Excerpt From an Open Letter to Arne Duncan from Herb Kohl

"...I discovered then, in my early teaching career, that learning is best driven by ideas, challenges, experiences, and activities that engage students. My experience over the past 45 years has confirmed this.

We have come far from that time in the '60s. Now the mantra is high expectations and high standards. Yet, with all that zeal to produce measurable learning outcomes we have lost sight of the essential motivations to learn that moved my students. Recently I asked a number of elementary school students what they were learning about and the reactions were consistently, "We are learning how to do good on the tests." They did not say they were learning to read.

It is hard for me to understand how educators can claim that they are creating high standards when the substance and content of learning is reduced to the mechanical task of getting a correct answer on a manufactured test." (Summer 2009)

Nova High School Relocated

Nova High School Relocated

Merit Pay

"I would like to know who in our country would like their pay to be based on the actions of a group of children."

Laurie, in response to R. Weingartner, On Point, 1/26/10

Merit pay is an issue that is closely associated with charter schools and is a reiteration of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Basically, it requires that teachers pay be based on how well their students perform on standardized tests. For our students, it could be the new MAP test. With the No Child Left Behind Act, teachers and staff were pressured to teach much of the class work to the standardized tests. With so much focus on the test, many other parts of knowledge building, creativity and understanding of subjects and their synthesis with other knowledge had to take a back seat. For many students, teaching to a test meant that they were not able to reach their full potential which would have been far beyond the level of the tests.

No one wins in this situation.

Part of the fallout also is that if a teacher's pay is based on how well their students test, many teachers will want to teach in a school where they know that the students will perform well. Those schools are, for the most part, not the schools that are predominately minority in population.

Some students do not perform well on standardized tests for many different reasons and yet a teacher's pay can be tied to that student's performance. High stakes testing also puts pressure and stress on the students who become burdened with the thought that they need to perform well on one test. The test becomes a focus with little opportunity to explore and have fun learning, creating and synthesizing new thoughts and ideas.

Update: The Governor of Texas has decided to opt out of the Race to the Top funding because of the ineffectiveness of the merit pay program that was in effect for three years inthe state.

Update: March 8, 2010 Principal to be removed from school in Wasington State due to low WASL scores.

What Is a Charter School?

The basic difference between a traditional public school and a privately run charter school is that with a charter school there is complete control of the school by a private enterprise within a public school district. Although taxpayer-funded, charters operate without the same degree of public and district oversight of a standard public school. Most charter schools do not hire union teachers which means that they can demand the teacher work longer hours including weekends at the school site and pay less than union wages. Charter schools take the school district's allotment of money provided for each student within the public schools system and use it to develop their programs. In many systems, they receive that allotment without having to pay for other costs such as transportation for students to and from the school. Some states, such as Minnesota, actually allocate more than what is granted to public school students.

A charter school can expel any student that it doesn't believe fits within its standards or meets its level of expectation in terms of test scores. If the student is dropped off the rolls of the charter school, the money that was allotted for that student may or may not be returned to the district at the beginning of the next year. That is dependent upon the contract that is established by each district.

Also, according to a recent (June 15, 2009) study by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)
, charter schools do not necessarily perform any better than public schools. In fact, 37 percent performed worse. Forty-six percent demonstrated "no significant difference" from public schools. Only 17 percent of charter schools performed better than public schools.

"In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

Thomas Jefferson

The Broad Foundation

The Broad Foundation claims to be a philanthropic organization, created by billionaire Eli Broad.

The Broad Foundation supports privately run charter schools and actively develops a system of charter schools in urban areas.

Broad claims it engages in "venture philanthropy":
"Our Approach to Investing: Venture Philanthropy. We take an untraditional approach to giving. We don't simply write checks to charities. Instead we practice 'venture philanthropy.' And we expect a return on our investment."

Many of us have discovered the Broad Foundation's presence within SPS and are requesting an explanation for why it is here and what its' objectives are.

Seattle has three "Broad Residents", and two Broad graduates now working within SPS. One of them is our superintendent who is a graduate of the Broad Academy which trains superintendents, and is also on the Broad's Board of Directors.

Another Broad graduate and a onetime Broad resident in SPS, Brad Bernatek, is now Director of REA, Research, Evaluation and Assessment within SPS. That department is responsible for student statistics including enrollment, demographics, evaluation and standardized testing.

The Broad Foundation provided Dr. Payzant, also a Broad graduate, to be a part of our superintendent’s yearly review in 2009.

Broad recently gave SPS a $1M "gift." That money is now in the hands of the Alliance for Education and no one knows how the money is being spent.

All in all the Broad Foundation has been quite generous to the Seattle Public School system and as Eli Broad states himself, he expects a return on his investment.

Broad also supports and actively promotes mayoral control of school districts. Eli Broad's preferred model of mayoral control means that the mayor selects the school board members and superintendent who are therefore unelected and are beholden only to the mayor, not the people of the city. It then becomes a school district that is run by one person, the mayor, with heavy influence by the Broad Foundation through developed relationships with that individual.

Update: A Detroit School District employee found accepting money from the Broad Foundation.
"Let the games begin: Detroit Teachers vote to unanimously join the current Detroit Public School District in their suit against Robert Bobb".

Update: The Broad - Rhode Island connection.
Rhode Island has had the dubious distinction of making national news recently for the draconian firing/scapegoating of an entire school of teachers. Is it a coincidence that the new education commissioner for R.I., who is pushing the state to do whatever it takes to qualify for federal "Race to the Top" dollars, is a "Broad Superintendents Academy" graduate, Deborah Gist?
"This is the point, and why mayoral control and Eli Broad, Gates, The Fisher family and the Walton family (and a host of other such charitable capitalists) along with Green Dot schools and other EMO's who seek to privatize all of education are so giddy. Creating a sub-prime school system that breaks the backs of the teacher's union is the goal of the new managerial elite who seek only to turn over public schools to private operators and entrepreneurs. This way they can reduce teachers to at-will employees, de-skill them with the "best practices," force them to work longer hours for less pay and less benefits and of course eliminate collective bargaining; that will then give the new managerial elite and their corporate masters, control over the entire educational enterprise - from curriculum development to the hiring and firing of teachers."

Dan Weil

Dollars and Sense

December, 2009

What the Gates Foundation Is Doing: The MAP Test

The Gates Foundation supports, and pays for, high stakes testing which is tied to merit pay.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given Seattle Public Schools a total of $9M this year for additional testing. We have not been able to find out the details of this testing yet. We don't know what the test is, what the test is to determine, who is administering the test and how the results of the tests are to be used.

UPDATE: We have heard that the Gates "gift" is funding the new computerized, standardized "MAP" tests the district is administering this year to all students, from as young as kindergarten to grade 9. MAP stands for "Measures of Academic Progress™" (yes, it is a trademarked product) and will be administered to the kids three times during the school year. The test can take as much as two hours each session, according to the district's official announcement letter.

A number of questions come to mind: Is this the best use of the students' school time? Is it appropriate to make children as young as five who can't read take a standardized test on a computer? Is this the best use of such funds? Or would parents, students and teachers prefer to see money channeled more directly to the classroom, to create smaller class sizes, more enrichment opportunities, or to purchase new textbooks?

A SIDE NOTE: Another interesting connection is that our superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, is on the Board of Directors for the company that has created and distributes the MAP test. There is $4.3M in the levy to pay for additional use of this MAP test in Seattle.

The Cooper Building: Program DIscontinued, 2009

The Cooper Building: Program DIscontinued, 2009

Regarding Arne Duncan's Renaissance 2010

" The purpose of Renaissance 2010 [in Chicago] was to increase the number of high quality schools that would be subject to new standards of accountability - a code word for legitimating more charter schools and high stakes testing in the guise of hard-nosed empiricism. Chicago's 2010 plan targets 15 percent of the city district's alleged underachieving schools in order to dismantle them and open 100 new experimental schools in areas slated for gentrification.

Most of the new experimental schools have eliminated the teacher union. The Commercial Club hired corporate consulting firm A.T. Kearney to write Ren2010, which called for the closing of 100 public schools and the reopening of privatized charter schools, contract schools (more charters to circumvent state limits) and "performance" schools.

Kearney's web site is unapologetic about its business-oriented notion of leadership, one that John Dewey thought should be avoided at all costs. It states, 'Drawing on our program-management skills and our knowledge of best practices used across industries, we provided a private-sector perspective on how to address many of the complex issues that challenge other large urban education transformations.'

Duncan's advocacy of the Renaissance 2010 plan alone should have immediately disqualified him for the Obama appointment."

Henry Giroux & Kenneth Saltman,

Obama's Betrayal of Public Education?


The African American Academy: Closed 2009

The African American Academy: Closed 2009

Alternative Schools in Seattle

Alternative schools in Seattle have a rich and varied history. Established in the 1960's by parents and educators and based on the principles of Summerhill, the programs that have developed over the last four decades in Seattle offer an opportunity for all students to succeed within the Seattle public school system.

At this time, the alternative and nontraditional schools in Seattle are basically under siege. Many schools have been closed, marginalized or split apart, including the Accelerated Progress Program (APP) for highly gifted kids, the Center School, Nova, Summit, the African American Academy, SBOC and AS-1. There is also a plan for an Alternative School Audit by SPS in October, 2009.

We see these alternative programs as viable options to the traditional school approach to education. For this reason many of us believe that with the support of these programs, there is no need for privatized charter schools.

Governor Gregoire and our state representatives are speaking to Arne Duncan about our alternative schools and that they meet the requirement of charter schools and should be considered in providing Race to the Top funds to our state.

Summit K-12: Closed 2009

Summit K-12: Closed 2009
An alternative school

Please Note

All of the schools and programs that will be shown on this page were closed or split in 2009 for an alleged total savings of $3M for the year. A drop in the bucket considering the $34M budget shortfall claimed by School Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. Was it worth it? Let us know what you think. Enrollment for the fall of 2009 is 1,200 students more than the district anticipated. With schools closed based on capacity and financial management issues per our superintendent's statements, where will these students be seated?

