Tag Archives: high-stakes testing

I just took the Practice PARCC exam, and boy, do I feel…

On March 13th, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers published sample PARCC tests, and so I decided to make an *honest* attempt at it tonight.  But I also took notes along the way in case you’re interested.  Most might not make sense…until you take it yourself (which I am hoping you do, so we an rant about it over beers next week!)

SPOILER ALERT: Whatever I did or didn’t do (sign in so the NSA can track me, perhaps?), I don’t actually know my results.  I don’t know why.  At this point, I really don’t care.  I am pretty sure I blew it though.  Yeaaap, so.   Now it’s time to cry myself to sleep.

Enjoy-

AH

Notes as I take the ELA Practice PARCC for 11th graders.

3/25/2014 ; Start: 6:10pm

23 two-part questions.

Why does this start out with a question about DNA and enzymes.  We won’t study this in social studies class.  Like ever.

Questions are way too complex, response options don’t make sense. 

Took me four times to drag and drop supporting evidence.  Said “not all supporting details would be used,” but all of them were.

“Add enzymes” vs add enzymes to a sample being studied” (but this was a summarized option), very confusing.

Question asks for “steps required in DNA ident…”  but how did this turn into, “why it’s possible,”  and  “how easy it’ll be.” for Part B?

Daedalus & Icarus….Only cause I already know the story does this make ANY sense.

Instructions: “Today you will read two poems about Greek Mythology” but the second is actually an Anne Sexton poem.

Central idea: Only bc I know the context of what Icarus’ story has inspired.  Incredibly complex! I feel like I’m flying into the sun right now.

13 questions in…I’m pretty tired.  Stamina low…now, TWO essays.  Holy crap.

Abigail Addams “stood up for those who lacked power like slaves, women, and the colonies.”  Um, OK, so now the test is making sweeping judgments about complex systems of race, sex, and diverse communities, & who has power within them?!

Frankly I am disappointed in the historical reading.  This is low-grade textbook stuff, rife with assumptions about the Addams’ and early American society that the reader is to take as truth, without citations.  No document based analysis.

I skimmed this piece…getting exhausted.  Don’t care about how well I do, just going to guess (6:48p, question 15).

I just realized (Question 18) that I am supposed to be reading a new document- a letter from Abigail Addams (primary source), but I had no idea.  Looks the same from the instructions.

Question 19…just guessed.  Test fatigue set in.

Question 20, I think these are all different letters from Abigail.  This is boring as shit, and I always love teaching about the Addams’ !

Question 22, I used the “Evidence” to justify the claim, even though it said to to do the opposite…we’ll see if that little bit of test-trickery pays dividends!

And then I was instructed to write 3 essays to which I simply wrote, “I hate you PARCC, I hate you Common Core, I hate you TestNav.”

I ended the test at 6:59pm. (49 min.)

Tried looking for an answer key and I couldn’t find one.

Well, I am NOT feeling confident about this.

There are definite issues with content and context.  No text is without context, because if we want readers to engage with or appreciate any text they need to know what motivated the author to put quill to paper in the first place.  These readings are just as bad as any other standardized test. Only MUCH longer. The complexity of the texts and the questions are not age or grade appropriate. 

The instructions are confusing.  The language in the social science text is bigoted.  The TestNav platform is awkward and not intuitive.  Details like the background colors; text font don’t allow for me to recognize transitions to new material (e.g. Addam’s letter, scroll bar) compared to if this were a paper and pen test the new material would have the visual-tactile cue of page-turning.

So what do we do with a series of bad tests?  I applaud Indiana for backing out of Common Core– even though I don’t approve of the conservative reasons behind it.  We all need to do the same, and institute portfolio assessments and locally-designed curriculum moving forward.

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Letter to the Editor(s) of the Kankakee Daily Journal

I am very disappointed in the recent Editorial from the Kankakee Daily Journal writers who have completely misrepresented the facts about the Chicago Teachers Union’s support of the parent’s testing boycott.  How far has journalistic research fallen?

