Category Archives: Uncategorized

Can Donald Trump Become Our Next President?

Back in October/November all the political gurus, the experts, predicted that Donald Trump would not be the Republican nominee. Nate Silver, the statistical wunderkind and the writer of the fivethirtyeight blog, rather smarmily, mused that Trump has a “less than 20%” chance of becoming the Republican nominee.

“Right now, [Trump] has 25 to 30 percent of the vote in polls among the roughly 25 percent of Americans who identify as Republican. (That’s something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked

I hate to gloat, as I talked to the folks in the street I increasingly felt that Trump support was deep, especially among those not involved in politics. Joe Six-Pack was angry – angry at everything and everyone, after all, weren’t all politicians corrupt? Remember, more than half of eligible voters do not participate regularly in elections, the traditional non-voters, to me, appeared to be leaning to the Trump column.

See my November blog: https://mets2006.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/can-trump-end-up-as-the-republican-presidential-candidate/

Over the next three months leading up to the Republican convention Trump will have a clear path to unify the Republican Party. There are Republicans, the evangelicals, the loyal party insiders, Republican women who may deride the Trump candidacy and choose not to participate in November. The anti-Trump Republicans will not move to the Democratic column.  Clearly the Republican insiders have a conundrum: how do they campaign for Republicans in the Congress and State legislatures without jumping on the Trump bandwagon? And, will it matter?  Would a Trump presidential campaign have coattails, or, alienate traditional Republican voters?

On the Democratic side Bernie plans to campaign across the nation leading up to the Democratic convention; ironically as Bernie wins primaries Hillary edges closer to wrapping up the requisite number of delegates. It is possible that Bernie could win all of the remaining primaries and Hillary end up with the number necessary to guarantee nomination. In close primaries Hillary and Bernie split the delegates. The Bernie machine will continue to highlight his differences with Hillary, continue to attack Hillary’s positions and behaviors.

Hillary plus Bernie voters equal a Democratic victory in November and possibly gaining a majority in the Senate and reducing the Republican majority in the House, and, re-taking State capitals and legislatures. If any significant number of Bernie voters remain on the sidelines a Trump path to the White House would be easier.

If anti-Trump Republicans and anti-Hillary Independents and Democrats choose not to participate it would be impossible to predict the outcome.

Campaigns are usually about issues and policies; the Trump campaign has been policy-free.

Trump is the ultimate Teflon candidate.

No matter the outrageousness of his comments his popularity increases.  Trump, musing that Ted Cruz’s father cavorted with the Kennedy assassins had no negative impact, in fact, may have gained him votes. His “build a wall,” his “invade Syria,” and on and on only encourages and motivates his voters.

Virtually every “talking head,” every professional who has spent a lifetime running campaigns has been proven wrong,

As Trump rolls to victory, Cruz and Kasich have dropped out; however, the latest polling gives Clinton her largest lead over Trump since July.

The new CNN/ORC Poll, completed ahead of Trump’s victory last night, found Clinton leads 54% to 41%, a 13-point edge over the New York businessman, her largest lead since last July.

With conventions not scheduled until the end of July, and Trump and Sanders hammering Clinton her polling numbers can erode. On the other side as Clinton slowly turns from Bernie to Trump her campaign will continue to build support among women, Afro-American and Hispanic voters. For me, a key to the election are the younger Bernie voters: will they, enthusiastically or reluctantly, move to the Clinton column?  The more Bernie continues to campaign vigorously and toss barbs at Clinton the harder it will be to move his supporters to the Hillary camp. I am sure in the Democratic establishment/Hillary camp the discussion is over how to appeal to the millennials and the left-wing of the party.

The specter of the 1972 McGovern debacle haunts the Democratic Party.

Just as Trump’s rise to the Republican nomination is so incredible so is Bernie’s challenge to Clinton. Remember Sanders is a seventy-two year old independent from Vermont – not even a registered Democrat. Two years ago he was an anomaly, a quirky outsider; no important legislation bears his name, an avowed Democratic Socialist, an agnostic or atheist in a nation that views socialist with godless communism; who mobilized younger voters and the left wing of the Democratic Party.

Bernie can be remembered as the candidate that refused to acknowledge his loss, gave Clinton a lukewarm endorsement and will be blamed for a Trump victory in November, or, the key to a Clinton victory by bringing his voters to the Clinton column.  Or, neither.

