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Thompson: Here's Hoping School Reform 2014 Will Focus On Students' Needs

HealthPerhaps the National Public Radio series on schools and students' health is a sign that the pendulum has swung.  Maybe the next generation of reform will focus holistically on children's welfare.

Eric Westervelt's These Days School Lunch Hours Are More Like 15 Minutes explains that school administrators are under such intense pressure to increase minutes of instruction and boost test scores that many students get less than 15 minutes for eating lunch.  Also, eating healthier foods can take more time because it takes longer to enjoy a salad than gobble down french fries. But, as an educator explained, "you've got two important and competing priorities."

Parents are now pushing back but, until recently, accountability data ruled.

Maanvi Singh's To Get Kids Exercising, Schools Are Getting Creative  explains that the Center for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes per week of exercise for K-5th grade students. But NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health polled parents and found that the majority say their elementary school children get less than two Physical Exercise classes a week. Consequently, "parents and educators are starting to 'think beyond the gym walls,'" and devise creative ways to encourage physical activity.

School Stress Takes a Toll on Health, Teens and Parents Say, by Patti Neighmond, reports that nearly 40% of parents say their high-schooler is under a lot of stress from school, and it is from academics, not social issues or bullying. The NPR poll reported on all types of parents' perceptions.  Were the poll focused on the inner city, where imposing a stressful competitive culture  was supposed to cure the stress of poverty, I wonder if a higher percentage would have been found.

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Thompson: Reasons To Support Ravitch & AFT

Common core protests steve rhodes flickrDuring my two decades as an American Federation of Teachers member, I often worried that we were too moderate. Truth be told, I bet most teachers union members and leaders have shared such concerns. Each time I took a dispassionate look at the political facts we faced, however, I supported our leaders' willingness to remain team players and to compromise. Compromises, even painful ones that were likely to hurt our schools in the short run, were our only way to survive and protect our colleagues and students. As my AFT local president explains, "school improvement is a marathon, not a sprint."

Now the AFT, along with our NEA brethren and civil rights and community groups are launching a $1.2 million dollar counter-attack on corporate reform. The timing is perfect. The test-driven reform movement has spent its millions of dollars on scorched earth politics. The federal government has wasted billions of dollars on blame-the-teacher, market-driven reforms and coerced states into squandering tens of billions of dollars on the educational equivalent of Intelligent Design. Educators chafed, tried to contribute some realism to the accountability hawks' top-down micromanaging and tried to perform the adult role of tempering the true believers in "disruptive innovation."

The task of documenting their folly, however, often fell to Diane Ravitch and her followers.

I was slow in recognizing the truth that Ravitch uncovered: A naïve crusade claiming that classroom instruction, alone, could overcome generations of poverty had morphed into "corporate reform."

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Thompson: Punishing Children to Defeat Adult Opponents

Day_42_Overwhelmed It is bad enough that test-driven reformers have turned schools into venues for high-stakes competition.  New York City seemed to have sunk to the lowest of the low with its market-driven A-F School Report Card, which made bubble-in testing a life or death matter for schools. NYC reformers were not content with giving small schools and charters advantages in their Social Darwinist struggle against regular high schools.  As the Annenburg Foundation's Over the Counter, Under the Radar explained, they overtly damaged schools that were slated for closure by disproportionately assigning high-needs students in those targeted schools, making it inevitable that they would fail their students.  

New York Magazine's Robert Kolter, in The Opt Outers shows that under-the-gun NYC administrators have been pushed to a new nadir of common decency.  Kolter tells the story of Pharez, a third-grader at a school that primarily serves English Language Learners.  It “had surrendered its schedule solely to test prep; teachers spent the entire day teaching almost nothing but material related to the ELA and math exams.” The stress of the non-stop test prep cost Pharez sleep and his appetite. His father said the 8-year-old “was complaining about pains in his back and his head. If it was happening to a college student, I might accept this. But for a child, it was not acceptable, not at all. And so I opted him out.” 

The school made the process difficult for the father. He was pressured by the principal, the principal’s secretary, the PTA president, and the assistant principal.  Pharez had a right to prepare a portfolio in lieu of testing, but they repeatedly ignored requests for help in preparing the portfolio.  On the last day of school, they said Pharez had failed. Kolter recounts more examples of the "inhumane" results of test-driven reform.Still, it is hard to comprehend that any educators, regardless of their motives, would be so cruel to a child. -JT (@drjohnthompson) Image via. 


Thompson: Crew Nails the Key to School Improvement

FishingThe New York Times' Clyde Haberman explains the hard-earned wisdom of Medgar Evers College President Rudy Crew in Back in New York with the Same Passion, but to Less Fire and Smoke.  

The former NYC  School Chancellor is determined to "get it right on the front end" by "creating a pipeline" to higher education. Crew is networking with the persons who really matter in kids' lives - parents, local leaders, teachers, principals and pastors.

Crew bemoans the recent preoccupation with test scores, saying  “we have been chasing numbers when we ought to be chasing confidence.” He wants the entire community to help instill "a desire for learning and — no small matter — a confidence that they can learn."

Crew recalls a conversation with John F. Kennedy Jr.  when he was head of the Robin Hood Foundation. He explained to Kennedy, “John, I would take these kids, these nonreaders, and give them an experience that is so fundamentally different from any they ever had. I’d take them to camps. They’d go fishing. They would learn how to be out on boats and canoes.”

After my neighborhood became the epicenter of crack and gangs in Oklahoma City, I was an environmental educator and that is why I became an inner city teacher. I have no doubt that Crew nails the attitude that we adults must help nurture,  “So ‘I can’t swim’ becomes ‘Lookit, I can swim.’ The ‘I don’t touch fish’ becomes ‘Lookit how many fish I caught.’" Follow Crew's advise on nononcognitive experience, and test scores "will take care of themselves." -JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.


Thompson: Would Obama Consider $5B SIG Program Successful?

Arne_DuncanIn 2009, Arne Duncan must have told President Obama that his School Improvement Grant (SIG) experiment was risky. SIG would cost nearly $5 billion, as it tried to jumpstart the nation's lowest-performing 5,000 schools.  There was no time for laying a foundation for transformational change. In lieu of planning, a top-down governance would be imposed. Principals would be anointed as divine monarchs and told to produce transformational change in only three years - or else.

Collective punishment would be imposed on teachers. This would encourage other teacher-bashers to step up the blame game.  One of the Democratic Party's most loyal constituencies, teachers' unions, would be alienated and the rank-in-file demoralized. If the benefits were only incremental, would a backlash against education be encouraged? 

What would the President have decided if warned that gains on reading tests would only be 2.5 points per year? Could he not anticipate conservatives such as Education Next's Andy Smarick noting "a cost of one billion dollars for each point of improvement in reading proficiency." (emphasis in the original) Had Duncan warned the President that those low performing schools would only increase their reading scores by 1.5 points per year faster than all other schools, would the President have asked about the down sides of a gamble that produced such small benefits? 

Above all, had the President been told that student performance would decline in 1/3rd of schools, would he have asked follow-up questions? Was there something inherent in the federal micromanaging of SIG that would encourage primitive teach-to-the-test that would backfire and make conditions worse for many students?-JT(@drjohnthompson) image via.     

Thompson: Heckman's Promising New Study on Teens & Self-Control

Heckman2A generation ago, Nobel Laureate James Heckman pulled together the social science documenting the need for high-quality early childhood education.  He explained the importance of programs for teaching character skills such as perseverance (“grit"), self-control, trust, attentiveness, self-esteem and self-efficacy.

Now, Heckman and Tim Kautz, in Fostering and Measuring Skills: Interventions that Improve Character and Cognition, evaluate the effectiveness of adolescent interventions. 

Building on previous findings, they report “programs that combine work and education are more promising and have been shown to have lasting effects.”

Heckman’s recent work, like his analysis of early education, finds that “successful interventions emulate the mentoring environments offered by successful families.”

