Education · public education

A win for teachers in NJ

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In keeping with one of his campaign promises, NJ Governor Phil Murphy reduced the weight of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test scores on teacher evaluations from 30% (as mandated by his predecessor, Chris Christie) to 5%. A statement from the NJEA supports the need for the change. “State law continues to require that standardized test scores play some role in teacher evaluation despite the lack of any evidence that they serve a valid purpose” (NJEA.org).

For many years, researchers have warned educators against using standardized test scores for teacher evaluation.  Educators have maintained that PARCC is an intrusive, harmful test that disrupts learning and does not adequately measure student learning or teacher effectiveness (NJEA.org).  The decision, lauded by teachers, allows the focus of education to be on teaching and learning, and not test prep.

Instruction should inform assessment, not the other way around. By some estimates, the amount of time spent on just the testing was excessive: third graders had 9.75 hours of PARCC testing and high school students about 11 hours. The test administration was riddled with problems –  schools didn’t have enough computers to administer tests,  districts found the website erratic, much time was taken from classroom instruction to teach students how to take the test on the computer, and schools had to resort to taking a paper and pencil test.

State Senate President Steven Sweeney and State Senator Theresa Ruiz expressed their disappointment with Murphy’s decision. “This is a victory for special interests and a huge step backward towards a better public education in New Jersey. We look forward to the department providing data as to why these decisions are being made and how they will benefit our children” (TapIntoSOMA).  Interesting statement as there is little data to support how testing actually benefits children. In the past few years, there has been a  backlash from parents and students who opposed not only the test itself, but also the test prep.

Sweeney and Ruiz also said. “Every child deserves a teacher who advances their academic progress and prepares them for college and career readiness. We must provide the data and resources for all our teachers to excel and ensure every student has the opportunity to realize their fullest potential” (TapIntoSOMA).

Education Week publishes a yearly ranking of states public schools. In 2018 New Jersey ranked second in best public education in the country (Massachusetts is first). Something clearly is working, but it’s not the test.

New Jersey

  • High school graduation rate: 90.1% (2nd highest)
  • Public school spending: $16,337 per pupil (6th highest)
  • 8th grade NAEP proficiency: 46.2% (math) 40.6% (reading)
  • Adults with at least a bachelor’s degree: 38.6% (4th highest)
  • Adults 25-64 with incomes at or above national median: 60.0% (4th highest)

Of the state’s total taxable resources, 4.8% goes towards education, second highest percentage in the country after Vermont.

Higher spending on public education does not always guarantee better outcomes, but in New Jersey, the higher funding appears to have translated to good outcomes. The state’s fourth and eighth-grade students are among the top 10 in NAEP math and reading proficiency, and 16.3% of eighth graders are advanced in math, the second highest percentage among states (USA Today).

Reducing the weight student assessment will have on teacher evaluation is welcomed news to teachers, however, the discussion of PARCC in NJ classrooms is not over.

This decision comes on the heels of another one of Murphy’s campaign pledges to revisit the PARCC Assessment for students. The New Jersey State Board of Education this week postponed the decision on Governor Murphy’s proposed regulations that would:

1) Reduce the number of PARCC tests high school students must take from six to two.

2) Shorten by 25% the length of time that all New Jersey public school students spend taking standardized tests.

3) Change the graduation requirements for the classes of 2021 and beyond, to enable students to use multiple other options to graduate (SAT, ACT, PSAT, ASVAB, Accuplacer, and the portfolio option) in addition to achieving a score of 4 or 5 on the PARCC Algebra 1 and 10th grade English Language Arts tests (saveourschoolsnj.org).

Some say the decision was tabled because they didn’t have the votes to approve the changes. Theresa Ruiz said PARCC testing was an important gauge of student and teacher performance (njspotlight.com). Few educators would agree with Ruiz.