The real campaign begins in August – three months of head to head – can Trump, or should Trump rebuild himself? Can he morph to a kinder, gentler, saner candidate? Or, should he?  Should Trump continue to be Trump, outrageous outbursts, seemingly insane accusations, the “loose,” unpredictable candidate so loved by his supporters?  The Republican Party is panic struck.  Trump could be trashed at the polls taking down other Republicans, or, do they jump on board and hope he has coattails.

In a policy-free election cycle education has totally disappeared. In all the presidential debates was there a single question dealing with education? In the CNN polls  referenced above the largest Clinton-Trump difference was in handling education. Of ten areas voters place education as third most important, behind the economy, terrorism and tied with health care. For voters who describe themselves as Democrats education tops the list. Among registered voters by 64% to 31% voters think Clinton would do a better job of handling education.

As the song goes, sort of, it’s a long way from May to November

Hovering at the edges of the Trump appeal are issues of race, ethnicity and gender.

Listen to Tom Lehrer:

National Brotherhood Week – precious and timely!!!

A Conundrum: How Do You Create a Teacher Evaluation Process That Satisfies Teachers, Principals, Parents, the Legislature and the Governor? (Hint: With Difficulty)

No one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the New York State Legislature is in session.” Anonymous, 19th century.

Diane Ravitch convened her third annual Network for Public Education conference in Raleigh with hundreds of teachers, parents and public school advocates.  The attendees do not represent organizations; they dug into their own pockets to meet with like-minded public education devotees from across the nation. I met a band director from Fort Worth, a second-career math teacher from Jacksonville, a literacy coach from North Carolina; we chatted and shared experiences, we all face incredible challenges and legislatures and privateers intent on eroding the public in public education.

We stood and cheered as Reverend Barber, the leader of the North Carolina NAACP, called a modern day Martin Luther King, preached and taught us – both a history lesson and a sermon.  Bob Herbert challenged us to vote, and emphasized that while coming to the polls in 2008 and 2012 elected Barack Obama, staying away from the polls allowed the Tea Party to seize control of the House, the Senate and state legislatures in 2010 and 2014. A subtle message to the Bernie voters – staying away from the polls in November could lead to a Trump presidency.

Fifty workshops allowed us to meet together in smaller groups. One theme was teacher evaluation: in school districts across the nation student test scores play a significant role in the evaluation of teachers; a Report  by the Network for Public Education is summarized,

72% of respondents also reported that the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluation had a negative impact on sharing instructional strategies.

Over 41% of black and 30% of Latino/a educators reported racial bias in evaluations.

About 84% of respondents report a significant increase in the amount of teacher time spent on evaluations.

84% of respondents said that the new evaluation system in their state had negatively changed the conversations about instruction between their supervisors and themselves.

75% of respondents stated that these new evaluation systems incorrectly label many good teachers as being ineffective.

Nearly 85% of respondents stated that these evaluation systems do not lead to high-quality professional growth for teachers.

Nearly 82% of teachers reported that test scores are a significant component of their evaluation.

Opposition to the use of student test data to rate/measure/assess teachers has united teachers from across the nation.

At the conference one of the sessions pitted Jennifer Berkshire, aka EduShyster against Peter Cunningham, the Executive Director of Education Post. Jennifer and Peter are on opposite ends of the teacher evaluation spectrum – forty-five minutes of thrust, parry and riposte – spellbinding!!

Critics pointed to research that avers teachers only account for 14% of a student’s test score, family and income account for the largest percentage, therefore, rating teachers by test scores is invalid, Cunningham responded that teachers are the crucial factor in student achievement, we cannot change a family or income, we can change teachers and highly effective teachers have significant impacts on children, as other research shows. Meeting with teachers from across the nation was invigorating; listening to the anti-teacher stories from state after state was discouraging.

A week earlier the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) annual convention took place in Rochester, Teachers from hundreds of school districts across the state met to debate and set policy for NYSUT. The state is incredibly diverse, New York City and the Big Four (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers), the high tax, high wealth suburban districts, the hundreds of rural low tax, low wealth districts, facing sharply different problems. The delegates representing the teachers within the state university system, (SUNY) and the teachers in the city university system (CUNY); CUNY teachers have not had a raise in six years.

Speeches from Karen Magee, the leader of NYSUT as well as Randi Weingarten, the AFT president and a rousing in-person speech by candidate Hillary Clinton (Watch and listen to Clinton’s speech here). The most vigorous debate: teacher evaluation. Although the state is in the first year of a four year moratorium on the use of student test scores to assess teacher performance the debate was hot and heavy.

