About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Thompson: Building on Common Ground

In their joint Huffington Post contribution Is There a Third Way for ESEA?, Linda Darling-Hammond and Paul Hill acknowledge that they are "members of very different 'camps' on school reform," but "we think there is more common ground than has yet been evident in the political process." They drew upon the efforts of two "distinct groups of scholars and policy experts that met separately to rethink educational accountability."

Perhaps the most important point of agreement was Darling-Hammond's and Hill's statement:

We agreed that, because a student's learning in any one year depends on what was learned previously and on the efforts of many professionals working together, the consequences of high and low performance should attach to whole schools, rather than to individual educators.

State and federal governments can provide data and research, as well as systems of support, and can incentivize improvement. But they should not make decisions about how to evaluate individual educators or manage individual schools. 

I just wish they had taken their impeccable logic one step further and applied it to individual students; for the same reasons, a student should not be denied a high school diploma simply because he failed a college-readiness test. 

In my experience, many or most reformers understand that value-added evaluations are a big mistake, but they sometimes are reluctant to openly call for a reversal of that failed policy. Sadly, in my experience, liberal reformers are often more uneasy about separating themselves from this crumbling cornerstone of Arne Duncan's term.

So, when I followed their link to Fordham Foundation's and The Center for Reinventing Education's Designing the Next Generation of State Education Accountability Systems, was only somewhat pleasantly surprised. The CRPE cites their "emerging consensus about state accountability systems providing a light (or lighter) touch on districts and schools." It also acknowledges that the "lack of autonomy forced by consequences can also drive high-performing teachers away from the schools that need them the most."

I was more pleasantly surprised by Robin Lake's Time for Charters to Lead on Special Education.

Continue reading "Thompson: Building on Common Ground" »

Thompson: My Contribution to Oklahoma Edu-Bloggers' Discussion of Teaching Content

The Tulsa blogger, Blue Cereal, challenged Oklahoma edu-bloggers to describe, in 1200 words or less, our personal beliefs regarding the teaching of content. Here's my contribution: 

Akili (as I will call him) borrowed every issue of my New York Review of Books.  One evening we were shocked to learn that it was past 6:00 and we had been talking for hours.  He had wanted to discuss Herbert Gutman's theory about the black family.  Akili said, "You are the coolest white man I've known.  Here we are having an intellectual discussion.  You respect my brain."

Such experiences taught me that poor students of color respond with pride and with excellence when challenged to meet high and authentic standards.

My approach was consistent with Martin Haberman's critique of The Pedagogy of Poverty. Haberman argued that good teaching for poor children was a "process of drawing out" the power inside students rather than "stuffing in" knowledge. I also saw learning stimulated by "divergent questioning strategies" and culminating in reflective conversations to help students “see major concepts, big ideas, and general principles and ... not [being] merely engaged in the pursuit of isolated facts."

Even in the 1990s, it would have been hard to teach effectively had I not experimented under the cover of "Orientation" during the first weeks of the school year. Administrators wouldn’t demand that teachers immediately rush into teaching the tested subject matter.  They understood the importance of laying a foundation for a successful class.  Teachers were encouraged to heed the wisdom of progressive scholars like Haberman and use the first week of school to get to know their students as individuals.

At the beginning of the year, we could move outside the prescribed curriculum to promote motivation and teamwork. Teachers were told to take two or three days to lay out rules, procedures, and expectations.  We could "break it down" for children, establish relationships, and steer them for success by teaching them to be students. The expectation was that this would be over and done with after a week. I preferred to stretch opportunities for dynamic classroom instruction far past the date when the administration expected us to focus on the curriculum pacing guide.

My first lesson each year initially surprised students who had heard the laughter coming out of my classroom the years before.

Continue reading "Thompson: My Contribution to Oklahoma Edu-Bloggers' Discussion of Teaching Content" »

Thompson: Micromanaging Other Peoples' Classrooms

Educator Jessica Waters, in “Results Matter More than Practice,” replied to my Education Post contribution,  “A Teacher Proposes a Different Framework for Accountability,” with the claim that teachers should be evaluated by student “outputs.” She made no effort to address the most likely scenario where the use of test scores for teacher evaluation prompts even more destructive teach-to-the-test rote instruction and further increases the exodus of teaching talent from schools where it is harder to raise test scores. 

In a longer piece (that I still hope the Education Post will publish), I argue that the willingness of supporters of high stakes testing to ignore a large body of social science has especially damaged poor children of color. This post will address Waters' stubborn demand that all states and schools comply with the same one-size-fits-all federal mandates for using tests to punish students and teachers.

Waters cites positive experiences with an elementary school with an eight to one student teacher ratio, and which seems to have far more resources than any schools I know. It is only 83% low-income.  Less than 10% of my district's elementary schools and none of our neighborhood secondary schools have such low numbers of poor students.

Also, Water's state of Rhode Island spends nearly $15,000 per student. She should accept the burden of proof before insisting that my state, which spends nearly $7,000 per student less than that, must divert our scarce financial and human resources from science-based pre-kindergarten investments, for instance, to high stakes testing.  

I had argued that data-driven accountability makes "the juking of the stats the #1 priority." But, "federal and state governments should encourage collaboration and experimentation in data-informed accountability. It could borrow from data-driven crime fighting to use metrics to identify 'hot spots' of schools, systems, or other areas that need additional patrols, or other forms of oversight."

Waters ignored my critique of data-driven oversight and said that her state already uses data to pinpoint areas that need further oversight. If that is the case, congratulations are in order for her state, but that reinforces my point. Waters should walk awhile in the shoes of educators who face different and, almost certainly, far greater problems before micromanaging the rest of us.

Continue reading "Thompson: Micromanaging Other Peoples' Classrooms" »

Thompson: Atlanta Is Still Just the Tip of the Testing Icebergs

Once again, the convictions of the eleven surviving educators for their role in Atlanta's infamous cheating scandal provides a "teachable moment" in regard to the inherent harm of high stakes testing. The Guardian's Max Blau, in Why the Atlanta Cheating Scandal Failed to Bring National Reform, cites Fair Test's Bob Schaeffer who says, “Atlanta is the tip of the iceberg. ... Cheating is a predictable outcome of what happens when public policy puts too much pressure on test scores.”

During the NCLB era, other cheating scandals have occurred in Baltimore, Camden, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Houston, El Paso, Norfolk, Virginia and, yes, in Michelle Rhee's Washington D.C. As Schaeffer explained to the Christian Science Monitor's Stacy Teichner Khadaroo, in Atlanta Teacher Conviction: Do Standardized Tests Pressure Foster Cheating?, today's testing “creates a climate in school where you have to boost scores by hook or by crook.”

Khodaroo also cites Harvard's Daniel Koretz who explains why high stakes testing reveals just the tips of other dangerous icebergs. Koretz describes “shortcuts” that educators are encouraged to take, such as teaching to the “'power standards' – the types of items most commonly tested." He says that "states now routinely offer teachers old test items to use for test prep," even though that practice was frowned upon in the 1980s.

“'Clearly cheating is unethical, but at what point does this other stuff become unethical?'” Koretz says.

In my experience, these more subtle means of manipulating metrics are the most pervasive and thus the most destructive.

Continue reading "Thompson: Atlanta Is Still Just the Tip of the Testing Icebergs" »

Thompson: Best Reason Ever for Anti-Teacher Legislation

Too often, it is hard to tell the difference between progressive school reformers and Scott Walker, ALEC, and the far right wing. Maggie Paynich's Teachers Should Have to Pay Union Dues Out of Pocket is based on even more misinformation than the National Rifle Association's attack on teachers' collective bargaining rights, but it is written in the same toxic spirit. 

Paynich is unaware of both contract law and the ways that police, firefighters, and others negotiate common sense arrangements for collecting dues for unions and professional organizations. She incorrectly claims that, "Every other entity on the planet has to collect monies on their own, and unions should not get the unfair advantage of ease of payment."

Paynich inexplicably writes, "I see it as taxpayer dollars going directly into the hands of unions with little or no say or control from the teachers unions are supposed to be protecting." According to her reality-free appraisal of these contracts, "This seems like the LEA is paying the union to negotiate the contract with the LEA." 

As Oklahoma conservatives attack the rights of teachers unions - but not other organizations - to engage in this type of legal contract with their employers, the OK2A pro-gun rights organization took a stand that is nearly as dubious as Paynich's in terms of education policy. It announced support for HB1749, which would halt automatic payroll deductions by state agencies for employee dues in any “public employee association or organization or professional organization that … collectively bargains on behalf of its membership.” They specifically attack the Oklahoma Education Association because "this politically leftist organization has made clear its stance against gun owners’ rights."

There may be an unintended benefit of the loose talk of reformers and gun rights union-bashers, as they make it clear that they are specifically targeting one type of union because of its political positions. It bolsters the legal case that will likely be filed by the AFT/OK, probably alleging discriminatory intent in drafting a law aimed at a single target.-JT(@drjohnthompson) 

Thompson: Looking Back At Russo's Critique of Common Core Coverage

Its been two weeks since Alexander Russo's Common Problems with Common Core Reporting, in the Columbia Journalism Review, criticized the education reporting of some of journalism's greatest institutions. Russo argues that Common Core coverage is "overheated," it dwells on problems that have not recurred this year, and it is not precise enough on the actual size of the Opt Out movement (as it exists at this point.) Neither does he like the precise ways that education reporters have described the resistance to Common Core testing within the context of school reform, and its bitter battles between proponents and opponents of test-driven accountability  
 
Russo is criticizing the first draft of the history of Common Core testing and the backlash against it. But, history is a "seamless web." The latest round of testing for college readiness can't be understood without remembering the years of mindless NCLB-type bubble-in accountability that narrowed the curriculum, encouraged the "juking of stats" and outright cheating, and inspired a massive revolt against top-down corporate reform. 
 
Assessments tied to Common Core standards can't be understood outside the context of high stakes testing. Neither can it be understood without recalling the ways that test scores have been the ammunition used by reformers like Newark's Cami Anderson to replace neighborhood schools with charters. No journalist or historian could describe the New Jersey Opt Out movement, for instance, while ignoring the massive political revolt against Anderson, presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie, and market-driven edu-philanthropists. 
 