Born and raised in Kankakee, I now teach social studies in a large Chicago Public School on the southwest side.  I am also an elected and active delegate to the Chicago Teachers Union.  I am directly involved in the testing Opt-Out boycott, which to clarify on behalf of the Journal, does not state that parents should “keep their children home” as the Journal claimed, but rather, send their children to school on ISAT Testing Day with an Opt-Out letter and books to read silently while testing are administered.

Last year, a few of my students opted-out of the second day of the Prairie State Achievement Exam (called Work-Keys) and you know what happened?  Nothing. The Work-Keys test only gauges certain non-academic work-place tasks, like reading a manual and following a set of instructions (like, to build a “thing” the student won’t actually get to build in real life because they’re just taking a test). Neither CPS, the state of Illinois, nor potential colleges are holding anything against those students, in fact I know of at least one of them who wrote about his experience opting-out as “civic engagement” for a college entrance essay.

There is very little that standardized testing can tell us in the way that it is being used today.  I draw a very clear distinction from the kind of standardized testing that I was doing in high school, little more than a decade ago.  The newest assessments do not reflect content being taught, and are not created, or scored by actual educators.  

In nice round numbers, I am mandated by CPS administration to dedicate more than one month of my students’ classroom time to testing and test prep, of which, only three hours of that is mandated for graduation in the Illinois.  But that’s for only my class; my students have seven others they visit each day.  As multiple news local outlets have reported, even kindergarteners in CPS elementary schools are spending a third of their year -60 days- on testing.  Yes, Kindergarten.  

In the Civil Rights era standardized tests were created to assure equitable distribution of resources in schools, but that doesn’t account for the upsurge in testing today. What is different now is the that we have two-fisted “carrot-or-stick” legislation in the  No Child Left Behind Act – which labels schools who don’t make the grade “failing”, and the follow-up piece Race to the Top which “leases” those public schools -and all our tax dollars that go with it- to the highest bidder, namely charter school operators who are not beholden to public school funding transparency laws.  With those groups, we never know how much of our money they are spending on classrooms or slick advertising, nor why they keep kicking out students with special needs because they claim those public school laws do not apply to them.  However we do know that charter operators suspend students at higher rates right before times of standardized testing, which has the effect of increasing their average test scores, making the charter schools look much better on paper than their public school counterparts.  I should know, I taught at a charter school.

We know that as a whole, standardized testing does not show us what students know, but rather is a closer predictor for what zip-code they live in, and at best they can tell us how well any given student may do in only their first year of college.  The newest brand of tests coming to Illinois next year, the Common Core-aligned MAP and PARCC -the whole reason we’re phasing out ISAT anyway, do not test content, only math and reading skills, and only on a computer screen.  So much for Columbus, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Michelangelo, Daily Journal Editors.

We also know that with the high-stakes attached to the tests, principals are increasingly under pressure, and even willing to cut programming especially in the arts, vocational technology, and electives such as my American Law class (one of the more popular courses we used to offer) to make room for a test-prep courses.  Perhaps if Kankakee teachers -I used to be one of them, too- aren’t sending Students of the Month for “top-speller” it’s because Spelling-Bees have been all but eliminated with everything else we used to love about school.

The bright note in all of this is that there are only three tests that are mandated by state law to graduate in IL: the first day of the PSAE, a beginning-of-the-year (BOY) exam, and an end-of-the-year (EOY) exam.  Everything else is added on by local districts and can be opted-out of, if parents so choose.   We need parents across IL to choose to opt their children out of irrelevant, valueless, and ultimately harmful tests.

We know that what happens in IL, happens first in Chicago.  So while the Daily Journal reporting on a Chicago issue could have shown tremendous foresight for what’s coming to all our schools across IL,  I do hope in the future they get their opinions from actual people who live it everyday.

Hearts and Minds: Teaching and Learning the Relevant and Valuable

Share widely, and please let me know what resonates with viewers in the comments below. Thx!

