Saturday, November 29, 2014

Colorado Students Refuse State Standardized Tests

The school reform movement ran into a bit of a snag earlier this month in Colorado, at least in terms of its standardized-test emphasis and test-based accountability for schools. As one of the states that adopted Common Core State Standards and aligned with the PARCC testing consortium to assess "readiness" in the areas of math and language arts, Colorado is also in the process of implementing state standardized assessments in science and social studies at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. These assessments are not related to Common Core or PARCC, but are related to Colorado Academic Standards, which cover eleven content areas. These tests, which are being called CMAS - Colorado Measures of Academic Success, gained news earlier in the year when "students performed poorly" on the new assessments. Some argued the low scores were evidence of a need for the "more rigorous" standards, while others argued against the authenticity of the scores for a variety of reasons including decreased prep time and the new style of computerized assessment from Pearson. Thus, the battle over standardized assessments for rating schools, teachers, and students has taken center stage in the Rocky Mountain state.

And, now some parents and students are pushing back.

Thousands of high school seniors refused to participate in the high school version of CMAS, which was scheduled for the fall of senior year and required two days of testing. The movement seems to have snowballed around the state, as word spread about the idea of "opting out." Several education advocacy groups have promoted the idea of parent refusal, arguing that students are "more than a test score" and that they should "choose to refuse." In the progressive town of Boulder, students not only refused to participate, but also staged a protest on one of the coldest days of the year, explaining their reasons for "opting out":

Across the state, the number of parent refusals was highly noticeable. In two of the highest performing schools in the state (and, in fact, in the nation), Fairview High School and Cherry Creek High School, hardly any students took the test, as participation was well below five percent. These numbers weren't matched at most schools, but numerous school districts saw surprisingly low compliance with the state mandated tests. The reality is that parents don't have a legal right to "opt out" of tests, but any parent has a legal right to "refuse participation" for any aspect of their children's education. Thus, parents can refuse to allow their child to read a specific book or attend a required assembly or even to be immunized. And, many students who feel like they have been over-tested for their entire school career are beginning to ask if "standardized tests should still be standard."

With the coming PARCC assessments in the spring, the issue of challenging standardized assessments in public education will continue to generate controversy.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What Students Need to Hear

What to do about kids who don't achieve in school?

Every school reformer has a general big idea or agenda to fix the problem of struggling schools and struggling students. Is it standards or poverty or teachers or tenure or testing or  what? Occasionally, it seems like they just need a good talking to, explaining the "truth" to them in a way that will shake them out of the slumber that leads to sub-par performance. A pep talk should do it. And, that's the essence of a video making the rounds by English teacher Chase Mielke who as some advice on "What Students Really Need to Hear."

Basically, they need to work harder.

There's been a lot of writing lately about how success for kids is really about grit and perseverence. Paul Tough wrote about it in "How Children Succeed" and Charles Duhigg did in "The Power of Habit." It's what Geoffery Canada promotes with the Harlem Children's Zone. It's really all about character education, and many reformers will argue that truly effective, or great, teachers will be able to get this message through to kids. 

The real sadness is the endless stream of kids who can't find it in themselves or their lives. So, as Chase says, we simply have to be there each day, patiently, helping them develop it.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Joel Klein is Right about Education Reform, Except Where He's Ridiculously Wrong

Joel Klein, who was a lawyer before becoming Chancellor of New York City Public Schools, has some ideas about how to "fix public education." In addition to heading up one of the largest school districts in the country for roughly a decade - a time in which he did little to improve the educational conditions and achievement for the neediest of students - Joel has since become one of the expert voices in the world of "education reform." To that end, he has (big surprise) written a book on "fixing schools" called Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools. And, obviously, his high profile has allowed him the opportunity to promote his book in a huge weekend profile in the Wall Street Journal.

The problem, of course, with Klein's WSJ piece and his book is that he has very little experience with or knowledge of "fixing schools." In fact, I'd venture to say he has never actually "fixed" a school or dramatically impacted the life of a single child. To do that, he would have to be an actual educator with some experience working "in a school." These concepts are foreign to people like Joel Klein, as they are to "edu-reformers" like Bill Gates and Dave Welch. As I've noted before, these men would be far more impressive and credible if they simply focused on fixing "a school" and then continued to devote their vast financial resources to replicating that "achievement." The biggest problem with Klein is in the following statement:

Too many teachers in our big urban school systems are overworked, isolated and bureaucratically oppressed, struggling to educate students who can be exceedingly difficult to reach. As anyone who has stood before a classroom will attest, teaching is a tough job. 
The problem with many education reformers is that Joel Klein has no idea what it's like to have "stood before a classroom" and attempted to "educate students who can be exceedingly difficult to reach." Neither has any of the other edu-reformers. And, in almost perfectly cliched fashion, he cites the "Finland example," as if he's just discovered some gem for education reform that no one has mentioned in the past decade. Clearly, Klein is obtuse to the fact that Finland has about 4% poverty and an elaborate social safety net with a homogenous population. And, he makes no mention of the NYC schools which have social problems that would blow the minds of most Europeans, including schools with 80-90% of kids in poverty and food insecurity and violence in their neighborhoods that Europe hasn't seen since WWII.

Granted, Klein makes some sound assertions about creating teachers who are experts in their field and are pretty high achievers. But he ignores a lack of correlation and causation between Master's degrees for teachers and the achievement in their students. And, he seems clueless that nationwide teachers must undergo regular professional development and graduate level courses to simply retain their teaching licenses. And, he's also right that the teachers who develop "relationships" with students are actually most adept and effective at improving achievement. But that has nothing to do with their high school GPAs or their advanced degrees. It's simply who they are as people. So, once again, we have an in-experienced school leader who has no credentials or record of achievement offering cliched and unproven answers for how to "fix schools."

I'd be more impressed if he just took his money and his backers and stepped up to the front lines and literally showed us how it's done.