There is a Need for Real School Reports Cards: Data that Counts in the Life of a Child

If the federal, state, and local governments continue to place so much weight on standardized test scores as indicators of education progress and success at the national, state, and local levels, then they should be forced to publish any data associated with academic outcomes alongside other indicators of a child’s wellbeing.  We know, and have known for a long time, that academic achievement is highly dependent on other indicators of well-being, such as socioeconomic status.  There are other indicators as well.  The OECD, the organization that brought us PISA scores which for critics of public schools act as the bellwether for school success, recognizes that the well being of children encompasses more than test scores and, therefore, publishes rankings on material well-being, housing and environment, health and safety, risk behavior, educational well-being, and quality of school life.  Of course, systemic educational reformers in the U.S. only want to focus on data from standardized test scores.

We know the ramifications of poverty on the well-being of children.  However, we’ve adopted a “no excuses” mentality for teachers, and like to assert that teachers can overcome any and all of the challenges a child brings with him/her to the classroom.  But teachers cannot.  Teachers can make a noble effort, but they simply cannot overcome poverty and the structural challenges that impede the academic growth of so many children.  Any amount of disaggregating data for student subgroups does not tell the whole story and does not provide a complete picture of a teacher’s worth.

The publication of school, district, and state education report cards may be well intentioned as a means of providing data and information about how well schools and teachers are doing.  However, we need to ensure that report cards about a school district, individual school, or individual teacher include all relevant information that truly reflects the lives of their students in order to meet the needs of those students  Therefore, I suggest that we expand the report card to include the following dimensions on the well-being of the children served by schools and teachers.  In many cases, this data already exists and is used by businesses to make decisions about where to build factories, relocate offices, or open stores. Let’s use this data meaningfully to affect real change in the lives of our children:

  1. What is the average income of the families living in the community served by the school?
  2. What is the employment rate for the families living in the community served by the school? Are there jobs available that pay a living wage?
  3. What are the crime statistics for the community?  I’ve worked in high crime neighborhoods. I know how impactful it can be for children who witness or experience crime and are traumatized. Is it safe for children to play outside in the community? Do they have to navigate drug dealers, gangs, and criminal activity once they leave the front door of their homes?
  4. What is the availability of high-quality affordable healthcare for children and families in the community?
  5. What types of high quality affordable childcare are available for working families in the community?
  6. What types of preschools are available and what percentage of families send their children to preschool?
  7. Is there a public library in the community, is it open on weekends, and how many books do they have available?
  8. What kind of programs are available for children on weekends and after school?
  9. How many parents attend functions at the school, in particular, parent-teacher conferences?  This is information teachers could make available and is highly relevant in light of teacher accountability.  For each class, what percentage of parents attend parent-teacher conferences?  This is a fair point if you’re intent on holding teachers accountable for student performance on test scores.
  10. What types of grocery stores are available within the community? Are fresh fruits and vegetables and fresh meats readily available at a price families in the community can afford?
  11. Are the homes children live in safe?  If their families rent homes and apartments, are they well-maintained?
  12. How do children get to school? If they walk to school, what does the community look like through their eyes? Do they feel safe? Do they have to navigate through crime ridden streets, afraid of being assaulted or bullied? Do they have to cross busy streets on their own?  If they ride buses, how long is the ride?  Are they already tired by the time they get to school? Do they feel safe at the bus stop while waiting for the bus?
  13. What is the governance structure of the school/school district? Are school board members elected by the community to reflect the needs and wishes of the community? Or is the school board appointed to reflect the needs and wishes of people in positions of power far removed from the community — like governors, mayors, or private for-profit or nonprofit charter school organizations?

That’s my list.  Maybe you have other suggestions.  I watched the ESEA reauthorization hearings last week.  I am unconvinced that we’re going to be released from the hyper-focus on standardized test scores.  Lawmakers are intent on making them the mainstay of education policy and we may have to live with that for at least the next generation of school children.  However, we should insist that test score data is balanced with data that reflects the lives of children and the communities in which they live.  Systemic education reformers love data; but let’s make the data meaningful.  Let’s acknowledge that the life of a child doesn’t begin on the first day they enter school, nor does it end the minute the bell rings at the end of the school day.



Lamar Alexander: And the Beat Goes On ….

It seems that July 1991 was an important month for education reformers.  Lamar Alexander as Secretary of Education under President H. W. Bush was very busy on two fronts: 1) laying the groundwork for a national system of assessment (that would require the eventual development of a set of national standards); and 2) facilitating the corporate world’s entre’ into the education arena in full force.

Thanks to C-Span, we have a front row seat to some of the events and pronouncements of Lamar Alexander in which his education reform agenda is laid on the table – in full view of the American public – and we’re feeling the repercussions in full force today.

