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U.S. Chamber Weighs In


Written by Education Week's Sean Cavanagh

This week, one of the leading voices in the U.S. business lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, offered some specifics on the kinds of changes to the law its leaders will support, with this underlying message: Hold firm.

Arthur J. Rothkopf, a senior vice president at the Chamber, told reporters at an Aug. 15 press event in Washington (link launches RealMedia audio file) that the organization opposes the idea of establishing "multiple measures'' to judge students' academic progress under a reauthorized NCLB unless those measures are as academically demanding as the current law's accountability requirements.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., recently said that he supports using so-called multiple measures, in addition to reading and math test scores, to judge whether schools are meeting performance targets.

"We do not favor multiple measures,'' Rothkopf said at the event. "We do not want to dilute the existing system.''

The U.S. Chamber could not take specific positions on alternative accountability measures, he added, because federal lawmakers had not put such proposals in writing yet. Even so, Rothkopf said he has heard rumblings about student attendance, as well as some measure of student problem-solving ability, counting as gauges of student progress.

Both ideas are ill-conceived, he said.

Jacque Johnson, an executive director of education and workforce issues for the Chamber, said it would hold off weighing in on using graduation rates as a measure until it sees more specifics.

Rothkopf took a more positive view of "growth models''—pilot programs permitted by the U.S. Department of Education that give states more flexibility in measuring student academic progress. In addition, he said the U.S. Chamber would support changes to the law to ensure that parents and the public are given more information about options for changing schools, and receiving additional tutoring.

With Congress scheduled to resume work next month, Rothkopf voiced anxiety about the calendar—not the legislative timetable but the 2009 presidential-election calendar. As campaign rhetoric gets louder later this year and next, he said, getting reauthorization legislation through both houses of Congress will become more of a longshot.

"They have to understand that if Congress doesn't act now, or in the near future,'' he said, "it's only going to get worse.''


Growth models are a pragmatic, rational direction for the future of NCLB. States would get an actual picture of how individual students are progressing academically over time as opposed to the previous snapshot of different cohorts of students which made little or no sense whatsoever. Going from trying to compare apples to oranges to now comparing apples to apples makes much more sense.

Miller's proposed "multiple measures" such as: attendance records, graduation rates, portfolios, student essays, etc., are nothing short of a sham. What kind of validity do any of these qualitative, subjective measures provide???? NONE! They would be an insult to the integrity of everything NCLB has attempted to accomplish over the last five and a half years.

Attendance records and graduation rates provide not a shred of evidence any learning has occured. Portfolios and student essays are too easily compromised to provde any indication of reliability. Absent objective evidence of learning coupled with these other unreliable measures and NCLB suddenly would become a funded joke.

Rep. Miller is listening too closely to the NEA. That's code for allowing the fox into the hen house. There are some teacher unions (AFT) willing to admit our schools of the past have been a failure and are also willing to change direction to ensure ALL STUDENTS ARE LEARNING. Not the NEA. They want nothing to do with education reform, closing the achievement gap or changing the status quo.

Miller is well intentioned listening to teachers but he can't be that naive to believe anything the NEA is espousing. Or is he simply attempting to romance them into the Democratic fold for 2008?