Above all, this year's fight over Common Core testing has expanded the use of test scores to punish teachers to a Battle Royal where reformers attack and insult parents, and threaten to punish students who opt out. Politically speaking, there is a huge difference between scorched the earth edu-politics against teachers and unions versus high-profile punitive actions against children. 
 
A couple of weeks ago, Anthony Cody nailed the essence of Russo's argument, as it was expressed during opening of the Spring testing season. The first quarter of the competition had just begun, and Russo was already "working the refs."  
 
So, how has the contest unfolded since then?

Continue reading "Thompson: Looking Back At Russo's Critique of Common Core Coverage" »

Thompson: Schools and L'Dor V'Dor; From Generation to Generation

Oklahoma education bloggers have been challenged to articulate what we would do about schooling if we were a Queen or King for a Day.  The first ten of the 600-word posts are here. 

My aspiration is inspired by the words of Randi Weingarten who reminds us of the Jewish concept of L'Dor V'Dor, or "from generation to generation." I dream of a learning culture where each generation teaches and learns from each other.

My parents' generation, having survived the Great Depression and World War II, were committed to providing children with greater opportunities than they had. This was "Pax Americana" before our extreme confidence was shattered by Vietnam. In my postage stamp of the 1950s and 1960s,  children continually heard the exhortation, "Pay close attention, I'm only going to show you once."

Coming from parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and neighbors, those words were the opposite of a stern admonition. They challenged us to focus, so we could "learn how to learn." By the time we were teens, our mentors urged us to practice "creative insubordination." 

Never facing a shortage of caring adults for schooling us on life in a democracy, I learned as much "wrasslin iron" in the oil patch and from fellow workers as I did from formal education.  We Baby Boomers listened to Woody Guthrie and read Ken Kesey, and jumped into exploratory learning, often hitchhiking and backpacking widely.  

My buddies were first generation working or middle class. We assumed that tomorrow would be better than today. We sought social justice where everyone could enjoy the same opportunities that we had.

Continue reading "Thompson: Schools and L'Dor V'Dor; From Generation to Generation" »

Thompson: Where Have All the Teachers Gone?

NPR’s Eric Westervelt, in Where Have All the Teachers Gone?, addresses the “alarming drops in enrollment at teacher training programs.” Westervelt is correct; the decline in the numbers of prospective teachers is “the canary in the coal mine.” 

In California, enrollment in teacher education programs is down by 53%, but the problem is more pervasive. TFA enrollment is also down.

Westervelt reports:

The list of potential headaches for new teachers is long, starting with the ongoing, ideological fisticuffs over the Common Core State Standards, high-stakes testing and efforts to link test results to teacher evaluations. Throw in the erosion of tenure protections and a variety of recession-induced budget cuts, and you've got the makings of a crisis.

Bill McDiarmid, the Dean of the University of North Carolina School of Education, attributes the K-12 decline to teachers who “simply have less control over their professional lives in an increasingly bitter, politicized environment.” McDiarmid says that “the job also has a PR problem.”  Teachers are “too often turned into scapegoats by politicians, policymakers, foundations and the media.” He concludes:

It tears me up sometimes to see the way in which people talk about teachers because they are giving blood, sweat and tears for their students every day in this country. There is a sense now that, 'If I went into this job and it doesn't pay a lot and it's a lot of hard work, it may be that I'd lose it.' And students are hearing this. And it deters them from entering the profession.

Continue reading "Thompson: Where Have All the Teachers Gone?" »

Thompson: Oklahoma Education Battles Are Worthy of National Attention

This is a fascinating time for Oklahoma schools. As school funding was cut by more than 20% over the last five years, and in the face of a $610 million state budget shortfall, out-of-state corporate reformers, ranging from the American Federation for Children and ALEC to the Parent Revolution, have stepped up their attacks on traditional public schools. The most noteworthy assaults include the secretive local effort to cut funding for Oklahoma City Public Schools to pay for tax breaks for the downtown corporate elites, and the now-defeated state voucher bill.

On the other hand, a grass roots rebellion by parents against high-stakes testing swept out the former Chief for Change Janet Baressi. Now, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister has rebuilt the partnerships with professional educators, started a public dialogue, and taken the first steps towards ending the test, sort, and punish policies that have been wrecking our schools.

A growing body of education bloggers along with innovative media outlets like the Red Dirt Report and Oklahoma Watch, as well as more Old School progressive institutions such as the Oklahoma Observer, the Oklahoma Gazette, and the Oklahoma Policy Institute, are publicizing the facts that, previously, the conservative press never deemed fit to print.

This week, the venerable Oklahoma Observer, under its masthead which promises to “Comfort the Afflicted and Afflict the Comfortable,” published an email informing Oklahoma City staff about SB 68 which had quietly passed the state Senate. (Scroll to the bottom of the post to read the memo.) It would allow Oklahoma City and Tulsa to unilaterally authorize charters. Republican Sen. David Holt emailed, “I wanted to give you a brief heads-up on a bill that passed the Senate today that has flown a bit under the radar, and that’s partly by design. But, the progress it is making might eventually be noticed, and I want you to hear from me what is intended. If it becomes law, it is a game changer for our city.”

Holt then explained, “Here at the Capitol, I have not portrayed the bill as a request bill, which of course it is not. I have told my colleagues it is important that OKC not publicly ask for the bill, as that may cause tension in the relationship with OKCPS.”

Continue reading "Thompson: Oklahoma Education Battles Are Worthy of National Attention" »

Thompson: "A Place for Us"?

After NPR's Wade Goodwyn’s moving report, One Night Only, about two dozen homeless singers performing at the Dallas City Performance Hall, I wiped tears from my eyes and made a resolution. This wonderful event must be celebrated, but I vowed to not use it as ammunition in our edu-political civil war.

The orchestra began to play "Somewhere" from Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story," and the homeless singers were "still a bit wobbly" as they joined in. After all, only about five of them were regular members of the chorus.  Choral director Jonathan Palant had worked with 57 different choir singers over the last three months.

Then, Goodwyn reported, "Suddenly, a world-famous opera singer appears on the stage, seemingly out of nowhere. Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade walks into the middle of the Dallas Street Choir and puts her arms around two of the singers."

Together, they sing, There's a place for us. Somewhere a place for us. Peace and quiet and open air wait for us somewhere.

Goodwyn noticed "a lot of surreptitious wiping of eyes.” As a hundred other trained voices joined in, the homeless singers grew far more confident and melodious. "It was an evening they said they'd remember the rest of their lives."

But, Goodwyn's final words were nearly as striking in their pessimism, "For a night, two dozen of Dallas's homeless were lifted from the city's cold streets and sidewalks to bask in the warm glow of spotlights. For the usual hostility and indifference to their fate, they were traded love, respect and goodwill - one performance only."

Then, I read Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialogue post on the Gates Foundation’s new effort to address complex and interrelated housing problems.

Continue reading "Thompson: "A Place for Us"?" »

Thompson: Asking the Wrong Questions regarding NCLB and Testing

The Shanker Institute's Matt DiCarlo, in The Debate and Evidence on the Impact of NCLB,  issues a typically nuanced, precise and (I'd say overly) cautious summary of what quantitative researchers may have proved about the meager positive effects of NCLB, as he overlooks the extreme "mis-naepery" of non-educators who support test-driven accountability.  

DiCarlo correctly asserts that it is invalid to "use simple, unadjusted NAEP changes to prove or disprove any policy argument." But, he ignores a more meaningful and relevant reality. It is possible to use NAEP scores to disprove disingenuous claims that NAEP shows that NCLB worked. 

DiCarlo concludes that "(test-based) school accountability in general" (emphasis in the original) "tends to have moderate positive estimated effects on short-term testing outcomes in math, and typically smaller (and sometimes nil) effects in reading. (emphasis mine)

The quantitative researcher then concludes, "There is scarce evidence that test-based accountability policies have a negative impact on short-term student testing outcomes." Such a narrowly worded statement is not false.

But, DiCarlo then states that "the vast majority of evaluations of test-based accountability policies suffer from an unavoidable but nonetheless important limitation: It is very difficult to isolate, and there is mixed evidence regarding, the policies and practices that led to the outcomes." That conclusion ignores the vast body of qualitative evidence by journalists and scholars who do not limit themselves to regression studies.

Continue reading "Thompson: Asking the Wrong Questions regarding NCLB and Testing" »

Thompson: Anya Kamenentz's 4 Alternatives To "Test and Punish"

Anya Kamenetz’s The Test is an awesome analysis of how “the test obsession is making public schools … into unhappy places.” But Kamenetz’s great work doesn't stop there.  In the second part of the book, she presents alternative approaches to high-stakes testing:
 
Team Robot tests conventional subjects (math, reading, writing) in unconventional ways (invisible, integrated, electronic).
 
Team Monkey tests unconventional qualities (mindset, grit) in conventional ways (multiple –choice surveys).
 
Team Butterfly, which Kamenetz would use as the basis for a new system, integrates learning with assessment and covers twenty-first-century skills without quantifying the outcomes in a way that’s familiar or easily comparable …
 
Team Unicorn, which is still emerging, relies heavily on video games. She offers an intriguing distinction between Team Unicorn and Team Robot: “the former understands the limitations of what they are doing.” (Sign me up for the more adventurous approach, whose metrics also should be the most incompatible with stakes being assessed.)

The Test concludes with four strategies for dealing with tests.

Continue reading "Thompson: Anya Kamenentz's 4 Alternatives To "Test and Punish"" »

Thompson: Russo's Disheartening "Eight Lessons for Funders and Grantees"

Almost every paper presented at the American Enterprise Institute’s conference, Is the ‘New’ Education Philanthropy Good for Schools?, made me somewhat more hopeful that the Gates Foundation, at least, will learn and back off from insisting that stakes be attached to standardized tests, and start down more promising policy paths. The exception is Alexander Russo’s Inside Foundations: Eight Lessons for Funders and Grantees on Education Giving

According to Russo’s astute article, the lessons of this new generation of philanthropy are:

1. Policy and advocacy are great tools—to a point.

2. New approaches complicate measurement/evaluation issues. 

3. Newly-created organizations bring focus and fidelity but can lack credibility and engagement.       

4. “Strategic” philanthropy is a powerful way to narrow priorities—unless it’s applied too rigidly.  

