Another School Opening: Will the Opt-Out Parent Voters Force Policymakers to Abandon Ideological Advocacy and Base Decisions on Peer-Reviewed Research?

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
– Plato, 424-348 BC

Schools in New York City opened yesterday with barely a whisper. The Chancellor made her five borough tour with only a handful of reporters, the absence of controversy was deafening. While the mayor may be under assault over a wide range of policies he is a very pro-public school mayor with a close relationship with the teacher union. The Chancellor, who praises teachers at every opportunity, is a familiar face having spent over four decades in the school system. The confrontations of the Bloomberg-Klein years are simply a bad memory. A through F school grades are gone, year after year of waves of school closing are gone; a teacher evaluation system is in place that appears much fairer than the former system. In the last year of the Bloomberg era 2.8% of teachers received an “unsatisfactory” rating, in the first year of the new system 1.6% of teachers received an “ineffective” rating, and, all teachers in New York City who received “developing” and “ineffective” rating received individual support plus an appeal procedure for “outlier” ratings, wide discrepancies between the observation and growth scores.

Yes, the 90 or so Renewal and Out-of-Time schools face a ticking clock, improve or face restructuring or closing, and in two schools, Boys and Girls and Automotive High Schools, teachers, with the approval of the union, had to reapply for their jobs.

Sadly the second year of Universal Pre-Kindergarten was not a glowing positive headline; every four year-old in the city can now begin school at age 4 – a policy that will reap enormous rewards as the child moves through their school years.

Amy Zimmer at DNAInfo lists “7 Changes Coming to the Schools This Year,” nothing dramatic,

1. Muslim holidays and Lunar New Year are now days off.
2. Superintendents are back in control.
3. A new discipline code aims to change the way schools respond to disruptive behavior.
4. An increasing number of schools will show off what works and test new methods.
5. The opt out movement will likely continue growing.
6. Community and Renewal Schools will face scrutiny.
7. Mayoral control will still be an issue.

Across the state; however, schools opened with apprehension.

The 2% property tax cap continues to stress districts, especially the hundreds and hundreds of districts with limited tax bases. Teacher layoffs and cuts in programs have become an annual exercise.

After a spring of teacher-bashing from Cuomo and Cuomo-bashing from NYSUT, the state teacher union Cuomo’s favorably ratings have tumbled and rather than spank teachers he seems to have inflamed the opt out parents – over 200,000 kids opted out with the numbers growing around the state. The new, new teacher evaluation plan is on the agenda for final approval at next week’s regents meeting. The plan, based on student growth scores and teacher observations (see description of the law – 3012-c here) is being replaced by what is called the “matrix,” based on a Massachusetts plan, that is rather obtuse (see matrix law – 3012-d here).

If a district fails to negotiate a plan by November 15th they will not receive scheduled increases in state aid, however, the regents have made it clear they will look favorably on district applications for a four-month extension “hardship” waiver, effectively postponing the implementation for a year, and, more importantly, allow the next legislative session to review the Common Core-based testing and the teacher evaluation law.

The grades 3-8 English and math state tests are based on the Common Core, and, the Commissioner King’s decision, rejecting calls for a moratorium on the use of Common Core tests, and selecting a harsh scoring scheme resulted in two-thirds of the kids moving from “proficient” to “below proficient,” meaning, they failed the test.

The new commissioner and regents have agreed to review the Common Core utilizing a wide range of experts, including classroom teachers.

It was surprising when the governor announced he was taking over the review process.

The New York Daily New responded on September 6th with an almost hysterical editorial,

Gov. Cuomo’s sudden call for a “comprehensive review” of New York’s use of the Common Core educational standards stands as a loud warning that the drive for teacher accountability is in dire jeopardy.

Only five months ago, Cuomo pushed through the Legislature major changes to the state’s teacher-evaluation system, heightening reliance on kids’ Common Core standardized test results to gauge instructor performance, while shielding kids from consequences. Since then, ginned up by the state teachers union, a parental movement to opt out of testing has undermined the use of exam results in teacher evaluations.

At the same time, aided and abetted by Assembly Democrats, the unions have gained an increasing hold on the Board of Regents, with the goal of destroying the evaluation system entirely.

The unions and anti-Common Core parents are also winning the battle for public opinion. In June, by a 59% to 30% margin, voters polled by Quinnipiac disapproved of Cuomo’s handling of education — after he won reelection in a campaign that trumpeted raising standards.

But, having signaled a serious rethink, the governor is likely to face two bad choices come January: abandon policies in which he rightfully invested tremendous political capital, or offer changes designed to placate foes without giving up the ghost.

The teachers union, petrified about finally being subjected to serious evaluations, has played a skillful and cynical game in amplifying anti-Common Core anxieties among parents and legislators.

Kids in struggling schools have for years been plagued by low expectations and too many lower-performing teachers.

For their sake, supporters of higher standards for kids and more accountability for teachers must gird for war.

The editorial points to a serious flaw in the development if education policy, the Daily News jumped to conclusions without creditable evidence. Ideology trumped peer-reviewed research.

Will the Common Core State Standards increase college and career readiness? Will the standards assure that students will be ready for the 21st century world of work? Or, a core question: should the goal of education be to prepare students for the world of work or create caring, thinking adults?