Meg Diaz, a parent, did a brilliant presentation to the school board in January regarding the school closures, the demographics of Seattle and why it didn't make sense to close the schools.
See: http://sites.google.com/site/seattleschoolsgroup/meg-diaz-analysis

Unfortunately, the school board paid no attention to Ms. Diaz or their own reports and instead chose to believe the numbers presented by the superintendent's CFO, Don Kennedy who previously worked with our superintendent in Charleston, and Brad Bernatek our Broad graduate and Director of REA, Research, Evaluation and Assessment who also handles the demographic data for SPS.

Two schools were closed that, per their own report, would see an increase in school aged children of anywhere between 31%-100% between 2008 and 2012. See page 11 of the DeJong report titled "Seattle Public Schools: Enrollment Projections Report". Those two schools were TT Minor Elementary School and Meany Middle School.

After the closures, Ms. Diaz decided to investigate the administrative cost within the Stanford Center and came up with surprising results. While the superintendet was rifing teaches and staff and closing schools, staff was growing within the Stanford Center and particularly in our superintendent's office where yet another Broad graduate was hired as one of the superintendent's administrative assistants.

Posted on October 6, 2009: The new assignment plan just came out and the proposal is to re-open five school buildings. Between closing five school buildings, shuffling students to different schools and now proposing the re-opening of five buildings within a year's time speaks volumns about the lack of competency of our superintendent and her chosen staff.

We have now wasted money closing five schools, moving students, equipment and materials around just to re-open five school buildings.

The cost of re-opening five of these buildings is as follows:

Sand Point: $7M
Viewlands: $11M
Old Hay: $7.5M
Mc Donald$: $14.9M
Rainier View: $7.4M
Total so far: $47.8

The superintendent, along with the school board, plan to take the next capitol levy money, BEX III, to be voted on in 2010 that was to go to the maintenance and seismic upgrades of our school buildings, which would make them safer, and instead use the money to re-open these previously closed buildings.

The decision to close schools last year and close or relocate programs came down from our superintendent's office quickly and there was little time for debate or understanding of what the ramifications would be. It is my opinion that again, we need to have time to evaluate what cost can wait and how these cost can be phased so that we can not only make our existing buildings safer but also provide adequate space for all of our students.

There is also stimulus money that other school dristricts have been able to acquire to upgrade their school buildings through FEMA grants. These grants, part of a Disaster Mitigation Fund, are being used to make school buildings safer. I had presented this information to the school board and superintendent but no action was taken at the time.

I will provide updates on the effort to once again get SPS to pay attention to this opportunity.

Please send comments or ideas to us or share your opinions below. We want to hear from you. All positive and constructive input is of value.


"I think it high time Congress enact similar mandates for other professions that utilize a single measure to determine success. Dentists should be evaluated on how many teeth they save, doctors should be evaluated on how many patients they save, lawyers should be evaluated on how many cases they win, accountants should be evaluated on much money they save clients, and engineers on how many buildings they've designed get built. Congress should also enact national, comprehensive standards for each profession without any input from members of said professions since we know they can't be trusted to make informed decisions or contribute to the discussion in any meaningful way. Anyone who won't come on board should be fired and labeled a dissident. Conformity and control are a must, so teachers should be thankful they are first in the firing line."

Priscilla Gutierrez, Huffington Post comment

Lowell Elementary

Lowell Elementary
The Lowell APP program was split with half of the students sent to Thurgood Marshall.

Our Declaration

In the current national discussion about education reform, the loudest voices are not necessarily those of the people who are directly affected by what happens in our schools – the students, parents, teachers and school communities themselves.

We are parents with children in public schools. These are our kids, their teachers, our schools. And we would like to be heard.

What’s more, the message coming from the current league of reformers is largely negative, much talk about what’s wrong with our schools, but little discussion of what public schools and teachers are doing right, and what they could do even better if given full support.

Can our public schools be improved? Absolutely. But that begins with fully funding our schools and believing they can work.

We believe they can, when given the chance.

We also believe that too many of the latest proposed education reforms are too punitive and are not changes for the better.

We believe there are valuable aspects of public education worth preserving and supporting, beginning with the very principle itself – free public education for every child in the country. We believe this has always been a noble goal and one that we’re not willing to give up on.

So we have created a
Declaration of Support for Public Schools.

We invite others across the nation who share our vision for public education to sign on to our statement, to send a message to the president, education secretary and school district officials throughout the country.

The message is simple:

Let’s fix what’s broken, but don’t break what isn’t.

And do not impose detrimental changes on our schools and children in the name of “reform.”


Sue Peters, Dora Taylor

Seattle Public Schools parents
May 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

From "Teacher's Letters for Obama": Questions for Arne Duncan by Anthony Cody

We are getting ready for our talk with Arne Duncan, and the members of Teachers' Letters to Obama are actively engaged in generating questions and thoughts to share with him. We have been discussing the key issues, and this weekend we asked members for their thoughts on what they would like to say to the Secretary of Education. More than 200 have responded thus far.

Here is what is on their minds:

If you continue to insist that pay and job retention should be tied to teacher performance, how do you intend to operationally define "effective teaching"? How will you assure equity among all teachers when: 1) some teachers are not currently subject to high stakes assessments for their students; 2) there is significant disparity from district to district, school to school in the quality of the learning environment, the availability of classroom materials, and the life circumstances of a diverse group of students.

How does he believe we can equip children with the creative and critical thinking skills necessary to advance in the 21st century, if we reduce education to bubbling in test questions and offer them a drill and kill curriculum?

The public school system is not a business and would fail under a business model. Teacher pay should not be linked to test scores. Who will you get to teach?

Does the administration realize the degree of instability it is creating in students' lives by making teachers' lives unstable?

How is firing staff helping a failing school?

All efforts in education must be for the students. By tying teacher pay to test results you are NOT focusing on the student. What work is being done to evaluate the growth of each student from year to year? How is Arne Duncan doing as a third grader? How is Arne doing as a fourth grader? How is Arne doing as a fifth grader? Is he making typical growth each year for a child of his age and specific learning needs? AYP benchmarks are unrealistic expectations for students. After all . . . did Arne learn to walk or talk at the same time/age as all of the other children in his class?

How can we trust you if you support merit pay based on student achievement and charter schools that undermine public education? You said recently that a child who has a good teacher for three years has scores that show it. If a child has a bad teacher for three years, the scores show it. What about that child's home life? Do they go to bed hungry? Do they live in fear? Who are you to determine if a teacher is bad or good. You have never been a classroom teacher. You do not know the realities we face in the classroom every day.

Is there research backing up the value of teaching to a test?

Did you and the President rely only on test scores to choose your children's schools?
We need to allow MORE creativity in learning, in the classrooms, with our teachers, with our students. We have tested to death. We have KILLED individual thought!!! PLEASE QUIT PAYING TEACHERS FOR SCORES!!!

In the past several years, the curriculum has become more narrow due to an over-reliance on testing and test scores, resulting in unfair judgment of students based on limited assessment tools. How will you ensure that ALL students have equal access to a well-rounded, deep education that includes and validates the importance of creative, critical thinking skills that will be needed for their future?

What is Duncan's position on the humanities in general and history education in particular?
Why do we continue to judge our children's worth and the worth of their teachers by a standardized test that does not measure annual growth when the skills of our children at any given grade level are anything but standard?

Research correlates economic status and nutrition to school achievement, much more so than teacher performance. How are we meeting the fundamental needs of our children first and foremost so that they are physically prepared to meet our academic standards. Teachers can teach children who are safe, well fed and rested. Teachers should not have to focus on these factors when they enter the classroom, but many go above and beyond to meet these needs of their learners since their professional performance is judged solely on test scores.

How can we get back to writing "Individual" Education Plans for our Special Education students? When they all have to meet the same goal which may be out of reach in some cases, their educational experiences cease to be tuned to individual needs and become generically aimed at meeting API for the school.

If funding is linked to test scores, and high performing schools are rewarded, how can The Secretary of Education justify further neglect of the schools that need the most aid?

What are you doing to ensure that children have access to quality libraries inside their schools and communities?

If not following the rules that public schools makes charters such a panacea, why not just let the public school drop all the rules that they have to follow. Then they will have a level playing field with charters, which, by the way, have proven to be no better than public schools in 80% of the cases.

Our students are not being prepared for the real world when we narrow their elementary experience to reading and math. SO much of science and social studies CAN be related to reading and math, too! NO NEED to eliminate it! Funds should be withheld from schools that do NOT include EVERY subject - including art, music, and P.E., too!

What valid study gives him the crazy idea that a teacher can force ALL students to advance at least one year/level in subject mastery every year? Is there any place for freedom of the student to make (bad) choices and family culture in his thinking?

Since we can not agree on any test currently in use to measure the essence of what student achievement should look like, why not switch the evaluative part of our school performance to a more individualized and student-centered measurement?

Why, in the face of research showing high-stakes testing and charter schools are not effective, is the Obama Blueprint still relying on these flawed ideas?

Where is the Education's "bailout"? We continue to deal with all of the negative, degrading aspects of NCLB, and on top of it, are dealing with 1) job loss 2) if haven't lost job, increase in class size 3) unpaid furlough days 4) percentage salary cuts. Everything has gotten so negative and dismal in public school education that excellent, knowledgeable teachers are leaving the career in record numbers.

Upon examination of reconstituted schools several years later, do you feel that they each are living up to the promise of said reconstitution, or if not, why not?

What kind of employee would YOU want on your staff? One who can creatively solve problems, collaborate with others, examine multiple points of view on a topic.... or one who can memorize facts for a multiple choice test?