Watch videos of convention speeches: http://www.nysut.org/resources/special-resources-sites/representative-assembly

From the NYSUT website,

“Sending a strong message to Albany that more needs to be done to stop the harmful over-testing of students, some 2,000 delegates approved resolutions calling for a complete overhaul of the state’s grades 3–8 testing program; swift implementation of the Common Core Task Force’s recommendations; and new assessments that are created with true educator input to provide timely and accurate appraisals of student learning.”.

A few days after the NYSUT convention the UFT Delegate Assembly held its monthly meeting; a thousand or so delegates, elected in each school by staffs, meeting to listen to a report by UFT President Mulgrew and debate and set policy.  Mulgrew gives updates on the national scene: retired teachers were ringing doorbells in Pennsylvania supporting Hillary; the California Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision in the Vergara case, supporting tenure and reminded delegates that while the US Supreme Court deadlocked on the anti-union Fredericks decision attacks from the right will not end. Mulgrew criticized the use of test scores to rate teachers; however, he reminded teachers that under the Bloomberg administration principals had the sole voice in teacher assessment. In the last year of Bloomberg 2.7% of teachers received “unsatisfactory” ratings, under the current multiple measures system only 1% of teachers received “ineffective” ratings. Almost all schools in New York City use Measures of Student Learnings (MOSL), dense  algorithms that assess student growth attributed to each teacher – there are hundreds of algorithms  to account for the many different school situations. The system, that includes an appeal process, melds principal observations and MOSLs appears to work well.

At the first meeting of the Board of Regents under the leadership of new Chancellor Betty Rosa a lengthy discussion over teacher evaluation took place. Chancellor Rosa appointed Regent Johnson to chair a Work Group to link research to policy decisions.

The 700 school districts in New York State are currently negotiating teacher evaluation plans under the four year moratorium, the use of grade 3-8 test scores are prohibited.  A few members of the Board suggested asking the legislature to clarify exactly what they wanted the Regents to do in reference to teacher evaluation, others argued that the decision was given to the Regents members and it would be wrong to punt back to the legislature. Clearly, the newly constituted Board has a ways to go to reach consensus.

Even Charlotte Danielson, the doyen of teacher assessment has her doubts about the current policies across the nation,

The idea of tracking teacher accountability started with the best of intentions and a well-accepted understanding about the critical role teachers play in promoting student learning. The focus on teacher accountability has been rooted in the belief that every child deserves no less than good teaching to realize his or her potential.

But as clear, compelling, and noncontroversial as these fundamental ideas were, the assurance of great teaching for every student has proved exceedingly difficult to capture in either policy or practice…

There is also little consensus on how the profession should define “good teaching.” Many state systems require districts to evaluate teachers on the learning gains of their students. These policies have been implemented despite the objections from many in the measurement community regarding the limitations of available tests and the challenge of accurately attributing student learning to individual teachers.

I strongly urge you to read the entire Danielson essay: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/04/20/charlotte-danielson-on-rethinking-teacher-evaluation.html

There are a few schools that have created teacher assessment processes that are valuable because they both assess teaching and encourage teachers to grow in their profession. There is insightful research; unfortunately we do not know how to “scale up.”  There is no inter-rater reliability, in some districts every teacher received a “highly effective” score, which also means so did the rater. Teachers in high wealth, high achieving districts receive higher scores than teachers in low wealth lower achieving districts. (Check out research studies  from the Chicago Consortium on School Research here  and here).

Getting teacher evaluation/assessment right is exceedingly complex in a highly emotional climate.

The Regents have a challenging task.

From “Good Old Boys” to “Sisterhood,” A New Leadership Begins in Albany

The monthly meeting of the Board of Regents typically have lengthy agendas, some items are pro-forma, other subject to extended discussion. Each month a division of State Ed recommends the extension of charters, depending on the data either a full five year term or fewer years if there are problems to be remedied.. The staffers only recommended a three year extension for a few charter schools in Buffalo. Bob Bennett, at that time a Regents member for over twenty years and the former chancellor objected. He failed to acknowledge that his daughter taught in a charter school. He claimed he “knew the school” and it deserved the full five year extension. The “good old boys” huddled, changed the recommendation to five years, cast aside a few objections, and passed the full extension.

Merryl Tisch had a close relationship with the Shelly Silver, the disgraced former Speaker and the “good old boys” Regents members supported the Tisch/King initiatives. There was nothing evil or corrupt; Board members who had served together for over twenty years were collegial, very collegial.