At a July 1, 1991,  National Education Goals Panel meeting the groundwork for a national system of assessment was laid.  Democrat Governor Roy Romer of Colorado, with Secretary Lamar Alexander at his side, explained the formation and purposes of the Council for Standards and Testing that was the result of a newly enacted law.  As you will note, beginning at approximately 1:19 on the video counter, Romer provides a graphic of the development process for the national assessment, explaining that NAEP testing was inadequate in that it only provided a national picture of educational progress and comparisons between states.  What was needed was a national assessment or set of assessments based on individual student achievement.  NAEP would remain in place; however, a newly developed national assessment would be administered to every child.

Lamar Alexander follows Romer with these insightful words:

“ Sometimes things that look big don’t amount to anything.  Things that seem small amount to a lot.  This is one of those small steps that amounts to a lot — because it represents a beginning to taking the first concrete steps forward to how to exactly develop a national system of examination.  That’s one part and the second part is it includes within that discussion, without committing themselves to a particular way to do it, members of Congress — and I think it’s important to say the Republican and Democratic members of Congress took an issue about which they could have played a game or two with — because there were competing versions of an idea and they put it together.  Dale Kildee [Democrat from Michigan] especially in the House of Representatives took a leadership role in doing that and I think took a very constructive step and it is moving swiftly — but the country needs to [act] as swifty as it accurately and responsibly can in this area because people want some progress.  It is an important step and I thank you [Romer] and Governor Campbell [Republican Governor of South Carolina] deserve a great deal of credit for your leadership in it and that the Congress, both the Democratic and Republican members deserve a lot of credit for putting their partisanship to one side and getting on with this in very rapid order and there are very few things that move through Congress that swiftly and I think it is a very encouraging step.”

Exactly one week later, on July 8, 1991, President H. W. Bush and Lamar Alexander announced the “New American Schools Development Corporation” as the new vanguard approach to reforming public education. This “private” venture was lead by both political leaders and corporate CEOs from companies such as R.J.R. Nabisco, Boeing, AT&T, and Rand.

Several things to note:

  1. …. the declaration that charter school legislation is as an important factor in implementing privatization efforts;
  2. …. Lamar Alexander’s comment that the New American Schools project was “moving rapidly;”
  3. …. the response to a reporter about the possible need for congressional oversight in this new private venture into public education.  This question drew an almost terse response: “There is absolutely no need for that. As a matter of fact, this is an entirely private corporation.  There’s no reason for Congress to be involved in this wholly private venture…”; and
  4. … last, but certainly not least, the mention of Chris Whittle’s private venture foray into the education arena.

Chris Whittle was an important player in the private sector’s incursion in education reform:

In a New York Times article in 1989, Bill Carter reported the names of the luminaries who would serve on Whittle’s Channel One’s board.  These names would include former Department of Education Secretary Terrel Bell (who brought us “A Nation at Risk” under President Ronald Reagan) and Lamar Alexander (then serving as President of the University of Tennessee).  Later in July, 1991, Lamar Alexander’s official position regarding Channel One was, “There’s room for everybody on the reform bandwagon.”

Lamar Alexander’s agenda for education reform has been clear for many years now — national assessment, national standards, and privatization.  I’m detecting a pattern in Alexander’s leadership style.  He likes to move rapidly.  He’s pushing ESEA reauthorization through in the same rapid manner he promoted over two decades ago.  So, does anyone really think he is going to eliminate standardized testing?  And, to be sure, he is moving full steam ahead in the privatization of America’s public schools.

Trust Tests, Not Teachers – Accountability for Dummies

Amazing posting by Steven Singer.  He explains the faulty logic of groups like the AFT and the Center for American Progress as they advocate for maintaining standardized testing in ESEA.  It’s sad that we’re squandering the ESEA reauthorization process and not using it to make the school lives of children better. Parsing language about “hi-stakes” testing versus informational testing ignores the lives of children. Sitting through hours of test-prep and standardized tests is “hi-stakes” in their lives.

Trust Tests, Not Teachers – Accountability for Dummies.

School Choice, Vouchers, and Charter Schools are OFF THE CHAIN!!!

This coming week will see the “Nation’s Largest-Ever School Choice Celebration.” With the ESEA reauthorization process firmly underway and charter school funding largely undebated and undiscussed as a failed experiment by federal policy makers, clearly a celebration is in order for free market devotees and corporate/entrepreneur ed reformers.  Sure, Lamar Alexander is hailed as a hero for holding congressional hearings to discuss the overuse and misuse of standardized testing, but he and his cronies are are very pleased to divert attention away from the big grab for the privatization of public schools.