5. Setting clear metrics helps—until you take them too far.

6. Fail fast—but don’t overreact to bad news, either.

7. Don’t forget/underplay “the grind.”

8. Little more coordination, please (but not too much!)

In a rational world, this witty and insightful call for balance would contribute to better policy-making. In contrast to the statements made by other insiders to the other contributors, however, I fear that the several elites interviewed by Russo are concluding that, yes, we lose credibility with each of our risky policy gambles -- but we will make it up on volume.

Continue reading "Thompson: Russo's Disheartening "Eight Lessons for Funders and Grantees"" »

Thompson: Re-Evaluating the Gates MET Study

Dana Goldstein’s remarkable contribution to the AEI conference on edu-philanthropy, Paying Attention to Pedagogy while Privileging Test Scores, starts with the reminder that (except for Education Week) little of the MET’s media coverage “explained the study’s key methodology of judging all modes of evaluating teachers based on whether they predicted growth in state standardized test scores.”

Neither did the media typically point out that the foundation advocated for the use of test score growth in evaluating teachers before it launched the MET. Legislation requiring the use of student performance was "driven, in part, by close ties between the Gates Foundation and the Obama administration.”

Goldstein thus asks the question that too few have uttered:

How is research received by scholars, policymakers, and practitioners when the sponsor of that research—and political allies including the president of the United States—have already embraced the reforms being studied? And is anyone paying attention when the conclusions of such research appear to contradict, or at least to complicate, some of the core assumptions of that reform agenda?

Goldstein’s narrative is consistent with the equally great analysis of Sarah Reckhow and Tompkins-Stange which placed the rise of Gates’ advocacy and the pressure for value-added evaluations within the context of “the organizational food chain,” and how changes in the status of their policies can be “ascendant and rapid.”

The outcomes produced by the previous Gates small school experiment had been “a disappointment to the resolutely data-driven” organization, and the stars were aligned for a dramatic edu-political push. Reformers like the Education Trust had been pushing for incorporating test score growth into teacher evaluations. And, despite the unproven nature of their claims for value-added evaluations, VAMs represented a ready-made, though untested, tool for advancing a teacher quality agenda.

The MET was under a similarly hurried schedule, with director Tom Kane promising a completed project in two years.

Continue reading "Thompson: Re-Evaluating the Gates MET Study " »

Thompson: Reckhow's and Tompkins-Stange's Analysis of Edu-Philanthropic Convergence

Sarah Reckhow’s and Megan Tompkins-Stange’s 'Singing from the Same Hymnbook': Education Policy Advocacy at Gates and Broad begins in the glory days of test-driven, market driven reform, from 2008 to 2010, when the Broad Foundation  proclaimed,  “We feel the stars have finally aligned. With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments—charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time and national standards—the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted.” 

Reckhow’s and Tompkins-Stange’s excellent contribution to the American Enterprise Institute’s conference of edu-philanthropy, Is the ‘New’ Education Philanthropy Good for Schools?, ends with an illustration of the power of Broad and Gates Foundations’ “purposeful convergence” on advancing their accountability-driven beliefs. They quote a Gates Foundation insider:

There was a twinkle in the eye of one of our US advocacy directors when the Obama administration's...education policy framework came out...this person said...“aren’t we lucky that the Obama Administration’s education agenda is so compatible with ours, you know?”...We wouldn’t take credit...out loud even amongst ourselves....But, you know, the twinkle… 

Rechkow and Tompkins-Stange add that “the notion of a “twinkle”—rather than claiming credit more openly—highlights one of the more problematic aspects of the concentrated influence of Gates, Broad, and other foundations in the policy realm.”

The Gates Foundation had been reluctant to commit to a coordinated federal advocacy campaign until the election of President Barack Obama and the appointment of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Their Ed in ’08 campaign had fizzled but, during the Obama years, 2/3rds of the states made significant changes to their teacher evaluation process.

'Singing from the Same Hymnbook': Education Policy Advocacy at Gates and Broad shows that this dramatic change was conducted in the “absence of a robust public debate.”

It is beyond the scope of Rechkow's and Tompkins-Stange's study but after reading their work, I wonder even more how it would have been possible for the Gates Foundation to have engaged in an adequate, private discussion of the costs and benefits of their favored policy. Behind closed doors, insiders may or may not have exchanged their opinions on value-added evaluations, but since the evidence required for a meaningful debate over the real world effects of those evaluations did not exist, I wonder if the lack of research on the policy implications of value-added was considered. 

Continue reading "Thompson: Reckhow's and Tompkins-Stange's Analysis of Edu-Philanthropic Convergence" »

Thompson: The Unsurprising Limits of School Choice in New Orleans & Elsewhere

Douglas Harris and Matthew Larson, in What Schools Do Families Want (and Why?) begin their paper, the first in a series of studies on the New Orleans experiment in choice, by explaining that it could be “the rare policy that increases both average student outcomes and the equity of outcomes at the same time, a win-win situation. Alternatively, choice may do more harm than good.”

Pre-Katrina, before the experiment in market-driven school improvement, the majority of students already attended schools other than their neighborhood schools. As Harris and Larson note, the widespread availability of choice should raise questions about its power to drive school improvement. Even so, some commentators have expressed shock at their study’s prime conclusion, the lowest income families “weigh academic outcomes somewhat less than higher-income families.” Harris and Larsen find:    

While very-low-income families also have greater access to schools with high average test scores, they are less likely to choose schools with high test scores. This is partly because their incomes and practical considerations prevent them from doing so. Being close to home, having siblings in the same school, and including extended school days are all more important to very-low-income families than other families. Also, compared with other New Orleans families in the public school system, very-low-income families have weaker preferences for SPS (School Performance Score) and stronger preferences in high school for band and football. 

I doubt that many teachers were surprised by the study’s findings. Other than true believers in competition-driven improvement of anything and everything, I wonder if how policy-makers with an awareness of poverty's constraints could have anticipated other conclusions.

Continue reading "Thompson: The Unsurprising Limits of School Choice in New Orleans & Elsewhere" »

Thompson: OK's Grassroots Revolt Against Testing Continues to Grow

Last week brought more evidence that the voices of students, parents, and teachers are being heard, in many or most places, and we are all fed up with bubble-in accountability. The Daily Oklahoman’s Tim Willert, in Oklahoma City School Leaders Hope Tour Will Give Elected Officials a New Perspective, reported that Superintendent Rob Neu, an eloquent opponent of test, sort, and punish, took newly-elected State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and other governmental leaders on a tour of schools. They visited my old high school, Centennial, hearing from some great student leaders and one of my best former colleagues.

The statement that gained the most attention was that of an elementary student who criticized high-stakes exams.  He said, “We’re just 10 years old, and we’re getting stressed out in the fourth grade.”

The Oklahoma PTA, which has also criticized stakes attached to standardized tests, encouraged parents to Opt Out of field tests. Moreover, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association responded to this parental pushback by issuing a reference guide on opting out. The Tulsa World’s Nour Habib, in OSSBA Issues Guidance to Opt-Out Requests by Parents, reports that veteran Superintendent Lloyd Snow said that the PTA’s call to parents to opt-out is “pretty telling.” He noted, “It’s a pretty strong message to policy makers that parents don’t like this environment.”

The week’s third big story is a “stinging new report” from the Southern Regional Education Board about opposition to value-added evaluations. The SREB conducted focus groups in 58 Oklahoma school districts and found a “lack of buy-in and trust in the system.” It found “a remarkable portion of teachers and principals interviewed in focus groups” question the validity of Oklahoma’s standardized test data. There was even more distrust of the metrics for teachers of non-tested classes. Tulsa, which is focused on its Gates Foundation teacher quality grant, didn't participate in the process.

The Tulsa World's Andrea Eger, in Commission Hears Report Critical of Oklahoma's Handling of Teacher Evaluations,  reported that State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister “shares some of those concerns and questions.”

Continue reading "Thompson: OK's Grassroots Revolt Against Testing Continues to Grow" »

Thompson: What Happens When Research Gets To The Schoolhouse

Jack Schneider begins his excellent From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse with the observation that academic research usually has a short-lived impact on the classroom. No matter how brilliant the scholar, research findings are "like names written on a steam-covered window, they fade from view."

From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse takes a "glass half-full" approach. It acknowledges that the "avalanche of disparate research" on education has usually not been intended for use by classroom educators." But, "Some of it is."

Schneider does not despair. He provides hope that, someday, we can create a "research-to-practice superhighway (rather than relying on a series of detours and back alleys)" in seeking the path toward school improvement. Probably the best we can do today is carve out a "research-to-practice pathway."

The education historian describes four successes in implementing ideas from the Ivory Tower, Benjamin  Bloom's Taxonomy, Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, William Kirkpatrick's The Project Method, and Direct Instruction.  These three progressive concepts, and the final behaviorist approach, took root in public school classrooms, even though they did so "without altering the nature of the teaching profession." In contrast to similar concepts that failed to influence schooling, these successes shared four characteristics: Perceived Significance and Philosophical Compatibility with teachers' world views, Occupational Realism and Transportability to actual classrooms.

These concepts may not have transformed instruction, but they show that teachers can, and will, change and become active agents in their professional development. Moreover, they stand as a reminder that teachers can be as willing to be challenged by new ideas as other professionals.

Continue reading "Thompson: What Happens When Research Gets To The Schoolhouse" »

Thompson: EdReform's White Collar Assault on Blue Collar Schools

The Center for Reinventing Education's Steven Hodas, in Clash of Cultures: Blue Collar, White Collar, and Reform, explains that we who oppose school reform are "correct to have sniffed a corporatist agenda ... but they [we] have fundamentally misconstrued the motive. It’s less about extracting profits than it is about advancing a cultural hegemony."
 
I agree, and I also agree that educators value "personal relationships gained through immersion and tenure in the workplace." We who oppose corporate reformers are acutely aware of chain of command and workplace rules, and we value "the knowing of the 'how', the 'who,' and the limits of getting things done." And, of course, we highly value the principle of "getting along."
 