Why is a multiple choice/short answer test any more valid, replicable or reliable than a portfolio submission or an essay? If a rigorous set of criteria are set that clearly spell-out what's being measured and how it's being measured is used - both of these artefacts of human knowledge and creativity are valid. I know what flimsy criteria can be created, I work in pre-service Teacher Preparation, but under the guidance of an experienced practitioner, these measures are more indicative of learning than a multiple choice test that offers only its authors' opinions of the correct answer - even if it is math. Remember Math comes in theoretical where all the rules change and 2+2 can equal 5 given a rule set that is different from the conventional. In final analysis, this is what the whole NCLB fight is about; what is the conventional measuring stick and whose stick should be used to measure?
It's certainly easier and less intensive in human resource terms to score multiple choice tests...but are educators into process or product? We're preparing the students to live in the process of life; and it's a much wiser teacher who remembers that then being stressed. Stressed about, for example, the child who thinks theoretical math in 3rd Grade but can't articulate it because the grade/year level math vocabulary excludes it. And it’s likely excluded conventionally because of the belief that a child can't 'understand it" theoretical math terminology when it's the 3rd grade teacher/classroom leader who hasn’t the ability (in terms of knowledge or skills) to independently learn it.
The teacher/classroom leader and the quantity of budget for learning resources are the limiting factors in the classroom - not the curriculum, not the NCLB, not any other factor. It's time that all educational professionals (teachers) become well educated generalists who (metaphorically) know how to pull knowledge and skills apart and then can assist the learners to independently and individualistically put them back together again.
We probably shouldn't have teachers younger than 35 years of age in any compulsory classroom to ensure there's enough life experience years in which to learn. Such background is high insurance of breadth and depth of knowledge to support the children who think and learn differently. Again, this is from the perspective of one who works in pre-service Teacher Preparation.
Educators should be seeking, and holding for each child to drink from, "the Holy Grail of Learning". Such an attitude shift would more effectively work than wondering/quibbling about which new hot, research-based, now commercially available "programme" (which was probably paid for by government development grants) pushes reading and maths scores up enough to pass the NCLB standards. These standards are fairly mediocre and minimal in the scheme of abilities if stacked against the knowledge and skills necessary to survive in the 21st Century (Have you lately read and completely understood your State’s legislation on building construction or medical practice, or transportation tariffs, on financial transactions?)
If the US wants every student to have a college-level liberal arts/sciences education, why aren't we dissecting the college-level curriculum and presenting it across the 12 years of compulsory education? Why is someone suddenly smart enough as a university freshman to learn how to read Plato when she/he has been decoding symbolic representation since he/she first listened to her/his mother's speech? If adults read and then discuss Plato with their 8 year-olds; it’s amazing the sort of thinking and vocabulary that develops.
JUST THINK about what the job really is and then consider all the financial and human resources that are misdirected. Couldn’t those resources be used more effectively in helping students learn to deeply observe, sort the perceptions, analyse their meaning and impact on the world, finally putting that analysis to some useful work? It’s a much more engaging (mentally and emotionally) way to learn then playing literacy and numeracy games to ensure recall of discreet and unconnected factoids and skills?

"Why is a multiple choice/short answer test any more valid, replicable or reliable than a portfolio submission or an essay?" Because the prior are objective and the latter subjective.

Who corrects/grades the portfolio or essay? The teacher? I DON"T THINK SO! That's one of the primary rationales for ed reform and NCLB. Teachers could not be trusted to accurately/impartially evaluate their students. Beyond that, who's entries are in the portfolio, really? Did the teacher, a classmate, a sibbling, a para-professional, a parent, a councilor, a relative, an administrator, a school board member, etc., etc., in any way have access to the contents of the portfolio before it was evaluated? Was there any chance the contents could have been compomised by one of these parties? Same for the essay.

Yes, I realize tests can be compromised as well but it's much easier to trace these kinds of impropieties than those in a portfolio or an essay.

The state provides greater distance and impartiality in these matters than the teacher who has had the student in class for the majority of the year.

"We probably shouldn't have teachers younger than 35 years of age in any compulsory classroom to ensure there's enough life experience years in which to learn." After 34 years in the classroom I can assure you there were a number of 'senior' staff members who never should have been allowed to continue teaching for three years, never mind twenty or thirty, but they beame career teachers because of the system/contract.

Finally, someone has voiced the real reason for NCLB and standards and teacher manuals that read like movie scripts, "...teachers could not be trusted". Men and women who have dedicated their lives to teaching the children of others, who have coached them, mentored them, and loved them, can't be trusted to evaluate them.