NJEA President Marie Blistan said, “I am disappointed they didn’t vote on it, but I am still hopeful they will get (the changes) done. It’s the right thing to do, it’s based on facts and evidence” (njspotlight.com).

NJ Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet said his plan was only to reduce the testing by four exams over the course of a student’s career.  “I want to be clear to the board and to the public that we are not changing standards, we are not changing high-quality assessment. We are not even changing graduation requirements” (njspotlight.com).

One thing is for sure, this decision must be made soon, so districts have time to make whatever adjustments need to be made.

These are my reflections for today.

9/14/18

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achievement gap · Education · public education

Drawing (obvious) Conclusions

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Results are in from the 2017 National Assessment of Education Progress, also called NAEP or The Nation’s Report Card. NAEP is a national exam given to fourth and eighth grade students to “assess what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas” (The Nation’s Report Card).

Average reading scores for eighth-graders increased from 2015, yet there were no changes for reading at fourth grade or for math at either grade. Reformers say their efforts are improving scores, and public school advocates say their increase in scores- “were “flat” and “stagnating,” “mixed” and “steady” or even contained “bright spots” (Atlanta Journal Constitutional).

After reading the scores, one educational advocacy group wanted better “screening” for teachers, another more private school options. Several said schools needed stronger accountability, which usually means testing, but an anti-testing group said nearly two-decades of high-stakes tests had produced little progress (Atlanta Journal Constitutional).

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What about the achievement gap? Well, to no one’s surprise, it’s widening. “In fourth-grade reading, for example, the gap between the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent of students widened by four points. In fourth-grade math, the gap widened by six points” (Hechinger Report).

The gap in reading scores between the top 10% and the bottom 10% increased by three points. The gap in math scores between the top 10% and the bottom 10% increased by six points (Hechinger Report).

Students in Chicago, touted last year by the New York Times as “the most effective school district in America, based on how much students had been advancing each year from 2009 to 2015″ did not show gains this year (Hechinger Report).

After many years of impressive gains in Washington DC (now attributed to questionable practices), educational progress stalled in 2017 as students remain well below the national average. While in San Diego, Fresno, and Los Angeles, schools reported gains in fourth grade reading scores. At the same time higher income districts also showed gains.

None of this should be a surprise. Top income level students fare well on the test, and  bottom income level students do not. The gap doesn’t narrow if both groups continue to move (or not move) at the same rate. So how do we narrow the achievement gap? Continuing to take tests and report results no one finds surprising doesn’t help. Pointing fingers at who’s fault it is doesn’t help. Pointing out stagnant scores of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, though glaringly obvious, also doesn’t help.

According to Brookings Institute, “Unless we rapidly increase the rates at which we close our race-, ethnicity-, and income-based gaps, unequal access to education and the consequences of this inequality will affect students today as well as subsequent generations.”

We have to change the variables. Offer students support they need in reading and math to get better. Fund initiatives that support students who need assistance. Train teachers to be more effective with students who continue to score low.

NAEP scores are a big deal, but mostly to people who want to point fingers at each other. My dad used to say, “Figures don’t lie, liars figure.” NAEP scores tell us what we already know. What are we going to do about it? For the sake of all children, do something differently next time.

These are my reflections for today.

4/20/18

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Betsy DeVos · Education · public education

…Like Rats on a Sinking Ship

Common Core Standards were created in an effort to ensure all students, regardless of where they live, are graduating high school prepared for college, career, and life. It was a lofty goal from the beginning. They were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association and  generously funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

With more than $200 million, the Gates Foundation bankrolled the development of the standards, while building political support across the country (Washington Post).  “Bill Gates was de facto organizer, providing the money and structure for states to work together on common standards in a way that avoided the usual collision between states’ rights and national interests that had undercut every previous effort, dating from the Eisenhower administration (Washington Post).

States latched on to the standards thinking this would cure what ails them. Others latched on because it was required if a state was applying for Obama’s Race to the Top school funding initiative.