Yes, we are rooted in blue collar cultures. That's one of the best things about a teaching profession which serves all types of people in our diverse democracy.
 
I won't speak for the NYCDOE where Hodas worked, but I agree with him that corporate reformers "saw themselves as missionary and insurgent," and they treated educators - who have the knowledge about the way that schools actually function - as "aboriginal cultures of practice" to be dismantled. Worse, they set out to salt the ground to prevent us from reestablishing ourselves.
 
Yes! Hodas is correct that the corporate reformers' "white-collar notions about work and value" are "expressed in endless wonky tweaking of measurements, incentives, and management structures that feel increasingly disconnected from the lived experience of students, parents, and teachers."

Continue reading "Thompson: EdReform's White Collar Assault on Blue Collar Schools" »

Thompson: Misgivings About NYC's New Cell Phone Policy

Like most teachers who I know, I have strong opinions about cell phones in school – I’m agin em.

But, I support Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina, so why should I intrude into New York City’s cell phone debate? Edu-politics is the art of the possible and cell phones aren’t going away. At some point we will have to find a way to incorporate those hand-held computers into the learning process. So, I had decided to bite my tongue and hope for the best.

Then, I stumbled across TechCrunch and Joe Mathewson’s prediction for 2015, “Teachers will embrace student’s Smartphone addiction.” Such candor cannot be allowed to go to waste. Regardless of where we come down on cell phones in school, we should face the fact that we are welcoming a dominating compulsion into our classrooms.

NY Chalkbeat’s Brian Charles, in Educators Remain Cautious as City Prepares to Lift Cell Phone Ban, quotes a principal who asks, “How do we enforce the use of cell phones in class, if we have 500-plus kids with cell phones who are taking calls or text during class time?” The principal then makes the point that too few non-educators fully understand, “We have laid a whole new burden on teachers who have to make sure children get the instruction they need.”

I must emphasize that NYC is not only opening the door to an incredibly disruptive device. It is inviting teenagers to bring patterns of behavior, that often could be described as addictions, into classrooms. When teachers, alone, cannot manage the cell phone challenge, they are likely to be scapegoated.

I would never bet against technology. The reason why digital technologies have failed to improve teaching and learning, I believe, is that we have not laid the foundation for the new types of learning. We must all take responsibility for helping students develop a learning culture and the self-control necessary to successfully engage in blended learning. New York City is dumping a massive and complex challenge on teachers and principals, while it is not likely to accept any responsibility for the epidemic of distraction and disorder that probably will result.

On the other hand, school improvement is a team effort. I'm not going to second guess teammates like de Blasio and Farina and I will hope for the best.  -JT (@drjohnthompson)    

 

 

 

Thompson: John Merrow's Wish/Hope List for 2015

PBS’s John Merrow, in What’s Ahead in 2015?, starts with an astute observation about the watch dog who didn’t bark. Outcomes-loving Arne Duncan had just said that his predictions for the upcoming year were more, more, more and more increases in non-controversial supports and squishy targets.

Such input-driven goals were once seen as Low Expectations!, and they supposedly made tough-minded data-driven accountability necessary. Merrow notes that Duncan skipped an opportunity to address quality, not just quantity, or to take a stand as to whether students will have better classroom experiences in 2015 due to Common Core.

Rather than make predictions for the next 12 months, Merrow offered “a wish/hope list for 2015.”

Merrow wishes we could “make it harder to become a teacher but easier to be one. Right now a lot of our policies and rhetoric are making it downright unpleasant to be a teacher.”

He wishes Duncan would back away from value-added teacher evaluations, "but that’s not likely to happen. … Mr. Duncan is doubling down, not seeking common ground.”

I agree with Merrow’s next wish, although I'd emphasize a different part of his aspiration. He wishes that “the critics of testing and ‘test-based accountability’ would get together with their opponents and agree on some fair, effective and efficient ways of evaluating teachers.” Since unions have long advocated for practical policies such as peer review and the New Haven plan, the key words are “get together.” Those who seek better means of dismissing bad teachers mostly need to take “Yes” for an answer.

Continue reading "Thompson: John Merrow's Wish/Hope List for 2015" »

Thompson: Can School Reform Learn from Failure?

The November, 2014 New York Times Magazine special edition on innovation focuses on failure. As explained in its introduction, most innovations are like Esperanto. They fail.  As they say in that long-forgotten language, “Oh, Well, Gravas la penso (it’s the thought that counts).”

Some of the best parts of the issue involve the inflated hopes of 1990s Big Data and corporate-style innovations and how they failed in similar ways. From the mapping of the human genome to output-driven, market-driven school reform, innovators learned that the world is far more complicated than they had anticipated. 

Virginia Hefferman explained how 1990s Virtual Reality mediums failed to live up to their marketing hype because, real world, they felt “like brain poison.” After a reworking of these technologies, virtual reality should now live up to its promise by creating “’a deep hunger for real-life experience.’”

Kemia Malekvilibro recalled the 1990s promise of DNA sequencing, and concluded that the “golden road to pharmaceutical riches as target-based drug discovery has often proved to be more of a garden path.” Its approach to improving health outcomes relied too heavily on Big Data. It needed more old-fashioned inductive research, where scientists formulated hypotheses and tinkered with their experiments.

In both cases, pioneers faced up to facts and adjusted to reality. They looked again at the phenomenon they were studying and asked questions. Education seems to be the exception; its true believers have refused to acknowledge the failure of their beautiful first generation theories.

Continue reading "Thompson: Can School Reform Learn from Failure?" »

Thompson: That New Common Core GED Test Is The Worst

No education reform issue provides a better illustration of the unintended harm done to schools and students by sincere but uninformed corporate school reformers than Common Core GED testing. Top down reformers are adamant that high school high-stakes testing must reflect college readiness. And, they assumed that the GED test which allowed dropouts to graduate must also reflect those changes. 

Consequently, reformers leapt before they looked, and the nation is experiencing a 90% decrease in the number of persons passing the 2014 GED. 

As explained by the Cleveland Scene’s Daniel McGraw, in Nearly 500,000 Fewer Americans Will Pass the GED in 2014, their Common Core testing mandates “’are we going to ace out a whole group of people from getting a GED because some college administrators don't think their incoming students know enough algebra.’” 

McGraw cites Stan Jones, the president of Complete College America, who explains, "The way I see it, they have effectively gutted the GED program by these changes they have made." 

I doubt that many Common Core supporters realized that the GED accounts for 12% percent of all the high school diplomas awarded each year. They may tout the dramatic declines of the dropout rate over the last couple of decades. But, were it not for the GED, the dropout rate would have increased during that time. 

Neither did Common Core advocates seem to anticipate the havoc they would be inflicting upon other institutions seeking to enhance the employment prospects of dropouts. For instance, 2,100 Ohio prison inmates earned a GED in both 2012 and 2013. Only 97 have earned the GED in 2014. 

Stephen J. Steurer, the executive director of Correctional Education Association, concludes that this oversight “is a national tragedy that will continue to have repercussions for years." 

School reformers do not mean to inadvertently harm our most vulnerable students by setting them up for inevitable failure. But, they must listen to Robert Bivins, the program director of Education at Work at Project Learn, who explains that we are freezing a large portion of people out of the GED process. “Think of the message that sends.”-JT (@drjohnthompson)

Thompson: Many "Tissue-Paper" Reforms Unlikely To Last, Says Cuban

Stanford Professor Emeritus Larry Cuban, in Another Educated Guess about Philanthropy and School Reform, looks back at “thirty years of market-driven and donor-supported school reform,” and speculates on the vestiges of reform that he guesses “will be quietly incorporated into public schooling.”

Cuban predicts that charter schools will survive, standardized testing will be scaled back, a downsized version of national curriculum standards will endure, as technology will be routinely used in classrooms. Accountability regulations and penalties will be reduced.

I can live with that. Cuban essentially predicts that we will scale standards-based, outcome-based reforms back to 1990s levels. Those policies could be annoying, but they did not cause the harm inflicted by NCLB and the even worse test, sort, and punish regimes of the Duncan era.

More importantly, he envisions the demise of “the idée fixe of schools concentrating on producing human capital first and civic engagement second or third will persist but lose its potency.” I hope this means that the approach that Cuban has long dismissed as “deputizing” teachers as the agents for countering poverty will be replaced by science-based policies such as early childhood education and full-service community schools.

Most importantly, Cuban predicts: "Other current reforms such as evaluating teachers on the basis of test scores, ending tenure and seniority, calling principals CEOs, and children learning to code will be like tissue-paper reforms of the past (e.g., zero-based budgeting, right- and left-brain teaching) that have been crumpled up and tossed away."

As with previous eras, “bits and pieces” of reforms will stick. But, Cuban guesses that “contemporary policymakers and philanthropists who have invested much time, energy, and monies into these market-driven reforms … will not break out the champagne for these remnants.”-JT (@drjohnthompson)

Thompson: Can Testing Be a Learning Tool?

image from www.perceptualedge.comI don't know what is the best thing about Make It Stick, by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel. Perhaps it is its concise explication of new cognitive science findings, or maybe it is the reinterpretation of education research.

Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel make a great case for forcing learners to practice “retrieval” skills. They argue for quizzes and other graded and ungraded assessments to help students draw from long term memory and to engage in “reflection” on the learning process. They don’t argue that testing is the only way to help calibrate students’ judgments, but they seem to believe it is one necessary tool that should be used frequently and, preferably, with some stakes attached.  

I worry that education reformers will misuse Make It Stick. Rather than reflect on the many ways that this outstanding book explains why test-driven accountability failed. I’m afraid it will be cited in support of the new reform meme that we need “tests worth teaching to.” But, if that happens, it is not the fault of this though-provoking analysis. 

I also read Brown et. al for advice regarding my own classroom instruction. This new synthesis of cognitive science is very consistent with the professional development I received during the last 25 years. Rightly or wrongly, my current teaching position requires frequent quizzing, and I have started to share the book’s recommendations with my students. I also wonder if I should have tried harder to incorporate frequent quizzing into my instruction when teaching regular high school history classes.

Continue reading "Thompson: Can Testing Be a Learning Tool?" »

Thompson: Reject Cuomo's Common Core Duplicity

Early in my career, a lower level administrator tried to renege on a compromise deal. The top central office administrator only had one question:

Did you shake hands on it?

