Anthony Cody spent 24 years working in Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high needs middle school. He is National Board certified, and now leads workshops with teachers focused on Project Based Learning. With education at a crossroads, he invites you to join him in a dialogue on education reform and teaching for change and deep learning. For additional information on Cody's work, visit his Web site, Teachers Lead. Or follow him on Twitter.
As all U.S. teachers in public education know, in today's schools there exists a huge emphasis on data collection and analysis. Schools have formed data inquiry and teacher inquiry teams, and three-hole punching print-outs of students' test scores consumes many a prep period.
I did some of my own data analysis to determine how many school days will be non-teaching for me this year. It does not include the amount of classroom time that was lost to preparing my students for state tests. That data is forthcoming. In addition to the 40 days I will have spent doing state test work, seven school days were devoted to attending New York City DOE professional development workshops. A few were quite useful to my teaching practice; at one I learned new strategies for teaching reading and writing to ELLs (English-language learners), and another validated my collaborative teaching efforts. However, the others dealt solely with accountability matters such as learning how to use the AMAO (Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives) estimation tools, and looking at the new Common Core-fortified NYSESLAT assessment. The NYSESLAT is an annual four-part assessment given every spring to ELLs in New York State.
The math I did is pretty simple and did not require the costly services of outside consultants (I may, however, have to enlist the support of my 5th grade math experts when calculating the amount of instructional time lost to test prep).
40 + 7 = 47 non-teaching school days.
There are 180 school days in the school year. 47/180 = 26%. A quarter of my school year was non-instructional. Am I a teacher or a tester?
Here's my response to intervention: Let me teach!
Update, to clarify:
* As an ESL push-in teacher, I do not have my own classroom. I provide mandated ESL services to ELLs of varying levels in four different classrooms. Apart from teaching, my other responsibilities this year included identifying new ESL students through the LAB-R, a standardized test that I administered to potential ELLs over the course of nine days in September. I was also required -along with another freestanding ESL teacher - to test all 156 ELLs in speaking, listening, reading and writing in English (April 17 - May 17).
Next week, two colleagues and I will score the writing section. In addition, because of my out-of-classroom position, I was pulled out of my teaching program to assist with the organization of the state ELA and math testing materials and to proctor the exams, including make-up tests. All of this state test work, which I recorded in my plan book, adds up to 40 days. On these days my ESL students - many of whom are beginning ELLs and struggling students - were deprived of my services.
What do you think? How much of your school year has been consumed by testing? What is YOUR response?
Picture our public schools in the year 2018. What follows is an attempt to see a few short years into the future, to understand how current reform proposals may develop.
I have been highly skeptical about the proposals from the Gates Foundation regarding teacher evaluation, because they do not correspond with how I have seen teachers collaborate and grow together. There is the language of feedback and growth, but I am fearful of a dystopian outline I see emerging, driven by Gates' technocratic vision. The "system" has been described in vague terms - elements of student and parent feedback, teacher observations, videotapes - and a $5 billion price tag. To offer some perspective, assuming there are five million classrooms in America, that amounts to about $1000 per classroom. What is all this money going to buy?
I want to describe the possible future I see, and I want to hear from others. Do you see what I see? Am I wrong to be uneasy or even fearful of this?
Here is the outline I find a bit scary.
The year is 2018. We have a national system of standards, curriculum, technological enhancements and high stakes tests, all aligned and built out (as described by Bill Gates in 2009.) Teachers arrive at school and are handed not just the keys to the classroom, but the whole year's curriculum, which has been developed by "experts" and "innovators" - meaning textbook publishers and educational software developers. There is an optimum way to deliver each lesson, as has been determined by field testing, and teachers are told to watch a video to ensure they know how it ought to be delivered.
There is a detailed timeline, to make sure that students cover all the material required for each grade level, so they stay on track for college and career. Much of the instruction is done online, in large "flipped" classrooms. "Personalization" is achieved by having each student work autonomously, using educational software, taking periodic assessments to track their progress. Student essays are uploaded to automated scoring systems, which quickly and efficiently return detailed feedback on punctuation and sentence structure, but offer no capacity for understanding what the student has attempted to communicate. Teachers become managers of this interface between students and the standardized curriculum.
There are computer-based benchmark tests aligned with the curriculum every six weeks, to make sure the teacher is covering the material according to the timeline. Then there is an end of year test that covers all the material learned, and this allows the student to receive credit for course completion. The teacher is also given credit for the material the students have learned. Teachers and students have unique ID numbers that are attached to all their records. Both student and teacher data are stored in the inBloom data warehouse, which is made available to school districts, colleges, and companies doing various forms of research and product development.
Each classroom has its own video camera. These cameras are networked and controlled from the school or district office. Teachers are directed to record lessons of particular topics, which are coded according to the standards that are addressed. Then when the test scores arrive, teachers who have students that have performed above expectations on their tests have their videos placed in a "preferred practices" library for reference by teachers and evaluators. Teachers whose students perform consistently below expectations are flagged for more intensive review and feedback, or fired, depending on their status and level of due process protection.
Since principals do not have sufficient time to observe and supervise teachers, this work is contracted out to "experts,"(hired by for-profit service providers) who are sent the videos to review remotely. They provide a summary of what they observe, using as their guideline the checklist of best practices and the instructions for that particular lesson. This is included in the teachers' evaluation.