The world of the Regents has changed, and changed dramatically. Over the past year seven new Regents members have been appointed by the new Speaker of the Assembly – six women, five of them educators, an active public school parent and a nurse.

The Regents moved from the “good old boys” club to the “sisterhood.”

On Monday Betty Rosa will assume the leadership of the Board of Regents.

Chancellor Rosa is not a naïf.

She was the superintendent in District 8, which covers Hunts Point and Soundview, one of the poorest sections in the nation. District 8 is in the Bronx and politics in the Bronx parallels politics in Afghanistan – warring families rule Bronx politics and Betty navigated the politics; excellent training for her current job.

The Chancellor of the Board of Regents cannot eliminate annual grade 3-8 testing. No matter how adamant the opt outs, the law requires annual testing. The Commissioner has already started the process to review sections of the Common Core – it will take a  year or more. Can you tweak the high school graduation requirements to jack up the graduation rate at the same time community college graduations rates are appalling?

The Chancellor has to choose a path, has to stake out her ground. She has to narrowly focus, a laser-like focus on a few areas, perhaps English language learners. The current regulations, passed only a year ago after many years of hassling behind the scenes are bureaucratic and unworkable.

Can the new Chancellor and the full Board work to further refine and implement the recommendations of the Working Group for Improving Outcomes for Young Men and Boys of Color?

The attacks will come from all sides.

The opt outs want aggressive actions to prohibit high stakes testing.

Well-funded anti-union super-PACs will continue to attack unions and tenure.

The district to district funding inequities are the “elephant in the room,” can you equalize school funding with a Robin Hood impact? Taking from the richer and giving to the poorer districts?

Hovering in the wings is the Speaker of the Assembly who selected the new Board members and the Governor, How much rope do the Regents have?  Can the new Chancellor and the Board, older and newer members, take actions that will be praised by the New York Times, parents and the unions?

The days are getting longer, daffodils bloomed, the tulips are up, warmer days; in a few weeks I’ll plant my herb garden, all of good with the world (if I avoid cable news); now our leaders in Albany have to hack through the weeds and thorns and create a path to a better world for our kids.

What Do the Opt Out Parents Want? How Are the Feds Going to React?

ELA done, math this week.

The Out Outs, who prefer to be called “refusals”, may have more refusals than last year. The Long Island Opt Out Facebook page is filled with negative comments about the test and points to mistakes that required corrections during the test to claims of ambiguous and age inappropriate questions.

Was the test a “good” test or a “bad” test? How do you judge the adequacy of a standardized test?

Test designers are called psychometricians, to design a test you have to know what to test, in other words: what are knowledge and /or skills that you are testing?

… standardized achievement tests.. create assessment tools that permit someone to make a valid inference about the knowledge and/or skills that a given student possesses in a particular content area. More precisely, that inference is to be norm-referenced so that a student’s relative knowledge and/or skills can be compared with those possessed by a … sample of students of the same age or grade level.

After the test is designed there is a process called “standard-setting,” a team of educators reviews each element of the test and assigns a performance level. i. e., whether the item is level one (below proficient), level two (approaching proficiency), level 3 (proficient) and level 4 (above proficient); tests have items with a range of proficiency levels.

While setting standards appropriately is critical to making sound student and policy level decisions, it is equally important that the content of the test and its difficulty level be appropriate for the decisions to be made based on test results. We cannot expect a test that does not cover the appropriate content or is not at the appropriate level of difficulty to lead to the appropriate decisions regardless of how the process of standard setting is carried out.

Last week’s test was sharply criticized by Leonie Haimson, the author of Class Size Matters.

Clearly there were many problems with this year’s NY state ELA exams.  

These included overly long, dense and grade-inappropriate reading passages with numerous typos, abstruse vocabulary and confusing questions; commercial product placements; reading passages drawn from Pearson test prep materials; missing or mislabeled pages in test booklets: and children taking up to four to five hours per day to finish the exams — which violates the law that limits state testing to 1% of total instructional time.

A little review: the State moved to tests that reflected the new Common Core State Standards and the scores dropped across the State – from a 2/3 “proficient” or “above proficient” to 2/3 “approaching proficient” or “below proficient:” from 2/3 passing to 2/3 failing.

I have no problem with the Common Core State Standards – can you object to the Common Core Anchor Standards in Literature ?

Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

A test is created that assesses the level at which the student has acquired the requisite skills.

One would hope that the instruction in the classroom would reflect the skills on the test, in other words, “test prep” is not necessary if classroom instruction mirrors the elements within the standards.

The problem: There was no phase-in, there was inadequate professional development, and teachers were just pushed off the end of the diving board and left to struggle.  Instead of moving to the higher standards one grade at a time the overly ambitious John King created the debacle.

A fair question: Do the tests current reflect the standards and are the proficiency levels at appropriate levels of difficulty?

We’ll have to wait until a report is issued in the fall, or later, a technical report assesses the quality of the test. Fred Smith, a testing expert has written detailed analyzes of prior exams. Read Fred’s doubts about the current tests here and sharp criticism of last year’s tests here.

The attacks on the tests are unabated.

The attacks are emotional, they are visceral. While the tests have no impact on students the low scores have created the anger – kids moved from passing to failing – the impact was emotional. On the other hand the impact on teachers and schools is significant. While there is a 4-year moratorium on the use of student tests to assess teachers the wound is still festering.

What do the opt outs want?  What would it take to bring Opt Out parents back to taking exams?

Gary Stern in an editorial in LoHud muses over what it would take to lure parents back.

Perhaps “better” tests.  Tests that are more “age appropriate.” First, I don’t know how to define “better” tests, and, second, if scores continue to define 2/3 of kids as failing, parents will not return to the testing world.

One approach is to move away for pen and pencil tests to performance tasks; however performance tasks require a sea change in instructional focus.

The Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) is working with a number of school districts to develop and implement a performance tasks approach to student assessment. Coincidentally Stanford is offering a free online MOOC, “Designing for Deeper Learning: How to Develop Performance Tasks,” and, it starts tomorrow!! Sign up now here.

What the feds do may impact the testing kerfuffle in New York State. Some argue that the feds, under the new ESSA law had no authority to intervene in a state, others that the feds have the authority to withhold funds from the state and the state determines the impact at the local level. Of course, in an election year will the feds want to intervene?  And, after November, a new president and a totally new ball game.

While the tests end on Thursday the anger will continue to seethe. The Board of Regents has a complex task in a highly charged political and emotional environment.

 

 

 

Opts Outs and the Tenth Amendment: Will the States and Localities Make Better Education Decisions Than the Federal Government?

“Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.” (Articles of Confederation)

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” (Tenth Amendment to the Constitution).

In April of 1787 fifty-four Americans, plantation owners and small farmers, slave-holders and abolitionists, large states and small states began their slog to Philadelphia and the Constitutional Convention. The fledgling nation was struggling, the form of government, a loose, a very loose confederation of the thirteen former colonies had no common currency, no banking system, no army and couldn’t even pay the troops that fought and won the war for independence.  For most the trip with not with enthusiasm, previous efforts to amend the Articles of Confederation had stumbled badly; however, Hamilton, Madison and Washington had a plan, not to amend the Articles, to create a new document, a Constitution.

After a contentious summer, the factions carved out a founding document that divided powers and responsibilities among the executive and legislative branches and the states. The new constitution was silent on slavery. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison called the constitution “a covenant with death” and an “agreement with Hell.” (See Paul Finkelstein, Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson, 2001).

For the next seventy years the nation grappled with the issue of slavery seen through the lens of states’ rights versus federalism, concluding in the civil war.

The pendulum swung to the concept of federalism as the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments ended slavery, made slaves citizens and granted them the right to vote.

14th Amendment, Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

With the end of Reconstruction the former confederate state replaced slavery with peonage, the passage of the Jim Crow laws, statutes supported time and time again by the Supreme Court.

The pendulum had swung to the states.

It wasn’t until 1967, almost a hundred years after the Civil War that the Supreme Court overturned a Virginia law that had made interracial marriage a crime.  The judge in the lower court ruled, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents…. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

In a unanimous decision Justice Warren overturned the decision and ruled the Virginia law unconstitutional,

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law … There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.

In the arena of education states have vigorously defended their 10th Amendment rights including their right to racially segregate schools.  Brown v Board of Education (1954) may have ended outright, legal segregation; however, the laws in the fifty states and 16,000 school districts have embedded sharp disparities: in courses of study, graduation requirements, in funding of schools, in requirements for teachers, the assessment of student and teachers, all left to the discretion of the states; that is, until the Obama administration decided to challenge the independence of the states in making education decisions.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are actually national standards created by the National Governors Association (NGA) and adopted by 46 states. The feds dangled $4.4 billion in competitive grants if states adopted the CCSS, a student test-score based teacher evaluation system, charter schools, aka choice and joined one of the two national testing consortia – Smarter Balance or PARCC.

