are currently 45,000 students on the list to attend 69 charter schools. That’s up from the 35,000 student figure that the charter lobby was citing on its website up until 3 weeks ago. In other words, demand is skyrocketing.

Whatever the precise length of the list, we are unlikely to meet many of the students who are waiting on it. In one of the oddest rituals of the annual Liftin’ O’ the Cap tradition, proof of the skyrocketing demand for more academies of excellence and innovation will come from the massing of students who already attend them. Your vision is not blurred because of the Jameson; I added the italics for emphasis. And just to add an additional queasy bit o’ detail, since prime time for lobbying and edu-crat deliberation coincides with school hours, the young members of our achievement army will be missing school in order to demand the Liftin’ O’ the Cap. In other words, it’s worth risking the widening of our achievement gap in order to lobby for measures that will fill it with excellence.

Empty seats

Like the magician whose tricks rely upon the stupidity of his thirsty audience, the charter lobby can only spin its dazzling tale of demand by keeping key details hidden. As even a beginning student of charter logic can attest, for example, our local temples of outstandingness are notorious for losing huge numbers of students, particularly (and completely coincidentally) just before the start of standardized testing season. The word, which you will find nowhere on the charter lobby’s Liftin’ O’ the Cap brochure is “attrition,” and it means that there are lots of nice empty seats, just waiting to be occupied by students who are waiting on a waiting list.

Alas, that’s where our tale takes a dastardly turn indeed. You see, another word you will rarely hear our fearless cap lifters utter is “backfill.” Unlike traditional union-stifled public schools where any student who shows up, at any time of the year, gets a seat, even if said seat is on the floor, charter schools in Massachusetts do not have to fill vacancies in the last half of the school year, or in grades 10, 11 or 12 as filling empty seats with new students might cause the dilution of the culture of excellence, much as that ice cube in your glass has diluted the strength of your whiskey.

To read this wonderful article in full, go to Edushyster, and have a nip for me.

But wait, there’s more!

From the Parents Across America website:

“New Market Tax Credits” and charter schools

Following up on our “Master Class” story about hedge funders and the “education sector”: Two years ago, New York Daily News reporter Juan Gonzalez exposed a little known federal tax break, new market tax credits, in which wealthy investors and major banks have been making windfall profits, nearly doubling their investment in seven years.

Numerous charter companies as well as banks have participated in this lucrative deal including Imagine Schools, Green Dot, Brighter Choice, KIPP and Andre Agassi schools. See also “Cashing in on Charters.”

Imagine Schools finance subsidiary, Schoolhouse Finance, sold some charters to Real Estate Investment Trusts, including Entertainment Properties (EPR) and then entered into a triple net lease arrangement, quite profitable for investors, but costly for the charter schools.

Schools were deprived of operating revenue due to the high cost of leases (nearly 40% of total revenue in Las Vegas) and principals were fired for questioning the terms of the leases. 

The new markets tax credits expired in 2011, but were extended this month as part of the fiscal cliff bill, HR 8. So, Wall Street investors are poised to take advantage of this opportunity, which appears to impact urban neighborhoods and their schools the most.

More on charter schools from the Huffington Post.

Charter School Growth In Michigan Brings Cautionary Tale On Quality

In Michigan, though, the evidence on charter school quality is clearer. Students in charter schools there perform worse on average than public school students, according to a 2007 study by Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University. A CREDO study on Michigan released this week found that 80 percent of charters perform below the 50th percentile of achievement in reading, and 84 percent perform below that threshold in math. On top of that, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, 26 percent of Michigan charter schools fall into the bottom 15 percent of the state’s schools on 8th grade math exams, and 21 percent in 8th grade reading.

An excerpt:

Michigan has been at the center of charter school growth. In 1998-99, there were 138 charter schools in the state. This year, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are 280.

In the early 1990s, a small but influential group of Michigan politicians, professors and activists led by then-Gov. John Engler (R) had an idea: Public schools should focus more on the business of teaching and learning. They wanted to be able to make changes to schools happen faster, but the bureaucracy of school administration, they felt, was always standing in their way. Moreover, they didn’t think families and children should have to be confined to neighborhood schools — especially if those schools were failing.

So they launched an ambitious legislative effort to bring charter schools to Michigan. Charter schools, which are publicly funded but can be privately run, were a new concept at the time. The idea was that schools that proved their excellence should be independent — they should have more discretion over things like curriculum, teaching staff and the length of the school day.

Twenty years later, there is no comprehensive index of national charter school rankings. Without them, it’s hard to compare schools across state lines, especially because of differences in standardized tests. The closest thing to an answer is a trove of studies from Stanford University’s CREDO center. Its national study from 2009 found that, on average, charter schools are no better and no worse than public schools — but even that study only took a handful of states into account.