Teachers are provided with this feedback, and given the chance to improve - they can review the videos of more effective teachers, and work to deliver their lesson according to the script or best practices guidelines. These key lessons are once again delivered, videotaped, and the teachers are scored on their performance.
Teachers who fail to respond to this feedback, and whose students continue to perform poorly on assessments, are fired. This system uses the following "multiple measures" of data to ensure that it is an accurate representation of a teachers' effectiveness:
Video of the teacher engaged in instruction, scored by experts.
student test scores and VAM analyses.
student and parent survey data
The inBloom data system will contain a complete record of each teacher's performance. If any school district is contemplating hiring a teacher, they will enter the teacher's code number and access all this information.
This is a future I believe is possible given the systems and structures being promoted by technocrats like Gates. This is NOT the way the system has been described by Bill Gates or any of his representatives. They tend to use the language of feedback and collaboration. But as I have been asking, if collaboration is the goal, why must this be embedded in an evaluation process, which has the goal of determining who ought to be fired?
Teachers are already being evaluated based on the test scores of students they never taught. Every subject is being assigned some form of standardized test, so that student and teacher performance can be quantified and compared. Measurement has already run amok, and the plans we are seeing outlined expand this dramatically. In this climate, I believe more collection of data allows for more inappropriate uses of data, and we are far beyond the place where this data is helping.
If I thought that creating this ultimate system of alignment would result in better lives for students, I would get with the program. However, we know that high stakes tests are far more effective at reinforcing inequities than breaking them down. Students are not standardized, and teachers do their best work when they can teach creatively, building on student interests, and responding to their needs. Conformity and standardization may create efficient marketplaces, but they will drive the vitality from our classrooms.
If I am wrong, and the new evaluation system described by Bill Gates really is all about feedback and collaboration, then why not remove the model from an evaluative framework. Make the sharing of videos voluntary and low-stakes. Provide teachers dedicated time for collaboration. Offer a variety of structures such as Lesson Study, Critical Friends and Teacher Inquiry, that have been proven effective at generating authentic reflection and growth.
If I turn out to be right, then smash those cameras, boycott those tests, opt out of the data systems, and refuse to be standardized and scripted.
What do you think? Am I being alarmist? How do you imagine our future will take shape based on the systems being put into place?
It will take public education, incessant pressure, and massive public resistance to win reforms to our current damaging test policies. We need to define clear, widely supported goals. And we need to offer a compelling vision of effective alternatives to high-stakes testing.
In this post, I'll dig into some actions and tactics reformers can use. This is not a comprehensive list but some ideas to provoke more thinking about how to build winning campaigns.
Right now, resistance is growing but is far from mass. The most critical work to be done is to further educate, then organize and mobilize, parents, students, teachers and others in or close to schools.
School boards, parent and other groups can sponsor and publicize community forums to discuss testing and its consequences. Use these to network and organize, as well as inform. A school board hearing can be a great opportunity and raises the possibility that the board will endorse the National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing while informing more of the public. With computers on hand, people can sign the Resolution during the event. Distribute handouts, such as FairTest materials (adapt them to your needs). Be sure to collect names, emails and phone numbers; identify those willing to be active.
Across the country, many local school boards, superintendents and principals have been speaking out against excessive testing. Parents, teachers, students and community groups should work with them to reduce the number of tests and any stakes attached to them. Those who still support the status quo need to be educated and, if necessary, pressured. In cities with appointed school boards, political pressure often will need to work through other avenues.
Supportive boards and superintendents can encourage parents to organize. They can at least tacitly support boycotts and make clear there will be no sanctions on parents or students who opt out (some parents have been threatened). They can let teachers know there will be no reprisals for speaking out.
Parents face a dilemma about opting out when states or districts misuse test results to determine grade promotion or graduation. But there are often many other tests that do not carry individual consequences; these are ripe for boycotting. Some states allow opting out, others bar it, still others are ambiguous. Parents should know their state's rules so they can make informed decisions.
Federal NCLB waiver requirements mandate that participating states evaluate all teachers using student test scores. This dramatically increases the amount of testing. Teachers can signal parents they do not object to students opting out of these (and others) - as Chicago teachers have stated in public forums.
Boycotts and public forums are two valuable tactics. There are many other steps people can and should take to build powerful movements. Activists can prioritize their steps based on the overall goals and strategy. Here are some additional actions being taken across the country:
Rallies and demonstrations can be very effective ways of calling attention to the issues, mobilizing supporters, and pressuring policymakers. Use music and rap, costumes and humor to liven these events. Parents in Chicago have organized a "Play In" to protest testing of young children. Students in Providence held a zombie walk. Be sure to have enough basic flyers to let passersby know why you are demonstrating.
Students in Providence recently persuaded dozens of adults to take the state graduation test. Most of them failed it, generating strong publicity for a campaign against a looming state graduation exam.
Write letters-to-the-editor and op-ed pieces for your local and regional newspapers. Be sure to invite reporters to your events. Use mainstream and social media. And if you are not familiar with news releases and such, bone up on it.
Reach out to local business owners, faith-based organizations, civic groups of all sorts. Meet with them to discuss the issues, and encourage them to sign the National Resolution and to attend forums.