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Thompson: Of *Course* There's Too Much Testing

OptAlexander Russo's Atlantic Magazine article, When Parents Yank Their Kids Out of Standardized Tests, begins with photographs of the signage that has become so ubiquitous in schools.  As the seemingly endless testing season begins, learning stops in schools full of posters stating, "Testing in Progress" and "Lab Is Closed."  

The article explains how teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School refused to give the district’s required tests and encountered the predictable pushback and quotes a Garfield teacher who anticipates “the biggest revolt against standardized testing in U.S. history” during this spring's three month long testing season. [He also cites the Brookings Institution’s Tom Loveless who recalls that parent protests against tests “pop up like wildfires” about every decade.]

I'm proud that that parents in Oklahoma are also helping to lead the backlash.  Russo cites the case of Jenks Middle School where 800 parents opted out of last spring's piloting of test questions. He quotes Deedra Barnes, who helped organize the boycott, and who is considering an opt out for the high-stakes testing in 2014.  Testing, she says, is out of balance.

So far, at least, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has decided to insult suburban moms rather than listen to them, but he's not alone. DFER's Charlie Barone “just doesn’t see the groundswell of opposition against testing that FairTest and others claim to exist.”

But how would they? What actual contact with real schools do Duncan and Barone have? Of course, there is far too much testing.  As Diane Ravitch said to comedian John Stewart, "The status quo today is test, test, test, pretest, posttest, data.” The only way to deny the anger felt by parents, teachers, and students is to hypothesize that we are all suffering from a mass hallucination. 

The magazine also links to a previous article by a teacher, Ben Orlin, When Memorization Gets in the Way of Learning.   Orlin describes the destructive rote learning and cramming encouraged  high-stakes testing.  It is a reminder that as testing forces teachers to engage in more and more educational malpractice, the backlash is bound to grow.

-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.

Thompson: Which Side of the Detroit Bankruptcy Is the TNTP On?

DetroitThe TNTP’s Amanda Kocon, in Ending the Teacher Hostage Crisis, is right about one thing, “for decades, the teaching profession has relied on a work now, pay later system.” Teachers have been paid artificially low salaries based on a promise of end-of-career payouts from a pension plan. Yes, this system has held teachers hostage.

Kocon cites the Detroit bankruptcy where pensioners may be paid as little as 16 cents on the dollar.  But, it is not just teachers but all of Detroit’s public retirees who must wait in line after investment bankers.  And they're arguing in court that the city did not bargain in good faith.

Kocon makes the evidence-free claim that “six-figure teacher salaries are within our reach.” She then says that we should care of veteran teachers by “doing our best” to make good on the promises that were made to them.

Does that mean the TNTP will be joining the legal fight for justice for teachers and other workers who worked in good faith for decades hoping that the big boys would keep their promises? Or, is it cheering the corporate powers and participating in a craven divide and conquer campaign that will undermine the futures of all workers and all generations? -JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.


Thompson: Why Do We Still Give Grades?

GradesI wonder how many Baby Boomers are like me and can't comprehend that it is 2013 and we still have bubble-in testing.

Then again -- and I know it would be a smaller number who agree with me on this --  I am also curious about the number of my peers who are dismayed that we still have letter grades. 

Chris Couch's Huffington Post, Grades Do More Harm Than Good, condemns the damage done by grades. Crouch explains why he "can't believe that we realistically put any stock in what they measure and what they communicate."

Of course, he is correct on the harm done to educational values because "many kids feel pressured to cut corners, sacrifice ethics, and take easier courses, all in an effort to achieve better grades instead of better learning."

We still have grades because better options aren't available.  But, we haven't tried very hard to develop better alternatives.  On the contrary, schools have changed our priorities from learning to competition and keeping score.

As we continue this outmoded and reductionistic value system, we should remember that grades are inherently subjective results of political processes. We give them because it is our job to put some number and letter next to each student's name. We shouldn't delude ourselves into believing it is a fair or constructive process.

- JT (@drjohnthompson) Image via.   

Thompson: Did Reform Make Teacher Churn Worse in Indianapolis?

SeniorityIn IPS Loses When Teachers Face Constant Moves, Chalkbeat Indiana's Scott Elliott decribes the "churn" of teachers in Indianapolis and how involuntary transfers are driving young talent out of the system.

He does not mention a common sense, though counter-intuitive, solution: Bringing back seniority.  

Seniority is the teacher's First Amendment. Without it, the honest flow of information in systems dries up.  Once teachers' ability to voice their professional judgments are undermined, the lack of an exchange of information is bound to produce more administrative foul-ups.  

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Thompson: OK Governor Tries To Halt Debate Over A-F Grading

Mary_FallinOklahoma educators are tensely awaiting the long-delayed A-F School Report Card touted by Chief for Change member State Superintendent Janet Baressi. The mistake-plagued report card has been repeatedly pulled back from public release as errors were adjusted and readjusted. 

As the report card release was further delayed and tempers flared, Oklahoma School Report Card: Hiding "Poor" Achievement, by researchers at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University concluded that the report card's formula "has very little meaning and certainly cannot be used legitimately to inform high-stakes decisions."

The Tulsa World's Kim Archer, in Gov. Fallin Counters Critics of A-F System of Grading Schools, reports that the Republican governor has joined the fray, threatening school district leaders that "continuing public criticism of the state's A-F school grading system may affect whether common education gets additional funding next fiscal year."

Gov. Fallin made this threat after presiding over the nation's largest education budget cuts. At a time when Oklahoma schools are burdened by other transformative reforms that the Obama administration and the rightwing have demanded, the state's funding for schools declined by 23%.

Fallin does not believe the university researchers' estimate that in-school factors explain only 20 to 30% of educational outcomes. She does not seem to understand that the role of out-of-school factors has been documented by an immense body of social science, and their study was reviewed by the Distinguished Professor Emeritus Robert Linn of the University of Colorado.  

The governor's spokesman summed up Fallin's beliefs, "In other words, if students were performing extremely well, it wouldn't really matter if they had a class size of one, or a class size of 50 or 100— they're performing well. We're concerned about the outcomes, not the inputs."

Neither educators or reformers should dismiss Oklahoma's mess as an aberration. Fallin is the Chair of the National Governors Association. Monday she announced plans to set a "new minimum" where underfunded public schools would prepare all students for a two-year or four-year college degree or a workforce certificate.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.


Thompson: SAT Scores Are Great, But Teaching Is An Act of Love

SatDan Goldhaber's and Joe Walch's Gains in Teacher Quality, in Education Next, reports the good news that incoming teachers' SAT scores are on the rise. Recruiting better educated teacher candidates is an input-driven approach that is smarter than the dubious output-driven accountability of the last two decades.

I hope we don't go overboard, however, in overrating the importance of "book smarts" in teaching. I was a critical thinking coach, who confounded some adults by playing basketball with the students.  My questioning strategies anticipated Common Core and they guided teenagers with elementary school skills towards mastery of college preparatory standards.

But, education is not an affair of "the Head," but of "the Heart." The real reason why I was an effective teacher was that I didn't have biological offspring, so the students became my children.

I worked hard to become one of my school's co-MVPs. Then, we hired James Booth as a parent liaison and he was universally acclaimed as our Most Valuable Person.  Mr. Booth was retired military and a basketball referee. Despite his lack of background in academics, Booth was a mentor who did far more good for far more students than any teacher, counselor, or principal.

James Booth was not an exception.  Many schools' MVPs are coaches, cafeteria ladies, bus drivers, or security guards. Children learn from adults who love them. But, don't worry. Students don't discriminate against smart teachers; inner city kids, especially, appreciate it when highly educated adults show them the respect of treating them like their affluent peers. So this new generation of teachers will do fine as long as they keep their priorities straight.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.     

Thompson: Will a New Consensus Emerge for NYC Schools?