They have been tremendously costly, and did nothing to bridge the achievement gap, or prepare students for college, career, or life. Why didn’t they work? According to Diane Ravitch,

They were written in a manner that violates the nationally and international recognized process for writing standards. The process by which they were created was so fundamentally flawed that these “standards” should have no legitimacy.

Setting national academic standards is not something done in stealth by a small group of people, funded by one source, and imposed by the lure of a federal grant in a time of austerity.

There is a recognized protocol for writing standards, and the Common Core standards failed to comply with that protocol.

In 2010, 46 states and the District of Columbia agreed to adopt the National Common Core Standards, with 19 of those states also agreeing to the aligned Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) standardized assessment.

In 2016, the number of states still using Common Core dropped 62% to 20, with only 7 states giving the PARCC assessment. States abandoned Common Core like rats on a sinking ship.

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In New Jersey, former Governor Christie dropped Common Core in 2016, and replaced it with NJ Student Learning Standards, which look remarkably similar, just repackaged and renamed. In one of his first orders of business as the new Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy dropped PARCC, saying it will be replaced with a new test TBD. Murphy said, “The notion of assessing kids to make sure we understand how they’re doing, I’m all in for that. But these big, white-knuckle, once-a-year, with lots of weeks getting folks tuned up to take a particular test I’m not a fan of. Never have been” (NJ.com).

The rebranding and repackaging seems to be a way for states to claim they’re getting away from the failed Common Core, but they’re really not. Below is a sample of 4 Common Core standards (CCSS) and the same 4 New Jersey Student Learning standards (NJSLS): They’re verbatim.

CCSS.Math.Content.4.OA.A.1
Interpret a multiplication equation as a comparison, e.g., interpret 35 = 5 × 7 as a statement that 35 is 5 times as many as 7 and 7 times as many as 5. Represent verbal statements of multiplicative comparisons as multiplication equations.

Interpret a multiplication equation as a comparison, e.g., interpret 35 = 5 × 7 as a statement that 35 is 5 times as many as 7 and 7 times as many as 5. Represent verbal statements of multiplicative comparisons as multiplication equations.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.1
Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.4.2
Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.
RL.4.1. Refer to details and examples in a text and make relevant connections when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

RL.4.2. Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.

I guess it’s true, the more things change the more they stay the same.

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Education experts agreed  the PARCC assessments did not fare well because the tests’ implementation “became intertwined with new, controversial teacher evaluations and school accountability measures” (Heartland.org). In a nutshell, the assessment was to be aligned to some degree (as determined by each state) with teacher evaluation. Education experts have repeatedly said aligning student performance to teacher evaluations is highly problematic. Additionally, there was a significant amount of time teachers needed to prepare students for the exam which took away countless hours of instructional time. The tests were to be given electronically, and that was an issue, as well. Many schools were not equipped with enough computers to administer the tests.

The Bush administration, through No Child Left Behind (NCLB) began the testing and accountability movement with a bit of school choice-thrown in- meaning parents could choose to send their kids to a school with a higher performance rating than their home school (to which most parents opted to keep their children in the neighborhood). NCLB was a precursor to Common Core.

The Obama administration, through the Race to the Top initiative pushed for more testing, and teacher evaluations connected to student performance. “With a price tag of nearly four and a half billion dollars, it was billed as the ‘largest-ever federal investment in school reform.’ Later, the Department would give states a waiver from NCLB’s requirements so long as they adopted the Obama administration’s preferred policies-aligning teacher evaluation with student performance, and fully adopting Common Core Standards(Berry, 2018). Race to the Top didn’t work either.

That leaves the current administration. Last year Betsy DeVos said the Every Student Succeeds Act  (ESSA) effectively does away “with the notion of the Common Core,” (EdWeek).  The ESSA left it to states to decide on their standards. However, this decision was always up to the states. Alex Newman of the Freedom Project  wrote, “Despite blasting federal overreach in education… U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continued to mislead Americans on Common Core last week.”