Involve local or regional researchers and college faculty. They are beginning to speak out, as they have in Chicago, New York, Georgia and Massachusetts. College professors say that incoming students are increasingly unable to do college work in part because incessant testing in high school fails to prepare them.
You may want to connect to other issues, such as school closings conducted under NCLB or waiver authority. Students are linking to discipline issues, and inadequate funding is often a fundamental issue. National multi-issue networks such as the Network for Public Education and Save Our Schools can be helpful in this regard .
Educate and pressure decision-makers, from school boards to mayors to legislators and governors, as well as members of Congress. Meet with them in groups that include educators, parents, students, and researchers, and perhaps religious, business or civil rights leaders. That makes it harder for policymakers to divide and conquer.
Don't ignore the federal role. Educate on the damage caused by No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and waiver requirements. Invite members of Congress to listen to constituents at forums. Keep up a steady flow of messages and materials to your members of Congress. Federal law must be overhauled.
It has taken decades for this country to regress from limited testing to high-stakes testing to incessant testing that distorts curriculum and instruction, narrows student learning, and undermines the creativity and engagement needed for effective citizenship, rewarding work and ongoing learning. It will no doubt take years of sustained effort to turn the situation around. For the sake of our children and our future, that is the task before us.
What do you think of these strategy and tactics? What is being done in your community to challenge the high stakes testing status quo?
The U.S. stands alone among economically developed nations in its excessive use of high-stakes standardized testing. While the U.S. mandates testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school, with some states or districts requiring more, other nations range from almost no testing (e.g., Finland and Wales) to testing in about three grades. In many nations, the focus is on essay questions, not multiple-choice, and multiple measures are common. Only the U.S. uses student test scores to judge schools and teachers. As a result, tests largely control curriculum and instruction, with harmful consequences and scant progress in general improvement or in closing inequitable learning outcomes.
Across the nation, a rebellion is brewing against testing overuse and misuse. But just saying "no" isn't enough. In fact, high-quality feedback from assessment is vital to teaching and learning. Students, teachers and parents need to know whether kids are making progress. Communities and taxpayers deserve to know if schools are serving children well and children are succeeding. To win change, activists must offer proposals for better assessment systems coupled with demands to end harmful practices.
FairTest, along with many education, civil rights, disability, religious groups and others, supports a new approach to assessment and evaluation. It would include limited use of low-stakes standardized testing, a school quality review process, and reliance on school and classroom-based evidence of student learning. The controversial part of this is using student classroom work to determine student progress or school quality. However, evidence shows that what students actually do in class is a sound basis for evaluation. For example, student grades are better predictors of student college success than are SAT or ACT test scores. Here are two examples of how to use student work in a valid and reliable evaluation process.
The New York Performance Standards Consortium has a variance from all but one state standardized test for its 28 high schools. Instead, students must complete performance tasks in language arts, math, science and history as part of their graduation requirements. The students defend their projects orally before a committee of teachers and outside experts. Importantly, each student works with the teachers to determine the specific tasks they complete. Thus the tasks are as diverse as the students and their interests. It is the scoring guide (or "rubric") that ensures consistency in evaluation across the range of work.
The results have been powerful. The 26 Consortium schools in New York City are demographically similar to the city as a whole. But their graduation rates, in general and for groups such as students with disabilities and English language learners, are significantly higher; more graduates attend college; and rates of staying in college into year three exceed the national average. This network of nearly 30 schools is larger than most U.S. districts, indicating its approach can be brought to scale.
Another example, the Learning Record, is a carefully structured tool for guiding a process in which teachers observe students, gather and evaluate their work, and determine their progress in language arts. The Record includes multiple sources of evidence of student learning over time (true "multiple measures"). But are the teacher judgments fair and accurate? Over the years, random samples of Records from a variety of schools, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, were gathered and re-scored blind. Inter-rater reliability between re-scoring and initial classroom teachers was commonly between .7 and .8. This is strong evidence of the consistency of teacher judgments in evaluating student learning status and progress. Further, participating educators viewed the re-scoring process ("moderation") and the feedback to the classroom teachers as excellent professional learning.
In both cases, large numbers of schools with diverse populations were involved in a careful process of evaluating student learning. The assessments, rooted in actual curriculum and instruction, provided trustworthy evidence.
However, there is a major barrier to moving to better assessments: schools are flooded with testing even as many face tight budgets. It is a daunting task to promote performance assessments at a time when the stakes attached to standardized tests are so high.
Still, many teachers employ strong assessments, but it is rarely systematic or likely not shared with colleagues. Such quality work can provide a good starting point. In Nebraska, before NCLB, the state embarked on a statewide system of local, teacher-led assessments. In just a few years, teachers learned to craft technically reliable performance tasks reflecting meaningful student work. As Chris Gallagher explained in Reclaiming Assessment, teachers collectively constructed this system and thereby greatly strengthened their own collaborative work on curriculum and instruction.
It should be possible for school systems, or networks of schools, to begin similar processes. Until we beat back the testing craze, schools will have to face those mandates. As discussed in part I, removing local mandates and the teacher-evaluation components may well be most important for creating space to develop a performance assessment system, though in the end federal law and policies must fundamentally change.
From outside the schools, test reformers can support school- and district-based improvement efforts and work for a system of performance assessments and classroom-based evidence. They need to do so to answer opponents' inevitable question, "What would you use instead of standardized tests?" The examples from home and abroad disprove the idea that we need standardized tests to know how well students are progressing.