DeblasioNY-1's Lindsey Christ, in Obama: P-TECH Setting the Stage for Student Success, reports that when President Obama praised the gentrification of Brooklyn and its small P-TECH High School, he spoke after Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Bloomberg said that P-TECH's success went hand in hand with the closing of Paul Robeson High School which co-locates with it. Obama and Arne Duncan supposedly believe his spin. On the other hand,  The President now supports mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and his more humane approach to school improvement.

It is unlikely that the President knows the full story of NYC small schools like P-TECH.  P-TECH's students scored higher than the city's average when they entered the school, while Robeson's incoming students were below the city's average. Neither was he likely to know that Robeson served 2-1/2 times as many English Language Learners, nearly three times as many special education students, and that 1/8th of its students were homeless. 

I wonder if Obama knows that his turnaround policies facilitated Bloomberg's sabotage of poorer schools.  As Clara Hemphill and Kim Nauer explained in Managing by the Numbers, Robeson was undermined by the dumping of hundreds of at-risk students on it. Robeson's fate was sealed when 70 to 80 "Over the Counter" students were added to its incoming freshman class of 140.

The Obama administration should come to grips with the Education Funders Research Initiative's "New York City Schools: Following the Learning Trajectories," by Douglas Ready, Thomas Hatch, Miya Warner, and Elizabeth Chu. It is consistent with de Blasio's early education policies.

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Thompson: Politico Nails a Fundamental Flaw with TFA


I should not have to start with a disclaimer about my position on TFA (I'm undecided about it), but in these polarized times, I must.  TFA teachers are teachers.  

I don't judge colleagues. It is not their fault that high-profile TFA alumni who entered the classroom when they were in elementary school launched a war on teachers.  Excoriating today's TFAers because Kevin Huffman and Michelle Rhee turned corporate would be like castigating a colleague because he supports the Tea Party.

However, Politico’s Stephanie Simon, in Teach for America Rises as Political Powerhouse, nails the problem with TFA's new effort for “embedding select alumni in congressional offices and in high-ranking jobs in major school districts,” in which a charter school and voucher supporter pays the $500,000 a year price tag for providing seven TFA alumni fellows for congressmen. Ethics experts call the effort “highly unusual – though not illegal,” according to Simon. 

Too many reformers in general -- and high-profile TFA alumni in particular -- have have taken advantage of the lack of knowledge of many policymakers about the distant world of the inner city, and promoted quick and simplistic panaceas for complex problems.

In Simon's article, Elisa Villanueva Beard, co-CEO of Teach for America, seems to be sincerely oblivious about the dangers of quietly embedding alumni as staffers. She says “We don’t have a choice.” If TFA isn't aggressive “in 20 years, we’ll just wake up and find… we have made only incremental progress.”

And, that get's us back to the destructive essence of the contemporary reform movement. Corporate powers have immense knowledge about ways of secretly manipulating the levers of power to enrich themselves.  We know how to use political trickery to increase the billionaires' share of our economic pie.  Here, it seems, corporate reformers are using some of the same tactics and knowledge to manipulate government rather than improve learning. There is no reason to believe that transformationally better schools can be created this way.

That doesn't mean TFA teacher and alumni should be excluded. They should participate in the open exchange of ideas that school improvement needs.  They should do so with honesty and modesty, and not with their high-profile alumni's assumption that their brief excursion into schools has given them all of the answers.   

Meantime, TFA leaders should reveal the whole story to TFA teachers (and the rest of us?) and then have a heart-to-heart conversation about the paths to power that the organization should pursue, and those tactics that it should not consider. -JT(drjohnthompson) Image via. 

Thompson: How The NYT Got The IMPACT Evaluation Wrong

CatThe New York Times' David Leonhardt may lack background information regarding education, but he is capable of understanding the recent  National Bureau of Economic Research paper, James Wyckoff’s and Thomas Dee's Incentives, Selection, and Teacher Performance.

However, given the inaccuracies in his A New Look at Teacher Evaluations and Learning, I wonder if Leonhardt read the study or if he just skimmed it.  

Leonhardt's sources for his misrepresentations are the commentator Nick Kristof and himself,with both basing their assertions on their misreadings of The Longterm Impacts of Teachers, by Raj Chetty, John Friedman, and Jonah Rockoff. Perhaps the Times should hold editorialists more accountable for carefully studying research even in the backwater field of education.   

Wyckoff's and Dee's NBER paper reports the effect of the Washington D.C. teacher evaluation system, IMPACT, on some aspects of teacher performance. It ignores the question of whether student performance was increased. It shows that IMPACT had an impact on some adult behaviors. It offers no evidence, however, that it was positive. 

The only valid conclusions that can be produced by the study’s methodology were reported by the Washington Post’s Emma Brown and Politico's Stephanie Simon.  Brown's Study: D.C.'s Teacher Evaluation System Affects Workforce explains, “Rewards and punishments embedded in the District’s controversial teacher evaluation program have shaped the school system’s workforce, affecting both retention and performance,” But the report is “silent about whether the incentives have translated into improved student achievement.”

Simon's Radical Washington D.C. Teacher-Evaluation Plan Worked, Study Says also recounted D.C.'s disappointing results in terms of student performance.  She quoted Dee as saying “This is a proof of concept.” (The concept is that carrots and sticks can have an effect.)  

Such a conclusion may mean something to theorists and commentators, but it says nothing about IMPACT's real-world impact. To paraphrase Mark Twain, a cat who sits on a hot stove won't do it again, but that does not mean that he has learned to cook.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.

Thompson: Annenberg Study Highlights Mid-Year Assignment Problems

US_Navy_110327-N-MU720-031_Volunteers_erve_food_to_children_at_the_Biko-en_Children's_Care_HouseWas anyone surprised by the Annenberg Institute's finding, in Over the Counter, Under the Radar, that late enrolling students in New York City are disproportionately enrolled in high schools slated for closure?

Its authors, Toi Sin Arvidsson, Norm Fruchter, and Christina Mokhtar, explain that NYC's student assignment policies have long been criticized for concentrating high-needs students in struggling high schools.

"Over the Counter" (OTC) kids represent about 17% of high school students and they are more likely to be new immigrants, special needs students, poor, transient, homeless, over-age, or have histories of behavioral problems. So, it is no shock that high schools that are on the chopping block would find themselves with up to 37% of their student population being late enrollees.

Shouldn't we be shocked by their findings?  Even the term "over the counter" students is disturbing.

Isn't this a "blink!" moment where we ask how we got into this shameful position?

As the Annenberg study explains, up until the 1990s, the NYC schools were dismissive of the feelings of hundreds of OTC students.  After choice increased the numbers of these vulnerable kids into the thousands, they were disproportionately placed in schools known as "dumping grounds."

But, wasn't the purpose of school reform to help children, not further disadvantage the most vulnerable of them? If the goal is helping children, not defeating adult enemies, shouldn't it have been obvious that high-needs kids should be placed in the schools that can best educate them?  

If NYC reformers have not completely lost their moral compass, they will embrace the Annenberg's conclusions and impose a moratorium on putting more struggling children in struggling high schools. Common decency says that all other high schools should be assigned between 12% and 20%  of "OTC" kids. It also says we should find a less dehumanizing term for those students.  And, then we all should ask how we got into this disgusting situation.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.   

Thompson: Listen to *All* of E.D. Hirsch's Wisdom On Common Core

Core knowledgeI entered the classroom with the certainty that E.D. Hirsch was wrong in claiming that rich content knowledge within and across grades is essential.  It took about a month to disabuse me of my non-educator's prejudice.

We should listen to Hirsch's entire position on Common Core. The subtitle of his Why I'm for Common Core in the Huffington Post addresses a point that has been lost on school "reformers."  It proclaims, "Teacher-Bashing and Common Core-Bashing Are Both Uncalled For."  