Special thanks to many, many groups and individuals who helped both -knowingly and not- in the production of this film including:

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Mikva Challenge & Center for Action Civics, Meira Levinson & Facing History
The Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE)
Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce
Save Ethnic Studies of Arizona
ADAPT

Catalyst Chicago, National Louis Univ., and Teach+

More specifically, and in no particular order: Steve Zemelman, Mark Larson, Jill Bass, Anton Miglietta, Xian Barrett, Shanti Elliot, Liz Brown, A.C. Knapik, Hannah Willage, Pam Konkol, Sarah Slavin, Sabrina Stevens, Jose Luis Vilson, Meira Levinson, Elizabeth Robbins, Bill Keundig, and Amber Smock…for so much I have learned from you all.

WaPo Repost: #TooManyTests

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/11/11/time-on-testing-738-minutes-in-3-weeks/?wprss=rss_answer-sheet

 Time on testing: 738 minutes in 3 weeks

Posted by Valerie Strauss on November 11, 2012 at 11:30 am

How much time do teachers and students spend on standardized tests? That’s one of the big questions in public education today, which Adam Heenan, a Chicago school teacher and member of the Chicago Teachers Union addresses here.

By Adam Heenan

A few days ago, a colleague walked into our social studies department with a bubbled-in answer sheet from a test he had just administered. One student had turned the sheet on its side and bubbled in the colloquial acronym “YOLO” — You Only Live Once — on the exam. The teacher had  created the test, but to the teenager, it was just one more exam in a seemingly endless series of bubble-sheet, auto-scored assessments.

(By Adam Heenan)

I laughed at what the student had created, mostly because the “YOLO” script was evenly distributed across the length of the bubble sheet, demonstrating the student’s skill in measurement and design. But of course it isn’t funny. In my school, in just three weeks’ time, I have calculated that we spent 738 minutes (12 hours and 18 minutes) on preparing for and administering standardized tests. Our students are experiencing testing fatigue, which makes the results from each successive exam they take more invalid and the data about student learning more inaccurate. I can’t blame this student for speaking out against the excessive use of testing throughout our schools.

Though many people are waking up to the teach-to-the-test craziness gripping our schools, there are still many people who don’t understand the problem. They remember taking a few bubble tests as kids and didn’t think it was such a big deal — and for the most part, it wasn’t. At no time before now was kindergarten ever synonymous with 14 different tests per year, as journalist Ben Joravsky of the Chicago Reader has pointed out.

But the one-day, once-every-few-years standardized testing experience they remember is a far cry from the pervasive, high-stakes phenomenon testing has become. In order to make better policy choices about how we spend our precious education resources, the public needs to know just how much time and money has been spent on high-stakes testing in the No Child Left Behind era. This is why I and others have pushed for a full audit of the time and money that has been spent on all of this testing and test-prep, a call now supported by both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

This year alone, my colleagues and I have devoted a significant chunk of the additional time we were supposed to have for teaching and collaborating to testing. By mid-October, our school had already sacrificed a week’s worth of teaching and learning time for Chicago’s standardized beginning-of-the-year exams for students in their regular classes, to be repeated for the middle-of-the-year and end-of-the-year exams as well. There have been two days of “testing schedules,” where teachers and students in grades 9, 10 and 11 have had to sacrifice instructional time for EPAS exams (the system of grade-aligned tests from ACT). We have devoted our own time to looking at the data, and common planning time to talking about looking at the data and learning the tests’ gibberish language of “RIT Bands,” “cut scores,” “BOYs, MOYs, and EOYs,” none of which translate to classroom practice. It seems like every single professional conversation we have is not talking about students, but rather about the tests others create.

And because the stakes of these tests are so high, even the allegedly “optional” tests and interventions become—culturally, if not officially— mandatory. Officials higher up on the school district chain of command constantly warn those of us down below that “we must get our test scores up,” that “our school has been on probation way too long,” and that test-driven sanctions like closure or turnaround are constant threats. Because test scores are being misused as evidence that schools and the people in them—including administrators, teachers, students and even the lunch lady—are failures in teaching and learning, administrators and teachers succumb to the pressure to focus ever more closely on testing.

My colleagues and I are tired of the obsessive testing culture in our school. We just want to teach. And judging by all the petitions, testimonials and even wristbands we’ve seen echoing that sentiment, this is a national problem, not just ours.