Testing reformers, then, need clear goals, a strong strategy that includes promoting authentic assessment, and effective tactics. In my next post I will discuss a few such tactics now used across the U.S.
What do you think of these models of authentic assessment? Can they help show us a different way to measure and demonstrate student learning?
- Monty Neill is Executive Director of FairTest.
We are in the midst of rising resistance to high-stakes testing in the public schools. We have seen parents, students and teachers engaged in boycotts and opting out, demonstrations, forums and town halls, petitions and resolutions. Mainstream media has taken notice of the growing movement. Numerous articles about the Atlanta cheating scandal have recognized how high-stakes testing caused the cheating and how test-focused education cheats children out of a good education. Some elections and policymaker actions also reflect growing movement clout.
This flowering of resistance raises an essential question: How can this burgeoning struggle gain the political power to end the status quo of test and punish? In this three-part series, I offer concrete steps toward building stronger, more effective reform campaigns. I hope they will foster robust discussion and help our movement grow stronger.
More than a decade of research and experience show the testing explosion has wreaked havoc on many schools, particularly those serving low-income and minority-group students. Simultaneously, it has deflected attention from potentially beneficial education reforms and from the impact of poverty and continued racism on educational outcomes. Proponents of test-and-punish "reform" strategies seem impervious to evidence, and they have the ear of important policymakers. It's not enough that the facts support the need for change. We will win battle only by educating, organizing and mobilizing large numbers of people.
Over the past few months, I've been involved in dialogues and public meetings aimed at furthering the testing reform movement. Our conversations focused on how to win key goals: less testing, lower stakes, and better assessment practices. In this post, I focus on basic goals and strategy for launching a campaign. In subsequent posts, I will discuss the importance of pushing for high-quality assessments, and then propose tactics to educate the public, develop strong coalitions, and persuade policymakers.
The first step is to define specific campaign goals and craft a strategy to win them. In setting goals, it's important to include educators, parents and students, as well as people from different racial-ethnic, linguistic or socio-economic groups. Advocates for English language learners and students with disabilities are key allies in this battle.
Concrete goals include changing local, state and federal testing policies. Putting aside the federal level for now, an immediate goal could be to halt or reduce locally-mandated tests. Many schools and districts administer far more tests than state or federal governments require. Increasingly these hit young children, many of whom experience extreme anxiety and stress (in Chicago, kindergarteners faced 14 tests - though parent opposition has started to cut that back). Local tests usually are not backed by state requirements that students take the tests (though some states allow students to opt out). Thus, they may be easier to resist and to change. Seattle teachers, for example, targeted the district-imposed MAP tests for their boycott.
Rolling back state mandates will probably be more difficult than eliminating local requirements. In some states, existing statewide groups can spur local actions focusing on state policies. In other cases, local activists can network and build statewide alliances, including statewide groups willing to pitch in. The key point is for state and local efforts to support each other. For example, local groups working to remove district-mandated tests can simultaneously educate about the dangers of state and federal testing requirements, preparing the ground for repealing those too.
A campaign requires organizing. Thus, enough participating groups and individuals must agree to engage in that work to make sure the campaign can get off the ground. Parents in Chicago are taking a local resolution to their schools, using it for discussions with other parents as well as to gather signatures and contact information. Bringing resolutions before school boards require public discussion as well as a vote. The National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing can be a good tool to educate and bring people together, for example, by bringing it to meetings and gathering places and asking people to sign on. In Texas, Florida and elsewhere, this use of resolutions has been a valuable tactic.
Savvy media work is a vital part of any strategy. Major media has mostly sided with test-and-punish "reforms," but the growing resistance movement and evidence of the failure of test-driven "reform" are getting more media attention. Successful campaigns use local and community newspapers, social media and the mainstream media to get their message out.
Finally, make the case for change with these key points:
First, learning is damaged by time spent on testing and test prep, but also by narrowing of curriculum and teaching to the test.
Second, school climate suffers as kids are reduced to scores and teachers to score producers, at times to the point of fueling the school-to-prison pipeline.
Third, tests and test prep time are expensive and will be much more costly with new Common Core tests and the computer infrastructure needed to administer them. For example, a report from New York superintendents reveals that, even with Race to the Top funds, most districts are looking at picking up 90% of the tab for more tests and technology for common core and teacher evaluation. This is hitting just as the state has imposed local tax caps and declining revenues are forcing budget cuts and teacher layoffs. NCLB waivers come with no funds to cover increased costs.
- Bring key players to the table for planning.
- Set long- and short-term goals and build a coherent strategy.
- Decide which specific kinds of actions can best advance a reform agenda in your community or state.
Watch for the next part of this series on the need for better assessment alternatives. The final part will describe how to expand alliances and build power.
What do you think of these strategies? What should we do to strengthen the movement to put testing in its proper place?
David Kirp begins his new book, Improbable Scholars, with the sentence, "Educators have grown wearily accustomed to being slapped around." School "reformers" have lambasted public schools as "fossilized bureaucracies run by paper-pushers and filled with time-serving teachers preoccupied with their own job security, not the lives of their students." The elites have promoted films with the message that charter schools are the answer, even though they are no more effective than traditional public schools. Kirp describes charters as a "kinder gentler face of privatization." "These privately run academies" have become the "playthings of the super-rich."