I see "over-reliance on test scores for high stakes decisions" to be the cause of many problems in national education policy. That practice leads to the related problems of narrowed curriculum (in history, civics, and the arts) and teacher pay for test scores. My question is simple: Why are you continuing down the damaging path set by the Bush administration and NCLB instead of bringing a halt to these tests that actually eliminate learning time?

What process do you propose for regulating and/or increasing funding in order to address the outrageous funding inequities in our nation's schools?

I would ask Duncan if he feels that the kind of education promoted by NCLB and The Race to the Top (of the volcano) is designed to provide quality education or factoids to marshall in the privatization of public education.

Would you like to come teach my class for a month and then get paid based upon the results?

What are we doing as an educational system to ensure the students of today and tomorrow are equipped to tackle what will be the next generations questions?

When are we going to stop overtesting in schools?

Just as colleges and universities throughout the country have begun to devalue and deemphasize SAT scores as reliable indices of student success, public schools are doing just the opposite in their increasing emphasis on standardized test measures. At my school, faculty meetings have become recitations of 'benchmark' scores, with kudos to teachers whose students' scores are up and quiet embarrassment for teachers whose students were low performers. My question to Mr. Duncan is how he would propose teaching students whose difficult socioeconomic circumstances and disinterested parent(s) have influenced them to devalue education, resent authority of any type and disrupt the instructional efforts of talented teachers who have brought ingenuity and imagination to their lesson plans. We have students in 8th grade who cannot read and are disinterested in learning how to read. Mr. Duncan says we should not 'blame' other elements of the education system, but we continually wonder how these nonreaders have progressed to the middle school level without being able to read! We have implemented a school-wide, literacy program designed specifically to raise literacy levels. It may work to some small degree; however, I think that any objective assessment of the situation in many schools would conclude that unless we employ programs specifically targeted to the young, black male population, we will continue to fail in the eyes of the world. Recently, I taught a social studies class in which we compared literacy rates between the U.S., Russia and all other European countries. For almost EVERY country, including Russia, America lagged behind in literacy. Mr. Duncan needs to focus his efforts on literacy, with specific attention to low-performing African-American males. The data is already there; the teachers in most schools (regardless of scores) are talented and want the students to learn, but the pointillistic strategy of current education philosophy is weakening our formerly strong, American system of education. As colleges have learned, scores don't tell the story of an applicant; in some situations, college administrators have decided that scores are completely irrelevant to the selection process. Perhaps Mr. Duncan and his staff should consult with these college educators who have discovered that traditional grading systems are far more valuable in predicting student success than are one-day-only scores.

To sum up, how does Mr. Duncan plan to address the score-documented evidence of the disparity between black and white students? Is he taking into consideration the socioeconomic and familial backgrounds of students who have not yet been 'touched and inspired' by a teacher?

It's nice to able to idealize and romanticize the education process, but does Mr. Duncan understand that the realities of our students' situations may not match his rosy expectations that a teacher can completely erase these realities and miraculously transform his 30+ classes of low level readers to suddenly become "Freedom Writers." Come on! As a matter of fact, please invite Mr. Duncan to visit just a few of the thousands of schools in our country where teachers are the ONLY adults in a student's life that do have faith in his possibilities of success. We need strategies and researched evidence, not more useless testing and condemnation of a profession that is the last hope for many of these children.

How can continuing to give sanctions rather than support to "failing" schools do anything more than INCREASE the inequities for poor, minority, and special education students?

Why are we tying teacher pay and evaluations to test scores? We prove ourselves on a daily basis in the classroom and there are so many more aspects of a child that teachers affect other than that one-time test score. Where does instilling a love of reading to a child who never willingly picked up a book come in? Building up a child's self-esteem? Making a child feel "safe" or allowing a student a place to explore. We are not given credit for any of the hundreds of things we do for our students when we put our heart and souls into our jobs and only get recognized for a test score.

Why does the state feel charter schools are the way to go? If we have a clear vision and the funds to carry it out, we can succeed as well or better than charter schools.

In all the talk of accountability I have not seen any mention of accountability for parents. It is difficult in my elementary setting to get parents to make sure children are at school on time, stay for the full day, and keep absences to a minimum. I know it is more difficult for the high school people who are responsible to teach them and test them but cannot seem to find a way to make them come to school. Are there any plans in the works for having parent accountability be a component of student evaluation?

Why not focus your efforts on bringing more resources to improve the planning and success of each student and parent?

How do we expand students' thinking and analytical skills if we are basing their education on multiple choice and rote memorization of facts?

If there is indeed a race to the top that has money funded, who explains to the kids, families, and communities, why the national government thinks kids should ever lose when it comes to funding for their education?

Knowing that it takes English Language Learners 5-7 years to master Academic English, how can we expect students to succeed on state-wide reading assessments when they've only been in our country for one year?

How do you propose to provide equal funding for all schools so that all students have the same opportunities?

When are we going to make parents accountable-especially in the inner city?

I am very concerned about the increasing unrealistic expectations being placed on our children in our public schools. Standardized testing is now driving the curriculum, forcing teachers to push subject matter and skills before children are ready. Public schools and school districts are forced to keep up with the myriad of developmentally inappropriate benchmarks laid out in NCLB. It seems as if common sense has gone by the wayside. Our haphazard approach to reform is hurting our children. Year after year, policy-makers just keep raising the academic bar, and parents and schools continue to scramble to try and meet these unrealistic standards. And when some of our students don't or can't succeed in this developmentally distorted environment, parents and children are made to feel like, and many schools and teachers are publicly labeled, "failures". As a result my profession has been demoralized, and my students are never given the credit their young bright minds deserve. How do you plan to restore/repair the damage done to my profession as a result of this punitive nightmare? What supports are going to be provided to those who work in the most challenging districts?

Why divert public school funds for charter schools?

Teachers are required to teach the same curriculum to all students while, at the same time, differentiating for each student's needs - ability and learning style. When will teachers be allowed to teach using their abilities and teaching styles to best meet the needs of the students instead of following a script to prepare for a test?

Reading is key to success and poor reading is why many fail. How will you make reading a priority for all students?

If American schools are not working now, why do you want us to keep doing what we are doing?
Why would you even consider cutting funding for National Writing Project, the only writing program with a national network of its kind?

Why must everything be tested with a multiple choice test? At what point will teachers' assessment of a student's ability be trusted again?

How do we assure that special ed students will succeed to their highest ability in the inclusion classroom. The tests are not geared for them, teachers can't teach individually when the child needs it , yet with inclusion no one is advocating for these children especially with the loss of ESEA and Title1 funding. Is this the next subgroup that will continue to fail?

How are teachers accountable for student success when once a student leaves us they go home to a family that doesn't help them succeed? We can't do it all by ourselves, the parents have to have some sort of accountability as well.

How we can expect teachers to be 100% responsible for educating our children? Teachers spend 5-6 hours with students daily. What about the other 18 hrs for these kids? What about their lives? Some of these children's only structure, food and comfort come from their school day. I don't want my pay being based on the student that hasn't eaten a decent meal or never went to bed last night. I want to give support to these kids but not at the expense of my paycheck when I can't control the variables that come into my classroom.

When are you going to acknowledge that teachers are highly trained professionals who need a much, much stronger voice when decisions are made?? So often, these committees are composed of either non-educators or individuals who haven't seen the inside of a classroom for decades!

How will we use authentic assessments (this means formative - ongoing assessments that actually show what students know and are learning) rather than focusing on the facts and disconnected information gathered on multiple choice tests?

With overwhelming evidence that pay for performance does not work, why are you and other education leaders still proposing this?

What can the Department of ED do NOW - since reauthorization may take awhile to get through the "political process" - to begin the shift towards a more balanced education that emphasizes art, music, creative and critical thinking?

If your experiment in Chicago has proven to be a failure, how can you persist in the quest to replicate this failed model?

How will you rectify the over-emphasis on narrowly-based, multiple choice tests which only serve to limit the curriculum and deprive students of the opportunity for critical thinking and experiential teaching?

How can we get funds to innovative thinkers who aren't tied to a school district?
Will you implement the strategies that prepare the students of today with the skills needed to be the well rounded citizens of tomorrow? What do you intend to do to help me educate the next generation of American citizens?

In what ways do you center respect for the classroom teacher's role in each of your decisions?

How can this administration legitimately believe tying teacher pay to test scores is a viable idea without truly seeing that it takes fixing multiple problems to make that concept even close to equitable? Parents must prepare children to learn; communities must support the best possible learning environments; school administrators must give up petty disagreements and work with teachers for the good of the students. ALL this has to occur before we can even begin to think that only teachers can affect student test scores.

Why not put more time and money into public schools rather than drain their resources by opening up more charter schools?

Will you pledge to read Diane Ravitch's book, "The Death and Life of the Great American Public School"?

I would ask him why isn't there a call to action when over 300,000 teachers will be out of jobs? If this loss was in the banking industry, automotive industry or medicine all legislators would be calling for a bill to stop the bleeding. This is a democracy that depends on the educated citizens to participate in their government.

As an educator, I want to be and expect to be held accountable for my students and how they perform. How do we creatively, effectively and inexpensively do this?

Why do you think standardized tests are the best way to measure student achievement?.
Why are you bullying schools and educators into taking steps that have not been shown to improve achievement in the slightest, and refusing to listen to those with actually experience and knowledge in education?

When was the last time he spent a day alone in a classroom in a high poverty school?

How would teacher pay and evaluation be protected from bias? An administrator could easily create a class that would insure teacher success and the converse. Additionally, I have several classified students in my class who are pulled-out of my room for 2.5 hours a day. How could I be held accountable for their performance on tests? I would prefer to see the assessment of an ongoing professional portfolio that would be host on an open source program such as IBM's Sakai. The portfolio would require each teacher to demonstrate competency and professional growth in many dimensions. Test scores could be part of that I suppose but the tests are so statistically unreliable. Do you foresee the possibility of something like this?

When can we respect the profession?

Why don't we reward actual learning over test scores?