The Executive Branch had managed to abrogate the Tenth Amendment and set the national education agenda.

Six years later the Obama education agenda is in tatters.

States are increasingly reclaiming the authority to make educational decisions.

The impact of CCSS is waning, the testing consortia have fewer and fewer customers, and parents around the nation are rejecting the core of the Obama plan – annual testing.

Even Tom Kane of Harvard, an avid supporter of the Obama policies, agrees the “proxy war” has curtailed the power of the feds “(For state leadership the common core is a boon“).

Over the past few years, the Common Core State Standards have been embroiled in a proxy war over the role of the federal government in education. To those most protective of state and local prerogatives, “common” became a synonym for “federal.” Perhaps now that the Every Student Succeeds Act has settled that fight by curtailing the federal role, and the Common Core State Standards are now just the state standards, policymakers can recognize that the common standards and assessments are not antithetical to states’ rights after all.

Kane’s argument, we lost the “war,” now let’s get on with it, is foolish, testing is being rejected by parents, teachers and state legislatures in increasing numbers.

An Education Week article (“Common Core: Is Its Achievement Impact Starting to Dissipate?) reports,

According to this year’s Brown Center Report on American Education, 4th and 8th grade students in states that adopted the Common Core State Standards outperformed their peers on the National Assessment of Educational Progress between 2009 and 2013. But between 2013 and 2015, students in non-adoption states made larger gains than those in common-core states.

Not only is the impact of the Common Core waning, the very heart and core of the initiative, testing, is under vigorous assault.

Jim Popham, the past president of the American Education Research Association, by implication, chides Kane and the testing crowd (“The Fatal Flaw of Education Assessment

America’s students are not being educated as well these days as they should be. A key reason for this calamity is that we currently use the wrong tests to make our most important educational decisions. The effectiveness of both teachers and schools is now evaluated largely using students’ scores on annually administered standardized tests, but most of these tests are simply unsuitable for this intended purpose.

What’s most dismaying about this widespread misuse of educational tests is that many educators, most policymakers, and almost all parents of school-age children do not realize how these tests contribute to diminished educational quality.

The opt out parents are an example of the Wisdom of Crowds (“The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations,” 2004) “… the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that … are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.”

The Obama administration felt that states were shortchanging children, and, imposed a range of policy decisions, Common Core, accelerated testing, teacher evaluation, etc.,  that have been rejected many parents and teachers.

The President chose the wrong battle.

The disparities in funding may be just as horrendous as the criminalization of interracial marriages. In New York State (” … 100 wealthiest districts [in NYS] spent on average more than $28,000 in state and local funding per kid in 2012, the 100 poorest districts in the state spent closer to $20,000 per student”) as well as too many other states and school districts; the poorest children receive the least funding and the richest children the highest amount of dollars – school taxes based on property values.  The schools in inner city Detroit are falling apart while suburban schools area well-funded. The disparity in funding between the wealthiest and the poorest districts is $250,000 per class.

The newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act returns wide discretion to the states; the opt out movement is part of the swing of the pendulum away from Washington. Will the states and localities, the opt out parents, influence/create better decisions?  Will students of color, English language learners and students with disabilities be at the center of creating more targeted policies or will state simply satisfy the anger of white, suburban parents? Will the new President be a federalist or a states’ rights/smaller government aficionado?

Which way will the pendulum swing?

Who Are the Opt Out Parents? Why Has The Movement Accelerated So Quickly? What is the Future and the Impact?

This week kids in grades three through eight in New York State will begin taking federally mandated tests that are used to assess school progress, or, lack thereof. The results can be used to transform, redesign or close schools and layoff teachers, or, reward schools and teachers with additional dollars.  Many parents will opt to have their kids skip the tests.

In the years ahead sociologists, political scientists and doctoral candidates will explore the phenomenon of opt out parents.

The parents of one in five students opted their children out of taking state tests last year; tests that were routinely administered for a dozen years.

Tests are deeply embedded in history; Chinese Imperial examinations  originated in the Han Dynasty and the system spread to other Asian nations.

…  the exams were based on knowledge of the classics and literary style, not technical expertise, successful candidates were generalists who shared a common language and culture, one shared even by those who failed. This common culture helped to unify the empire and the ideal of achievement by merit gave legitimacy to imperial rule.