Kirp then dissects the dramatic turnaround of the entire school system of Union City, New Jersey, and he shows how we can build great schools on the strengths of our democratic culture. Its answer did not come from technocrats from the outside, but from a local culture of "abrazos" or caring. Rather than firing our way to the top, Kirp shows that school improvement must come from trusting relationships. The secret sauce of Union City's success is "respeto," or respect.
Union City's transformation was made possible by an activist New Jersey Supreme Court that ordered the state to produce equity. This allowed the funding of high-quality preschool, reduced class sizes, professional development in English as a Second Language and methods of motivating and engaging students, and one-on-one coaching of struggling teachers and students.
Union City transformed itself by the "win win" policies of:
a) Creating high-quality preschool for all;
b) Providing "word-soaked" classrooms;
c) Teaching immigrants to be fluent in their native language and then in English;
d) Coordinating its early education and its challenging curriculum;
e) Using diagnostic data;
f) Offering hands-on help for parents and students, and
g) Reaching out to parents.
Improbable Scholars is a very, very hopeful book. It shows that humane, democratic, and thoughtful policies are the key to building humane environments that produce thoughtful citizens for a democracy. It is also tough-minded. Creating the coordinated learning environments that transformed Union City will not be cheap or easy.
In the first place, as Gordon MacInnes explains, high-quality preschool cannot just be high-dollar daycare. New Jersey invests $12,000 per student in it. The professional development of preschool teachers takes as much skill and diplomacy as coaching public school teachers. Early education must teach young children self-control and inner-directedness. A diverse collection of for-profit preschools must be integrated into an aligned pre-K through 3rd grade system. We cannot forget that teaching children to read for comprehension by 3rd grade, as opposing to merely decoding, is rocket science.
The same sensitivity must be invested in organizing teams of teachers for providing instruction that engages students and fosters critical thinking. This requires the time-consuming process of collaboratively aligning and coordinating curriculum. Kirp (and others) convince me that both vertical and horizontal curriculum alignment, where subject matter is taught according to a system-wide schedule and yet where teachers also make adjustments in order to build an instructional team, is possible in the early grades. I would have liked more information from Kirp, however, as to how that process can avoid becoming a top down mandate for scripted instruction for high school. Kirp makes it sound like Union City High School is reaching a nice balance (and he indicates that Montgomery County has also backed off from its initial impulse to take too much autonomy away from teachers.)
Since New Jersey has high-stakes tests that stress critical thinking Kirp seems less worried than he would ordinarily be about the dangers of standardized testing in that state. But, he still describes the abusive test prep season that it prompts and warns of that it could threaten Union City's successes. He also recounts teachers' growing complaints against standardized testing.
And, that leads to a final challenge. Union City and, apparently, a few other districts carved out a way to support effective teaching during an age of accountability. It is hard to see how many other systems can emulate Union City's success until the high-stakes testing mania stops. Kirp even expresses worries about the future of the best of Union City's schools if testing continues. On the other hand, if we want to help poor kids, rather than assault teachers, Kirp has laid out the path to sustainable school improvement.
What do you think? Can systems without Union City's funding follow its path? Is it possible for schools to emulate Union City in an age of test-driven accountability? Are you as hopeful about Union City as I am?
John Thompson was an award winning historian, with a doctorate from Rutgers, and a legislative lobbyist when crack and gangs hit his neighborhood, and he became an inner city teacher. He blogs for This Week in Education, the Huffington Post and other sites. After 18 years in the classroom, he is writing his book, Getting Schooled: Battles Inside and Outside the Urban Classroom.
I watched Bill Gates' TED Talk last night, to hear him explain why we should spend $5 billion to put video cameras in every classroom in the nation. But before I get to what he said, I want to share some of the wisdom that preceded him.
Rita Pierson starts us off with a bang, speaking of how human relationships are the prerequisite for learning.
Kids don't learn from people they don't like. Apologize... Tell the kids you're sorry - they're in shock... We listen to policy that doesn't make sense, and we teach anyway. Teaching and learning should bring joy. How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, and who had a champion. Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, and insists that they become the best that they can be.
Teacher Ramsey Musallam shows how he provokes students to ask questions, and allow curiosity to drive their inquiries.
If we, as educators, leave behind the simple role as disseminators of content, and embrace a new paradigm, as cultivators of curiosity and inquiry, we just might bring a little more meaning to their school day, and spark their imagination.
16 year old student Sharouz Gayemi says (and I apologize if I misspelled his name -- it was not shown in print):
An administrative culture that focuses on standardized testing does us no good at all, because there is a difference between knowledge and understanding... If you truly understand something, it's far more important to you, it's more likely to be retained, it's far more likely to have some sort of meaning to you."
Then we come to Bill Gates, and his $5 billion idea.
First, his rationale:
... there's one group of people that get almost no systematic feedback to help them do their jobs better. Until recently, 98% of teachers just got one word of feedback: "satisfactory." Today, districts are revamping the way they evaluate teachers. But we still give them almost no feedback that actually helps them improve their practice. Our teachers deserve better. The system we have today isn't fair to them. It's not fair to students, and it's putting America's global leadership at risk.