The Trump administration seems unsure which side of the fence to be on with regard to Common Core. Either that, or they don’t understand the legislation. Though Trump has said repeatedly he wants to end Common Core, that would require a change in federal law. And if DeVos truly believes Common Core is dead, it’s only dead in the states that stopped using it, with no federal role in the decision.

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States truly wanting to move away from Common Core and PARCC need to create well-written, piloted, modified, and adopted curricula and get away from what didn’t work. The next step would be to create assessments which are aligned to curricula, can be used to inform instruction, don’t undermine creativity,  can be more beneficial to teachers and students, and not such a financial burden to school districts.

If you ask children growing up in low income areas what they want for their schools, I’d bet the farm not one of them would say curriculum standards that align with standardized tests.

These are my reflections for today.

2/2/18

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Betsy DeVos · Charter Schools · Education · public education · Teaching · vouchers

1.6 million poor kids lose in ED budget

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The White House released the proposed education budget this week. The budget is harmful to public education- cutting teacher training and funding to reduce class size, and ending the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which would affect 400,000 students. And no surprise to anyone who has been following, charter schools would receive $500 million in new funding, an increase of 50%. This is  bothersome.

Equally as disturbing is the $1.2 billion cut of the 21st Century Community Learning Center. This program provides after school academic enrichment for 1.6 million children in the US (ThinkProgress). Children who benefit from this program generally come from high poverty, under-performing schools.

According to the program’s 2014–2015 performance report:

  • 80% of parents whose children are served by after-school programs say that those programs helped them keep their job.
  • 65.2% of teachers reported an improvement in homework completion and class participation for students served by the program.
  • 56% of teachers reported improvement in student behavior (ThinkProgress).

Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation whose work focuses on educational inequality said, “Their stated reason for cutting after-school programs is the idea that there isn’t evidence quickly boosting student achievement.”

This budget is adding $500 million to a voucher program which has very little evidence to support its effectiveness (especially with regard to the positive effects on children living in poverty), while cutting programs which positively affect 1.6 million poor children and data supports its effectiveness. How does this make sense?

With data collected from 30 states, the program’s performance report shows how this program has an overlapping positive impact on the children and  families who participate. Let’s not forget the report which came out recently showing how the DC voucher program was not working.

What’s in the budget for DeVos?  “An additional $158 million for salaries and expenses in the Education Department.” A portion of this money will go for increased security for DeVos, who has contracted the U.S. Marshals Service instead of the ED’s security team (The Fader).

This budget is aligned with what Trump and DeVos have been pushing all along – the privatization of public schools. It’s interesting to note that with all the president has on his plate lately, he still has time to destroy public education and ignore the needs of so many children in this country.

DeVos and her husband are deeply rooted in their evangelical Christian beliefs. Her actions and her beliefs seem to take distinctly different positions on educating poor children. The irony is not lost on me.

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If you would like to get involved in the campaign to let your representatives in Congress know how you feel about the proposed budget: https://networkforpubliceducation.org/2017/05/act-now-stop-cuts-public-education/

These are my reflections for today.

5/20/17

Betsy DeVos · Charter Schools · Education · public education · Teaching

Transparency in the Education Budget

While the first budget to come out of this administration is likely to face much scrutiny in Congress, it is important to understand the priorities  of this administration  when it comes to public education:

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Here are the proposed cuts:

Grants to states for teacher training
– $2.4 billion

Grants to colleges for teacher preparation
– $43 million

Impact Aid
– $66 million

Special Education
No Change

College Work-Study
Reduce “significantly”

Upward Bound & Related TRIO Programs
– $200 million

SEOG program for low-income college students
– $732 million

Pell Reserves
– $3.9 billion

Here are the proposed additions:

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School Choice
+ $1.4 billion

Title I Portability
+ $1 billion

Charter Schools (50% above the current level)
+ $168 million

Private school choice (allowing public money used for private  or parochial schools)
+ $250 million

The proposed budget cuts programs which support teacher training, after school programs, and grants for low-income first generation college students. The budged also adds an additional $1 billion for Title I, however the funds would encourage districts to adopt a controversial form of choice: Allowing local, state and federal funds to follow children to whichever public school they choose.