In Michigan, though, the evidence on charter school quality is clearer. Students in charter schools there perform worse on average than public school students, according to a 2007 study by Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University. A CREDO study on Michigan released this week found that 80 percent of charters perform below the 50th percentile of achievement in reading, and 84 percent perform below that threshold in math. On top of that, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, 26 percent of Michigan charter schools fall into the bottom 15 percent of the state’s schools on 8th grade math exams, and 21 percent in 8th grade reading.

“It’s disappointing for a lot of people here that had hoped that charters were really going to be the solution to urban children’s lack of quality options,” said Amber Arellano, who directs the nonpartisan advocacy group EdTrust Midwest. “They’re not. There are not enough high-performing charters here [in Michigan] to really address the educational inequities that we have here in the state. Just letting the market decide isn’t the answer.”

To read this post in full, go to The Huffington Post.

Now on to the tests.

Many times standardized tests are used as weapons rather than a tool, causing the wholesale firing of teachers and the closing of schools, many times converting those schools into charter schools.

The great irony is that many of those charter schools become populated with Teach for America, Inc. recruits with only 5 weeks of training or young and inexperienced teachers providing a cheaper workforce.

The only people this makes sense to are those who are interested in making money off of our children.

They are decimating our schools and communities in the process.

So let’s talk MAP.

First up, a website that only a mathematician or statistician could love Conceptual Math.

An analysis of the MAP test

Standardize Testing Accuracy and Precision

An Evaluation of NWEA’s MAP Testing

An excerpt from their evaluation of the MAP test that I found quite excellent.

Part 2: Accuracy Problems

Accuracy is about hitting the mark that you intend to hit. In testing, that means translates to, “Did you actually measure what you intended to measure?” If your intention is to measure success in school, then you need to be sure you know how to test characteristics of academic or cognitive success. Here’s a listing of significant places where all standardized testing, including MAP, fails to provide accurate information.

  • Bloom’s Taxonomy of cognitive levels: High level success involves the ability to integrate diverse information, and the ability to evaluate complex information. These two skills are nearly impossible to measure with multiple choice tests. Standardized tests focus almost entirely on knowledge and skills.
  • Inquiry-based Learning: A real measure of academic success is the ability to ask big questions, then seek out understanding and knowledge that may answer those questions. This is how scientists, journalists, and engineers work. Since standardized tests focus on low level knowledge and skills, they never successfully test the ability to ask, and seek answers to, big questions. Real work usually starts with the big questions then seeks out the details. Test-based learning starts with the details and rarely ever finds the big picture.
  • Reasoning, Problem Solving and Communication: Real success requires a person to reason through, and solve, non-routine problems, then to communicate the validity of the reasoning. Real problems are so complex that they may take hours to weeks to solve. This realization is summed up in the NCTM Standards. However, standardized testing focuses on simple concepts where each question may be answered in less than two minutes. Real cognitive success involves creatively finding solutions to problems that are so complex that a person may take days to solve each problem.
  • Expeditionary Education: For a person to grow in skills, they must understand themselves. For those skills to be useful, they must integrate across a large cognitive spectrum, and create a final product must serve a real need. This is the underlying concept of the ELS Design Principles. Standardized tests separate skills into discreet units and discourage educators from integrating those skills into real projects.
  • Self-awareness, Marzano’s Taxonomy, & Holistic Education: Within just two years of teaching, educators will observe that most of the barriers that impede student learning are emotions, attitudes, or social issues. Even students who have missed many basic skills will perform at high levels if they are given a situation that supports the development of a good attitude, and good habits, for learning. Developing self-awareness then becomes the key element to learning. Standardized tests totally ignore these aspects of learning, even though these may be the most important factors.
  • Needs of High Achievers vs. Needs of Low Achievers: Most teachers in test driven environments teach to the lowest third of their class. Most standardized tests, including MAP, are designed around the needs of the lowest third of the students. MAP testing has been praised for its ability to raise test scores of the lowest performing students. However, it is not praised for its ability to support the needs of high performing students. This results from the achievement needs of the high performers being structurally different than the knowledge and skill needs of the low performers. Testing tends to discourage schools from supporting the needs of the high achievers. Below, we will show strong evidence that MAP testing actually discourages schools from supporting the needs of high achievers.

To see their evaluation in full, with all of the charts and graphs that a mathematician could wish for, go to Conceptual Math.