How can a one day snapshot of a student accurately assess a teacher's performance?

How does our political leadership justify the emphasis on high stakes, multiple choice testing when educators are continually reminded that we need more creative and scientific thinkers in order to "compete" with other nations and educational systems?

Mr. Duncan consistently explains the need for a well rounded education and supports Music, Art, PE. What is he going to do to stop states from cutting these programs which give students an outlet for their creativity and provides education in teamwork and much more?

Reconstituting "failing" schools means that children who do poorly on standardized tests are punished. I have been in a school which was "failing". At the same time that our school was closed, we received $3,000 bonuses due to our "achievements". Changing the number of a school, changing the principal, changing the faculty has done nothing to improve our school, as the children, their parents, the community, the problems are the same. If you do not address the problems befalling children living in poverty you are living in denial. What can be done about this?

Tell us about your experience TEACHING in a public school and how that shapes your policies.

Thank you for having this conversation with teachers. We have been trying to convince
policymaker at all levels of government that our expertise is critical to effective policy design and implementation. This conversation, then, is an exception to our typical experience interacting with policymakers. What would it take for teachers to be consulted regularly on education policy?

What educational researchers or theorists do you use to help formulate your decisions when faced with creating policy?

How do you make a child care about test scores when there is no recourse for a bad score? It is not tied into their grades, promotion, or transcript. Students could care less about how they perform. It's like saying "pretty please take this test so I won't be fired or have a pay cut. If they refuse to take the test (or just play around), it should be discarded.

The standardization of education on so many levels is harming so many children. Students and the situations they come from are in no way standard. Why the move in so many arenas (from standardized testing to standardized, scripted curricula) to act on this false premise?

How can we turn away from school reform ideas that blame, punish, and disrespect teachers and instead move toward supporting teachers' professional growth and development to ensure that all students receive quality instruction?

I have two burning questions.
1. In my opinion, the kind of teachers we need to educate our future generation are highly educated, committed, and have proven their capacity to develop and teach lessons contingent on the needs of each student through programs such as the National Boards. Highly qualified teachers deserve just compensation, deserve the power of autonomy to use and develop the curriculum best suited for their students, and deserve to be recognized for the important and challenging word they do everyday. So far, I have seen nothing but the undermining and disparagement of this profession as a result of NCLB and now RTTT. Year after year, I have seen the kind of teacher I describe above leave my school in Oakland, my district and even the teaching profession due to NCLB policies that have forced scripted programs into their classrooms. taken away any decision-making power of educating their students, and eroded the joy of teaching and learning. What are you doing to elevate the profession of teaching and to encourage the talented and creative teachers to stay in teaching? 2. I believe that merit-based pay is a disastrous idea. First, it encourages competition amongst teachers in a profession that relies on collaboration. And second, it discourages teachers to work in area with high-needs and / or transient populations in which high test scores are much harder to achieve. I believe this will only serve to exacerbate the already unacceptable achievement gap. How do you respond to these two arguments?

Research tells us poverty has, in general, a strong negative effect on achievement in schools. Grants may be a start but are insufficient to treat the scope of the problem. What other initiatives is the Department of Education considering?

Why is there an over-reliance on high stakes testing with little or no consideration on the diverse needs of all American students and with varying levels of funding available within each state?
Charter schools have never been proven to be better than traditional schools and yet they are a major part of the current school reform model. Why is that? I visited one recently and was disturbed to see that there was no library and few books for the children to read. In addition, the goal of the curriculum included having the teachers in each grade be on the same page in the book at all times. This is not only non-innovative, it's a step backwards. Yet this school advertises itself as having an advanced philosophy and better resources for students than the public schools. Why should a school like this be allowed to siphon off funds from public schools in the name of innovation?

Why do people who have no experience as teachers in the classroom have so much influence in making education policy? Anyone with classroom experience, especially in struggling schools are tired of being disrespected, ignored, and vilified by people who have no clue about the challenges we face, yet rarely are we given the opportunity to craft policy in our own field of experience.
Considering the uncertainty of a complete overhaul of the immigration system, what services and protection will schools provide for children of immigrant parents or who are illegal immigrants themselves?

How does a multiple choice test measure a student's ability to think critically about an issue and then communicate his or her ideas in writing?

I would like to know what ways we can come together to create schools with strong arts programs which can lead to much needed practice in creative/critical thinking? The arts are a sorely underutilized tool which can be used to help build bridges across the curriculum and help make the students make connections? How can we effectively get that message out?

The Associated Press reported on May 28, 2008 reported that candidate Obama had stated at a town-hall meeting in Thornton, Co.: "Democrat Barack Obama said 'U.S. students must learn a second or even third language or the country will struggle to compete in a global economy.'" WHY IS YOUR "ESEA BLUEPRINT" MUTE ON THIS MATTER?"

Tests only measure the number of questions a student can answer correctly, not precisely what a student *knows* or can do. Are you so sure all the billions of dollars spent producing tests (from which the student learns nothing beyond a possible hatred for the subject) is a good way to allocate resources and to measure "achievement"? Teachers are jumping through more and more hoops in order to attain certification. Our tax dollars are supporting huge programs for teacher certification. If you cannot trust the certification process, what are we paying for? If teachers taught classes within communities of collaboration--like they do in Japanese elementary schools where teaching is a valued and respected profession--watching and critiquing each others lessons, wouldn't you be able to trust them to be the professionals they have trained to be and to police themselves within their own communities, rather than needing to test the children to death to be certain the teachers are doing their jobs (when we are not even sure that the tests measure anything really valuable)?

Does a nation of imaginative, critical, outside-the-box thinkers offend/frighten/concern you? If not, then why are policy makers so eager and determined to make sure that these are *not* the kinds of thinkers we are trying to nurture in our public schools?

All of these ideas are from a large urban point of view. Most of America is comprised of small rural schools and many of those have races and ethnicities that are being harmed by the Bush / Duncan policies. There is not any flexibility to be used in many of these places and they are drastically underfunded because of the antiquated formulas and property poor areas. So my question is (and you can try to word this "nicer"), if your plan will only worsen conditions in a small rural community on an Indian Reservation like Nespelem, WA, or a small rural community with many migrant families like Granger, WA, then why the hell would you implement it?
I wrote 100, sent them, of them the most critical point I'd make is a better growth model, limiting testing to 3rd, 8th, 11th grade and using that for Federal looks ( if keeping the other then inform schools with it for planning) and of course questioning at great length the FACT that poor children are narrowed in these designs. I see nothing to assist poverty environments. BUT we are in some CRITICAL times with class sizes ballooning in CA record lay-offs. My question might be, HAVE YOU BEEN AWAKE?

I have seen kids who have been sick, who had a relative die tragically come to school to take one of these high stakes test. Some students haven't eaten; didn't get enough sleep; their parent didn't come home. How can you justify putting so much on the line based on one test on one day (more or less)?

What do you see as the top ten skills needed to acquire a middle class job after high school graduation?

My major concern is the lack of any focus on shared responsibility for making public education what it should be... "It takes a community..." How do you intend to encourage/support families and teachers to collaborate on behalf of 21st century learning?

When considering the role of the federal government in public education, do you agree that the ESEA's intention was to address "failing" schools and any and all components of the educational needs of the children in those schools?

The more you vilify and belittle teachers, the less attractive you make the position to outstanding new teacher candidates. How do you plan to improve the pipeline of new teachers while continuing your campaign of negativity against existing teachers?

What do you intend to do to assure that our public schools are all excellent and equal?

Why aren't developmentally appropriate practices being considered when creating and using standardized test assessments for young children grades K - 5? Developmentally appropriate practices (see NAEYC) deem standardized testing of young children invalid and not a true measure of their capabilites. Authentic assessment of children in their natural environment ,not a testing one, is a better measure of their true capabilities. Authentic assessment includes, anecdotal notes, checklist, and portfolios to name a few. Teachers can be trained in the process and the assessment can assist a teacher in developing curriculum goals. This is a more appropriate method of instruction for young children as opposed to "teaching the test".
How do we accomplish developing creative/critical thinking skills and preparing students for the real world they will enter, while at the same time making educational decisions focused on raising multiple choice test scores.

How are we ever going to get schools that that address the core principles and values we cherish if we do not include local stakeholders and experts in the conversation? Whatever happened to the old truism that governing boards (be they at the local or the national level ... and all levels in between) concern themselves with matters of policy while the local stakeholders worry about implementation?

Why is so much money spent on "reforms" that have not been proven valid and/or effective?
How can states and districts have more control on a local level of how they manage teacher hiring/firing?

Why are teacher certifications tied to issues that do not relate to a teacher's subject area? Why can't skilled professionals easily transition to teaching? It seems that teacher programs are weak, and yet the smartest people can't become teachers unless they entered an education program as undergrads. Teachers should be urged to be more highly qualified and ALSO be more highly paid, with more protections. Too many good teachers leave teaching--how will Mr. Duncan work to stop the good teacher loss??

Recent events like those in Wake County (NC), where the school board has moved away from its longstanding policy of keeping schools diverse based on families' economic backgrounds, seem to indicate the tenuous commitment of the public to educational opportunity for all students. What can we as teachers do to help strengthen the national commitment to educational opportunity, and what will your Department and Office of Civil Rights do to advance the same mission?
Is the purpose of education to build a strong economy (if so, why are you ignoring facts that despite strong test scores in Japan, their economy suffered for ten years and despite lagging test scores in our country, the economy flourished), or is the purpose of education to build a strong democracy that results in a just and stable economy?

How can he, or any agency, expect teachers to be paid for performance that is only slightly related to their own actions? When parents and communities are "paid" for performance as well, equities can be addressed.

How can a teacher be "held accountable" for the education of a student, when there are far more variables outside the teacher's control than inside?

My one question: With the current overemphasis on testing taking up all the class time, students get no time for creative growth. Why does the administration continue to support NCLB, given the devastating impact on our children?