This administration wants to reduce or eliminate programs which support students seeking a quality education, while allowing public money to be used for private or religious education. While much of this will be hashed out in Congress, the priorities are very clear. Stay tuned. More to come on the budget.

These are my reflections for today.

3/25/17

 

Betsy DeVos · Charter Schools · Education · public education · Teaching

PARCC season opens with a rally

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The annual PARCC assessment is underway. The Performance Assessment for Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC) is a multi-state assessment designed to provide “better information for teachers and parents to identify where a student needs help, or is excelling, so they are able to enhance instruction to meet individual student needs”(parcconline.org).

I don’t want to get in to the discussion about what PARCC is or isn’t, but I will note some of the flaws:  It is only one measure of student achievement, it is not an efficient way to identify where students need help, teachers are not allowed to see test questions (for obvious reasons) to offer prescriptive assistance to individual students, and even so, by the time teachers get test scores back their students have moved on to the next grade. So I’m not sure how it provides better information for teachers and parents, or enhances instruction to meet individual student needs. But that’s not what I want to write about today.

There has been controversy over the “Opt Out” movement from the last few years in which parents are choosing to have their children opt out of PARCC testing, seeing little value to the testing. New York had the largest percentage (20%) of students who opted out last year (Washington Post). New Jersey just passed a bill which will reverse a decision to require PARCC for graduation. But that’s not what I want to write about today.

As many parents, teachers, and students across the country are considering whether or not to opt out of the testing as they see little value in the results compared to the cost, and the loss of instructional time to prepare, one charter school director is doing something very different.

Today I am writing about Eva Moskowitz, Director of Success Academy, a charter school chain in New York City. There has been plenty of press about Moskowitz over the years- I’ll summarize. She was briefly considered for the Secretary of Education, supports Trumps move to increase charters (currently she has 41 Success Academies in NYC with 3 more in the works), and fully supports Betsy DeVos. Additionally, Moskowitz has faced scrutiny on how she runs her charters. While boasting high test scores, Success Academy has also been criticized for aggressive teaching tactics.

One more thing- “Success Academy reported $49 million in net assets in 2014 and received at least $35 million from hedge fund billionaires in 2016 (Daily News).

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Why am I writing about her? On March 24, 2017 Moskowitz and her students will be taking over Radio City Music Hall  for the annual “Slam the Exam” rally. Apparently she has outgrown previous venues, and rented Radio City to hold roughly 3,600 Success Academy students. The aim of the event is to help reduce test anxiety.

According to the New York Daily News, “The charter network’s dance team will perform, school officials will present awards to students for academic excellence and Moskowitz will deliver a keynote speech”(Daily News).

Moskowitz is a strong proponent of the PARCC assessment. This is revealed in the words of a nine year old Success student who said, “We’ve been preparing very hard. Everyone is counting on us” (Daily News). This is also revealed in the cost of the pep rally. No one at the Academy would say exactly how much she paid for the venue, but they were clear they’re only paying labor costs, and no one will profit from this arrangement. Word on the street is in 2015 she spent roughly $750,000 on the event-including the venue, busing, lunches and T-shirts.

While Success Academy is not the only school offering testing incentives (raffles and parties for perfect attendance on testing days), Moskowitz by far has spent the largest amount of money.

Imagine what $750,00o could do for a few low-income schools in New York City – services, books, technology, special education teachers, arts, music, STEM programs.

Now imagine this administration supporting the increase of vouchers and unregulated charters so public money can be spent on pep rallies, buses, lunches and T-shirts.

I just can’t.

These are my reflections for today.

3/22/17