In a followup post, The Test of Common Core, Hirsch explains how to avoid a trainwreck.  He opposes the reformers' "teacher bashing"  because it is the reason why structural reforms haven't worked very well. The blame game known as the "teacher quality" movement hasn't worked because little has been done to develop a content-rich curriculum.

In the second piece, Hirsch expressed dismay over teachers' replies to his first post. Because of high-stakes testing, they would still have to do test prep shortcuts under Common Core, and this would undermine its effectiveness. So, Hirsch further explained that if he were younger, he would launch a court challenge against value-added teacher evaluations using reading test scores.

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Thompson: Another View Of John White's Remarks

CartmanJohn White was an English major who taught for three years and spent three years training other newbies in a profession that he never studied.  Non-educators Joel Klein and Bobby Jindal, who were not shy about their resentment of traditional public schools, then tasked him with dismantling the educational “status quo.”

But White complained last week in the American Enterprise Institute's Taking School Reformers to Task: Louisiana chief John White on Fixing K-12 Reform that New York City is about “to put a man with no management experience in charge of a $25 billion education system in spite of an outward resentment of the nation’s most successful charter schools.”

White does not describe the mayor's race in NYC as democracy, but as “populism.” Eleven times he used that word in a derogatory manner. According to White, populism is something to be endured, it is a recyclable story of caricature and allegory, and of resentment of authority.   White is clearly proud of being in charge.  He used the word “authority” eleven times and the word “accountable” another eight times when proclaiming reformers' power. 

White (like many of his AEI audience) obviously senses that reformers have overreached, and are "in danger of becoming the enemy." At first, he sounded like he was grooming himself to be another Michelle Rhee attacking all the constituencies that that defeated their righteous crusade.  But, White mostly resembled Southpark’s Eric Cartman in proclaiming “respect my authoritah!”

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Thompson: LA's Rushed Rollout of iPads Is Business as Usual

IpadsIn the long run, we should never bet against technology.  In the short run, it is equally safe to wager that the hurried introduction of digital tools by school systems will continue to undermine their effectiveness.

Anya Kamenetz's The Inside Story on LA Schools iPad Rollout: "a colossal disaster" provides the first draft of the latest chapter of the history of educational technology repeating itself. She reports that LA only tried a small pilot project last spring before rushing ahead with a billion dollar investment in iPads.  Even that brief experiment resulted in the loss of 71 tablets.  Only the teachers who passed out the iPads got training.  They got 40 minutes of instruction on managing the devices.

A logistical problem was discovered when students checked the devices out at the end of the day so they could use them at home. The process of rechecking them in each morning was too time-consuming.  Also, checking iPads out at the beginning of class created a problem, “If kids didn’t want to do the work, they would come late purposely and not get an iPad. So in some classes, half the kids had them and half the kids didn’t, they were just sitting with their heads on the desk.”

True believers in technology don't like to think about these issues.   Theorists like LA Superintendent John Deasy believe that technology will relieve schools of the most difficult job in education - creating learning cultures that allow for teaching and learning for mastery. They have it backwards.   

Students must first understand that they are supposed to behave differently in class than at home or other places.  Before technology can live up to its prodigious promise, students must be taught how to be 21st century students who will use, not abuse their electronic devices.  It makes no sense to ignore the fact that some children are too young to bring $700 tablets home.  Others still need to be taught how to control technologies and not be controlled by them and there is no shortcuts for that process.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via

Thompson: Rejecting School Competition - But Not Choice?

ReignDiane Ravitch told NPR's Steve Inskeep that she doesn't believe in school choice.  She believes all students deserve an excellent education.

Nowhere in the interview, Diane Ravitch Rebukes Education Activists' "Reign of Error," did she rebuke anyone else for his or her beliefs.  However, Ravitch assailed the idea that competition, which has turned education into "a consumer product rather than a social and a public responsibility," is worthy value system for public schools. She attacked "reformers" for imposing that corporate value system on schools.

I have supported choice because school improvement is a team effort and we need people with all types of beliefs to particpate. If believers in choice want their own children to attend charters driven by competition, that is their own business. They have no right to impose that value system on everyone else. More importantly, choice has damaged poor children of color left behind in neighborhood schools by creating even more intense concentrations of extreme poverty and trauma.

We all should learn from Ravitch and own up to the harm that the proliferation of choice did to traditional urban schools.  We should welcome Reign of Error because it promotes the solutions that are necessary in the inner city. 

"Reformers" should have listened to the cries of urban students pleading for respectful and nurturing learning cultures. Instead, they offered the stone of competition.  As Ravitch explains, they mandated a way of keeping score, high-stakes testing, which has warped our schools and warped our educational values.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.   

Thompson: Goldhaber On The Future Of Research

AEI_logoDan Goldhaber’s Teacher Quality Research Over the Next Decade, presented at The American Enterprise Institute on “Teacher Quality 2.0,” is a hopeful sign that research by non-educators may become more reality-based.

Goldhaber makes a plausible argument that value-added models work at the elementary level, at least in comparison with other ways of evaluating teachers. But, he cites evidence that value-added might not work quite so well at the high school level.

So, Goldhaber asks if less emphasis would have been placed on the value-added of individual teachers if research had focused on high schools rather than elementary schools.

I certainly hope that the answer would be “Of course!”

In his constructive paper on the next era of research to improve instruction, Goldhaber starts by asking how teachers will respond to value-added and, later, to technology and various reorganizations of the schooling process.  He asks all the right questions about the unpredictable ways - constructive and destructive - that teachers’ practice could be altered.

But, instead of asking whether educators will make good choices, we should ask how administrators will respond to these changes.

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Thompson: AEI's Hess Nails What's Wrong With "Reform 1.0"

Rick_hessThe American Enterprise Institute's conference, Teacher Quality 2.0: Will Today's Reforms Hold Back Tomorrow's Schools? showed that the times, they are a-changing. And it's about time.  If "reformers" don't admit that they are stalled in the wrong lane of history, our schools will be hurt badly.  

The AEI's Rick Hess kicked off the discussion by asking whether the goal of Reform 1.0 is the evaluation of "whether you are a good classroom teacher in a conventional environment?" 

Hess then summarized the ways that this "Teacher Quality 1.0" mentality could undermine online instruction, team teaching, and other ways of reorganizing schools. Hess then questioned the codification of this one-size-fits-all approach to teacher evaluation into law.

Teaching should be a team effort, and that applies to schools that serve intense concentrations of poverty and trauma, as much as it applies to the innovative schools that Hess wants.  Isn't that the real harm of Reform 1.0? It had the temerity to ram through laws that constrain all types of cooperative learning across our huge and diverse democracy.   

Although we disagree on most things, can advocates of the flipped classroom and of full-service community schools join together to reverse laws mandating value-added evaluations?-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via

Thompson: Tennessee's Rushed Implementation of "Race"

RaceToTheTopElaine Weiss, of the Broader, Bolder Approach, has written an early draft of the history of the Race to the Top.  Her Mismatches in Race to the Top Limit Education Improvement recounts the “unrealistic and impossible” promises made by states to win federal grants, and how they are likely to undermine future efforts to improve schools.

Anyone who doubts Weiss’ warnings about the RttT should turn immediately to Appendix Two, a case study on Tennessee’s implementation of the grant, and how it created “a culture of fear.”    

After winning its RttT grant in March, 2110, Tennessee authorized a capacity review of its department of education which concluded that “the organization and the work wasn’t organized in a way that supported implementation.”  

Within four months, however, Tennessee leaped ahead and committed to Common Core standards. Despite anticipating a decline of as much as 50 points on average per grade and subject, state still insisted, “We believe our ultimate goal of 100% proficiency is still the right one—no matter whether the assessment is old or new.” 

The rush to reform accelerated in 2011 when Tennessee tackled the heart of the RttT, its teacher evaluation promises.  Only three months had been allocated for formulating teacher observation tools and training evaluators in their use. A four-day summer session trained over 5,000 evaluators.