We need to know how much time and money test-driven policymakers have diverted from teaching and learning into testing, and to show what we could be doing with those resources instead. Because, let’s face it: You only live once, and we can’t afford to waste precious minutes of our children’s education.

Spreading the word about United Opt-Out

As I passed through Eaton, OH, I met Mary who runs a health foods store just outside of town.  She let me fill my water from her tap, and I got to chatting with her over a luna bar and sweet tea.  When she found out I was a teacher and headed to DC for NEA, she felt compelled to tell me how testing is just the worst thing in education right now.

I told her about the United Opt-Out campaign, and she was very excited to spread the word among her friends and family.  So I gave her a CORE button for her teacher friends, and a Parents4Teachers button for herself.

That’s all it takes to organize people.  See you in DC tomorrow.  And if you’re headed to Eaton, OH, please support Mary’s business.

Harvard Business Review asked what could be done to improve education. So I Responded.

Here’s my response to Sarah Green’s article.  We’ll see if it get’s approved, anyway.

“Here’s what I would do:

1) Kill Testing Culture- high-stakes tests inhibit creativity and curricular innovation, and are used as a blunt weapon for judging students, educators, and schools leading to the label “failure.”  This was the one and only thing mentioned by Finland’s lead teacher when he came to IL last month to speak on improving US schools.  To really hammer home how bad the testing and “data display” problem is, we need a national audit of time and money spent on testing and test prep.
We need rich curricula that includes languages and humanities, applied mathematics and sciences fine arts, civics and logic courses, vocational tech, and health.  We need to remember that the best education, is actually ancient!  Progressive (Deweyan) Education looked at the world of students and asked them, “Which problems do you want to solve today, and what do you need to learn to do it?”  It certainly did not offer them a three passages, with 25 questions each with four possible answers, and say, “this is what you need to know to lead a good life.” Students aren’t buying it, and they should not tolerate it.
2) Allow for more community input and voice.  I do not mean “school choice,” I do not mean charter schools in lieu of public schools.  Those are false choices.  All stakeholders want good schools.  Period. What I mean is a respected decision-making process that values all stakeholder input.
3) End the attack on the Unions in and of itself.  Unions, while they do have their vested interest in what’s good for teachers, heck, MOST of the time it’s good for students too!  “Good working conditions are good teaching conditions are good learning conditions.”  If you don’t believe me, consider what kind of person would be standing in front of our children under “bad working conditions.”  Historically, Unions have fought for better public schools against a cost-cutting bureaucracies that would gladly place voter concerns over teaching and learning concerns.  Absolutely no innovations in teaching and learning have come from charter schools, in fact, “charter schools” were initially a Union idea!   Innovation in teaching and learning comes from teachers and students who feel respected, supported, and encouraged by their leadership try new things in the classroom.  Why did Congress just authorize $54 Million for states to implement charterization of public school systems when charters have a luke-warm record compared to traditional public schools (Stanford CREDO Study)?  Because charter are not unionized, and they can drive wages of the staff down (not a problem, because most staff in charter schools leave after 3-4 yrs.)
4) Reframe the Discussion and replace the “myths of fear,” with “enduring understandings” about Teaching and Learning.  Think back to what your favorite teacher was like?  what made him/her that good?  Did everyone connect to that teacher the way you did?  Probably not, but that doesn;t make your experience any less valuable.  The vast majority of educators are great for most students.  We need to end the Myth of “all these bad teachers,” and replace it with “all the teachers we loved.”
“Merit Pay,” and “Data Display” will neither shame nor incentivize teachers to be better; look at NYC and Washington DC.   instead, we need schools that are “less like prison, and more like camp.”  Tests are more like prison, fear-tactics are more like prison, top-down management are more like prison.
5) School leadership must have classroom experience, and expertise in teaching and learning.  They must be now what they used to be, “Principal Lead Teachers,” instead or what they have become, “building managers.”  When i am evaluated as a teacher, I want to know that the person who writes my evaluation actually knows what good teaching looks like!
6) Equitable funding for all schools.  “Races” and grants are not equitable, especially if they come with incentives to make drastic changes towards “data culture” and “turnarounds.”  These band-aids that take voice away from the school community and ultimately add to problems such as higher dropout/pushout and homelessness rates in surrounding areas.  In fact, I would add under this point that we need to “follow the money.”  Pearson Education, along with Gates, Stand for Children and other groups have decided that they with throw their money behind specific candidates willing to push their form of education reform, and it has let to absolutely no innovation, but plenty of systemic ethics violations and scandals including mass cheating, data-dumps of invalid rates of teachers, and lobbying that dwarfs tobacco, gun, and liquor interests in comparison.
For You To Do Now:
1) Ask your legislator to sponsor a local, statewide, or national audit on money and time-spent on test-preparation.
2) Follow the Money (Brietbart.com announced that the “top 46 Unions earned $337 million from their members in the past year, compare that to the expenditures of the educational publishing and consulting-including Gates.)
3) Join your local school board and demand a high-quality public education that is “more like camp, and less like prison.”