In other words, a deal is a deal. After he made it clear that the agreement would be honored, we had a constructive discussion on the issues in dispute. Back then, it was understood:

If you want to help kids, your word must be your bond.

I want to emphasize that the great majority of reformers, as individuals, are honest and almost every one who I know is sincere. But, they refuse to express public outrage over the situational ethics of their leaders. Convinced of their righteousness, too many top corporate reformers will say and do anything to achieve their objectives. 

The Chalkbeat's Geoff Decker, in Cuomo Flip-Flops on Evaluation "Safety Net" as He Criticizes City's Results, reports that the governor may "not hold up his end of a much-touted bargain with the state teachers union" to keep the use of Common Core-aligned student test scores from hurting individual teachers' evaluations.

As novelists explain, the super rich and powerful are different. I believe Cuomo is dead wrong on the substance of the education policy issue, but that's not the point.  I was socialized into the faith that a person who wants to promote economic justice and advance civil rights must always be true to his or her word. Yes, the elites might feel free to say one thing and do another, but if progressives do not act with integrity, our power to do good would dissolve.

Continue reading "Thompson: Reject Cuomo's Common Core Duplicity" »

Thompson: Duncan & Other Reformers Should Apologize (Like Tony Bennett)

Mike Kline FlickrIt is hard to realize you are wrong on something important in the middle of a busy school day. But, many, many times, settling in at home, a light went on, and I realized that I owed a student an apology. 

Perhaps I’m naïve, but if President Obama would apologize for imposing the full, untested and dangerous corporate reform agenda on schools, wouldn’t teachers be as gracious as my students were when I would say, “I’m sorry?” 

Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has issued a series of non-apologies, criticizing the way that testing sucks the oxygen out of schools, but he has made little effort to curtail its damage.  

Why can’t Duncan and President Obama acknowledge that their policies were as insulated from education reality as those of the famously “tone-deaf” Indiana Chief for Change Tony Bennett?  The IndyStar’s Tim Swarens’ reports, in I Was a (Bleep) Candidate, that the hard-charging and defeated reformer is now remorseful and contemplative. Bennett is now candid about the way his daughter, a teacher, pushed back against his attacks on her profession. He admits, "I saw anyone who disagreed with me on an issue like vouchers as a defender of the status quo." 

Oops! I guess I’m still naively hoping that true believers will face up to the harm done by their self-righteousness and scorched earth politics. Tom LoBianco of the AP Press reports that Bennett now has no comment regarding the inspector general's report on his 2012 campaign activities that has been forwarded to federal prosecutors.

Continue reading "Thompson: Duncan & Other Reformers Should Apologize (Like Tony Bennett)" »

Thompson: With King Appointment, Obama Administration Kicks Teachers In The Teeth

I guess I'll never learn. After President Obama's wonderful appearance on the Colbert Report, I reverted back to the dream that the real Barack Obama would emerge. At this point in the second term, there doesn't seem to be a reason to keep up the teacher-bashing and union-bashing of the last six years.

The appointment of the divisive New York Education Commissioner John King to the USDOE can only be seen as a gratuitous attack on teachers. The title of Chalkbeat's recount of King's career, by Geoff Decker, Patrick Wall, and Sarah Darville, says it all: After a Turbulent Career, State Education Commissioner John King Stepping Down for a Federal Job Offer

Surely, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan doesn't think there is a constructive education rationale for the appointment. He must be sending a message to reformers who revel in bitter political in-fighting. During the last two years, Duncan seems to be saying, he will be loyal to corporate reformers. Educators and schools won't be getting any relief from this devastating turmoil.  

I have continually wondered whether we educators would be offered an olive branch. If it happened, I'd be thrilled to respond in kind. But, the administration continues to make its point; it is joined at the hip with the Billionaires' Boys' Club. This appointment is rubbing salt in our wounds.

We cannot allow Democrats to question our stick-to-it-ness. We can't endure another term with a Secretary of Education who will keep up this assault on our profession and our students. Now, more than ever, is time to release our anger. We can't just take these insults anymore.-JT(drjohnthompson)

Thompson: Teaching Students Kale-Thusiasm

NPR’s Cory Turner, in Why These Kids Love Kale, reports on “kale-thusiasm.” It prompts one girl doing jumping jacks and cheering for kale, while others “shake their jazz hands.” As another student proclaims, "That kale is the bomb." 

This kale-thusiasm is a product of “FoodPrints,” a part of the curriculum in five Washington D.C. schools. Students help tend their school’s garden, and it becomes the focal point for hands-on instruction. When Turner visited, elementary students were learning about decomposition and bacteria. The lesson includes a worm bin and “a writhing handful of worms from their dark clutch of compost." 

I have long been as supportive of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” and her focus on healthy school food as I have been opposed to her husband’s test-driven education policy. I’m not surprised, however, that the First Lady’s efforts have faced pushback.  To be successfully implemented, physical education and improved nutrition need to be integrated into the teaching and learning process. They can’t just be one more thing on schools' impossibly long “to do” lists, especially at a time of test-driven accountability. 

I’ve experienced the joy of working with children as they learn from “worm dookie!” Locally, the Putnam City Elementary School embraces project based learning and field trips. The Daily Oklahoman’s Matt Patterson describes how high school students and cafeteria workers help provide holistic lessons about nutrition. But, Paterson concludes with pre-kindergarten students helping to prepare, not kale, but ambrosia!-JT (drjohnthompson)!

Thompson: Common Core's Potential

The story line of NPR’s four stories on Common Core was entirely predictable. The excellence of reporting was equally predictable, as well as the great teaching it showcased. Even so, it left me more saddened than ever about the Common Core fiasco. 

Emily Hanford, in Common Core Reading: "The New Colussus," began the series with a teacher, Linnea Wolters, assuming that her students would not be able to handle the complexity of a sonnet. She keeps an open mind, teaches the lesson with fidelity and is pleasantly surprised, “Wolters was amazed. She'd rarely seen her kids so excited about learning. And she had no idea they could succeed with such a challenging text. She couldn't wait to tell her colleagues about what had happened.” 

This is consistent with my experience. Low-skilled students despise the “dummying down” of instruction. They want the respect that is demonstrated when they are taught for mastery of challenging materials and concepts. Moreover, many or most teachers welcome assistance in helping students “dig deep.”

Then, Corey Turner explains, we must wrestle with the question of how do we teach complex reading in a way that “doesn't just lead to tears and frustration?” He summarizes the findings of cognitive scientist Dan Willingham who explains why background knowledge is more important than a child's reading skills. "Kids who, on standard reading tests, show themselves to be poor readers, when you give them a text that's on a topic they happen to know a whole lot about, they suddenly look like terrific readers." 

The NPR reporter concludes that although some Common Core architects may deny it, background knowledge “is just too important to ignore” when teaching reading. “The trick is, don't overdo it.” 

Continue reading "Thompson: Common Core's Potential" »

Thompson: Joel Klein's Heedless Rush to Impose Transformative Change

Screen shot 2014-11-24 at 11.47.57 AMThere is an old saying that tough judicial cases make bad law. Applying the legal maxim to education, challenging school districts like New York City, because of its size, might or might not resort to extraordinary measures. If leaders of those systems, rightly or wrongly, take extreme (not to mention extremely expensive) measures, they should not necessarily be seen as precedents or best practices to be scaled up nationwide. 

Even though I would be afraid of allowing Joel Klein to offer guidance for my 90% low-income school system, which spends around $8000 per student per year, it might or might not be valuable to go deeper into Klein’s Lessons of Hope for insights from his years at the helm of NYC’s schools. By the way, Klein had as much new money to spend, per student, as our district spends in total. So, the next step might be a discussion of whether Klein’s approach was cost effective.

The prime issue, however, is whether it makes sense to eschew incrementalism and only aim for radical or “transformative” change.

Joel Klein does not claim he was the most mild-mannered of federal prosecutors, but he is most explicit in describing his time in the White House as preparation for his job as Chancellor of the NYC schools. During the Clinton administration, he experienced “a constant mix of strategy, hardball negotiation, and insider backbiting.” Clearly, he assumed that this take-no-prisoners mentality was necessary in order to produce rapid and disruptive change.

The cornerstone of the Klein approach to school improvement was his assumption that he must ramrod “transformational change.”  When he first met UFT President Randi Weingarten, Klein asked for her view of the appropriate pace of change. “Sustainable and incremental change,” was Weingarten’s reply. Klein didn’t seem to ask himself whether he should learn more on that subject from this far more experienced person. He responded, “No, no, it must be radical reform.”

The part of Lessons of Hope that has generated the most buzz are Klein’s lengthy quotations of emails with Diane Ravitch and his speculation that the personal dispute caused her to shift gears and oppose school reform in New York and elsewhere.  Even if those pages were to be read in a purely political manner, it seems questionable that a newcomer like Klein would not enthusiastically welcome the “smart and experienced” Mary Butz into his principal leadership team. As was often the case in these pivotal decisions, Klein sided with his inner circle because Butz’s approach “didn’t emphasize the type of transformational leadership that we thought was necessary.” (emphasis mine)

Continue reading "Thompson: Joel Klein's Heedless Rush to Impose Transformative Change" »

Thompson: A Teacher's Review of Kristof and WuDunn's A Path Appears

ScreenHunter_01 Nov. 19 13.20I loved A Path Appears, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It deals with global issues and a variety of philanthropic and grassroots paths to tackling poverty, ignorance, and violence. I doubt that readers are very interested in my non-expert opinions on international issues, so I will limit this post to musing about Kristof’s and WuDunn’s approach to American educational challenges.

Chapter Ten, “Coaching Troubled Teens,” starts with a quote by Immanuel Kant, “Act so you treat humanity … always as an end and never as a means.”

The chapter begins with a visit to Tulsa where 8th graders were engaged in a curriculum focused on avoiding teenage pregnancy developed by Michael Carrera. This program, ranked as “top-tiered” in effectiveness costs $2,300 per student and it would be a bargain even if it didn’t get students started with a savings account, financial literacy, and medical care.