While the Imperial exams ended in 1905 the respect for education and an exam system is alive and well. Stuyvesant High School, an elite high school in New York City that requires a rigorous entrance examination, is overwhelmingly Asian. The school is 72% Asian and less than 1% Black.

No one opt outs of the bar exam.

The passage of the New York Bar Exam is required to practice law in New York State – in 2015 79% of test takers passed, the lowest percent in a decade. The Bar Exam has been frequently criticized,

For too long the unregulated monopoly of the testing industry has masqueraded as the self-appointed guardian of professional standards.

Many argue that a student’s GPA is a far better indicator of knowledge than the score on a bar exam; however, the bar exam remains the essential credential required for the practice of law.

Prior to the 2002 No Child Left Behind law all students in grade 4 and 8 took English and Math exams, the city also gave exams as did school districts.

The state exams school scores were published in major newspapers and schools with declining scores faced close scrutiny. In the late eighties the Board of Education began to close low performing schools and create replacement small high schools. The staffs in the closed schools could apply for positions in the successor schools or choose to be excessed to a cluster of schools of their choice.

For a decade every student in grade 4 through 8 took the required English and Math tests, I never knew that there was the possibility of opting out. If the participation rate in the school and in sub-groups in the school were lower than 95% the school faced undefined sanctions.

Teachers have been arguing that the annual testing regimen is simply unnecessary.

Standardized tests are unnecessary because they rarely show what we don’t already know. Ask any teacher and she can tell you which students can read and write.

On the other hand the civil rights community avers that annual testing, especially of the poorest children, children of color and children with disabilities is essential. Wade Henderson, the President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights testified at a congressional hearing on the reauthorization of ESEA,

Federal investments are unlikely to result in meaningful gains unless they are accompanied by unequivocal demands for higher achievement, higher graduation rates, and substantial closing of achievement gaps … … This is why it is so important that ESEA continue to include strong requirements for assessments and accountability … Accountability is a core civil rights principle …

…high quality, statewide annual assessments are needed. It is imperative that parents, teachers, school leaders, public officials and the public have objective, unbiased information on how their students are performing. ESEA must continue to require annual, statewide, assessments for all students (in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school) that are aligned with, and measure each student’s progress toward meeting the state’s college and career readiness standards.

The civil rights community strongly supports the continuation of annual tests and the newly passed ESSA law continues annual testing.

With the administration of the 2015 round of testing the opt out movement exploded across New York State as well as in other states: what changed?

Who are the opt outs?

The parents choosing to opt out are in suburban, white, higher achieving schools as well a small number of white, higher income, higher achieving schools in New York City.

What triggered the opt out wave?

The NYS Commissioner of Education John King imposed Common Core state exams, the seventy plus percent proficiency scores on the previous tests nosedived to thirty plus percent proficiency rates.  2/3 of students “passing” suddenly became 2/3 of children “failing.” As parent outrage bubbled over King decided to go on a listening tour – first stop: Poughkeepsie. The raucous meeting  was a disaster (Watch highlights here) and the commissioner canceled his listening tour and blamed outside agitators.

Why the passion and the anger?

An Afro-American commissioner who was in his thirties, who sent his children to a private school was telling parents that their kids were failures; was telling parents that superintendents, principals and teachers, who they liked and trusted were failing their children.  I believe parents felt disrespected, their parenting skills were being challenged.  The pent-up anger exploded.

Did the frustration over the perceived failures of government trigger the anger? Why should dysfunctional politicians in Washington or Albany tell us how to run our schools? Why should they be able to brand our children as failures? And, by the way, will these tests prevent our kids from getting into the college of their choice? Just as many in the electorate blame Wall Street and the banks for the economic ills of the nation was the vast testing industry manipulating policy to enrich themselves?

How does the Opt Out movement impact politics?

The opt out parents are not Republicans or Democrats – they are simply anti-testing, and, testing is beyond the ability of local or state electeds to impact. A frustrated state elected official asked me, “Is there a bill number? How do I satisfy these parents?” The governor, after aggressively interfering in education has backed away, the Democratic leader of the Assembly has passed the baton to new members of the Board of Regents.

So far, opting out has had no consequences, the feds have ignored the fact that schools in New York State are below the required 95% participation rate.

Will the opt out movement continue to build momentum, or fade away?  Will the feds accept competency-based testing (CBE) as “annual testing”? While the exams are required will the opt outs make the exams de facto voluntary?