Retired Oswego Superintendent Calls for Quinn to Fire IL State Superintendent Chris Koch for Pearson-Scandal Involvement

And the letters keep rolling in… this one is from fellow Chicagoland SaveOurSchools Member Roger Sanders.

Adam


January 9, 2012


Honorable Patrick Quinn
Office of the Governor
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706

Dear Governor Quinn:

I am writing to ask that you demand the resignation of Dr. Christopher A. Koch, State Superintendent of Schools.  It is with continued dismay that the citizens of Illinois live under the cloud of corruption that has become the hallmark of too many elected and appointed officials.  As a life-time resident of Illinois for 60 years, and a career educator of 40 years in Illinois, I feel it is imperative that our educational system be seen as above reproach.  Sadly, our State Superintendent has joined the ranks of those who make us question the motives of policies and contracts set by Illinois’ public officials.

The New York Times (January 3, 2012) reports that:
“Christopher Koch, state superintendent of education in Illinois – which has $138 million in contracts with Pearson [the nation’s largest education publisher] – went to China, Brazil and Finland with the [Pearson] foundation.  The only Pearson compensation he listed on state ethics forms was the cost of the flight to China, $4,271 for business class.  Asked why hotels, meals and the other flights were not documented, a spokesman for Dr. Koch, Matt Vanover, said , “What we’re looking at is a litmus test; they just want to make sure he’s not traveling first class.”

The New York State’s attorney general has been investigating similar trips involving other education officials from around the country who have taken world-wide junkets as guests of the Pearson Foundation.  I have included the full article for your review.  How shameful it is for Illinois to be in the national spotlight, AGAIN, among the infamous allegations of crooked politicians and officials who are supposed to be protecting the public trust.  And if the only thing we are looking at is to see if Dr. Koch is traveling first class, then we need to look even further at the people and processes that are supposed to be watching for ethical malpractice.  Frankly, if that is the standard for Illinois, then we need new people and new standards to protect the public interests.

First, Dr. Koch should have had enough common sense not to bring his motives into question in such a way.  At best he has used poor judgment.  Or perhaps he believes that in his role as President, now Past President, of the Council of State School Officers, it was O.K. for him to accept such trips.  Or perhaps he just doesn’t think it is wrong.  Or perhaps there is more to his motivation than we would like to think.  I suppose only Dr. Koch knows for sure.  Do we really think we are going to learn a lot from countries such as China or Brazil about how to “improve” our educational systems?  Having been to China myself, I would question that rationale.  And even if we thought we might learn from Finland or Brazil, if it is that important, then the Illinois State Board of Education should pick up the tab.  And if we are sharing with those countries all the great things we are doing, then those countries should pay the freight.  It’s crystal clear to any objective observer that these trips were neither necessary, not important for the people of Illinois, nor more than a “free” way for Dr. Koch to travel the world with money laundered through a foundation associated with a company with which Illinois has a huge contract for services.  Plus, the funds were further brokered through an organization in which Dr. Koch had a high-level position.