Kristof and WuDunn then breeze through a paragraph that includes the ridiculous – but oft repeated - soundbite that if African American students had teachers from the top 25% in “effectiveness” for four years, that the achievement gap would be closed. Those of us obsessed with education issues can anticipate what was cited in the footnotes, the economic theory of Raj Chetty, John Friedman, and Jonah Rockoff that has been repeatedly misrepresented as research relevant to real world policy.

Educators, like me, are likely to get flustered and complain about the methodological flaws of Chetty et. al, and protest about the way they have allowed their regression studies to be used as intellectually dishonest props in a legal and political assault on teachers.

Perhaps Kristof and WuDunn take the wiser approach. They move on, writing “We must also rethink the role of schools in low-income communities.” The rest of the chapter argues for full-service community schools. Kristof and WuDunn may not have mentioned the way that the “teacher quality” focus of the corporate reform movement has undermined the science-based policies they advocate, but they make the case which teachers, education scholars, and unions have tried to make for overcoming the legacies of poverty.

Continue reading "Thompson: A Teacher's Review of Kristof and WuDunn's A Path Appears" »

Thompson: In Defense Of Calling It "Corporate Reform"

Diane Ravitch and Larry Cuban aren't just two of education's all-time greatest experts; they are among the world's wisest social scientists. They are largely in agreement on the substance of what Cuban calls the "business-driven, technocratic model of governing schools."

But, in Corporate Reform, Again and Again, Cuban's criticizes Ravitch's term "corporate reform,"  and his position must be taken very seriously.

I was previously surprised to learn that accountability-driven, market-driven reformers recoiled from the term "corporate reform." It is so tame in comparison to the charges routinely leveled at teachers. (The latest extreme example is a Newsweek reporter calling Randi Weingarten the “pedagogical version of Bull Connor.”)

Cuban uses the term "policy elites” to describe "loose networks of corporate and civic leaders, elected policy makers, foundation officials, and academics who circulate ideas consistent with their views of problems and solutions, champion particular reforms, use both public and private funds to run projects, and strongly influence decision-making."

I would have thought the word "elites" would be taken as the more derogatory term.

I read the term "corporate reform" as primarily an attack on its advocates' belief that corporate governance should be imposed on public schools. Cuban, on the other hand, reads it as a "charge that donors and policy elites are making profits and that money-making drives current efforts to privatize schools (e.g., Pearson, test-makers, technology companies for-profit charter schools.)"

Like Cuban, who notes the "mixed motives," of reformers, Ravitch makes a carefully crafted case about the dangers of profit-seekers and privatizers, while inventorying the damage done by their policies. We should all agree with Cuban's recollection of "prior failures of private, for-profit companies running public schools." But, I don't see that as an argument against the use of the words corporate reform.

The big problem with corporate reformers is not their successes in privatizing schools, but their unforced fumbles in public schools. As Cuban explained in a previous post, these elites In centralizing governance of schools, policymakers, supported by major donors, have squelched public and professional voices.   (Emphasis is Cuban's)

Continue reading "Thompson: In Defense Of Calling It "Corporate Reform"" »

Thompson: Klein Book Exposes Klein's Flaws & Failures In NYC

Anyone seeking to understand the failure of Joel Klein to improve New York City schools should carefully read Alexander Nazaryan's latest article in Newsweek, Joel Klein's Book on American Schools Tries to Find a Way Forward. Even though the Newsweek reporter’s review of Klein’s new book, Lessons of Hope, obviously aspires to hagiography, read between the lines and he inadvertently captures the essence of the tragedy of school reform.

Nazaryan notes that a Google search may not find “a single kind word about Joel I. Klein.” His revisionist review tries to explain why Klein should not be dismissed as “a tone-deaf autocrat, too comfortable in the parlors of the Upper East Side, not comfortable enough in the school auditoria of East New York and the South Bronx, where jeers often announced his arrival.”

To borrow from Nazaryan’s rhetoric, Klein was a reformer who didn’t successfully “reform much,” but he sure spent a lot of money. In 2003, for instance, the city’s average NAEP 8th grade reading score was 252. In 2009, it was 252. According to Nazaryan’s former employer, The Daily News, Klein took over a system that spent below $11,000 per student. By 2010-2011, that number rose by about 75% to $19,000. Who knows how much additional foundation money was lavished on schools that Klein used as gladiators to defeat neighborhood schools in the race to the test score top?  Moreover, during most of Klein's years, NYC schools benefited from an incredible economic boom. 

Nazaryan makes it seem like Klein had no other option than risk-taking and unleashing the full “brunt of his reforms” on teachers and students. Klein was opposed by UFT President Randi Weingarten, who was supposedly the “pedagogical version of Bull Connor.” Showing that he is oblivious to social science research, cognitive science and education history, as well as the position of Weingarten’s union, Nazaryan indicates that Klein had no choice but to turn students into lab rats because he had to shred “the noxious these-kids-can’t-learn belief deep at the heart of all union recalcitrance.” While doing so, Nazaryan seems to indicate that his knowledge of school improvement comes from the notorious, fact-challenged “The Lottery” and “Waiting for Superman.”

Like Klein, Nazaryan was a newbie when he helped establish a new small high school.  His only preparation was a “harrowing year of teaching middle school English.” After four years, mostly at a “mini-Princeton” selective school, Nazaryan turned to journalism as “a path out, or up, or whatever” from public schools.

Continue reading "Thompson: Klein Book Exposes Klein's Flaws & Failures In NYC " »

Thompson: Gates Scholar, Tom Kane, Continues the Fight to Prove He Is Right

Tom Kane’s Climate Change and Value-Added: New Evidence Requires New Thinking, in Education Next, continues his recent, obsessive meme. Kane keeps arguing that he was right and those who oppose value-added evaluations are wrong.

Kane starts by criticizing the polarization of the debate over value added. Even as he does so, Kane must understand that the evaluation model he favors can only function if it is trusted. But, both sides have long ago staked out their positions. The opportunity to persuade educators that VAMs are trustworthy is ancient history.

Kane continues to fight in the same old way over arcane statistical controls and theories that have no relevance in regard to real world policy. He acknowledges that value-added estimates for teachers are volatile and then replies, “for many purposes, such as tenure or retention decisions, it is not the ‘year to year’ correlation that matters, but the ‘year-to-career.’”

No! What matters for individuals is the “year to year” correlation of their value-added score to their actual effectiveness in their annual evaluations.

Why would top teachers remain in the inner city when VAMs give them an unknown but signficant chance PER YEAR of having their careers damaged or destroyed due to circumstances beyond their control? Why would we risk the humiliation of being placed on a Plan for Improvement, being on the chopping block, and facing constant indignities for a second year under a VAM which misfired in its “year to year” correlation with actual effectiveness? After one of those inexplicable drops in the annual estimates of their effectiveness, accomplished teachers will likely look at that first “Below Satisfactory” evaluation, tell their principal to take this job and shove it, and transfer to a lower-poverty school.

Continue reading "Thompson: Gates Scholar, Tom Kane, Continues the Fight to Prove He Is Right" »

Thompson: Teachers Need to Unite in Defeating Reform & Improving Schools

Like many of my friends, I have often worried that my American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is too moderate. But, I have participated in a variety of civil rights, children’s rights, Pro-Choice, and environmentalism coalitions. While I didn’t always agree with my local and national AFT office holders, I’ve never known more astute or more honorable leaders. I feel the same about the NEA.

That is why I was reassured when reading Teachers Unions to Spend More than Ever, by Education Week’s Lauren Camera. She explains how unions are investing $60 million dollars to roll back the GOP onslaught of 2010 that has damaged schools and communities.

We must remind all stakeholders that it is unions, not corporate powers, who have proven themselves as the real champions for social justice. If the billionaires defeat unions, who will stand for fair wages, health care, and equal rights? 

I’m no longer a union member, so I’m out of the loop, but the strategy makes sense on several levels. Teachers need to beat back Vergara and its spawn. We should praise education beat reporters for their depth of knowledge and objectivity, while raising the consciousness of mainstream journalists and commentators are too willing to uncritically accept the corporate reform spin.

If Vergara was about real evidence-based policy, we would have won that fight months ago. However, teachers cannot allow reformers to paint our unions as protecting adult interests over families. We can't let them sell the slander that its about unions protecting bad teachers. We must defeat individual Vergara supporters like John Deasy and Marshall Turk, as we join Randi Weingarten in calling for collaborative efforts to improve schools. 

As Jeff Bryant writes, it is entirely possible that education will save the Democrats this year. We also need to help elect a Democrat as president in 2016, while making it clear that we won’t accept another four to eight years of Arne Duncan-style, anti-teacher policies. Democrats must understand that if they place the Billionaires Boys Club over teachers and students, we will fight them with the same intensity as we are resisting the bubble-in accountability hawks.

In Union there is Strength. We must avoid divisiveness in both our shortterm and longterm battles for education and justice. – JT(@drjohnthompson)

Thompson: Shannon Hernandez Breaks the Silence

The climax of Shannon Hernandez’s Breaking the Silence is her response to an irresponsible and false charge brought against her. She had participated in a group hug with students celebrating their successful completion of the 8th grade ELA test.
The hearing officer – the type of person that reformers often say is too soft on teachers and too slow to fire them – conducted a lengthy investigation, investing nearly a year to track down the student witnesses and their families. The hearing officer finally says, “Ms. Hernandez, not one student or their family would speak against you. Time and again, each one said, ‘Leave her alone. She’s the best teacher I ever had.’”

In one sense, the high points of Hernandez’s last forty days in the classroom are in the story of how test-driven reformers have stepped up their war on teachers, first making her jump through extra hoops to re-earn tenure. Later, they drove her colleagues into a rage with their preposterous value-added evaluation process. As she watches a final faculty meeting, Hernandez realizes that she is “witnessing the anger and frustration of my colleagues – a microcosm of the national climate around education.” She is brought to tears.

In another sense, Breaking the Silence is an explanation of what teachers REALLY want. (emphasis is Hernandez’s) Teachers want to “interact with other adults in supportive and collaborative environments.” Teachers “want to become better teachers.”  Teachers “want to be treated like humans – humans who are heard, nurtured, and respected.”  Teachers want relief from “the top-down education system [that] has robbed us of our voices.”

