Monthly Archives: June 2012

Too many education “experts” are part of the problem

Some of the business “leaders” who are bemoaning what they see as an inadequate public education system simply refuse to admit that they are a major part of the problem. Why?

The major, overriding problem with public education in Texas is that it is inadequately and inequitably funded by state government. And many of the selfstyed education “experts” from the business community who are whining the loudest have been the strongest political supporters of Gov. Rick Perry and the legislative majority, which slashed $5.4 billion from the public schools’ budgets last year.

These same business people, including the Texas Association of Business, stood idly by, for the most part, and let it happen. Now, they are crying because they fear the Legislature next year will take steps to weaken the new STAAR testing program, an unpopular, unproven set of highstakes tests that should be discarded in favor of a more realistic accountability system. They have gone so far as to demand that education funding be frozen if STAAR isn’t salvaged.

At least 11,000 teachers already have lost their jobs, and more than 8,400 overcrowded elementary classrooms were above the capacity limit during the recent school year – all because of the budget cuts. Freezing funding at that level while school enrollment continues to grow by about 85,000 students a year would simply be irresponsible. It also would be extremely shortsighted for a Texas business community whose future depends on an educated workforce.

Instead of continuing to deprive teachers and students of the resources they need to succeed, these business “leaders” should be demanding that the governor and the legislative majority adequately fund the public schools. In other words, they should start demanding accountability from the officials they have helped to elect and keep in office. Then, the powersthatbe should listen to concerned parents and enlist the real education experts – teachers – to help develop a fair, broadbased accountability system that actually means something and is based on more than standardized test scores.

When failing students become “risky assets”

Is a struggling student a challenge for a teacher, or a liability that a school administrator must unload? In a blog linked below, veteran educator Anthony Cody makes a strong argument that the highstakes standardized testing mania has encouraged many administrators to treat their failing students as “risky assets” to be jettisoned for the sake of their schools’ accountability ratings and their own professional careers.

Cody compares these school administrators to business managers who seek to get rid of poorperforming investments that weigh down their portfolios. Public schools aren’t supposed to be profitmaking ventures, but Cody argues that No Child Left Behind and other “accountability” requirements have prompted school officials to treat improved test scores as profits and failing scores and those students who make them as liabilities.

“The ideology driving this is rooted in the belief that public schools and their employees must, like businesses, suffer bad consequences if they are ‘unprofitable.’ But in the world of education, the bottom line of dollars and cents has been replaced by data tables that show rates of graduation and standardized test scores,” Cody writes.

In extreme cases, superintendents and principals cheat. Just this month, former El Paso ISD Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia pled guilty in federal court to cheating the accountability system to inflate 10th grade test scores. He did that by moving students who were likely to score poorly on the exam into other grades.

Even in lessextreme cases, the overfocus on test scores can deprive students of other important educational opportunities. And, morally, that is something of a crime too.

-From Education Week

Standardized tests for PE? Better watch out

Unless policymakers start listening to teachers, the standardized testing mania is going to get even crazier. Some districts around the country already are conducting standardized tests in art, music and physical education. And, according to the article linked below, one of the pioneers of this expansion has been Mike Miles, the new superintendent at Dallas ISD.

While Miles was still superintendent of a Colorado Springs school district, the district launched a standardized testing program in the visual arts, music and PE as part of its teacher evaluation program. Firstgrade art students, for example, had to write a paragraph about a Matisse painting. And, secondgrade gym students were required to “Draw a picture of how your hands look while they are catching a ball that is thrown above your head.” (Sad to think that somebody actually was paid for coming up with that one.)

I don’t know if Miles has similar ideas for Dallas ISD. But given the furor over the new STAAR testing program and other pressing issues facing that district, I can’t imagine that many Dallas parents would have much patience for more standardized tests. That doesn’t mean, however, that some legislators – the ones who would rather order up more tests than adequately fund the public schools – won’t invite Miles to Austin during next year’s session for a presentation of his “innovative” ideas.

“Race to the Top has promoted this movement to test every subject,” education historian Diane Ravitch recently wrote in her blog. “Arne Duncan (the secretary of education) brandished $5 billion to encourage states and districts to judge teachers by the rise or fall of their students’ scores.”

She added: “The fact that there is no evidence for this method of judging teachers doesn’t matter. Bad ideas backed by big money have a way of catching on, no matter how mindless they are.”

What’s next? Robots in the classroom?

Maybe the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has more money than it knows how to spend. Or, maybe classroom technology skipped a few generations while I was on vacation. But here is a report, linked below, that the Gates Foundation is spending $1.4 million on the development of a bracelet to measure students’ emotional responses to instruction.

The socalled “engagement pedometer” supposedly would gauge how students are responding to instruction by sending small electric currents across the skin to measure how the kids’ nervous systems are responding to stimuli. There obviously are some “bugs” (an old fashioned term) to be worked out yet, if ever. But, according to this report, the Gates Foundation also suggests these devices could be used in teacher evaluations.

Now, who is evaluating the Gates Foundation?

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