The test results will be available in July, numbers of opt outs probably in June.

Can Career and Technical High Schools (fka Vocational High Schools) Reduce the Achievement/Opportunity Gap and Better Prepare Students for the World Beyond High School?

For decades New York City was proud of comprehensive high schools, large high schools that offered a Regents college-bound diploma plus a vocational diploma for kids interested in the trades, a commercial diploma for girls, including an alternate week work-study program and a general or local diploma for kids who wanted to go directly to work. The economy absorbed kids into unskilled and semi-skilled jobs; many were union jobs that were a pathway to the middle class. In the eighties the world began to change, automation and jobs going overseas changed the nature of the job scene; jobs required a higher level of skills.

The Board of Regents took a highly controversial action – they ended the multiple diplomas – all students would have to earn a Regents diploma, passing five Regents examinations and pass the requisite courses. Kids in vocational schools would have to earn a Regents diploma plus 10-12 credits in their vocational field of study.

The single Regents diploma would be phased in over an extended period of time.

Most of the vocational high schools closed, kids were unable to pass Regents exams; tracking had sent low ability kids into the vocational schools. Beginning in the nineties and accelerating in the 2000’s all but a handful of the comprehensive high school also closed – branded as “drop-out factories.” The Board/Department began to create small theme-based high schools to replace the closed schools.

On March 30th the Manhattan Institute hosted a conference to herald the release of a report entitled, “The New CTE: New York City as Laboratory for America.” Since 2008 the NYC Department of Education has opened fifty small Career and Technical Education (CTE) schools, formerly known as vocational high schools. The authors, Tamar Jacoby and Shawn Dougherty write,

Some fifty of the city’s roughly 400 high schools are dedicated exclusively to CTE. Nearly 75 others maintain 220 additional CTE programs – effectively schools within schools … early evidence suggests that the new CTE is producing results in New York. Occupational course offerings are largely aligned with the industries in the metro area … Class sizes tend to be smaller ,,, young people who attend CTE schools have better attendance rates and are more likely to graduate…. a larger share of schools with CTE classes score at, or above, “proficient” on English and math tests.

The report does not gloat- the report points to implementing tenets of the CTE movement.

* Prepare students for college and careers, allowing young people to keep their options open.

* Engage business and industry

* Build a bridge from secondary to post-secondary or training

* Create opportunities for students to work

* Embrace industry-recognized occupational credentials.

And, the report points to two substantial obstacles,

* More students need work experience:  in spite of the tens of thousands of students in CTE only about 1500 have been placed in internships, the connections between industry and school must have stronger bonds, and, both the schools and industries have to clarify the standards that define an internship.

* A new process for state approval of CTE teachers and industry credentials: The state approval model is a “gatekeeper” model based on traditional areas, there is “no box in the taxonomy for an emerging industry or occupation.” The process is overly lengthy and laborious.

In the question and answer section the abysmal community college graduation rates were referenced: only 19% in two years and 39% in six years plus mountains of debt. Is a Regents diploma a necessary requirement for an occupational credential?  Is the new community college model, ASAP at CUNY a step in the right direction?

The keynote speaker was former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who gave an unusual speech. In spite the significant drops in murder rates across the nation – from 20,000 murders a year to 14,000 murders a year nationally the murder rate in Chicago continues to increase – two murders a day. In a recent report 17 -24 year olds identified themselves as disconnected from work and the disconnected youth, according to Duncan, are more likely to pick up a gun.

Duncan proffered CTE programs must be aligned: to the community, to post-secondary institutions, to the business community and to middle schools. All programs must be accountable, and accountability means data, some iteration of multiple methods of measuring the effectiveness of schools and programs, if we expect the feds and/or states to support CTE programs we must have evidence to show the impact of the programs.

One of the questions asked: In the era of “disruptive innovation,” can we predict the industries five or ten years in the future?  Are we preparing students for transitory jobs?  Should CTE be preparing students to acquire skills rather than preparing for specific jobs?

A guest asked whether unions are an obstacle? Didn’t they see these programs as intruding on union turf? Kathryn Wilde, the President and CEO of the Partnership for New York City replied by praising the UFT and the Central Labor Council, the other members of the panel, a CTE principal and Department Executive Director of the Office of Multiple Pathways chimed in, the unions, especially the UFT were partners in developing the CTE programs across the city.

The world of education has certainly changed since Michael Bloomberg moved on.