Do you notice something? He starts out talking about feedback, but then slides into describing a formal evaluation process. There are LOTS of ways to enhance feedback that could have nothing at all to do with our evaluation systems -- which, thanks to the determined and well-funded advocacy of the Gates Foundation and its projects, has already been redirected towards test scores and Value Added measures.
Next, he offers us the familiar international rankings, which find the US somewhere in the middle. Of the top performers, he ignores #3, Finland, in order to focus on Shanghai:
Let's look at the best academic performer, the province of Shanghai, China. Now, they rank #1 across the board, in reading, math and science. And one of the keys to Shanghai's success is the way they help teachers keep improving. They have weekly study groups, where teachers get together and talk about what's working. They even require each teacher to observe, and give feedback, to their colleagues. You might ask, "why is a system like this so important?" It's because there's so much variation in the teaching profession. Some teachers are far more effective than others. In fact there are teachers throughout the country who are helping their students make extraordinary gains. If today's average teacher could become as good as those teachers, our students would be blowing away the rest of the world. So we need a system that helps all our teachers be as good as the best.
This raises so many more questions than it answers. How are teachers in Shanghai reflecting on their teaching? What guides them? Their system is reputed to focus on test preparation. How do we know the students are better prepared for their adult lives - beyond test scores?
...what brings great test scores may hamper entrepreneurial qualities. Standardized testing and a focus on rote memorization, for example, are perhaps the biggest enemies of entrepreneurial capability.
Gates goes on to suggest that his foundation's MET project has found the solution:
We had observers watch videos of teachers in the classroom, and rate how they did on a range of practices. For example, did they ask their students challenging questions? Did they find multiple ways to explain an idea? We also had students fill out surveys, with questions like "does your teacher know when the class understands a lesson?" "Do you learn to correct your mistakes?" And what we found is very exciting. First, the teachers who did well on these observations had far better student outcomes. So it tells us we're asking the right questions. And second, teachers in the program told us that these videos and these surveys from the students were very helpful diagnostic tools, because they pointed to specific places where they can improve.
Once again, as we know from our previous experience with the Gates Foundation's work, "student outcomes" is a euphemism for test scores.
I want to draw on the wisdom shared at the opening by educator Ruth Pierson, who spoke of the power of relationships in learning. Surely this is true for our growth as teachers as much as it is for our students. It is truly amazing to me that in proposing that we devise new ways for teachers to gain feedback, Bill Gates has focused his attention on investing in a device, rather than a learning process.
Video can be useful, and if any teacher in the US of A wants to record a lesson, I bet you they could find a smart phone or camcorder able to do the job. But why do we need video to observe one another? Even the teachers in Shanghai apparently are observing one another directly. The teachers in a given school are familiar with their context and students, and are well equipped to offer one another feedback, given time and support. This work builds on the trusting relationships between peers, who are devoted to bringing out the best in each other. We could call it Lesson Study - and learn from people who have been doing this work for the past two decades. We could engage in teacher inquiry, as we have seen groups like the Mills Teacher Scholars model for us.
Linda Darling Hammond recently pointed out that, in line with Bill Gates main point, teachers do not have opportunities to give one another feedback. But Darling-Hammond does not suggest that the lack of video cameras is the culprit. Rather, she writes:
...evidence suggests that time afforded to educators to collaborate and problem-solve is eroding quickly. As recently as 2009, a MetLife study indicated that 68% of educators had more than an hour per week to engage in structured collaboration with colleagues to improve student learning. By 2012, only 48% had an hour or more per week for this essential work. In what professional field can practice improve if most practitioners don't have even an hour a week to work together collaboratively?
Bill Gates has described himself as a technocrat, so perhaps it is natural that he would fixate on some piece of technology as the missing element. But the real things that are missing are the time that teachers need to work together, and the understanding that this time will be most fruitful when teachers are given the autonomy to tackle the challenges they face, rather than micromanaged and driven by test score data.
The show was closed out by Sir Ken Robinson, the most famous TED talker of all. He reminds us of some things that, if Bill Gates were listening, might serve as valuable feedback for him.
Education, under No Child Left Behind, is based on - not diversity, but conformity. What schools are encouraged to do is find out what kids can do across a very narrow spectrum of achievement. One of the effects of NCLB has been to narrow the curriculum to those areas that are tested, and what we've heard here... is that kids prosper best with a broad and diverse curriculum.
Right beneath the surface are these seeds of possibility, waiting for the right conditions to come about. You take an area, a school, a district, you change the conditions, give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities, you cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners, you offer people discretion to be creative and to innovate in what they do, and schools that were once bereft spring to life.
The real role of leadership in education, at the national level, the state level and the school level, is not and should not be "command and control." The real role of leadership is climate control. Creating a climate of possibility. And if you do that, people will rise to it, and achieve things that you did not anticipate and couldn't have expected.
For some reason, all this feedback has escaped Bill Gates. If only he had a video camera...
What do you think? Is a lack of video cameras preventing teachers from giving one another feedback? How would you suggest we strengthen professional collaboration?
A week ago, Randi Weingarten gave a speech expressing some strong views on the Common Core. Her plea is that leaders across the country give schools a one year reprieve before the harsh consequences attached to new assessments linked to the Common Core begin to take effect.
However, I do not share her optimism that this additional time will do more than forestall the disaster these tests will be for our schools.
The big selling point for these tests from the start has been that they will be fundamentally different from every standardized test ever created. They will take us "beyond the bubble test," as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan promised back in 2010.