And now a video about the MAP test created by a Seattle teacher based on the post 15 Reasons Why the Seattle School District Should Shelve the MAP® Test—ASAP:

And the response to all of the testing madness and incorrect use of these tests:

In Texas:

A Standardized Testing Revolt

Two decades ago, Texas led the country in implementing standardized testing. George W. Bush made it national policy. Now there’s a growing movement to back off.

…the Perry-appointed state commissioner of education shocked the education establishment when he said the state testing system had become a “perversion of its original intent” and needed to be “reel[ed] back in.”

Over the past year, there’s been a steady and ongoing revolt in Texas. Not about secession or guns or the many other fringe topics that the state is usually associated with. This battle has been waged primarily by parents and teachers, and the demand is relatively simple—cut back on testing our kids. There’s been similar sentiments simmering in states across the country, but in Texas a new set of tests, put in place last year, sparked the outcry. Now, the push that began in school board and PTA meetings has finally reached the halls of power.

When the biennial state legislature gaveled in on Tuesday, it didn’t take long for newly re-elected Speaker of the House Joe Straus to mention testing. “By now, every member of this house has heard from constituents at the grocery store or the Little League fields about the burdens of an increasingly cumbersome testing system in our schools,” he said. “Teachers and parents worry that we have sacrificed classroom inspiration for rote memorization. To parents and educators concerned about excessive testing: The Texas House has heard you.”

It’s quite a turnaround for the state that brought standardized testing onto the national agenda.

To read this article in full, go to The American Prospect.

And another report from Texas:

House Budget Zeroes Out STAAR

texas-star-The House budget bill, House Bill 1, filed today by House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts (R-Waxahachie) contains no funding for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). This is significant because it signals legislators’ willingness to have a serious discussion about moving forward with the new assessment system – as opposed to the near-impossibility that the tests would not be funded when all is said and done.

“I think legislators and the public want to have a broad discussion about testing and this is one way to force it,” said Texas Education Agency Spokesperson Debbie Ratcliffe.

And in Maryland:

Moco schools chief calls for three-year moratorium on standardized testing

MocoMontgomery County Superintendent Joshua Starr said Monday that the country needs a three-year moratorium on standardized testing and needs to “stop the insanity” of  evaluating teachers according to student test scores because it is based on “bad science.” He also said that the best education reform the country has had is actually health-care reform.

Starr, who heads the  largest school system in Maryland and the 17th largest in the country, solidified his role as a prominent and thoughtful critic of federal education policy as he challenged major initiatives launched by the administration and the reform community. Speaking on a panel at a Washington Post Live education event, Starr said that the country’s education establishment is trying to do many things at once, specifically:

* Implement Race to the Top reforms that states promised to put in place in exchange for federal education dollars that the Obama administration gave out through a contest. Those reforms include expanding charter schools and evaluating teachers by using students standardized test scores to determine a teacher’s “value.”

* Implement waivers that the Obama administration gave to those states that agreed to implement Education Department-supported reforms in exchange for an exemption from onerous No Child Left Behind mandates.

* Implement Common Core State Standards and create new standardized assessments that align with them.

Starr said that states and school systems can’t do all of these things at once, and concluded, “We need a three-year moratorium on all standardized tests.” 

He also said it was wrong to evaluate teachers based on the scores their students get on standardized tests because the method that is is based on “bad science.” He noted that he had previously worked in the New York City Department of Education, the nation’s largest school system, where was director of school performance and accountability. It became clear, he said, that the formulas used to assess a teacher’s value with the use of test scores had huge margins of error, as much as 55 points. While he said he is sure that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have the best of intentions, they are wrong to embrace this assessment method. In Montgomery County, standardized test scores have no percentage weight in teacher evaluations.

To read this article in full, go to the Washington Post.

I want to end this week with some thoughts by Glenn Greenwald about a beautiful young man who only wanted to share information and keep it free for all, Arron Swartz.

Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann: accountability for prosecutorial abuse

Imposing real consequences on these federal prosecutors in the Aaron Swartz case is vital for both justice and reform

An excerpt:

The US has become a society in which political and financial elites systematically evade accountability for their bad acts, no matter how destructive. Those who torture, illegally eavesdrop, commit systemic financial fraud, even launder money for designated terrorists and drug dealers are all protected from criminal liability, while those who are powerless – or especially, as in Swartz’s case, those who challenge power – are mercilessly punished for trivial transgressions. All one has to do to see that this is true is to contrast the incredible leniency given by Ortiz’s office to large companies and executives accused of serious crimes with the indescribably excessive pursuit of Swartz.

To read this important article in full, go to The Guardian.

This week, I will leave you with the words of Aaron Swartz from his keynote speech at the Freedom to Connect conference in 2012 “How we stopped SOPA”.

We can  all learn from him, his activism and what he was fighting for.

Dora Taylor