How have your formed your stance? What research have your read? Have you heard teachers? Why do you continue to ignore the teachers?

Any of the points about test scores would be the most important points. I don't believe that test scores tell us what a student has learned; they only tell us how well a student can take a test. Besides that, students learn in many different ways, and should be assessed in many different ways. In addition, on test day, many things contribute to how well students do on tests: sleep, food, test anxiety, etc.

What evidence does he have that firing principals/teachers improves student performance in any meaningful way?

How are you going to re-empower teachers to use their own professional judgment to meet the needs of their own students?

If we fire half the teachers who dare to teach in a "low" performing school, who do you think will take the job in the subsequent years for such a school? How many highly qualified teachers will never dare to take such a job?

Where will the students have access to good reading materials if the school libraries are not staffed and are all closed?

How will you assure that a **valid system of assessment** is built to assess teacher quality?
Pay-for-performance (i.e.getting away from the seniority model) is important - but we need to define performance more broadly that test score alone. All teachers should be required to have a professional development plan, and that should be a big part of determining whether teachers get raises or not.

Why aren't we basing teacher evaluation on research that shows what good teaching is instead of on test scores?

Lack of funding for teacher training and in-service at the beginning of each school year. We need about 5 paid days to get going each year before school starts, and we need time throughout the year to train each other and regroup. Too much Prof. Dev. is happening on unpaid time, or not happening at all!!

Because of the focus on getting the kids to score well on reading, writing, and math tests, science and social studies are being discarded from the primary grades.

Where is PARENT/FAMILY accountability? Why does everyone say it's Teachers' fault when students aren't proficient? How can families be held accountable (either tax credits, etc.) for making sure kids make it to school, learn their math facts and spelling words, and try their best at school? Too often teachers are trying to "fix" broken families, when our job SHOULD be to teach academics to students who come prepared to learn.

Tying teacher pay to student success would be fine if a) all students started at the same place and b) the end goal could be consistent from one student to the next. This isn't possible. Every child, every school, every district is unique. How will you address the fact that teachers will be assessed on their students' successes when the journey for each student (and the distance each has to travel to reach "standard") is different?

Can common standards be culturally fair and allow for context in education, not just content?
I want to know when we are going to focus on the individual child's overall well-being opposed to a simple test score?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Notes from the Field: Citywide PTSA Meeting on April 22, 2010 with Olga Addae, SEA President

I went to this meeting because Olga Addae, the Seattle Education Association President, was to introduce herself and provide information on the association.

When I arrived there were about five PTSA members and one teacher. By the end of the meeting there were three more PTSA members including myself. I was expecting more parents to attend but that’s why I write these notes. I know how it is with work and family.

First there was the Council business. I arrived late and came in during the presentation made by a representative from the Office of the Education Ombudsman. This office seems to be a great resource for families. Briefly, they help you “understand and navigate the public school system”, assist families in communicating with their child’s school and make “special education work for you”. I won’t go into details, but if you want additional information, see www.waparentslearn.org or call 866-297-2597.

After that Heidi Bennett, the SCPTSA Legislative VP, talked about state funding of schools and said that our state is one of the bottom five states in terms of school funding. We are 45th out of 50 states per pupil funding. (That’s pathetic and in this state there is no reason for that.) Heidi went on to say that the state of Washington has the most regressive tax structure with the lowest 20% of earners paying 17% in taxes and the top 10% paying 4% of taxes.

I do admire Gates, Sr. for pushing a state income tax which seems the only way to properly fund many of our public systems including education.

As with all of the ed reform action that is to take place because of the passing of Bill 6696 in our state, the question comes up as to how this will be paid for. It will cost millions of dollars and with little chance of “winning” the Race to the Top “lottery” (see: http://epi.3cdn.net/4835aafd6e80385004_5nm6bn6id.pdf), the state of Washington will have to come up with the money.

Heidi mentioned that there will be a vote in the June meeting about whether the PTSA of Seattle should support the Our School Coalition petition (yet another Alliance attempt to declare their efforts “grass roots”). Stay tuned.

Now it was time for Olga to speak.

Olga said that she wanted to bring the “T” back into the PTSA in Seattle. She said that there are two stakeholders in our educational system, the parents and the teachers (I appreciated her saying this because you hear that term so much these days when speaking of ed reform. WE are the stakeholders, not Arne Duncan, President Obama, Bill Gates, Eli Broad or the KIPP Board of Directors.) and that it all comes down to the teachers and staff, the student and the family.
Olga went on to discuss the proposed four level evaluation system that is required by Bill 6696 but also said that the this evaluation system had been decided upon last August by SEA. At this time we received a handout titled “Domain Level of Performance”. Olga said that she brought in everything that she could legally, because negotiations with SEA and the superintendent are happening now.

It was clarified that now the evaluation cycle is two tiered with satisfactory and unsatisfactory being the outcome. With the proposed evaluation system, which I have posted at: My Schools Website with my scribbled notes and all on it, there is more depth in terms of the evaluation and levels of accomplishment. Olga said that it would take 24 hours of professional development per teacher to do this evaluation system well. (That could be a reason why this had not been done before, money.)

This evaluation of teachers was being developed by Charlotte Danielson but funding for this was eliminated when our new superintendent moved into SPS.
Olga said that an environment needed to be developed that supports this framework of expectations and where teachers feel comfortable taking a risk in trying something else to reach the students.

After Olga’s presentation of this new evaluation system, there were questions. Olga said that the four level system was to be implemented by 2013 and that there needed to be an estimate done on the cost of implementing this new system. (Could it cost more that the MAP implementation with a price tag of $4.3M? I see far more value in this new evaluation system than having students and staff spend 4-6 weeks each year with MAP and WASL tests.)

Heidi then asked about teachers and “tenure” and what is being done to move them (I suppose the “bad” teachers) out? She went on to say that this was a “burning question” that parents have. Olga first clarified that teachers in Seattle do not have tenure but seniority. She went on to say that it was a matter of training the principals to know how to evaluate and then take action in terms of a teacher. Olga said that this training should be done, and paid for, by the district. She said that “removing someone’s livelihood should be a difficult process” (indeed). According to Olga, the union pays for two mentors who work with teachers who are on probation.

There was a clarification made at this point by Olga that principals have their own union.

More questions and more answers:

According to state law, there is no peer review or 360 system in place for evaluation of teachers.
Lake Washington has used this four tiered evaluation system successfully for nine years.
At the end of her presentation, Olga said that teachers should be evaluated out of the system not dropped out through rif’s.

(Olga is planning five community forums around Seattle to connect with parents and students. I would suggest that any school who wants to host such an event get in touch with Olga. Her contact information is (206) 283-8443 ext 107, omaddae@washingtonea.org.)

Then a teacher, Donna, was introduced to discuss the MAP test.

She said that she has always been accountable to the principal for test scores. Donna said that MAP should be a part of the student plan but not the MAP alone. (Teachers receive reams of paper on each student describing what needs to be done in terms of preparation for the next MAP test according to the scores.)

45%-65% is considered “above average” on the MAP scores and 35% is considered below average. According to Donna, the superintendent wants to ties these percentile descriptions to the performance of the teacher.

There is a ceiling to the test at 99% so after that, the student cannot show any more progress. For that reason, Donna said that most teachers would want to teach the students who were considered at below middle or middle scoring because those students would show the most progress. She said that teaching is a highly collaborative profession but with evaluations based on test scores, you would no longer have that sort of collaboration.

Donna also mentioned that the last MAP test occurs in April before the lesson plans have been completed and basically you have two more months of teaching so the tool is inadequate in terms of knowing where the students are at the end of the semester when all of the information had been provided to the students.

After her presentation, Donna told me that the MAP test can be used as a very broad indicator of where a student is.

Anyway, that was the gist of the meeting.

If you have any questions, please post them here and I will respond to them as quickly as I can.


Monday, April 12, 2010

The Fallacy of "Merit" and "Performance Pay" as Teacher Incentives

Thanks to Seattle Citizen over at the Seattle Public Schools Community Blog for recently finding this article: "The Folly of Merit Pay" by Alfie Kohn (posted below). And thanks to Alfie Kohn for shedding some sense and insight on the discussion of what motivates strong teachers.

Though written in 2003, this essay is more than relevant today as the ed reformers try to force or weasel their idea of merit pay upon our teachers -- even though studies show that cash is not what motivates the best teachers to do their best. Kohn points out that teaching is a collaborative, cooperative profession whose practitioners are motivated by genuine learning and understanding on the part of their students, and not by cash bonuses and competition with their colleagues down the hall.

This is in stark and noble contrast to the efforts by some enterprises here in Seattle that are trying to push an agenda on our school district that ties teacher pay to standardized student testing. These are enterprises like the Alliance for Education and the League of Education Voters, which claim to merely fundraise for the district (A4E), or claim to represent the interest of regular voters (LEV). In truth, the Alliance has an "education reform" agenda that is largely funded by Los Angeles AIG billionaire Eli Broad's foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates' foundation. LEV is also primarily funded by the Gates foundation.

In an article in the April 6 Seattle Times "Schools group urges contract changes", the Alliance and LEV claim to have formed yet another group, a "Our Schools Coalition," and are trying to convince the media that it represents people like us and we all want "merit pay."

None of us know what this is or how it came about. And it doesn't represent any parents or public education supporters I know. It is clearly another faux grassroots (aka Astroturf) organization and an effort by billionaire education "reformers" to influence the upcoming teachers' contract negotiations here in Seattle, and to weaken the teachers' union.

As for the poll that the "Coalition"/Alliance/LEV/Gates/Broad paid for that allegedly claims parents and community want "merit pay," by all accounts it started off as a highly questionable and biased "teacher quality" survey, which was withdrawn when genuine school community members protested, and reemerged as a very slanted push-poll taken of a curious cross section of community members (including some teachers via their private cell phone numbers).