Second, Dr. Koch should report his full expenses, or should we not expect such high-profile officials to be accountable at the same level that we hold our students, teachers and administrators.  As a teacher, administrator and former school superintendent, I was  always acutely aware of the compelling need to be above any question regarding contracts for services.  Had I taken such trips as Dr. Koch with a company that has such large contracts with my employer, I would fully expect my Board of Education to ask for my resignation.  If they did not, I’m sure community members would have.  And rightfully so.  To suggest that you can maintain objectivity in contract decision making in those types of arrangements is ludicrous.

Third, our compulsion to test, test, and test our students and evaluate teachers based upon standardized test results has gone so far beyond reasonable, and is so pedagogically unsound, that it is crystal clear to me that policy making at the highest level has more to do with business economics and political ideology that teaching and learning.  Dr. Koch’s willingness to accept such travel perks certainly reinforces many educators’ beliefs that our educational policies are less about what is in the best interest of students and more about what is in the best interest of business.

I guess Dr. Koch didn’t think we would find out.  I guess Dr. Koch didn’t think he needed to report all his expenses paid for by Pearson.  I guess Dr. Koch thinks it’s alright to accept such perks from a company who he oversees a $138 million contract with.  I guess Dr. Koch thought the tens of thousands of dollars for these trips, when laundered through the Pearson Foundation and then brokered through an organization that he was president of, would go unnoticed.

Well, we did find out and it is not alright.  How many corrupt governors, how many corrupt elected officials, how many corrupt appointed officials must Illinois’ citizens endure?

I have always viewed you as an advocate for the citizens of our great state.  I am confident that you have our interests and well-being foremost in your thoughts.  Your long-standing and steadfast fight for equity and fairness are without question.  I’m asking you to do the right thing.  I’m asking you to demand that Dr. Koch resign.  Then, I’d like to see you ask the Illinois Attorney General to launch an investigation into state contracts with Pearson, just as New York State has done.  And, I’d like to know that Illinois has a higher level of concern than just whether Dr. Koch flew first class or not.  Surely our standards for ethical behaviors can be higher than that.

You can send a clear message to every appointed official.  Illinois’ citizens expectations for ethical behavior and sound judgement must be reflected at the highest level of our government.  Certainly the school children and educators of Illinois deserving nothing less.

Sincerely,



Roger L. Sanders
105 Wilson Place
Oswego, IL 60543

c: Mr. Gery Chico, Board Chair, Illinois State Board of Education
Members, Illinois State Board of Education
Honorable Michael Madigan, Speaker of the House
Honorable John Cullerton, Senate President
Honorable Tom Cross, Representative
Oswego Ledger-Sentinel
Michael Winerip, New York Times
Chicago Sun Times
Chicago Tribune
Fellow Educators

Stephen Krashen speaks to Chicago Teachers Union on Standards and High-Stakes Testing

The ever-succint teacher-educator Stephen Krashen @skrashen spoke to the a group of teachers at he Chicago Teachers Union recently.

“Everyone thinks our schools are broken and that’s why we have standards and tests.”

Ken Goodman on Common Core Standards

Ken Goodman says it well: It’s high expectations, not standards that we need.

Teaching and Learning will still Suffer Despite Proposed “Flexibility” in NCLB

Since I have started teaching, I always welcome the first day of the year.  I never sleep the night before, but it is not an anxious time, it is an exciting time. I am even a little jealous of Track E teachers that get to start a month earlier than I.

The anxiety doesn’t come in September, but it usually begins in January, and that doesn’t have to do with the end of winter break, but rather a beginning of the “Testing Season.”  Testing Season, formerly known as “spring,” is the time of the year when all the really valuable learning that had been going on through December is then set aside for preparing students to take  high stakes exams.  These tests tests do not inform instruction – we do not see results until the following autumn- they only serve to incorrectly label what students in a certain zip-code cannot do.

It is a time-wasting disjuncture of the school year calendar that tells us nothing about what our students really know and really can do.  Teachers know this; students and parents know this.  However, it seems that the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan still doesn’t get it.

When Duncan announced that he will allow states to “waive” their No Child Left Behind requirements, I held my breath for the ball to drop.  Could it be?  The end of high-stakes testing?  The end of labeling our children and public schools as “failures?”