But we are seeing the new tests and this "beyond" is not such a pretty place. The "Next Generation" MAP assessments sparked a boycott by students and teachers in the Seattle schools. An early trial of tests aligned with the Common Core in Kentucky yielded a 30% drop in the number of students considered proficient. The tests in New York state have award-winning principal Carol Burris warning parents, "don't buy the bunk!" These tests are arriving after even more stakes have been attached to their results. More schools will be closed, more students labeled as deficient, and more teachers' careers ended by these inaccurate and unreliable rating systems.
I have a fundamental problem with the nature of a national top-down accountability system enforced by even more frequent and intrusive tests. Those promoting them are using the language of effective formative assessment to sell something that actually strips classroom teachers of the central role that this work demands.
About twelve years ago, after I completed my National Board certification, I got involved with something called the CAPITAL project at Stanford, which was led by professor J. Myron (Mike) Atkin, who is now emeritus. The goal of this project was to understand how science teachers might come to shift our assessment practices. Dr. Atkin's basic premise was that our assessment practices flow from deeply held beliefs -- from our philosophies about how students learn, and how as teachers we should respond to and guide their learning. Often times we hold these believes so deeply, they are sort of normalized within us, and not explicitly expressed -- they have become part of how we see the world.
Atkin had been working with Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black, and was very excited about the ideas in their work "Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment." This work suggested a very different approach to assessment, one that de-emphasized grading, and encouraged lots of peer and teacher feedback, modeling, revision, and so forth. In this model, assessment and learning are intertwined, and the purpose is not to assign a final judgment on the quality of the work, but rather to guide the student towards work of higher quality. Black and Wiliam showed that when this approach is taken, students engage much more with their teacher, and this formative assessment yields more learning.
Atkin had been around long enough to understand what usually happens when revolutionary ideas like this arrive. There is a big hoopla, lots of excited discussions, and after the dust settles commercial publishers start introducing formative assessments into all their curricular materials. Some of the underlying issues are raised, but classroom teachers are not the ones actively engaged in reflecting on their assumptions and beliefs about their assessment practices. Those debates happen elsewhere, and teachers are given the curriculum and prepackaged assessments that the publishers have produced.
This is problematic for several reasons. First of all, if assessment practices flow from deeply held beliefs, tossing some formative assessments into a teacher's guide is not enough to generate the reflection and discussion needed for teachers to change the way they approach assessment. Teachers have always used "quizzes," and a formative assessment can easily be thought of in a similar frame. The idea that we use this sort of thing as a means to gauge where students are, and offer feedback, may be lost. Second, there is a way that the entire process is hijacked when the teacher loses agency, when the publisher plays the central role in creating the assessments and determining when they should be given, and this gets us closer to my biggest problem with the Common Core.
They [Black and Wiliam] also have been very clear about exactly what formative assessment is: working with a student, or a group of students, to develop a course of action that helps bridge the gap between current student knowledge and the desired educational goal. Providing feedback that is usable, detailed, and often individualized is at the heart of this kind of assessment. Formative assessment, so defined, is a pivotal element of everyday classroom teaching. It occurs throughout the school day. It requires collaborative involvement of both teacher and student. And it isn't something purchased from a vendor that can be used in an identical fashion anywhere, like an instruction book or a cooking recipe.
Regrettably, the testing companies have hijacked the formative label and are marketing it toward ends that are the polar opposite of what the research highlights as so powerful in student learning. Much of what the companies are marketing as formative assessment consists of prescribed mini-tests inserted at specified points in the curriculum for the purpose of giving students practice for the standardized examinations at the end of the year. In much too facile a fashion, it separates assessment from teaching and learning instead of integrating all three.
One-size-fits-all, large-scale, end-of-year summative testing has already weakened education by reducing the curriculum to outcomes that can be assessed by relatively inexpensive tests using multiple-choice and other short-answer questions. We are now seeing a solidification of that influence as testing companies aggressively promote infusion of the entire curriculum with scores of mini-tests -- under the guise of promoting formative assessment. Preparing for the big tests by having the students take many little ones of the same kind may be one way to teach, but it isn't formative assessment.
The key benefits of formative assessment emphasized in the research literature are associated with changes in the classroom that result when teachers and students collaborate closely in examining the quality of student work. What does quality look like? What might the student do to improve school work to bring it to a higher quality than it is right now? This integration of teaching, learning, and assessment is complex work, but potent. It takes time and effort: hours, days, weeks, and months - not the periodic 15 or 20 minutes needed to respond to questions purchased from a remote "item bank" developed by the testing companies to foreshadow the final examination. Reporting mini-test scores to the students and even discussing common incorrect answers has little relationship to the type of feedback studied by Black and Wiliam that produced such large gains in achievement.
Standardized testing has a place in a comprehensive system of assessment, but not if it saturates the curriculum in ways that weaken teaching and learning, and not if it is directed primarily toward preparation for tests that are known to have serious limitations of scope and depth. The saddest element for students, teachers, parents, and the general public is that we know better.