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Thompson: How "Race To The Top" Went Wrong

Broader_bolderOne of the more damaging aspects of NCLB was that it set impossible targets, contributing to panic and hurried implementation of seemingly quicker and easier policies.  Teachers were essentially deputized as the agents for overcoming the legacies of generational poverty.  NCLB thus failed and undermined more promising methods of improving schools.

Elaine Weiss, of the Broader, Bolder Approach, shows how Race to the Top committed the same mistake.  Her new report (Mismatches in Race to the Top Limit Education Improvement) recounts the “unrealistic and impossible” promises made by states to win federal grants.

Weiss draws on studies by the U.S. Department of Education, the Center for American Progress, numerous journalism sources, an email survey of the experiences of district superintendents from the RTTT states, and over two dozen interviews with state and community education leaders to explain why the rush to reform now threatens early education, college readiness standards, and sustainable efforts to improve teacher quality. 

Not surprisingly, the USDOE and NCLB co-author  Charlie Barone complain about Weiss’ study.  But, if it was as biased as Barone implies, would Weiss have buried her lede?  The real meat of her report is found in the appendices.  

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Thompson: How Should We Read Mathematica's TFA Study?

TfaThe job of high school teachers is to teach, embrace, raise expectations, and celebrate the achievements of every teenager who walks into our school. 

But, teachers are expected to either rejoice or mourn when 23-year-olds show success as teachers.  How crazy is that?

When Mathematica finds that TFA teachers increased math performance, that is good news. Its latest report, The Effectiveness of Secondary Math Teachers from Teach for America and the Teacher Fellows Program, found that they were a modest .07 of a standard deviation more effective than other teachers in those low-income schools.

I don't believe in criticizing fellow teachers and TFA are our colleagues.  Neither do I have a dog in the fight over the way TFA selects its candidates. For instance, TFA seeks applicants who have "a desire to work relentlessly in pursuit of the organization’s vision."

My complaint is with TFA alumni who have imposed their opinion that those qualities are enough to transform high-poverty schools.

As the Mathematica study explains, math is one of the subjects where low-income secondary schools have the greatest difficulty retaining qualified teachers. Poor schools should address the deplorable conditions that make it impossible to retain teachers who are in high demand.

It does no good to blame the teaching profession, unions, or education schools for systemic failures.  

I couldn't care less if a TFA teacher believes that schools, alone, can systematically overcome generational poverty, except if he tries to impose that snake oil on school systems.   

Even then, when a teacher - any teacher, regardless of his opinions - succeeds, we should rejoice.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.

Thompson: Does Higher Ed Really Understand What May Soon Hit It?

MoocsStanley Fish’s recent New York Times commentary (Two Cultures of Educational Reform) is excellent, but it also indicates that higher education may not yet understand what is about to hit it. 

Fish reviews Derek Bok’s Higher Education in America and asks how Bok can be so bullish on Massive Open Online Course (MOOCs) before he has evidence that they will work.  Fish then asks the even better question of how devotees of technology can be so enthusiastic in promoting the benefits of digital learning without considering the harm that may be inherent in it.

Fish says an online learning advocate demonstrates with “chilling clarity” how its deleterious effects can be ignored. MOOCs, she says, can release us from the “shackles,” i.e. the need to interact with actual people, who must be endured in a classroom.

Fish also cites Andrew Delbanco who says that MOOCs are just the latest battleground in the centuries-long tension between “facts versus knowledge, skill versus wisdom … information versus insight.” Delbanco characterized it as a conflict between “methodology and non-methodology.”

Fish, Delbanco, and their university colleagues have only been subjected to part of the struggle.  As we in public schools have been shocked to learn, education is caught in a struggle between methodology and non-methodology and a brand new form of non-methodology – known as Big Data.

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Thompson: Real Talk and True Confessions about Teaching

BadRafe Esquith’s Real Talk for Real Teachers and James Owens’ Confessions of a Bad Teacher both become more powerful when read next to each other. 

Esquith, the superstar author of Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, starts with lessons for new teachers.

The first third of his book just about matches Owen’s in terms of anecdotes that show how test driven reform is killing public education and, at the end, Esquith doubles back to conclude that our educational system is so dysfunctional that it would take an Orwell to describe it.

During Owens’ rookie year, he faced outrage after outrage prompted by accountability-driven “reform.”  His fate, like the careers of highly-paid senior teachers, rests in the hands of a tyrant armed with a loathsome teacher evaluation system.  Owens entered the profession as New York was creating a perfect storm where a flawed value-added system would be used inappropriately, where the principal has the means and motives to use a 66 point teacher observation list to settle scores, and where the system is clearly designed to blame teachers for any and all failures. The result was that educational malpractice was mandated in Owens’ school, albeit under the name of “best practices.”

For instance, consider an evaluation system where a dedicated English teacher is graded down because her class had “too many books.”

Ooops! That story came from Esquith! 

Seriously, this is just one example of how reading Esquith and Owens together gives a deeper understanding of how test-driven “reform” is wrecking so many schools.

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Thompson: What's the Real Issue With Tiana's Hairstyle?

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comAcross the nation, TV viewers have seen seven-year-old Tiana Parker (pictured) wiping tears from her face over being sent home by her charter school. 

She wears widely spaced, short dreadlocks and a big pink bow.

Many are asking, how can people be so heartless?

The individuals who subjected Tiana to this pain are not cruel. Like other charter advocates, they have a heartfelt mission; in this case, countering a society that has become “more and more permissive.”

The real scandal is that across the nation we have adopted a corporate model that is allowed to be heartless. In the name of choice, we have compromised our freedom of expression. In our devotion to satisfying personal preferences, we have abandoned the cornerstone of educational policy - first do no harm.

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Thompson: Did Dunbar High School Have To Be Sacrificed?

Book_cover-blogAlison Stewart, in her excellent new book, First Class, which documents the rise and fall of Washington D.C.’s Dunbar High School, does not do counter-factual history. Maybe I shouldn’t either, but I can’t help myself.

Stewart tells the powerful story of how the school played an inspiring role in “a national movement for justice and citizenship.” Dunbar’s educators made the best of the demeaning and cruel Jim Crow system. Their achievements were “stunning.” Graduates of Dunbar led the legal fight against de jure segregationand pioneered world class innovations in medicine, scholarship, art and music.  One eminent Dunbar graduate after another, often after earning doctorates from prestigious universities, returned to build an incredible learning institution. 

Ironically, some of Dunbar’s top graduates like Charles Hamilton Houston and James Nabrit led the fight to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson.  When de jure segregation was outlawed in 1954, Dunbar was hurriedly turned into a neighborhood school.  The school could no longer be a magnet for the most promising black students from outside the neighborhood and it then served students who may have had little elementary education and who were not ready to meet Dunbar’s elite standards.

So, my counter-factual question is why wasn’t Dunbar seen as a national treasure, not unlike the Grand Canyon or the Supreme Court? Why was there no consideration of an obvious policy – admitting whites without undermining its status as its era's magnet school?

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Thompson: Experiment At DC's Hart Middle School No Game-Changer Yet

OnlineLast year, the Washington Post's Emma Brown wrote a story titled  D.C. Students Test "Teach to One" Learning System that reported that the online instruction program at Hart Middle School cost a million dollars to wire a single classroom.  Brown quoted D.C Chancellor Kaya Henderson as saying that the experiment could be a "game changer." 

The program put students in classes of 180 where they could use online instruction to work at their own pace. Brown reported that it would take three years before we could see if this new approach could transform the low performing middle school.

It is hard to test an experiment, however, unless the results are reported.  Where are the quantitative and qualitative evaluations of Hart's outcomes?  In a year when D.C. claims unprescendented gains in its DC-CAS, I wonder whether it is happy with Hart's composite test scores of 28.1 - up just two points. 

JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.   

Thompson: Who Are "They" Asks PBS's John Merrow?

StopAt the end of his two-part PBS report on Common Core last week, John Merrow asks the $64,000 question: who are "they?"