UPDATE: The private phone numbers and contact information of 10,700 Seattle Public Schools children and 1,400 SPS teachers were provided by the school district to the polling and marketing firm, DMA Marketing/Strategies 360. This was stated on the "Our Schools Coalition" petition web site, but has since been deleted. Parents and teachers who learned of this fact were very disturbed by this use of private information. Apparently such sharing of student "directory information" is allowed under FERPA -- unless parents sign an opt-out form at the beginning of the school year. How many of Seattle Public Schools' 46,000 families know this is debatable. Chances are, most parents and teachers would not want their children's or their own contact information shared with a private for-profit marketing and polling firm.

The bottom line is, if the agenda of the "Coalition"/Alliance/LEV/Gates/Broad gang is legitimate and likely to gain genuine support from the local schools community, why don't these folks run a honest poll and take genuine input? Why all these shenanigins with skewed surveys and politically manipulative push-polls and fake "community organizations" to create the illusion of "community support"?

Kind of makes you wonder what they are hiding.

Okay, here's a voice of reason:


September 17, 2003

The Folly of Merit Pay

By Alfie Kohn

There's no end to the possible uses for that nifty little Latin phrase Cui bono?, which means: Who benefits? Whose interests are served? It's the right question to ask about a testing regimen guaranteed to make most public schools look as though they're failing. Or about the assumption that people with less power than you have (students, if you're a teacher; teachers, if you're an administrator) are unable to participate in making decisions about what they're going to do every day.

And here's another application: Cui bono when we're assured that money is the main reason it's so hard to find good teachers? If only we paid them more, we'd have no trouble attracting and retaining the finest educators that—well, that money can buy. Just accept that premise, and you'll never have to consider the way teachers are treated. In fact, you could continue disrespecting and de-skilling them, forcing them to use scripted curricula and turning them into glorified test-prep technicians. If they seem unhappy, it must be just because they want a bigger paycheck.

In 2000, Public Agenda questioned more than 900 new teachers and almost as many college graduates who didn't choose a career in education. The report concluded that, while "teachers do believe that they are underpaid," higher salaries would probably be of limited effectiveness in alleviating teacher shortages because considerations other than money are "significantly more important to most teachers and would-be teachers." Two years later, 44 percent of administrators reported, in another Public Agenda poll, that talented colleagues were being driven out of the field because of "unreasonable standards and accountability."

Meanwhile, a small California survey, published last year in Phi Delta Kappan, found that the main reason newly credentialed teachers were leaving the profession was not low salaries or difficult children. Rather, those who threw in the towel were most likely to cite what was being done to their schools in the name of "accountability." And the same lesson seems to hold cross-culturally. Mike Baker, a correspondent for BBC News, discovered that an educational "recruitment crisis" exists almost exclusively in those nations "where accountability measures have undermined teachers' autonomy."

That unhappy educators have a lot more on their minds than money shouldn't be surprising in light of half a century of research conducted in other kinds of workplaces. When people are asked what's most important to them, financial concerns show up well behind such factors as interesting work or good people to work with. For example, in a large survey conducted by the Families and Work Institute, "salary/wage" ranked 16th on a list of 20 reasons for taking a job. (Interestingly, managers asked what they believe matters most to their employees tend to mention money—and then proceed to manage on the basis of that error.)

Educational policymakers might be forgiven their shortsightedness if they were just proposing to raise teachers' salaries across the board—or, perhaps, to compensate them appropriately for more responsibilities or for additional training. Instead, though, many are turning to some version of "pay for performance." Here, myopia is complicated by amnesia: For more than a century, such plans have been implemented, then abandoned, then implemented in a different form, then abandoned again. The idea never seems to work, but proponents of merit pay never seem to learn.

Here are the educational historians David Tyack and Larry Cuban: "The history of performance-based salary plans has been a merry-go-round. In the main, districts that initially embraced merit pay dropped it after a brief trial." But even "repeated experiences" of failure haven't prevented officials "from proposing merit pay again and again."

"Son of Merit Pay: The Sequel" is now playing in Cincinnati, Denver, Minneapolis, New York City, and elsewhere. The leading advocates of this approach—conservatives, economists, and conservative economists—insist that we need only adopt their current incentive schemes and, this time, teaching really will improve. Honest.

Wade Nelson, a professor at Winona State University, dug up a government commission's evaluation of England's mid-19th-century "payment by results" plan. His summary of that evaluation: Schools became "impoverished learning environments in which nearly total emphasis on performance on the examination left little opportunity for learning." The plan was abandoned.

In The Public Interest, a right-wing policy journal, two researchers concluded with apparent disappointment in 1985 that no evidence supported the idea that merit pay "had an appreciable or consistent positive effect on teachers' classroom work." Moreover, they reported that few administrators expected such an effect "even though they had the strongest reason to make such claims."

To this day, enthusiasm for pay-for-performance runs far ahead of any data supporting its effectiveness—even as measured by standardized-test scores, much less by meaningful indicators of learning. But then that, too, echoes the results in other workplaces. To the best of my knowledge, no controlled scientific study has ever found a long-term enhancement of the quality of work as a result of any incentive system. In fact, numerous studies have confirmed that performance on tasks, particularly complex tasks, is generally lower when people are promised a reward for doing them, or for doing them well. As a rule, the more prominent or enticing the reward, the more destructive its effects.

So why are pay-for-performance plans so reliably unsuccessful, if not counterproductive?

1. Control. People with more power usually set the goals, establish the criteria, and generally set about trying to change the behavior of those down below. If merit pay feels manipulative and patronizing, that's probably because it is. Moreover, the fact that these programs usually operate at the level of school personnel means, as Maurice Holt has pointed out, that the whole enterprise "conveniently moves accountability away from politicians and administrators, who invent and control the system, to those who actually do the work."

2. Strained relationships. In its most destructive form, merit pay is set up as a competition, where the point is to best one's colleagues. No wonder just such a proposal, in Norristown, Pa., was unanimously opposed by teachers and ultimately abandoned. Even those teachers likely to receive a bonus realized that everyone loses—especially the students—when educators are set against one another in a race for artificially scarce rewards.

But pay- for-performance programs don't have to be explicitly competitive in order to undermine collegial relationships. If I end up getting a bonus and you don't, our interactions are likely to be adversely affected, particularly if you think of yourself as a pretty darned good teacher.

Some argue that monetary rewards are less harmful if they're offered to, and made contingent on the performance of, an entire school. But if a school misses out on a bonus, what often ensues is an ugly search for individuals on whom to pin the blame. Also, you can count on seeing less useful collaboration among schools, especially if an incentive program is based on their relative standing. Why would one faculty share ideas with another when the goal is to make sure that students in other schools don't do as well as yours? Merit pay based on rankings is about victory, not about excellence. In any case, bribing groups doesn't make any more sense than bribing individuals.

3. Reasons and motives. The premise of merit pay, and indeed of all rewards, is that people could be doing a better job but for some reason have decided to wait until it's bribed out of them. This is as insulting as it is inaccurate. Dangling a reward in front of teachers or principals—"Here's what you'll get if things somehow improve"— does nothing to address the complex, systemic factors that are actually responsible for educational deficiencies. Pay-for-performance is an outgrowth of behaviorism, which is focused on individual organisms, not systems—and, true to its name, looks only at behaviors, not at reasons and motives and the people who have them.

Even if they wouldn't mind larger paychecks, teachers are typically not all that money-driven. They keep telling us in surveys that the magical moment when a student suddenly understands is more important to them than another few bucks. And, as noted above, they're becoming disenchanted these days less because of salary issues than because they don't enjoy being controlled by accountability systems. Equally controlling pay-for-performance plans are based more on neoclassical economic dogma than on an understanding of how things look from a teacher's perspective.

Most of all, merit pay fails to recognize that there are different kinds of motivation. Doing something because you enjoy it for its own sake is utterly unlike doing something to get money or recognition. In fact, researchers have demonstrated repeatedly that the use of such extrinsic inducements often reduces intrinsic motivation. The more that people are rewarded, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. If bonuses and the like can "motivate" some educators, it's only in an extrinsic sense, and often at the cost of undermining their passion for teaching.

For example, a recent study of a merit-pay plan that covered all employees at a northeastern college found that intrinsic motivation declined as a direct result of the plan's adoption, particularly for some of the school's "most valued employees—those who were highly motivated intrinsically before the program was implemented." The more the plan did what it was intended to do—raise people's extrinsic motivation by getting them to see how their performance would affect their salaries—the less pleasure they came to take in their work. The plan was abandoned after one year.

That study didn't even take account of how resentful and demoralized people may become when they don't get the bonus they're expecting. For all these reasons, I tell Fortune 500 executives (or at least those foolish enough to ask me) that the best formula for compensation is this: Pay people well, pay them fairly, and then do everything possible to help them forget about money. All pay-for-performance plans, of course, violate that last precept.

4. Measurement issues. Despite what is widely assumed by economists and behaviorists, some things are more than the sum of their parts, and some things can't be reduced to numbers. It's an illusion to think we can specify and quantify all the components of good teaching and learning, much less establish criteria for receiving a bonus that will eliminate the perception of arbitrariness. No less an authority than the statistician-cum-quality-guru W. Edwards Deming reminded us that "the most important things we need to manage can't be measured."

It's possible to evaluate the quality of teaching, but it's not possible to reach consensus on a valid and reliable way to pin down the meaning of success, particularly when dollars hang in the balance. What's more, evaluation may eclipse other goals. After merit-pay plans take effect, administrators often visit classrooms more to judge teachers than to offer them feedback for the purpose of improvement.

All these concerns apply even when technicians struggle to find good criteria for allocating merit pay. But the problems are multiplied when the criteria are dubious, such as raising student test scores. These tests, as I and others have argued elsewhere, tend to measure what matters least. They reflect children's backgrounds more than the quality of a given teacher or school. Moreover, merit pay based on those scores is not only unfair but damaging, if it accelerates the exodus of teachers from troubled schools where they're most needed.