In still another sense, the memoir is about students who “are sick of being classroom lab rates who are tested every other month in every class so baseline scores can be established, knowledge gains and losses charted, and pilot tests revised once again.”

Breaking the Silence also is an explanation of why educators should, once again, be allowed to “teach students, not subjects.” It describes the joy that comes with veteran teachers letting go, allowing classes to evolve organically, and “going with the flow of student energy and interest.” It explains why teachers must “live in the moment,” and teach students “to understand the world inside them” and be “better prepared to live in the world around them.”

So, reformers should read Shannon Hernandez’s great memoir in order to understand the damage they have wrought. Teachers, parents, and administrators should also read about her last forty days in the classroom and share the joy and love that is teaching and learning.-JT(@drjohnthompson)

Thompson: Why Reformers Are Being Beaten Up by Teachers

The corporate school reform movement has always been built around a clear and united public relations strategy. It's been a one-two punch. Reform is a civil rights revolution to create schools with “High Expectations!” that overcome the legacies of poverty. Test-driven accountability is necessary to overcome teachers’ low expectations.

During the high tide of corporate reform in 2010, their scorched earth public relations campaign against teachers and unions was doubly effective because they all sang from the same hymnal. Since then, however, reformers’ failures to improve schools have been accompanied by political defeat after defeat. Now they are on the same page with a kinder, gentler message.

Now, the most public message is that a toxic testing culture has mysteriously appeared in schools. As the Center for American Progress, in Testing Overload in America's Schools, recently admitted “a culture has arisen in some states and districts that places a premium on testing over learning.” So, the reformers who made that culture of test prep inevitable now want to listen to teachers, and create a humane testing culture.

As Alexander Russo recently reported, in Why Think Tankers Hate the Vergara Strategy, some indicate  that the Vergara campaign against teachers’ legal rights is a dubious approach. I’m also struck by the number of reformers, who complain about unions’ financial and political power, and who seem to by crying that We Reformers Are Being Beaten Up by Teachers.

Yes! Reformers Are Being Beaten Up by Teachers!

I communicate with a lot of individual reformers who agree that test-driven accountability has failed, but they can’t yet visualize an accountability system that could satisfy their reform coalition and teachers. I repeatedly hear the pained protest that, Testing Isn’t Going Away.

So, what alternative do we have?

Continue reading "Thompson: Why Reformers Are Being Beaten Up by Teachers" »

Thompson: It's OK To Celebrate Deasy’s Departure, Teachers

The Los Angeles Times’ Too Many Maverick Moments Finally Led to Deasy’s Undoing at LAUSD, by Howard Blume and James Rainey, is probably the best account of how the LA School Board finally lost patience with the “uncommunicative, ungovernable, somewhat detached leader.”

Journalists and scholars rightly take a dispassionate stance and place John Deasy’s defeat in the overall context of systematic change, and why it is hard to improve large urban school systems. The best of that genre is Deasy's Exit Reflects Other School Battles Across the U.S., by Teresa Watanabe and Stephen Ceasar, who place Deasy's rejection in the context of the backlash against corporate reform. He is one of many advocates of high stakes testing who are falling like dominoes.  

Education policy and union leaders are correct in being gracious and not gloating over our victory in forcing the Broad-trained Deasy to resign.

I hope they all understand, however, why classroom teachers must celebrate the rejection of another teacher-bashing corporate reformer. People who haven’t been in the public school classroom can’t fully appreciate the humiliation of having to endure the venom of ideologues like Deasy, Michelle Rhee, and too many other accountability hawks.

Deasy, and others who say that data, leadership, and accountability can overcome the legacies of poverty by fostering High Expectations!, could in theory create such a culture by clearing out the deadwood and creating a lean and determined administrative culture. But, I would ask policymakers if they have ever heard of a punitive management system, in any sector of the economy, where top bureaucrats selflessly accepted all of charges placed on them, and they did not turn around and dump that toxicity on their subordinates.

Real world, the poison spewed by Deasy et. al always flows downhill. Teachers are denigrated. A test and punish culture invariably pollutes classrooms, and students are the prime victims. So, let’s take time to celebrate the defeat of Deasy, and use that energy to invigorate the counterattacks against Newark’s Cami Anderson, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, and Rahm Emanuel.

In doing so, we must also envision a time when the last test and punish reformer is not replaced by another blood-in-the-eye crusader. Then, we can celebrate and the turn all of our energy towards better, more humane schools for all.-JT (@drjohnthompson)

Thompson: Democratic Think Tank's Supposed Faith in Teachers' Expectations

The power of teachers’ expectations is an issue that must be carefully studied and discussed. It is especially important that educators engage in a sober self-reflection on the expectations we hold for students, especially poor children of color. 

That is why educators from all perspectives should join in condemning another simplistic paper by the Center for American Progress (CAP). After rejecting the latest example of the CAP's teacher-bashing, we should all double down on the study and discussion of teachers' expectations, and seek to improve our ability to improve education outcomes for all children, especially students who traditionally have been stigmatized. 

CAP's The Power of the Pygmalion Effect ostensibly supports Common Core while implicitly blaming teachers for the achievement gap. Authors Ulrich Boser, Megan Wilhelm, and Robert Hanna proclaim that the 10th grade students who they studied who “had teachers with higher expectations were more than three times more likely to graduate from college than students who had teachers with lower expectations.” 

Such a claim should require a complex research model which takes into account family, peer effects, and systemic factors that contribute to college readiness. Boser et. al, however, attribute those differential outcomes to teachers’ answer to a 2002 NAEP question about their students’ chances to succeed in higher education. Their definition of “expectations” was based on how teachers answered the question “'how far in school … [do] you expect this student to get,’ including high school, college, and beyond.” Their paper made only a cursory effort to parse the actual accuracy of those opinions. 

Continue reading "Thompson: Democratic Think Tank's Supposed Faith in Teachers' Expectations" »

John Thompson: Restoring the "Clash of Ideas" in Public Schools

How is it possible that the New York Times food columnist turned education commentator who wrote The Trouble with Tenure could turn around and write nearly the opposite: The Wilds of Education?

Now, Frank Bruni praises the students, families, and educators in Colorado and elsewhere who are opposing standards that demand that schools be all on the same page when teaching a single ideologically-driven set of Standards.

Bruni writes, “When it comes to learning, shouldn’t they [schools] be dangerous?” Sounding like a teachers union building rep, Bruni asks, “Isn’t education supposed to provoke, disrupt, challenge the paradigms that young people have consciously embraced and attack the prejudices that they have unconsciously absorbed?”

I am curious about noneducators, who ordinarily support the clash of ideas, who contradict themselves by attacking tenure, due process, and the policies that are essential for protecting the free flow of ideas of public education. Do they not realize that the test, sort, reward, and punish reform movement is only viable when it is imposing tests where there is only one “right” answer? Do commentators like Bruni not understand that tenure is essential for protecting the debate and discussion in our schools?

Bruni’s ill-informed attack on teachers may help answer my question. It was based on an interview with – you guessed it – one ideologically-driven reformer. Bruni accepted the claims of Colorado Senator Mike Johnson at face value. It doesn’t seem to occur to Bruni that the efforts of Johnson et. al to destroy the rights of teachers (so that they cannot oppose his test-driven accountability schemes) also opened the door for Colorado's conservative reformers to micromanage the learning of students? Can he explain a difference between the way that rightwing censorship operates, as opposed to the way that corporate reform functions when it micromanages teachers’ instruction and students’ learning?

Continue reading "John Thompson: Restoring the "Clash of Ideas" in Public Schools" »

Thompson: Once Again, Mass Insight Explains What It takes to Turn Around Schools*

When I first read Mass Insight's The Turnaround Challenge, I was thrilled by its holistic explanation of what it takes to turnaround the most challenging schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the document was his Bible, but then he violated most of its principles when establishing School Improvement Grants, dooming his SIG to failure.

In 2007, Mass Insight showed that instruction-driven, curriculum-driven policies could not transform the schools with the greatest challenges, and that the mass dismissal of teachers was a bad idea. It emphasized the "Readiness Triangle," drawing upon the best social science to explain how and why a proper foundation must be laid for school improvement. Now, Mass Insight and Ounce of Prevention explain why today's accountability regimes are undermining school improvement.

Let's hope that reformers listen to Mass Insight's and the Ounce of Prevention Fund's Changing the Metrics of Turnaround to Encourage Early Learning Strategies, by Elliot Regenstein, Rio Romero-Jurado, Justin Cohen, and Alison Segal. As it says in a previous study, Rethinking State Accountability and Support, Ounce proposes "the reverse" of the Arne Duncan value-added accountability regime. 

Continue reading "Thompson: Once Again, Mass Insight Explains What It takes to Turn Around Schools*" »

Thompson: Has "Education Post" Already Changed Its "Kinder, Gentler" Tune?

BurrisIt was less than a month ago that Peter Cunningham, the former Assistant Secretary for Communications and Outreach in the U.S. Department of Education announced that his new organization, the Education Post, supposedly repudiated the playing of edu-politics and moved beyond name-calling.

Given its financial support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation, and since it included reformers like Ann Whalen, Antonio Villaraigosa, and Paul Pastorek, those nice words needed to be taken with a grain of salt.

It didn’t take long, however, for the real the Education Post to come through. Ann Whalen’s The False Arguments of Carol Burris Against High Standards reveals the venom hidden just below their seemingly polite veneer.

Whalen countered a Washington Post piece by national Principal of the Year Carol Burris, Four Common Core "Flimflams." She characterized Burris’s position as “inexcusable,” as “resistance to common sense changes,” and “toxic.” Whalen’s counterargument was “when you can’t make an honest case against something, there’s always rhetoric, exaggeration or falsehood.”

For the record, Whalen didn’t even try to challenge much of the substance of Burris’s carefully-honed arguments. Burris explained that Common Core was not, in fact, internationally benchmarked or based on research.  Burris explained how Common Core “insists upon the use of a particular method of math instruction.” She then explained  that the prescribed  method “may be helpful in increasing understanding for some students, it should be up to a teacher to use it, or not use it, as a strategy. Instructional strategies have no place in state standards.”