Merrow starts by showing the type of classroom interactions that most teachers aspire to, as a Common Core teacher interacts with students in multimedia, multidisciplinary ways to encourage critical thinking, problem solving, good listening skills, speaking skills, and collaboration.  So, there must be "reformers" who watch the segment and ask the question about educators who oppose Common Core - why are "they" resisting us?  

But, Merrow and Barbara Kapinus, of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium agree that they have not been able to devise tests that assess everything that was intended.  Unless "they" - policy makers - stop mistrusting teachers, the tests are likely to be misused.  Since "they" intend to use Common Core for accountability, teachers are likely to be too scared to teach its standards properly.  They will revert to teach-to-the-test basic skills instruction.

The interview with Kapinus raises an intriguing question question as to whether there is no single "they" who support the idea that we need a test worth teaching to.  Did "they" - Education Secretary  Arne Duncan and the governors  - not understand what they - the testing experts - know about the problems inherent in adding stakes to tests. 

Did the experts not know what "they" - the accountability hawks - do not know about standards, teaching, and assessments? If "they" - the big boys who impose one "reform" on teachers after another - understood schools, teaching and learning, would they have have understood the inherent contradiction between higher standards and a test worth teaching with?-JT (@drjohnthompson) Image via.

Thompson: The Moral Complexities of Opting Out

NsaI have long had conflicted feelings regarding teachers’ timidity in resisting test-driven “reform.”

Of course, it is disgraceful that we have barely resorted to direct actions ranging from work stoppages to boycotts or civil disobedience.  

I still can’t say where I should have drawn the line, much less determine at what point my fellow teachers should have fought back.

Above all, we must listen to students like California teacher/blogger Chris Thinnes' son, who decided to opt out of testing -- and then reconsidered.

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Thompson: "Reformers" & Misuse of NAEP Data

RheeAs much as I respect Education Week’s Steve Sawchuk, his recent blog post article When Bad Things Happen to Good NAEP Data was a disappointment. He recounted examples of “misnaepery” or the misuse of NAEP data. 

In doing so, Sawchuk demonstrated a false equivalency between egregious violations of scholarship by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee’s Students First, and realtors trying to hype the schools in their area with the careful research of Elaine Weiss and Don Long, in their Market-Oriented Education Reforms’ Rhetoric Trumps Reality

And, Sawchuk also tossed in the obligatory quote by Diane Ravitch in a way that implied that her scholarship was similarly questionable.

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Social Media: Ed Writers Notably Missing From 2013 Klout List

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The main thing that jumps out at me looking at this year's Fordham Foundation Top Twitter Feeds in Education Policy is what a great equalizer the social media service seems to be, lumping together individuals (Diane Ravitch, Mike Klonsky, Anthony Cody) with massive institutions, appointed officials and classroom (or former classroom) teachers -- and also the absence of mainstream media outlets/journalists.

Either because they were exluded or didn't make the cut, there's nobody from the New York Times this year, USA Today, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal (or Politico).  Of course, these mainstream media folks crush everyone else when it comes to overall influence and readership, given the size and prominence of their outlets. And of course they're limited by their roles in terms of what they can do and say in between reporting stories.

Among journalist types, HuffPost's Joy Resmovits is way ahead of me in Klout but lags behind in followers (not sure why that is).  The PoliticsK12 team is a smidgen ahead of me on Klout but way ahead in followers (makes more sense, right?).  Note that TWIE contributors John Thompson and Paul Bruno among others deserve credit for helping attract followers and boosting "my" Klout number.

Author Mike Petrilli points out the rough balance between individuals and institutions, as well that the list has changed little in recent years, reveals little racial diversity and is dominated by men, and contains only a few newcomers (@carrischneider, @getting_smarter both new to me). NCTQ zoomed into the top echelon, with other newcomcers like John Bailey.

Thompson: Roland Fryer's "No Excuses" Excuses

FryerThe Houston Chronicle's Erika Mellon, in Funder Puts Hold on $3 Million Donation to HISD, reports that the Houston Endowment notified the Houston school system that its last contribution to its expensive "Apollo 20" project has been put on hold. 

The endowment seeks a meeting with the district and Harvard University researcher Roland Fryer in regard to Fryer's delay in providing an evaluation of the controversial experiment's outcomes.

Fryer issued a heated reply which, in effect, said, Scientist at Work: Do Not Disturb. The MacArthur Foundation "Genius" said that the most important thing for him, professionally, is his academic reputation. Fryer said he doesn't yet have the data required for "real Science." 

If the data is not good enough for an academic publication, he sniffed, then its not good enough to show a funder. "Perhaps my standards are too high," Fryer wrote, "but I am not going to lower them for HISD."

He agreed with the suggestion that a third party might evaluate Apollo 20, "if you can find a firm or an academic willing to use the current data and put their name behind that, perhaps the right thing to do is to hire them and insist they turn around a report quickly for you."

The Houston experiment with the mass removal of teachers and extending a "No Excuses" pedagogy to traditional public schools has not gone well.  Apollo 20's first year gains - modest as they were - were based on the scores of students who were tested in the spring of 2011. Second year results seemed to be even more disappointing, but Fryer did not publish a formal report on them.

Fryer protests too much. Social scientists usually are transparent in reporting the size and demographics of their original sample, as well as openly reporting the size of the sample that persisted through the full experiment. After all, it was the results of final test takers that the only formal evaluation was based on.

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Thompson: Gentrification Caused DC Test Score Increase, Says Merrow

KayaBy now, when any struggling school system continues to issue claims of dramatic gains in student performance, one would assume that those claims would be ignored. 

Until systems like Washington D.C. produce gains on the reliable NAEP assessments for students other than those at the top, one would think that it’s annual boasts about increased learning would draw yawns. 

John Merrow, in A Story about Michelle Rhee that No One Will Print, reaches the common-sense conclusion that D.C.’s latest improvements are largely due to gentrification.

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Thompson: Fall Testing Is A Great Idea (Even If It Comes From TFA)

StopJustin “Juice" Fong, who runs internal communications at Teach for America, in his blog post A Simple Idea to Reform Standardized Testing, offers the single best idea that I have heard to end the educational civil war that is undermining sincere efforts both sides for improving schools. 

I just wish I had thought of it!

Fong would move testing to the beginning of the year. 

Tests could then be used for diagnostic purposes, and teachers could collaboratively engage in an item-by-item analysis in the first month of school. That would help them plan for the rest of the year.

Test results could still be used as one way to assess the quality of schools.  September testing would cut down on test prep, and might become a tool for preventing summer learning loss.  

Fong says that the scheduling change would be a productive way to “blur the lines that directly tie teacher performance to high stakes test scores.”

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Thompson: Oklahoma Educators Praise and Condemn Common Core

Keep-calm-and-let-me-have-my-own-opinionDuring the recent Oklahoma Forum on Common Core, I kept recalling the way that I went back and forth on the issue, listening to all sides before reaching the conclusion that I would have liked to have supported the standards were it not for the high-stakes testing that will accompany them.

I was most impressed by the president of  Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Everett Piper, who opposed Common Core and called for a return to liberal arts education and the clash of ideas.

I disagreed with Jenni White of Restore Oklahoma Public Education but she did a good job of presenting a conservative argument against Common Core.

So, I checked out her blog, ROPE. Its graphic read, "Keep Calm and Let Me Have My Own Opinion."

I am willing to listen and work with another Forum panelist, Amber England of Stand for Children (who supported Common Core), on the issue where we agree - early education.  And, I'd work with the Tea Party in opposing federal overreach.

Bu  I do not know what to think about panelist Ann Caine, the superintendent of Stillwater Public Schools. Common Core is good for kids, Caine asserted, "End of the discussion."  -- JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via. 

Thompson: TFA & The Burden Of Proof

TfaA light went on when I first read the opinion of a labor economist, whom I greatly respect, when he argued that it was unclear that school reformers have the burden of proof.