Let's not take this personally! There are some basic research principles and ethics having to do with interested parties self-reporting high stakes data.

It is possible to use portfolio information in ways that are reliable and valid. It does involve a high degree of intensity and documentation with the necessity of outside review. A similar process is used in many states for cognitively disabled students who qualify for alternative assessment. Not only does the intensity make it expensive, teachers were not any happier about gathering the evidence than they are about giving the tests. And the learning curve has been steep. In the first go around, much of the documentation submitted was insufficient.

With the powerful lobbying efforts by the Business Roundtable (the association that represents U.S. leading corporations) to promote NCLB, we need to wonder if public education even still is in public hands! The group nets 4 trillion dollars in combined revenue, and at least 50 million dollars was spent on lobbying between 1999 and 2001.

Here's an insightful excerpt from the 2004 book: Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? - by Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian, Heinemann (Reed Elsevier Inc.), Portsmouth, NH 03801-3912

"According to projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2010 only 22 percent of jobs will require a four year college education and another 10 percent a two year Associate of Arts degree.

* So if 100 percent of our children pass algebra and go to college, as the U.S. Department of Education and most of the state education departments insist, there sure will be heavy competition for those college-required jobs. A CEO's dream. And there are plenty of people who think that's what all the pumped-up push for high standards and testing and raising the bar and turning kindergarten into skill-drill(*) zones has been about from the get-go. Make kids--and future workers--feel inadequate. Make them feel like they're never good enough. Convince them that it's a dog-eat-dog world out there--with everybody competing in a musical chairs game.

The crime is not that there isn't a workforce able and willing to do the jobs that need to be done; the crime is that so many of these jobs we need to make our country work don't come with a living wage."

(*) To see what "Bush Gardens for Kids" without time for play or recess look like nowadays visit www.adihome.org Under Support Services you'll find movie clips that give you an excellent idea.

The site does not sell products, but does conveniently offer a link to www.sra4kids.com, none other than the McGraw-Hill companies that earn millions in profit on the scripted reading series! Not surprisingly the McGraws of publishing are indeed related to Harold McGraw III, chairman of the Business Roundtable. How's that for networking?

I would be more receptive to NCLB if it addressed teaching the whole person; i.e., merging the mental health and educational systems to create holistic academic and social/emotional services for students. Reducing students to numbers makes it easier to compare them and to match them up with their respective teachers, but I'm not convinced this is where we need to be focusing so much of our energy.
That said, in order to effectively use evidence based interventions in our classrooms, educators need to be provided the technology, training, and time to conduct collaborative analysis of triangulated data in order to make informed instructional decisions. But we need to be careful what we ask for: By increasing accountability without providing the requisite support we likely will create a more coercive system, increasing both teacher and student attrition, and leaving no child, but society behind.

For the past few years researchers here have been working with Milwaukee School District Staff to implement data driven management and value added growth models. The project is now expanding into Chicago Public Schools.

Rob Meyer and his staff would be happy to talk to you about their progress to date, and about their plans for the next couple years.


Paul Baker
Wisconsin Center for Education Research
School of Education
U of Wisconsin-Madison

Conny Jensen offers a demonstration of the danger of a little bit of knowledge. First the BLS projections for 2010--while they sound distant, are already out of date for the freshman of today. Broadening our data examination--which would be required for understanding--not just harping on a point--brings in the Glenn Commission report from 2000--indicating that 60% of 21st Century American jobs require skills currently held by only 20% of the population. This broader view is incorporated into the American Diploma Projects focus on graduating students who are WORK and COLLEGE ready. They suggest that 67% of new jobs will require some post-secondary education.

ADP further reports that currently 30% of high school freshman don't make it to graduation, only 40% will go directly to college, 27% wil be still college enrolled by sophomore year and 18% will graduate on time. That is considerable winnowing down. Meanwhile, we are importing college graduates in key areas and exporting jobs in others. Hardly a status quo supportive of American workers.

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