There is not a scintilla of evidence to support the purported impact of the Common Core State Standards, the standards were developed under the auspices of the National Governor’s Association, primarily by David Coleman, without any review by teachers or universities or recognized experts. The standards were adapted by 46 states and two national organizations would prepare tests to assess student progress and the results of the tests used to assess teacher quality.

The Common Core/Testing/Teacher Accountability regimen was imposed; not the result of a lengthy transparent, evidence-based process.

Unfortunately the world of so-called education research has become dominated by what UC Berkeley professor Janelle Scott calls “intermediary organizations.” Scott and others in “The Rise of Intermediary Organizations in Knowledge Production Advocacy and Education Policy,” argue,

Americans like to think that the policies used to address many of our social issue are based on reliable evidence of effectiveness, especially when substantial taxpayer resources are involved. Yet knowledge production can be a highly politicized often process in which scientific knowledge, research, and professional expertise are vulnerable to ideological interpretations…

Issues around the effectiveness of educational interventions in particular highlight the institutionalization of extra-governmental political forces in the policymaking process…

Specifically, new intermediary organizations are increasingly determining the body of research made available for the policymaking process by “brokering” evidence…

These intermediary organizations are established to fill a key function in brokering evidence in support of specific agendas. While these organizations usually do not themselves conduct research, they have become very effective at assembling and promoting evidence for use by policymakers – tasks in which university-based researchers have been negligent. In the void left by traditional education researchers, we are seeing new forms of research organizations step into this environment: not simply traditional think tanks, but philanthropies, policy coalitions, and single or multi-issue advocacy organizations with notable media savvy effectively geared toward shaping education policy.

(The article is worth a full read – click above – only three pages)

Diane Ravitch has been beating the drum for years – Obama-Duncan and the range of self-styled reformers base their “new initiatives” on advocacy, not peer-reviewed research. The research linking teacher performance to student test scores – called a growth model – is not ready for prime time, the evidence is overwhelming; however, the editorial writers at the Daily News and the policy wonks in the governor’s office simply push ahead. They are either dupes of the “intermediary” advocacy organizations or somehow think these policies will garner voter support.

The same ideological driven arguments are driving criticism of UPK; the research on the value of pre-kindergarten is vast.

The National Institute for Early Education Research reviewed the research,

When all the evidence is considered it is found that large-scale public programs have produced meaningful long-term gains for children and not just disadvantaged children. Large gains depend on high-quality pre-K. Such programs can produce high rates of return to public investment.

The Cato institute and other conservative organizations sharply criticized Universal Prekindergarten, not based on a detailed review of the evidence, based on pre-conceived ideological preconceptions.

Would medicine or chemistry or physics or any science allow ideological advocacy, absent peer reviewed research, drive policy? Of course not.

Electeds, State Commissioners and Boards of Education should treat education as any other science; we must not allow ideological “theories” to drive the education of our children, and, maybe the opt-out parent-voters can drive a revival of research-based education programs.


2 responses to “Another School Opening: Will the Opt-Out Parent Voters Force Policymakers to Abandon Ideological Advocacy and Base Decisions on Peer-Reviewed Research?

  1. Ed asks, “Would medicine or chemistry or physics or any science allow ideological advocacy, absent peer reviewed research, drive policy? It’s a fair question,until one reflects on the fact that medicine, chemistry, physics, and the other sciences are prepared to wait for research to pile up over time. In education parents and politicians want immediate results, so they grasp at the newest idea and call it science.

    I am reminded of the story that Jim Ysseldyke told at a conference on assessment that I presented at in 1995. He recounted how he was hired as a consultant by a Texas school district and was greeted by the Superintendent who told him that he was thrilled to have him there. The district had tried ten different approaches over the past ten years without seeing any real change in outcomes and they were counting on Prof. Ysseldyke to help them figure out what to do. Ysseldyke made us all laugh when he said that his advice, without knowing what they had rtried, was to try one approach for ten years.

    Teaching is a craft that takes time to master. Changes like the Common Core take time to understand and implement. Teachers know this, politicians don’t care. Politicians want to introduce an idea like the CCLS and expect immediate gratification in the form of improved test scores. They ignore the realities of the classroom and the fact that the tests are not sensitive to the kind of changes that implementing the CCLS was supposed create.

    Parents have a different view of the immediate; their children go through school only once and if they are caught in the midst of a changing paradigm (remember the New Math in the 60s?) then they may suffer (as many students are now doing because of the botched roll out of the CCLS and the attachment to high stakes tests that are meaningles sin that context).

    Governor Cuomo plays on parents anxieties like any good demagogue does, but like Joe McCarthy before him, may get hoist on his own petard when he cannot deliver on the promise of a quick fix.

    Educators, like scientists in other disciplines, have to demand the right to take time, study and experiment within their craft to try to develop a solid research base that will yield good results. The issue here is time and trust.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To this conversation I would only add that, like medical school, training teachers and in-service colleagues need internship-like experiences. The ‘cloisterization’ of teachers, each in his/her own classroom, does not produce growth as well as effective collaboration, cross training, team teaching, and practitioner chosen professional development are all more effective strategies.

    The 50 plus year series of educational experiments on kids and staff and the failure of society to recognize that kids coming from economically or relationship deprived homes present to schools with deficits have placed education into the crosshairs. Society must invest in ALL children, instead of using the charter scheme to sieve out and separate kids.

    The U.S. will be a battlefield instead of a melting pot, unless ALL children are helped to their potential, and their educators recognized as helpers, guides, and competent academics and pedagogues, not miracle workers.


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