It is understandable that non-educators might not judge the contemporary school improvement movement as a failure if they believe that the educational status quo is so rotten that its unintended negative consequences should be discounted.

People who never set foot in the inner city classroom might be agnostic about the modest benefits of accountability-driven “reform,” if they remain unaware of the harm that it inflicted on the most challenging schools  

It is upsetting, however, that a person who actually spent three years in the classroom would seem to claim that outsiders seeking to impose their opinions on schools do not carry the burden of proof.  But, that is what TFA Co-CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard did in her address Fighting the Wrong Enemy. She was not explicit in defining who the defenders of the status quo are, but she implied that they are opponents of Teach For America, charter schools, Bill Gates or standardized testing.

Ms. Beard was firing up a crowd of alumni. It would be doubly upsetting if she used such rhetoric for a crowd that included young teachers.  Veteran teachers should unite in explaining to the newbies that the first rule of teaching should be, “First, Do No Harm.”

Teachers and school reformers need to understand that it is better to slow down and avoid mistakes rather than clean up afterwards. Children aren't lab rats. Who would want our own family’s school leaders to deny that they have a burden of proof, as they roll the dice in an experiment that might benefit a daughter a little as it damages a son?-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.

Thompson: DFER's Barone Comes Clean About NCLB's True Purpose

RejectOne good thing about Charlie Barone of the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) is that he doesn't mince words. 

In his recent post, Test Mania A Mere Symptom of Bipolar Policy Disorder, Barone replies to Brent Staples' The Trouble With Testing Mania.

Staples’ New York Times editorial cautiously and constructively criticized testing gone wild. 

Some "reformers" might have stuck with their party line that the ultimate purpose of test-driven accountability is helping children. 

Instead, Barone admits that testing and test prep has stolen time from instruction. But he claims that teachers also waste class time showing movies, texting, sleeping, and with “teacher student underage sex.”

Barone, an author of NCLB, does not claim an educational reason for its test-driven accountability. He bluntly acknowledges that the purpose of testing-driven reforms was "differentiating between effective and ineffective teachers and between successful and failing education systems."  

In theory, that could have helped more students than it hurt, but Barone is not very curious about why NCLB accountability failed.

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Thompson: Hey, Chicago - Recess Is Worth It

RecessCatalyst Chicago's Rebecca Harris, in Recess Time Headed for a Rocky Road, reports that providing recess to 125 students with two or three adults to supervise is a recipe for expensive problems.

It costs $25 per child per year, however, for  Chicago schools to fulfill the promise to provide a safe twenty-minute recess while increasing the school day.

Some Chicago schools found the money for PlayWorks, a program that decreased bullying, improved students’ feelings of safety, increased the amount of exercise students, and gave teachers more time for instruction. Others did not. 

A survey of parents at 20 schools by the parent group POWER-PAC found even more discouraging results. Schools didn’t always view recess as a requirement and some saw it as a time for art class or for students to catch up on homework. Harris reports, "one-third of the schools took recess away from students for disciplinary reasons, including failing to finish their work." Some students weren't allowed to play and were required to walk up and down the playground as a disciplinary measure. 

Do the leaders of those schools have no shame? -JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via. (I believe I'm the kid on the far right of Lewis Hines photograph of that Oklahoma school.) 

Thompson: Can't We All Endorse Greg Anrig's Call for Compromise?

AnrigI have enormous respect for Greg Anrig and I'd prefer a return to the old-fashioned politics based on compromise. So, I approached Anrig's Education Week Commentary From Health-Care Reform, Lessons for Education Policy with a willingness to listen. 

He says that we could end this  "relentless conflict" between teachers unions and our opponents if we would focus on research that highlights the principles necessary to improve systems.

So, what concessions would Anrig ask of teachers? 

Anrig summarizes the research that contributed to health care reform, and suggests that education also could benefit from commonalities that work across institutions. He proposes to end our educational civil war by adopting "unusually high degrees of collaboration, close attentiveness to testing data for diagnostic (not punitive) purposes, and adaptability."

Anrig further proposes that we heed the research of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, which stresses the need for relational trust, a coherent and challenging curriculum, and "cultivating teachers, parents, and community members so that they become invested in sharing overall responsibility for the school's improvement." He also endorses the research of David Kirp documenting the benefits of high-quality early education.

Anrig thus embraces the heart of the teachers' agenda and doesn't mention anything that we would not enthusiastically embrace.

But, what would the "reformers" have to give up?

Anrig proposes, "at a bare minimum" we roll back or eliminate many of NCLB's punitive elements and linking teacher pay to test-score.

I'm always open to making concessions, but that is the type of compromise I'd love. We support the evidence-based policies that are most dear to the hearts of teachers in return for the other side stopping the punitive policies that we most oppose.JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.


Thompson: Indiana Chief Concerned TVals Will Discriminate Against Newbies

AgediscriminationSchool reformers like State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Bennett say that they want to attract new teaching talent, especially to high-poverty schools.  So, they impose a not-ready-for-prime-time evaluation system that they would never impose on professionals who they respect. Also, Bennett's RISE system is bound to be systematically unfair to high-poverty schools and inexperienced teachers.

However, The Hechinger Report's Scott Elliot and Sarah Butrymowicz, in Indiana's New Education Chief Is Changing the Game on Teacher Evaluations, explain that the new state superintendent, Glenda Ritz, brings a new depth of understanding to teacher quality issues.

Ritz is subtly backing away from the test score growth part of the new system. Ritz makes a point that even the least knowledgeable policy-makers should have anticipated: Inexperienced teachers tend to have lower test score growth and thus will disproportionately land in the needs improvement category. How do you attract young talent when they have an inherent disadvantage in earning performance bonuses, or keeping their jobs?

States that move ahead with high-stakes value-added will eventually face a stark choice.  They can drive out teachers who teach in schools where it is harder to meet test score targets, as well as their newbies. Or, they can juke the system, pad other parts of evaluations, and play statistical games so that they don't eat their young.  But, there is a name for playing tricks in order to give promising rookies an advantage.  It is called age discrimination. - JT (@drjohnthompson) Image via.    

Thompson: Reform Stress Has Negative Effects On Kids & Educators

StressSymptomsNPR's Rachel Martin, in Superintendent's Effort To Do Right By His Kids nailed the essence of LA Superintendent John Deasy's zealotry, as well as the hubris that has distorted accountability-driven "reform."

Deasy says that one of the things that keeps him up at night is worrying how quickly is he can make good on the promise he made to the youth in Los Angeles. He acknowledges that his rush to transform the schools imposes stress on teachers.  He doesn't understand why everyone would not "get over" that stress.

Deasy warns that educators across the nation will soon be following his driven approach because, "LA is America," and "we are coming to a hometown near you."

Deasy closes his affirmation of stress-induced sleeplessness as a force for helping children with the claim, "the economic viability of LA in California is intrinsically linked to the ability for this country to move forward. And that is going to depend on whether I can live up to the promise of getting every single student college and career ready."

However, Deasy is clueless about what is takes to overcome the educational legacies of poverty. The problem is intense concentrations of poverty and trauma, and the stress that they impose. Inner city schools need more stress like we need another gang war.

Deasy ignores the first rule of school improvement that, "the feces stress rolls downhill." He and other high-profile accountability hawks are oblivious to the fact that their rush to "reform"  dumps extreme stress on adults, and that poison inevitably pollutes children's schools. - JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via. 

Thompson: Involuntary Transfers In Miami-Dade

ExhaustionJason Grissom’s, Susanna Loeb’s, and Nathaniel Nakashima’s Involuntary Teacher Transfers and Student Achievement is an example of how economic research could improve schools. 

I suspect that Grissom et. al have a theory of action (emphasizing the importance of information) that is the opposite of mine (which emphasizes the importance of politics).

But they ask the right questions, they present both sides of the argument, and they thus provide a promising format for discussions.

