Noam Chomsky on standardized testing and its effect on teaching

Seattle Education

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“The assessment itself is completely artificial,” Chomsky asserts. “It’s not ranking teachers in accordance with their ability to help develop children who will reach their potential . . . It’s turning us into individuals who devote our lives to achieving a rank.”

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Howard Charter Firings: Racist Error or Business as Usual

By Wayne Jebian

It quacks like racism, at least in the short version.

Three social studies teachers, who are black, were planning lessons for Black History Month at Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science, a predominantly black charter school on a Historically black college campus in Washington, D.C. Given pink slips in front of their students, these teachers’ sudden dismissal upset parents and moved the students to stage a demonstration of their displeasure. According to news reports, the students stood on the lawn of the main quad of Howard University. Blogs reported the students chanting:

“We Want a School, Not a Business.”

The NAACP has launched an investigation of the incident, but paying attention to the students’ words, the important question about the event is not “did a black school make a racist call?” but rather, “can a charter school not make a racist call?”

The problem is the business model. The kids nailed it.

In the business model of education, you might be working with a particular supplier of a curriculum, and therefore be reluctant to go off menu to teach about Marion Barry, for instance. Howard Charter made a point of defending its curriculum in a statement paraphrased by the Washington Post. In a business model, competing lesson content will always be just that, competition, and will be received hostilely.

The crush of competition and all of its unforeseen consequences may be close to the top of the “Stupid Business Tricks” list, but it has company. At-will termination and lack of free speech protections are bad enough separately, while the combination becomes combustible when racial content is involved. That certainly was the case at Howard this year, and it has been for years.

In 2007, according to the Los Angeles Times, charter school administrators in that city stopped students from reciting the poem “A Wreath for Emmett Till” during a Black History Month program. The students circulated a letter of protest, and two teachers, Marisol Alba and Sean Strauss, were fired for signing it. The Times described a school administrator explaining that Emmett Till was inappropriate subject matter to celebrate because he had whistled at a woman.

After Emmett Till, a young black teenager visiting the south in 1955, allegedly whistled at a white woman, he was murdered and his body mutilated. His mother’s decision – to have an open coffin and put the full horrors of lynching on display — is credited with jumpstarting the Civil Rights movement. The lesson of Emmett Till to school administrators is that social studies and history aren’t pretty, but they have a value greater than the white-washed curriculum being peddled by the next corporate officer in the chain of command.

Marion Barry may not be pretty, but for the middle school students of Washington D.C., there could be a significance that an outsider has no business judging (and no curriculum publisher thinks of including). So until charter operators find better ways than off-the-shelf answers and corporate compliance to grapple with the issues on the ground that matter to their students and their communities, charters will continue to be viewed as racist institutions that fail to deliver the variety and quality of education our teachers of color an dour students of color deserve.

Department of Education to Raise High Stakes…Even Higher

By Wayne Jebian

Arnie Duncan and the United States Department of Education appear to be sold on the concept of VAM (value added model), so much so that they are taking the concept to the next level. The idea behind VAM is to crunch students’ standardized test scores to separate “good” from “bad” teachers.

In public debate, VAM is often discussed in the context of fixing failing schools and raising individual student achievement. However, if Education Secretary Arnie Duncan has his way, the use of VAM will mean that elementary school students will also be deciding issues of federal funding for graduate and professional teaching programs. The stakes in high stakes testing are about to get a whole lot higher.

The DoED released its proposed new rules for teacher preparation programs on December 3, 2014. The public was given until January 2, 2015 to comment on fiscal aspects of the new rules, and until February 2nd to comment on issues of substance. The timing of the document is one of its major problems. The brevity of the comment period, plus the fact that it straddled final exams, Christmas, Hanukah, customary vacation periods, New Years, the beginning of school, and the Super Bowl, strongly suggest that it was engineered to minimize actual public comment.

The second and larger problem is that the new rules’ reliance on bad science eclipses any legitimate concern about bad teachers. Test scores are affected by many factors, and there are many influences more important than the individual teacher, such as the family situations of the students and the general income level of their neighborhood. The use of VAM could be seen as a disincentive to work in a poor neighborhood for the individual student of education when seeking work. However, the new rules also invite a whole host of consequences.

Now, a college or university’s professional education program or school of education will be graded according to these same VAM statistics derived from school kids’ test scores. If these rules are implemented, in addition to being responsible for their teachers’ job security, the children will be determining the eligibility of graduate schools to receive federal TEACH grant money. If student VAM statistics reveal that a school of education is producing “bad teachers”, then under the new rules, it can be cut off. According to the report, “These proposed regulations would limit TEACH Grant eligibility to only those programs that States have identified as ‘effective’ or higher.”