January 23-31 is now officially, albeit self-proclaimed by school choice/charter advocates, National School Choice Week:

“The largest celebration of school choice in US history will officially start on Friday, January 23, 2015 at a special event in Jacksonville, Florida.

National School Choice Week 2015 will kick off at the Florida Theatre at 12:30 pm on January 23. The event is the first event of an unprecedented 11,082 independently planned and independently funded special events taking place across all 50 states during the Week, which runs until January 31, 2015.

The goal of the Week is to shine a positive spotlight on effective education options for children, and to raise awareness of the importance of, and benefits of, school choice in a variety of forms.”

Headliners for the School Choice Week kickoff celebration include Senator John McCain and Vice President Joe Biden’s brother, Frank, along with other notables from well-funded charter school organizations and we can look forward to a dizzying 11,000 events across the country.

Milton Friedman would be so proud.  What an absolute testament to the economic policies of Ronald Reagan. This is the fruition of all they hoped for in education policy for the U.S.  We can thank Reagan for making Friedman’s voucher concept politically palatable in our country when he substituted the term “school vouchers” to the more benign term “school choice.”  H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama, would continue to promote school choice through charter schools — attaching all the accoutrements of equity, civil rights, and education excellence to the p.r. campaign to the American public — while stripping away the democratic intentions of local school governance.  The free market of education policy is the clear winner.  The private sector is celebrating and planning their next strategy for grabbing the tax dollars that students carry with them into the schoolhouse door and the federal grants that will help create more and more charter schools.  And now they’ve claimed a national week of celebration.  Presidents get a day to honor them; Martin Luther King gets a day; labor gets a day; there’s one 4th of July; but — school choice advocates have proclaimed an entire week.  The dog is off the chain!


ESEA Reauthorization – Beware – What’s on the Table and What’s under the Table

I’ve been watching the heated debate about the ESEA reauthorization process and standardized testing.   The joint statement by the AFT and the Center for American Progress is clearly problematic for those who want to end the onslaught of testing in public schools and represents an about face of the AFT.  And the call for maintaining standardized testing as part of the reauthorized ESEA by civil rights groups has the potential to thwart efforts to minimize our country’s obsession with testing and data.  I’m not surprised by these actions.  The same things occur whenever federal education policies have been debated.  One thing is consistent, however.  Over the years, the monied lobby groups tend to prevail — not because what they seek is good for children, but because federal policies represent a whole lot of capital that can be exploited and used to increase the coffers of the private sector.  

It’s a good thing that Congress will hold hold hearings to discuss standardized testing.  At least there will be an official record of the concerns of citizens about the abuse of standardized testing and its impact on children, teachers, schools, and public education.  It’s a good start.  However, the AFT and the civil rights coalition have supplied corporate education reformers with a rationale for maintaining standardized tests as a key component of ESEA.  By framing the discussion about testing as an issue of equity, and by invoking the NCLB mantra of “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” the path for maintaining standardized testing is made clear — whether or not that path is paved with good intentions.  And never forget that standardized testing has proven to be very lucrative for free market corporate education reformers.  

But the conversation about standardized testing is on the table, visible for all to see.  There are, however, other ESEA policy issues at stake, too.  One education policy issue that will survive is the promotion of charter schools and funds for starting charter schools.  And that’s a good thing for the corporate education privatization movement.  I would argue, that they embrace the rancorous discourse regarding standardized testing because it takes the focus off of their real motive — privatization.  As I explained in a recent post about the domino effect and charter schools:

“… hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs aren’t so much concerned about [ academic achievement] in spite of their catch phrases, advertising slogans, and cliches.  They just want more charter schools full of students that bring with them a hefty sum of tax dollars.  I have a feeling that once charter schools dominate in the education sector, standardized test scores will become less consequential.  The Republican legislature is already hinting at a move to lessen the emphasis on standardized testing.  That only makes sense when you think about it.  Standardized testing is not demonstrating the superiority of charter schools over public schools.  So, standardized tests are less appealing than they were in the years leading up to NCLB, when choice proponents were convinced that public schools would be shamed into closing when they had to compete with charter schools.”

I fear that there is another big issue that the public is not aware of that is at stake in the ESEA reauthorization debate.  According to David DeShryer of Whiteboard Advisors,  “Sen. Lamar Alexander’s discussion draft bill provides new supplement, not supplant language that may have significant implications for the education market.”  To be clear, Whiteboard Advisors is in the business of promoting entrepreneurship in the policy arena.  Its co-founder is Ben Wallerstein who once served as an aide to David Kearns — the former Xerox CEO who worked with Diane Ravitch at the Department of Education under George H.W. Bush during the era in which choice, school vouchers, and charters gained solid footing as a potent education reform mechanism.  Whiteboard Advisors is a go-to source for business as a way to monitor federal and state governmental policies that favor their profit interest.  DeShryer explains how Lamar Alexander’s proposal for ESEA reauthorization would benefit private interests.  Title I funds, intended to “serve at-risk students in schools with concentrations of poverty,” could be tapped without oversight or accountability.  Alexander’s proposal “says that no district would be required to identify individual costs or provide specific services through a particular instructional method or setting in order to demonstrate compliance.”