Schoolwide merit pay, again, is no less destructive than the individual version. High stakes induce cheating, gaming, teaching to the test, and other ways of snagging the bonus (or dodging the penalty) without actually improving student learning. In fact, some teachers who might resist these temptations, preferring to do what's best for kids rather than for their own wallets, feel compelled to do more test prep when their colleagues' paychecks are affected by the school's overall scores.

It may be vanity or, again, myopia that persuades technicians, even after the umpteenth failure, that merit pay need only be returned to the shop for another tuneup. Perhaps some of the issues mentioned here can be addressed, but most are inherent in the very idea of paying educators on the basis of how close they've come to someone's definition of successful performance. It's time we acknowledged not only that such programs don't work, but that they can't work.

Furthermore, efforts to solve one problem often trigger new ones. Late-model merit-pay plans often include such lengthy lists of criteria and complex statistical controls that no one except their designers understand how the damn things work.

So how should we reward teachers? We shouldn't. They're not pets. Rather, teachers should be paid well, freed from misguided mandates, treated with respect, and provided with the support they need to help their students become increasingly proficient and enthusiastic learners.

Copyright © 2003 by Alfie Kohn. This article may be downloaded, reproduced, and distributed without permission as long as each copy includes this notice along with citation information (i.e., name of the periodical in which it originally appeared, date of publication, and author's name). Permission must be obtained in order to reprint this article in a published work or in order to offer it for sale in any form. Please write to the address indicated on the Contact Us page.

The Stars Have Aligned for the Broad Foundation

From the Broad Foundation's Annual Report for 2009:

"The election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of
Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as the U.S. secretary of education, marked the pinnacle of hope for our work in education reform. In many ways, we feel the stars have finally aligned.

With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments—charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time and national standards—the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted."

If anyone ever doubted that our Secretary of Education has the same agenda as the Broad Foundation, I believe the above quote will dispel any such thoughts. The relationship between the Broad Foundation and Arne Duncan started when Duncan was CEO of Chicago Public Schools, if not earlier, and according to Eli Broad, it is blossoming for him and other education reformites.

If the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Broad has spent and urged others to spend on this movement had instead been spent on school districts, more teachers to create smaller class sizes, and curriculum materials that are lacking in the classroom, we would all be much farther ahead without people who have no idea about what goes in a classroom dictating to others who do how they should teach and instead creating a high-pressure, factory like atmosphere in our schools.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Poem by a Teacher in Florida

I received this through a list serv associated with Test Abuse and wanted to share it with you.

This poem has reached the office of a Senator in Florida where they are battling over a bill that includes performance pay and high stakes testing. The bill is in the governor's hands now and there is a posiibility that it may be veoted by the governor.

Written by Jamee Cagle Miller
2009 Seminole County Teacher of the Year

I am a Teacher in Florida.

I rise before dawn each day and find myself nestled in my classroom hours before the morning commute is in full swing in downtown Orlando. I scour the web along with countless other resources to create meaningful learning experiences for my 24 students each day. I reflect on the successes oflessons taught and re-work ideas until I feel confident that they will meetthe needs of my diverse learners. I have finished my third cup of coffee in my classroom before the business world has stirred. My contracted hours begin at 7:30 and end at 3:00. As the sun sets around me and people are beginning to enjoy their dinner, I lock my classroom door, having worked 4 hours unpaid.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I greet the smiling faces of my students and am reminded anew of their challenges, struggles, successes, failures, quirks, and needs. I review their 504s, their IEPs, their PMPs, their histories trying to reach them from every angle possible. They come in hungry—I feed them. They come in angry—I counsel them. They come in defeated—I encourage them. And this is all before the bell rings.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am told that every student in my realm must score on or above grade levelon the FCAT each year. Never mind their learning discrepancies, theirunstable home lives, their prior learning experiences. In the spring, they are all assessed with one measure and if they don’t fit, I have failed. Students walk through my doors reading at a second grade level and byyear’s end can independently read and comprehend early 4th grade texts, but this is no matter. One of my students has already missed 30 days of schoolthis year, but this is overlooked. If they don’t show this on ONE the test in early March, their learning gains are irrelevant. They didn’t learn enough. They didn’t grow enough. I failed them. In the three months that remain in the school year after this test, I am expected to begin teaching 5th grade curriculum to my 4th grade students so that they are prepared for next year’s test.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am expected to create a culture of students who will go on to become the leaders of our world. When they exit my classroom, they should be fully equipped to compete academically on a global scale. They must be exposed to different world views and diverse perspectives, and yet, most of my students have never left Sanford, Florida. Field trips are now frivolous. I must provide new learning opportunities for them without leaving the four walls of our classroom. So I plan. I generate new ways to expose them to life beyond their neighborhoods through online exploration and digital field trips. I stay up past The Tonight Show to put together a unit that will allow them to experience St. Augustine without getting on a bus. I spend weekends taking pictures and creating a virtual world for them to experience, since the State has determined it is no longer worthwhile fort hem to explore reality. Yes. My students must be prepared to work within diverse communities, and yet they are not afforded the right to ever experience life beyond their own town.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I accepted a lower salary with the promise of a small increase for every year taught. I watched my friends with less education than me sign on for six figure jobs while I embraced my $28k starting salary. I was assured as I signed my contract that although it was meager to start, my salary would consistently grow each year. That promise has been broken. I’m still working with a meager salary, and the steps that were contracted to me when I accepted a lower salary are now deemed “unnecessary.”

I am a teacher in Florida.

I spent $2500 in my first year alone to outfit an empty room so that it would promote creative thinking and a desire to learn and explore. I now average between $1000-2000 that I pay personally to supplement the learning experiences that take place in my classroom. I print at home on my personal printer and have burned through 12 ink cartridges this school year alone. I purchase the school supplies my students do not have. I buy authentic literature so my students can be exposed to authors and worlds beyond theirtextbooks. I am required to teach Social Studies and Writing without any curriculum/materials provided, so I purchase them myself. I am required to conduct Science lab without Science materials, so I buy those, too. The budgeting process has determined that copies of classroom materials are too costly, so I resort to paying for my copies at Staples, refusing to compromise my students’ education because high-ranking officials are making inappropriate cuts. It is February, and my entire class is out of glue sticks. Since I have already spent the $74 allotted to me for warehouse supplies, if I don’t buy more, we will not have glue for the remainder of the year. The projects I dream up are limited by the incomprehensible lack of financial support. I am expected to inspire my students to become lifelong learners, and yet we don’t have the resources needed to nurture their natural sense of wonder if I don’t purchase them myself. My meager earning is now pathetic after the expenses that come with teaching effectively.

I am a teacher in Florida.

The government has scolded me for failing to prepare my students to compete in this technologically driven world. Students in Japan are much more equipped to think progressively with regards to technology. Each day, I turn on the two computers afforded me and pray for a miracle. I apply for grants to gain new access to technology and compete with thousands of other teachers who are hoping for the same opportunity. I battle for the right to use the computer lab and feel fortunate if my students get to see it once a week. Why don’t they know how to use technology? The system’s budget refuses to include adequate technology in classrooms; instead, we are continually told that dry erase boards and overhead projectors are more than enough.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am expected to differentiate my instruction to meet the needs of my 24 learners. Their IQs span 65 points, and I must account for every shade of gray. I must challenge those above grade level, and I must remediate thosebelow. I am but one person within the classroom, but I must meet the needs of every learner. I generate alternate assessments to accommodate for these differences. My higher math students receive challenge work, and my lower math students receive one-on-one instruction. I create most of these resources myself, after-hours and on weekends. I print these resources so that every child in my room has access to the same knowledge, delivered at their specific level. Yesterday, the school printer that I share with another teacher ran out of ink. Now I must either purchase a new inkcartridge for $120, or I cannot print anything from my computer for the remainder of the year. What choice am I left with?

I am a teacher in Florida.

I went to school at one of the best universities in the country and completed undergraduate and graduate programs in Education. I am a master of my craft. I know what effective teaching entails, and I know how to manage the curriculum and needs of the diverse learners in my full inclusion classroom. I graduated at the top of my class and entered my first year of teaching confident and equipped to teach effectively. Sadly, I am now beingmicro-managed, with my instruction dictated to me. I am expected to mold “out-of-the-box” thinkers while I am forced to stay within the lines of the instructional plans mandated by policy-makers. I am told what I am to teach and when, regardless of the makeup of my students, by decision-makers faraway from my classroom or even my school. The message comes in loud and clear that a group of people in business suits can more effectively determine how to provide exemplary instruction than I can. My expertise is waved away, disregarded, and overlooked. I am treated like a day-laborer,required to follow the steps mapped out for me, rather than blaze a trail that I deem more appropriate and effective for my students—students these decision-makers have never met.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated by most. I spend my weekends,my vacations, and my summers preparing for school, and I constantly work to improve my teaching to meet the needs of my students. I am being required to do more and more, and I’m being compensated less and less.

I am a teacher in Florida, not for the pay or the hardships, the disregard or the disrespect; I am a teacher in Florida because I am given the chanceto change lives for the good, to educate and elevate the minds and hearts of my students, and to show them that success comes in all shapes and sizes,both in the classroom and in the community.

I am a teacher in Florida today, but as I watch many of my incredible, devoted coworkers being forced out of the profession as a matter of survival, I wonder: How long will I be able to remain a teacher in Florida?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Where Do We Go From Here?