The American Statistical Association has warned against an over-reliance on VAM for educational policy. The many shortcomings noted by the ASA include the following: “VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores, and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.”

But Secretary Duncan appears not to have received the memo. With VAM the central instrument in assessing the quality of teachers, and now, the schools that educated them, test scores will be a crucial factor in the mandate that the new rules lay out: “Establish the required areas States must consider in identifying low-performing and at-risk teacher preparation programs, the actions States must take with respect to those programs, and the consequences for a low-performing program that loses State approval or financial support.”

What’s at stake is an unprecedented level of federal involvement in higher education. What is described is the possible takeover or elimination of teacher education programs, just as is happening with public schools in urban districts. Those are some very high stakes, resting on the backs of young students’ test scores. And in all likelihood, the federally-driven reform machine’s encroachment into higher education will not end there.

“Just Call Me Old School”

By Leslie Oxedine Kelley
I have worked in Title I schools my entire career. I too have kept a clothes closet and a drawer full of personal hygiene products and another of school supplies. I had two marvelous principals before this age of ladder climbing, politically correct sheep. One man took money from his own pocket to send the PE teacher shoe shopping for a family of six kids (on school time no less). The other gentleman gave a mother his own money to take her kids to the doctor. These same men never said more to me than, “you are doing a great job”, “There’s been a little problem and you need to fix it.” and, “I hired you as a professional. Handle it”. Those are quotes I recall more than 20 years later. Those were my first two public school jobs. I was so spoiled by their support that after them I struggled with the new breed of administrator. How I missed them, as did everyone else.

Dr. Jay Arnold passed away after many of us had moved on. His funeral was like a family reunion. We got so loud greeting and loving one another after years apart, then crying for our loss, that the funeral home attendants asked us to go outside. About 40 people went out. Dr Arnold (and Harry Fuller before him) fostered that love by setting the tone in our buildings. Both men treated the faculty and students with genuine concern for our well being. They cared about all of us…more than their own career, political correctness or any flippin data. I loved my job then and I would have gone to great lenghths to do anything those men asked of me.

I know there are MANY teachers out there just like this and I hope administrators as well. It has just been my personal experience to have worked for principals who are bound up in the political mess public education has become. I would LOVE to meet the one who says, “to hell with the games. This is what our kids need…regardless of what outsiders think we need.” then hunkers down, unites the community (at least within the schoolhouse), and loves kids again. I understand love doesn’t cure everything, but it sure goes further than this “OMG public education Is failing and it’s all YOUR fault” attitude prevalent today. Just call me old school.

Jia Lee Calls for “Teachers of Conscience” to Take a Stand

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“Remember that fear is natural, but there is greater fear in knowing what will happen if we don’t take a stand.”  

– Jia Lee 

Special Education teacher Jia Lee took some time out of her busy schedule last Saturday to talk to War Report about her experience testifying in front of the Senate Education Committee in DC on January 21, 2015. During her testimony, Lee called for her fellow teachers to be “teachers of conscience” and join her in refusing to administer detrimental high stakes tests to students. Lee’s bravery and dedication to her students is inspiring.

“As people start to awaken and see that we can no longer keep our heads down, I believe that people will force democratic decision making through a variety of means: opting out/refusal, legislatively and changing how we engage around issues of public education. Even if the federal government reauthorizes ESEA with the same or similar testing mandates, teachers, parents, students and concerned community members are learning that this can’t work. While we opt out and refuse compliance to the standardization of our communities, we will start to see people engaged in highlighting our vision for public education.”

What do you think of the stand taken by Jia Lee and other teachers of conscience?

Please read the full interview, share, and comment. Originally published on Living in Dialogue. 

http://www.livingindialogue.com/jia-lees-national-call-action-let-teachers-teachers-conscience/

Marshawn Lynch, Carl Heastie and the Media: Is the New Speaker As Tough as the Seattle Running Back?

Ed In The Apple

Marshawn Lynch is the all-star running back for the almost two time Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Lynch grew up in Oakland, attended the University of California, Berkeley, and left after his junior year to play professional football, first in Buffalo, now in Seattle, and, ” … his teammates joke that he loves chain restaurants … [and] is also known for his frequent community involvement. In 2013 he was featured in Red Bull’s campaign ‘Athletes Give Back’ when he put together a very successful food drive for his home town.” However, he has always been reticent to speak to the media, The NFL fined him a number of times, at the required press availability at the Super Bowl Lynch showed up and answered every question with “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”

The room, full of media, asked him question again and again knowing full well that he…

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