Grissom et. al conclude that Miami Dade’s experiment in district-initiated teacher transfers shows that forced transfers, when used strategically to undo the systematic sorting of less qualified teachers into the neediest schools, can be beneficial to students and also to the transferred teacher.

They added the qualifier, “Of course, the operative word in both of the preceding sentences is can.” (emphasis in the original.)

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Thompson: What's New in the Latest CREDO Charter School Study?

Coverstory1-1The new CREDO study, National Charter School Study, 2013, shows that charter schools perform about the same as traditional public schools. This prompts the question of why "reformers" use charters as the default in improving urban schools. 

As Diane Ravitch asks in New Charter Study Shows Improvement, Raises Questions, given all the advantages they've been granted, why are charters not doing better?

Charter advocates counter that charters are doing a relatively better job than 2009 when CREDO studied charters in 16 states. CREDO claims that its methodology of Virtual Control Record (VCR) allows the comparison of virtual demographic twins, so it is making an apples-to-apples comparison of effectiveness.  

In Charter Schools Offer Scant Edge Over Neighborhood Schools: Study, Reuters' Stephanie Simon explains that under the VCR a homeless student can be a "twin" of a child living in a household of four earning $43,000.

I would add that the same applies, for instance, in regard to special education. CREDO can't distinguish between students with learning disabilities, as opposed to serious emotional disturbance; charters do not need to accept large numbers of students who are often emotionally unable to control their behavior.

The percentage of special education students in the entire 27 state charter study was nearly 40% below the percentage of IEP students in the traditional public schools in their states.  Moreover, the percentage of special education students in new charters dropped since 2009.

How have charters done since 2009 in terms of VCRs? Performance for virtual twins in charters dropped in both reading and math. So, if we look at the part of CREDO research that they brag about the most, charters still underperform.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.  

Thompson: Common Core's Greatest Weakness

Common_core_revisedI had been agnostic about Common Core.  I would enthusiastically support rigorous new standards were it not for the assessments which accompanied them.  Once systems adopt Common Core tests, however, it is likely to become the new curriculum. 

Claire Needell Hollander's No Learning Without Feeling, in the New York Times, provides the best explanation I've read about the flaws inherent in using assessments as the lever for mastering Common Core's standards.  Hollander, a middle school teacher, explains that for teachers "emotion is our lever. The teen mind is our stone."

Once high stakes standardized tests are involved, however, Common Core's architects must focus on the "bloodless task" of avoiding political risks.  They must create "neutral" texts that are "created to be 'agnostic' with regard to student interest ... They are texts no child would choose to read on her own."

Common Core is neutral as to whether "students should read Shakespeare, Salinger or a Ford owner’s manual, so long as the text remains 'complex.'” As long as students' curiosity, sadness, confusion and knowledge deficits are ignored, they will be on "receiving end of lessons planned for a language-skills learning abstraction."

We have always had some educators who believe that learning is an primarily an affair of "the Head," not "the Heart," and that the cure for bubble-in test-driven malpractice is designing a test worth teaching to. But Common Core imposed that minority view upon almost all of this diverse nation's schools.  Soon, we will be reading a wave of postmortems on the resulting debacle. When that happens, I hope we will remember how Ms. Hollander predicted, chapter and verse, why it failed.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via. 


Thompson: Common Core "Pause" Opponents Have It Backwards

CommoncoretransitionThe Huffington Post’s Joy Resmovits, in Common Core Transition Will Give Time to Make Evaluations Count, explains that Secretary of Education Duncan announced a voluntary pause in using test scores in teacher evaluations during the transition to Common Core.  She explains that the new policy is seen by some as a "tacit recognition of the Obama administration's overreach into nitty-gritty management of America's schools."

Some "reformers" are upset that states can wait until metrics are somewhat more accurate (or less inaccurate) before firing teachers using high stakes tests. The TNTP complains that some states will retain bad teachers who are rated as ineffective.  It doesn't mention the states that will also fire good teachers who are wrongly identified as ineffective by not-ready-for-prime-time tests and statistical models.

The Education Trust makes the same point, but then it contradicts itself. It complains that Duncan’s new policy will result in the “unreasonable” definition of growth where old and new measures of growth are combined.  It is silent about teachers who will be fired using such definitions.  

According to the USDOE Fact Sheet, ten states want to fire teachers this year or next year using test score growth.  By definition, they are combining a jumble of old tests for something they were not designed for.  Then, then can either take the invalid approach of firing teachers using one or two years of data, or they can engage in the practice that the Trust condemns and dump primitive bubble-in tests into an algorithm along with rigorous new assessments. In fact, by definition, only two states (who have received waivers) have the schedule that allows for reasonable testing of the new assessments and the growth models.

Daria Hall, EdTrust's K-12 director, protests, "You could have a teacher teaching the Common Core in the morning but old standards in the afternoon.” She doesn’t seem upset by the inevitable result where some inner city teachers will thus be determined to be effective (or better) in the afternoon, but fired because their low-skilled students couldn’t make the overnight transition to the much more rigorous Common Core curriculum.

By the way, Duncan and his critics both ignore the obvious.  If they didn't insist on using test scores, districts could already be firing bad teachers based on their performance, as opposed to experimental models that may never become valid for evaluations.-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.   

Thompson: The Batavia School Board's Contempt for Students' and Teachers' Rights

MaoAlexa Aguilar, in the Tri-Cities Tribune (Batavia Teacher in 5th Amendment Debate Ordered to Curb Remarks) writes that John Dryden, a twenty-year veteran teacher, served a one-day suspension without pay as punishment for words that the district considers "inappropriate and unprofessional."

Specifically, Dryden was punished for telling students that they had the right to not answer a survey about their illegal drug use. 

The School Board issued a "notice to remedy" letter to Dryden, ordering him to refrain from making "flippant" remarks or providing "legal advice."   The teacher must not "mischaracterize" or "discredit" any district initiative.

How should we characterize a survey with the student’s name printed at the top that asks about the student’s illegal drug use? Should anyone believe that such a survey meets professional standards for targeting students in need of social or emotional help?

Speaking of initiatives that are inappropriate in a constitutional democracy, the Board demanded that Dryden must now repeat any district directive back to his boss and agree to comply. Dryden replied that the new requirements are "demeaning, vague, overly broad and constructed to entrap me in a future infraction for the purpose of termination." I’d say that they sound like the Communist Chinese war against “verbal struggles.”

On the other hand, wouldn’t advocates of new college ready standards support a classroom assignment such as an analysis that compares and contrasts the practice of “criticism and self-criticism” during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and American schools in the 21st century. Mao said, “So long as a person who has made mistakes does not hide his sickness for fear of treatment or persist in his mistakes until he is beyond cure, so long as he honestly and sincerely wishes to be cured and to mend his ways, we should welcome him and cure his sickness so that he can become a good comrade.” Perhaps students could compare Mao's position with American school systems’ policies on free speech. - JT (@drjohnthompson) Image via.

Thompson: Stop the Criminalization of Absenteeism / Misconduct

Examining-the-school-to-prison-pipeline-2In my experience, the two main causes of educational failure are cancer and heart disease.  Competing for the third spot are diabetes, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and incarceration.  When severe illnesses disrupt families, too many kids fall off the conveyor belt which is k-12 schooling and too few get help in climbing back on.

Rather than treat the main causes of truancy, which are the key factors that undermine families and schools, we ratcheted the blame game.  Texas has taken the resulting criminalization of absenteeism, tardiness, and school misbehavior to its most brutal conclusion.

The Huffington Post’s Joy Resmovits, in School Discipline Changes Urged in Federal Complaint Against Dallas Truancy System, reports that Texas filed 113,000 truancy cases in 2012.  Granted, that is more than the number of prosecutions in the other 49 states combined.

But, it is an admittedly extreme example of the more common tendency to use the legal system to address behaviors that public schools should handle. 

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