I don’t have much lung capacity, and actually, I didn’t have to hold my breath too long because a couple of paragraphs into the New York Times report I read that the only states that will get the waiver will be those states that have in put in place Race to the Top “accountability initiatives.”  Ah, Secretary Duncan, you never cease to disappoint my disappointment in you.  States are being let “off the hook” of a bad policy, just to be traded for a different bad policy that has negative effects on teaching and learning.”

For the better part of 2011, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been decrying that Congress must re-authorize an “improved” version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) currently known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) before the school year starts in August/September.   This past spring the National School Board Association prepared an excellent summary outlining the finer points of the Re-authorization of ESEA.

But Congress never got to meet about NCLB since so much time was sucked up by the “Financial Crisis of 2011,” leaving Secretary Duncan to make an unprecedented and unilateral decision to allow states to “opt-out” of NCLB requirements, the major one being that “100% of schools need to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) by 2014,” if they implement education reforms to be announced in detail next month.

Everyone in the education world, Duncan included, is in agreement that achieving the goal set in motion in 2000 by President Bush is ridiculous at this point, and has been in many ways more damaging for students, schools and communities than it has been helpful.  Excellent schools across the nation are routinely labeled, “failing,” or put on “probation,” for not making improvements on high-stakes tests.  The Center on Education Policy reported in May that Adequate Yearly Progress made by schools was the lowest ever, with nearly 39% of all United States schools “failing,” and they report that the number is probably higher considering many states have changed their testing requirement since 2005.

Where the general public once did not have language to describe what was wrong with education in the United States, we now have labeled and categorized our children, and punished our public schools into education reform that resembles a scene from The Office.  We now use words like to “Accountability” and “Performance” to describe teaching and learning rather than words like “teaching” and “learning.”

In waiving out of NCLB, states will not waive out of accountability, according to Duncan.  The high-stakes testing craze created in response to the NCLB Act provided Americans with the evidence (“data”) for why reform needs to happen, but Duncan’s Race to the Top (RttT) federal incentive program, modeled after Chicago’s own Renaissance 2010 gave us the “how to” guide for  reforming education: give states money for implementing certain kinds of reforms- tying teacher evaluations to test scores, turning around low-performing schools, lifting restrictions on charter school proliferation, and adopting the Common Core State Standards, approved by (most of the United States’ governors).  Duncan is leaving these requirements for states intact, and in fact in the 2009 and 2010, forty states and Washington D.C. legislated versions of these changes in an effort to win some of the $4 billion plus Edu-money.  Hence the term, Race.

Though Illinois did not win one of the RttT grants in 2010 the General Assembly has lifted some restrictions on charter school proliferation, and is in the process of re-vamping teacher evaluations in the as-yet created Performance Evaluation Reform Act of 201o.  Illinois Senate Bill 7, made infamous across the nation by Stand for Children‘s Jonah Edelman’s anti-teacher union rant, enacted sweeping reforms in Chicago allowing the Mayor of Chicago to have even further control over lengthening the school day length and increasing class size.  Illinois might as well apply for the waiver, what have we to lose that we haven’t already?

The problem is that these kinds of reforms do not work to make schools better places to teach or learn.  We have seen across the nation that merit-pay for teachers based on their student performance on tests does not improve teacher morale and often leads to cheating on high-stakes tests.  Schools that get  “turned-around,” or  “charterized,” most often do no better and in some cases do worse than their public school counterparts in the same communities.

Educators and public schooling advocates, including Jonathon Kozol, Matt Damon, Diane Ravitch and Gloria Ladson-Billings among others gathered last week under the banner of Save Our Schools March with demands to end No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top policies, not to reform it.  “NCLB operates from a deficit learning model,” says Paul Gorski, founder of EdChange, “we can no more achieve justice by reforming NCLB.”  It’s time we invest in education reform that benefits teaching and learning.

Teachers need professional development that helps us develop curricula responsive to our students’ diverse needs.  We need principals who are instructional leaders, not just building managers.  We need full and equitable, no-strings-attached funding for all public schools.

The only real reform will come about when all schools are great places to teach and learn, and not test-factories.  Teachers know this; parents and students know this.   I just don’t think Duncan gets it.