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

10386275_10103624639265659_8828231665143651205_n

“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/

Metro Nashville 911 Call to Action!

“Last night, the communications subcommittee of the MNPS school board discussed a policy that would give school board representatives the ability to use the district’s communication infrastructure (e.g., robocalls, etc.) to communicate directly and effectively with constituents. Three school board members–Elissa Kim, Tyese Hunter, & Sharon Gentry–inexplicably voiced opposition to this policy. (See below for a copy of the policy.) The only reasons I can see for them opposing this is they, 1) don’t believe elected officials should communicate with their constituents, and/or 2) don’t like the board member proposing the policy, so they are objecting for personal reasons. Whatever their reason/s for objecting, I find an elected official’s desire to limit communication with constituents very disturbing. I urge you to email these school board members and tell them you want your school board member to have access to every possible communication method so he/she can effectively communicate with her/his constituents. Their email addresses are as follows: tyese.hunter@mnps.org, elissa.kim@mnps.org, sharon.gentry@mnps.org. Their twitter handles are @hunter4schools and @kimfornashville. Please share this post on your page too. Thank you! (This policy will likely come up for a vote at the next board meeting.)”

!10834971_10206197048068868_1729887810087680069_o