Continue reading "Thompson: Has "Education Post" Already Changed Its "Kinder, Gentler" Tune?" »

Thompson: Value-Added True Believers Should Listen to Principals

Sadly, a new Gates-funded study, "Principal Use of Teacher Effectiveness Measures for Talent Management Decisions," provides an ideal metaphor for what is wrong with value-added evaluations, in particular, and corporate school reform, in general.

I do not question the quality of work of its authors - Ellen Goldring, Christine M. Neumerski, Mollie Rubin, Marisa Cannata, Timothy Drake, Jason A. Grissom and Patrick Schuermann, or its findings.

The problem is that the report seems to assume that principals who do not agree with the Gates Foundation are incorrect and need retraining; it doesn't consider the possibility that value-added models aren't appropriate for teacher evaluations. 

Goldring et. al found that 84% of the principals they interviewed believed teacher-observation data to be valid "to a large extent" for assessing teacher quality, but only 56% viewed student achievement or growth data to be equally valid. The study acknowledged that value added is perceived to have “many shortcomings.” Principals have doubts whether the data will hold up to official grievance processes. Principals also perceive that teachers have little trust in teacher effectiveness data.

Education Week’s Denisa Superville reports that value added expert Douglas Harris echoes the findings, “the results confirmed feedback he had received from other educators about the challenges in using teacher-evaluation systems.”

Rather than ask whether principals know something about the real world use of statistical models that Gates doesn’t understand, Goldring et. al recommend that systems “clarify their expectations for how principals should use data and what data sources should be used for specific human-resources decisions.” In other words, they apparently believe that more training in value-added estimates will convince educators that the theorists have been correct all along.

Continue reading "Thompson: Value-Added True Believers Should Listen to Principals" »

Thompson: How Chicago Increased Graduation Rates

The single most successful reform in any of my old schools was the establishment of Freshmen Academies. We had very little money to invest in school improvements, but our high schools got the biggest bang for the buck from a "High Touch," team effort to get 9th graders on track.

Our successes were consistent with the findings of the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) which show, “Graduation is mostly determined in the ninth grade year.” 

The CCSR’s Tim Knowles, in Chicago Isn't Waiting for Superman,  reports that, for the second year in a row, Chicago’s graduation rate jumped 4%. It is now a record-high 69.4%. 

Chicago focused “on what research told school leaders would matter most," keeping freshmen on track to graduate" by improving their attendance and tailoring interventions to particular students’ needs. Knowles explains, “The new focus compelled greater problem-solving and collaboration among teachers and administrators committed to ensuring every single student was on-track for graduation.” 

He says that it “might sound small or obvious,” but “the focus on freshman on-track represented a major psychological and cultural shift for school leaders.” 

Policy people tend to lack an understanding of “promoting power,” and putting teens on "positive trajectories." Repeated failure does no good for anyone, but success breeds success.  

The focus on test scores has distracted adults from what really matters, helping students progress.  It might (or might not) be good when the average student correctly answers a couple more bubble-in test questions, but what do those numbers really mean? When educators and students work together, and kids make it over the finish line, however, we know something meaningful was accomplished. –JT(drjohnthompson) 

Thompson: TNTP (Once Again) Proves that It's Anti-Teacher & Anti-Union

TNTP has done teachers a great service in publishing “Rebalancing Tenure Rights.” 

I’m serious. Liberal non-educators who support anti-tenure lawsuits seem to assume that the strickened laws would inevitably be replaced by something better. Vergara supporters have been mum on what would replace today’s imperfect but necessary laws, protecting the rights of teachers. 

TNTP now makes it clear, however, that if Vergara and similar suits are upheld on appeal, it will push an agenda that is fundamentally anti-teacher and anti-union. It would strip teachers of their right to challenge their accusers’ judgment. In doing so, they would make it impossible for the teacher’s side of the story to be entered into evidence in a dismissal case, and call the survival of collective bargaining into question.

Of course, TNTP spins its position, claiming that it is only "good faith" judgments that should be all-powerful. In theory, an administrative judge, in an one-day hearing, could reject bad faith and false judgments of administrators. But, if teachers aren't allowed to cross examine those judgments, how could the judge make such a determination? And, why would teachers join unions that could not challenge claims against their members?

Non-educators who haven’t seriously studied education history may not understand why teachers should have the democratic rights - enjoyed by all other Americans – to use the political process to gain protections that are more than those of the weakest civil service protections. But, there are huge problems with their claims.

Continue reading "Thompson: TNTP (Once Again) Proves that It's Anti-Teacher & Anti-Union" »

Thompson: How To Stop Getting in the Way of Learning

CyberEven when I supported Common Core as a step toward improving instruction, critical thinking, and teaching for mastery, I suspected that it was a part of a failure of imagination. 

Forget the idiocy of seeking high-stakes tests to force teachers and students into the 21st century. Given the explosion of knowledge, why worry over a list of the facts and concepts that secondary schools should teach?

Why not help teachers teach with the greatest curriculum on earth – the web sites of PBS, NPR, our incredible newspapers and magazines, and our awesome national museums and parks?

Every Sunday, listening to NPR, I’m reminded of the tragic opportunity costs of the contemporary school reform movement. This week, American Radio Works reported on the great potential of Common Core to counter the drill and kill prompted by testing, as well as the primitive worksheet-driven pedagogy that preceded it. Ironically, the child of a teacher featured in the report complained that the introduction of Common Core into his high-performing school means that packets of worksheets are driving out engaging instruction in his favorite subject, science.

Reformers assume that high-stakes tests are essential to making teachers and students do their jobs, so they downplay the damage done by their test, sort, and punish mentality.

Then, NPR’s TED Talk Radio Hour (rerun) reminded us of what I would think that everyone - even reformers during their childhood - once knew.  Sugata Mitra started the discussion with the reminder that education is not about “making” learning happen, but by “letting learning happen.”

Continue reading "Thompson: How To Stop Getting in the Way of Learning" »

Thompson: Two Cheers for Mike Petrilli's Reform Rethinking

Wow! I agree with Mike Petrilli on two big issues in one week! The revocation of Oklahoma’s NCLB Waiver, based on our repeal of Common Core, is a “terrible decision.”

I mostly agree with Petrilli’s thoughtful address to the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. In an effort to understand the anti-reform backlash, he asks where his movement went wrong.

Most schools aren’t failing; the bigger problem is mediocrity. Most “failing” schools have teachers who are probably as good as those in higher-performing schools. 

I taught in “dropout factories, the dangerous schools …,” and my colleagues were far better teachers than those of my childhood. In the 1990s, our Curriculum Department and professional development were awesome.

But, Petrilli gets the second part of his diagnosis backwards. My schools responded to “wave after wave of reform.”  Those half-baked reforms made them worse.

I share Petrilli’s doubt that districts can replicate the few successful high-performing charter schools. He might also be right; in ten or twenty years, high-poverty systems may be dominated by charter schools.

But, that would be the double nightmare scenario - bad for more kids in "No Excuses" charters and worse for students left behind in even more awful concentrations of poverty and trauma. High-performing charters have contributed to a “neo-Plessyism” which is bad for all constituencies.

Continue reading "Thompson: Two Cheers for Mike Petrilli's Reform Rethinking" »

John Thompson: Hechinger Report Explains the Reagan Roots of Obama Reform Efforts

NationatriskMany or most problems in urban education are rooted in Ronald Reagan’s “Voodoo Economics.” Yes, schools declined after the 1973 Energy Crisis started the deindustrialization of America. But, Reagan’s “Supply Side Economics” accelerated the tragedy by offering tax incentives for closing still-profitable factories. Families cratered in the face of the subsidized and rapid destruction of jobs, erasing so many hopes.

The implicit message of Sarah Garland’s Hechinger Report, Why Is a Reagan-Era Report Driving Today’s Education Reform?, is that the failure to improve schools is also rooted in Reaganism.

Garland notes, “the Republican-driven revolution is being driven home, as never before, by a Democratic president.” She recalls that many of the proposals in Obama’s RttT and  SIG programs seem to be “copied right out of the 1983 report [Reagan’s A Nation at Risk.]

Garland begins by linking the dubious policy of value-added evaluations with A Nation of Risk. I would gladly lay the blame for today’s testing mania on Reagan, but in the only weak part of her thought-provoking piece, I don’t think she nailed down the case for such a linkage. Clearly, however, Garland is correct in her observation, “the Obama administration appears to be doubling down on the standardized testing that critics say was a misinterpretation of A Nation at Risk.”

Similarly, Garland illustrates the test and punish mentality when quoting Chester Finn. Finn supports testing for teacher and student accountability because, “If there’s no sanction or punishment for not learning, then why work harder to learn more?”

I wonder if there is a reason, besides avoiding pain, why human beings might teach and learn?

Continue reading "John Thompson: Hechinger Report Explains the Reagan Roots of Obama Reform Efforts" »

Thompson: How Common Core Could Double Dropout Rate

I received an enthusiastic response, especially from educators, regarding last week's TWIE post Common Core Will Double the Dropout Rate, Says Carnegie Corporation.  

The piece also produced some pushback from persons who question the Carnegie Corporation projection and who assert that districts would do whatever is necessary to avoid such an increase in dropouts.

Before addressing research and testing issues, I would like to explain why so many urban educators anticipate that an unconscionable number of low-skilled students will be pushed out of school by the botched implementation of Common Core.

For over a dozen years, too many students have only been taught to parse simple, straightforward sentences and paragraphs, and to answer primitive right-wrong questions. These students need to unlearn these deplorable habits that were worsened by education malpractice encouraged by bubble-in accountability.

The transition from these simple, but counterproductive, worksheet-driven behaviors to meaningful learning is necessary. But, it won't be quick, cheap or easy. The rate by which low-skilled students unlearn the legacy of rote instruction, and master authentic learning, will first be determined by the time it takes for students to rebound from inevitable setbacks. The pace by which teachers help students master new learning skills will be determined by their success in rebuilding the confidence of students after they face defeats.   

As has long been explained by the Johns Hopkins Everyone Graduates Center, the job of counseling and remotivating students to meet much higher standards is far beyond the capacity of teachers in high-poverty schools. The supports students need require a "second shift" or teams of educators.

Continue reading "Thompson: How Common Core Could Double Dropout Rate" »

Advertisement

Advertisement

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.