Privatization is about making a profit, whether it’s utilities, war or education. In states where access to public water has been privatized, the average cost of water to the public is 30% higher. The cost of handling waste water is on average 60% higher in those states. No bid contracts or lack of contracts with private enterprise during the Iraq war and little or no oversight by the government caused cost overruns to soar. We have so little money for education in this country that I wonder sometimes what private companies are thinking when they establish charter schools. Do they honestly believe that there is a profit margin in public education to be garnered? Schools are underfunded as are all other institutions and agencies that are under the umbrella of the Federal government with the exception of the military/industrial/corporate complex. Funding for Federally mandated programs such as our public schools have dwindled over the last sixty years due to the fact that in the 1950’s, 80% of all taxes were paid by large corporations. Now, in 2009, that number has dwindled to 12-15%. For example, in 2008 Goldman Sachs paid an effective tax rate of 1% and yet $40M was paid in bonuses to the CEO.

The balance of public school funding is paid by the middle class and we can only pay so much. With every tax cut and credit provided to large corporations and wealthy individuals, we lose, our children lose, valuable dollars that are desperately needed. Meanwhile, there is a glut of money at the top and it has nowhere to go. All of those billions of dollars have instead gone to Wall Street and this phenomenon is partially to blame for the crisis that we have had to live through over the last 1 ½ years. Institutions that are part of the public domain such as schools do not enjoy the capitol that was available 40-50 years ago.

When I was attending public school in Los Angeles, we had new books every year, pleasant buildings that were clean, well lit and safe, nutritious hot meals at lunch, playgrounds with all of the equipment that one would need, physical education classes to keep us fit, art, music and well maintained grounds. This is similar to what a private school offers today. A student during that time received a good education and could go from a public school into any university. You didn't need to attend a private school to gain access into the best schools in the United States. You were on equal footing with your counterparts. That is not the case now and it has to do with money.

As Federal money has dwindled, municipalities and states have had to rely on property taxes, bonds and levies to fund education. Unfortunately, for many taxpayers who do not have children, public education is not a priority and school bonds and levies often do not pass. I saw this happen in California several times. Because of the state of public schools, many parents who can afford it, place their children in private schools which depletes the school districts of funds that would otherwise be allocated to those students and therefore the gap increases.

We have strangled our school system. There is overcrowding in the classrooms. A student from Franklin High School noted to the school board one night that one of her classes had 40 students in it and she said that the school needed more money. She went on to say that nothing could get done in a class that large. There is also less time spent in class. Because of the decreased budgets, class time has decreased. There are now partial school days and more days off. This has put the onus on parents, if they are able to, to supplement the time through homework sessions and/or tutors. What is left in our school system are valiant and valued teachers and school staff who keep their schools together with small budgets, a vision and a lot of hope.

Then we have Arne Duncan, inculcated with the Broad philosophy, waving a carrot in front of a very hungry populace saying, you can have the money but first you have to do a few tricks. What he wants for a relatively small amount of money is to have all states allow charter schools, but charter schools are not the answer. Charter schools do not provide equality of access to all as is the mandate of public schools. Will charter schools meet the needs of the poor and the marginalized as is mandated by the Federal government for all public schools? No, not when a charter school can expel a student if they do not perform well on a test. These are public funds that are to be used to provide for all, not just a select few. Teachers in charter schools have no protections that are provided by a union in a public school. Pay is on average less and the hours are longer.

I was having a discussion the other day with some parents about charter schools and we all agreed that our children could benefit from that situation. We have the knowledge and wherewithal to either establish or select a school that would fit the needs of our children. We would have knowledge of the programs available, we would understand how to gain access to those schools, and our students would perform up to the standards set by the school. But that is not the case for all families. There are many families who do not have access to information to make these sorts of choices, maybe they do not speak English or have access to the Internet. Maybe, due to circumstances that they have little control over, there is not enough time or resources to ensure that their children will do well on a standardized test that determines whether they remain in a charter school. It is an inherently biased system towards those who have and therefore these schools should not be publicly funded.

Sometimes, when I read about these charter schools, I think that these global corporations that fund the Broad and the like are just wanting to train the cogs in the wheel, children who can have basic information drilled into them with no opportunity for developing perspective or creative thinking skills. You then have an even more divided social stratum, the unquestioning workers/soldiers and the ruling class.

The answer to the question as to where do we go from here is two tiered. First, there is the overall picture. The idea of a trickle down economy is a myth. It is apparent to all that the idea that people who have wealth will provide opportunities for others to also prosper is absurd and I would dare to say, manufactured by those with the greatest wealth. The only businesses that I have seen prosper from the wealth of others are businesses that cater to the wealthy such as yacht makers, luxury auto dealers and of course, the brokers. The accumulated wealth of a few that has nowhere to go at the top needs to be reinvested in our country and in our future. Our future is our children. Good business practice is that you reinvest part of your profits.

Corporations have made billions of dollars from the opportunities afforded to them by simply being in the United States. That money now needs to be reinvested in our children through the reinstatement of a tax structure that is equitable and no longer allows tax breaks and subsidies to oil companies and other large corporate businesses, a financial structure that demands oil companies who drill off of our coastlines pay for that privilege and end the tax breaks for the wealthy as instituted by our previous president, George Bush. Because there has not been a significant investment in education over the last 50 years, businesses have had to look elsewhere for talent, to other countries where people have been more adequately educated. The shock for many was that they had to import talent. Microsoft is an example of that. Because of their awareness of the problem, the Gates Foundation has tried, unsuccessfully, to come up with an answer to the problem. Unfortunately there is no quick solution and actually they don't need to reinvent the wheel.

The answer is before their eyes and in their own backyard, the alternative school system that has existed in Seattle for 40 years. The public educational system can work but it requires money to function and to function well as it did 50 years ago. This gets me to the second and more quickly attainable tier. Seattle has a rich and varied history of alternative school programs starting with Alternative School #1 (AS1) which was established in Seattle about forty years ago.

When my daughter and I moved to Seattle, I discovered the alternative school program and was greatly impressed by what the school district had to offer. There are programs for students K-12 at various locations throughout Seattle. High schools such as Nova have a track record of high test scores, the WASL Language Arts scores are the higherst in the city, and placement in some of our best colleges in the country. There are waiting lists into each of these programs and the level of quality of the staff is outstanding. These well established programs need to be maintained and supported. These schools provide an opportunity for all students to succeed, not just a select few. That is what Seattle has and other schools can be developed based on the proven track record of the original alternative school program structure. Governor Gregoire has stated this to Arne Duncan when pressed about charter schools. The state of Washington should receive the additional funding that Mr. Duncan is providing under the Race to the Top program because we have those programs in place. AS#1 established a charter with the public school system in the 1960's.

The answer can truly be in your own back yard. What we already have is tried and true. The basic tenets of these programs can be used in developing new schools that can provide an even greater diversity for our students and an opportunity for all students to succeed.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Excerpt from EPATA Educators and Parents Against Testing Abuse

An interesting point of view from a teacher that I wanted to post in it's entirety.

To see the source of this post, go to Testing Abuse.

Why 'Speed' Kills An Education

The current trend in education is to get feedback about student progress instantly. Why? There’s a race going on, don’t you know? We have to be smarter, faster, and better than all other countries. Or so the thought goes. Handheld devices called iRespond created by EduTrax are designed to do just this with regards to testing in the classroom. They are given to each student so that when they press a button, they electronically give an answer to a question that is sent to a computer. These answers are then tabulated and compiled, which gives the teacher visual feedback in terms of graphs or charts that are supposed to ‘reduce’ the amount of time correcting student work or tests in the class. Supposedly, more teaching can then be done, but many teachers today would attest that this is just another layer of assessment that will not clarify what students know and are able to do. Is this really going to help with achievement, or is it another gimmick created to take advantage of schools who need to increase their scores on high stakes tests to comply with the No Child Left Behind Law?

If we backwards map the relationship of high stakes tests being given throughout the country along with what is being done in the classroom, the results would show an increase in dropouts, a stagnant NAEP trend regarding achievement gaps, and the lessening of teaching such important subjects such as social studies and science. High stakes tests do not increase learning. Using hand held electronic devices to give instantaneous results on practice tests and benchmarks that mimic these end of year exams would only increase the rate at which students don’t learn. Just because quiz responses are faster, doesn't make them better. Much of our community may be fooled into thinking they are---even teachers.

For example, I have a friend at my school who is a newer teacher and just loves using her scanner to score her company-made formative tests. It puts the percentages straight into her electronic grade book on a daily basis. She adores it because then she doesn't have to take home any work to grade; the work is done for her. So, I told her a story about me.

Years ago, I was a scantron junkie, and I'm here admitting it . We had just gotten it at our school and were taught how to use it. My tests would be bubbled in and corrected instantly, and then I could slide one of those 'data collecting' sheets through to tell me which numbers on the test the kids missed the most. I was set. The scores would be recorded quickly, and my grades were calculated more rapidly. Then parent teacher conferences came.

During a typical meeting, as I went through a student’s grades, all I found myself doing was giving average percents in each subject. When parents asked for more detail, I struggled greatly to find anymore. The anecdotal information that I needed to corroborate my numbers was missing because I had relied almost purely on the input of numbers into my computer. If a parent asked me, "What does he need work on? How can I help him?", what I found myself doing was looking for the lowest score and going, "Well, uh, he needs to work on math."

The truth was I didn't really know my kids. I had lost emotional and scholastic contact with them. I had relied on these numbers so much to tell me the truth, that in actuality they had blinded me from what was really happening. I had to change. I stopped using the scantron and decided that I would write letters to my students about their progress; they would then in turn write back to me. There was weekly assessment dialogues about how they did, what they thought about it, what they thought they could do to improve, and what they needed from me. Since I have initiated this method, my students have done very well on a longitudinal scale each year. The scantron machine was never used again by me. My teaching friend looked at me after this story and said, "You know what? You could be right about me needing to know my students better."

This teacher still continues to use her method, but is trying to change slowly as she learns what is really important about teaching. Like the scantron machine, this ‘assess faster to teach better’ ideology will create the opposite effect it was intended for. I find it concerning that technology like this is taking over what is really important in school, and that is the teacher-student relationship. To this day I am happy bringing home papers, which allows me to appreciate my students. That's the way it should be.