DeShryer further states:

“The importance of the change cannot be overstated. Today, unless a school is operating a “school-wide” model, the test to ensure compliance is rather fact specific and burdensome – a gift to auditors and attorneys. That changes under this bill. A district need only to show that the methodology of getting state and local funds to its schools is clear and transparent enough to ensure that Title I funds are not used to supplant state and local dollars. Under that test, it does not matter if an innovative digital learning program benefits Title I eligible students and all other students in the district. It does not matter that the service can both address core instruction and remediation. These factors are not relevant to the founding formula compliance test, and this opens up the market and makes innovative school leadership much easier to realize.”

This has huge implications for schools, teachers, and, most importantly, students.  Congress is throwing a party, in the form of congressional hearings, to discuss standardized testing in the spirit of democratic and transparent discourse — setting the table for the issue they are willing to put on the table for discussion.  However, what is most important is what is going on under the table.  While invoking the equity argument to maintain standardized testing, what the AFT and the civil rights groups are not discussing is the fact that Lamar Alexander’s proposal for ESEA reauthorization could, in fact, deprive the students, who need Title I funds the most, of the resources they need to be successful.  An unfettered free market of education would certainly benefit one group the most — the businesses who market their services and wares to public schools.  Cha Ching!!!

Charter Schools and the Domino Effect

Two items caught my eye this week.  The first was a news item about proposed legislation in Wisconsin that would require traditional public schools with low test scores to be closed and converted into charter schools.  The second was a posting by Gene V. Glass entitled “Cream Rises to the Top in Charters?”

School choice and the charter school movement is a failed experiment on our nation’s school children.  Enough time has elapsed now and enough data has been gathered to demonstrate that this is a failed experiment in the quality of education in the U.S.  However, it has been a huge success for corporate free market education reformers.  So, while our nation’s children and local communities are the ultimate losers in this grand venture, hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs are the ultimate winners.

As Gene Glass explains, “Charter schools have long been known for their filtering out at the admissions stage of students who might require special services or who might lower their test score average.”  In short, “choice” and charter schools are not so much about children and families choosing schools, but about charter schools choosing the students who can bolster their bottom line, increasing their capital in the form of higher test scores that will add to their brand and keep them in business — with a steady stream of income from the tax dollars citizens pay for public education.

The impact of Wisconsin’s proposed legislation would be extremely beneficial for the free market of education.    In essence, this legislation will have a domino effect on public schools and hasten their demise and the unity of the local communities these public schools serve.  If passed, the legislation would require that “persistently low-performing public schools would be turned into charter schools.”  In other words, low performing public schools would disappear, never to be improved and never to return to the democratic public sector.  There is no indication that low performing charter schools would be converted back into traditional public schools.  Rather, they would most likely merely be turned over to another charter school operator.

The impact could be devastating for public education because inevitably and by design, once opened, each charter school would begin the process of weeding out low performing and special needs students.  And where would they go? To the remaining traditional public school.  Of course, then, the student population of the public schools would shift as they accommodate more and more of the poorer performing students and students who require more services in order to be successful.  Their test scores are likely to go down — not because they are not good schools and not because their teachers are ineffective, but because they are doing what all public schools should be doing — trying to meet the needs of all students.  But, eventually, these remaining public schools run the risk of being deemed failures as their test scores decline.  And then, of course, according to the proposed law, they will be turned into a charter school — which will again further weed out the low performing and special needs students.  This is the domino effect.  One by one, public schools will fall.  A fait accompli for the private sector.

And what about standardized testing in this brave new world of privatized education?  Will student achievement rise across the nation?  Will our students’ scores top the list on PISA tests?  Of course not.  But, hedge fund managers and entrepreneurs aren’t so much concerned about that in spite of their catch phrases, advertising slogans, and cliches.  They just want more charter schools full of students that bring with them a hefty sum of tax dollars.  I have a feeling that once charter schools dominate in the education sector, standardized test scores will become less consequential.  The Republican legislature is already hinting at a move to lessen the emphasis on standardized testing.  That only makes sense when you think about it.  Standardized testing is not demonstrating the superiority of charter schools over public schools.  So, standardized tests are less appealing than they were in the years leading up to NCLB, when choice proponents were convinced that public schools would be shamed into closing when they had to compete with charter schools.