The work that Randi Weingarten calls for, of teachers grappling with standards, figuring out what they mean, what quality work looks like, and how to get students to understand this -- that is central to our work as teachers. A relatively small percentage of teachers have been actively involved in this generative process related to the Common Core. The majority of teachers will be handed a standards aligned curriculum, be expected to teach it, and be given publisher generated "formative assessments," which are now in many cases high stakes for teachers, because they have morphed into "benchmark assessments," used for evaluative purposes. And then there will be end of the year tests, which again will be very high stakes.
The vision I see in Black and Wiliam's work, and from my work with Dr. Atkin, is that classroom teachers ought to become themselves expert at this process of formative assessment. They need to internalize the standards that they are working with. They need to understand what quality work looks like, and figure out creative ways to communicate that with students. This is not a process that can be prepackaged. Once you prepackage it, you have removed agency and autonomy from the teacher.
We know from Daniel Pink's work that the three drivers of human motivation are autonomy, mastery and purpose. Teachers and students are internally motivated to get better. Teachers are also motivated by their sense of autonomy -- their ability to determine for themselves the focus of instruction, the ways that the standards will be explored, and the means by which students will develop their abilities. Therefore we do not NEED all these high stakes -- threats, penalties, evaluations based on test scores, etc. Not only do we not need them, but they actively destroy motivation. Thus the imposition of standards aligned benchmark tests in the guise of "formative assessment" is an act that destroys the motivation of teachers and students both, and is fundamentally contradicted by what we know about assessment and motivation.
I think some teachers -- perhaps the 25% of AFT members who say they feel prepared to implement the Common Core, have engaged in the initial process that teachers must engage in to make sense of standards. That can be a positive experience -- the wrestling with what we teach and why we teach it, and be challenged to re-think, and make our work more challenging and meaningful for students. If that was how the process was going to continue, I would feel very different about the Common Core. I might still take issue with the actual standards, the way they approach the "close reading" of text, the way they are tied to a tight ladder of skills tied to preparation for college, and so forth. These are the debates we SHOULD be having, widely. Instead, these standards were crafted by a small circle of people, in secret, with little involvement by classroom teachers. This is an enormous shift, and it ought to be the result of a much wider democratic process, not something that an elite group convened largely in secret hashes out behind closed doors. In fact, this would best be done in the most democratic fashion possible, at the level of our local communities.
That brings me to the heart of my concern about the Common Core. Randi Weingarten is suggesting we delay the stakes so that teachers have an extra year of to prepare. But I do not believe even an additional year of preparation will be sufficient to remedy the fundamental issues I have raised.
* The logic of corporate education reform says that student achievement is most important (and note that this achievement is invariably measured through the superficial ease of test score results)
* The logic of reform says by increasing student achievement, we benefit students
* However, those most likely to achieve are those least in need of a caring school environment (though all students benefit from an environment that places care at its center)
* Those most likely to be hurt by the ethic of achievement are those we all agree are most in need of support, and those who, ostensibly, this reform is designed to benefit
* Thus the logic of the current school reform movement is that it benefits those least in need of that benefit, and hurts most those that it is designed to help
Isn't it ironic? It would be hilariously so if so many students and educators weren't traumatized by it.
And this is what I fear the most. We have this entire project based on the premise that raising the bar will bring up those on the bottom, and make them better able to compete. In fact, when you raise that bar, you create huge obstacles for those at the bottom, and in effect, rationalize and reinforce their own sense of worthlessness, and society's judgment that they are subpar. You further stigmatize these students, their teachers and their schools, based on their performance in this rigged race.
The tests aligned to the Common Core are already yielding proficiency drops of 30% or more. These tests are supposedly the best ever made, closely aligned to what has been determined to be of value to our society. And the results will show that even more of our schools are "dropout factories." Even more of our students are incapable of intelligent thought. And of course these indictments will continue to be highly class and race based. Our English learners, and the schools they attend, and the teachers who teach them, will be stigmatized. African Americans and those in poverty will find their schools condemned as failures, subject to closure, as we are seeing in Chicago, DC and Philadelphia.
In effect, the Common Core tests will refresh NCLB's indictment of public schools and teachers, with supposedly scientific precision.
Teachers - and union leaders -- may feel as if they should get on board, to try to steer this process. However, I think this is a ship of doom for our schools. I think its effect will be twofold. It will create a smoother, wider, more easily standardized market for curriculum and technology. This will, in turn, promote the standardization of curriculum and instruction, and further de-professionalize teaching. The assessments will reinforce this, by tying teachers closer to more frequent timelines and benchmark assessments, which will be, in many places, tied to teacher evaluations. And the widespread failures of public schools will be used to further "disrupt the public school monopoly," spurring further expansion of vouchers and charters and private schools.
I wish I could share Randi Weingarten's qualified optimism. But I think those of us who care about both our union and our status as professionals need to learn from our experience with NCLB. The unions jumped on board that disaster as well, with high hopes that our schools would get additional resources, and we could use those to demonstrate our capacity to improve. We know how that has worked out. I think our union leaders and many in our profession are making a similar mistake with Common Core. We are not steering this ship. The people who are steering it are terribly wrong about how it will affect the teaching profession, our schools, and our most vulnerable students.
We must move beyond not only the bubble tests, but beyond the era of punitive high stakes tests. Only then will we be able to use standards in the way they ought to be used - as focal points for our creative work as educators. I would be glad to have a year's delay for the consequences of these tests, but I think we need to actively oppose the entire high stakes testing paradigm. The Common Core standards should not be supported as long as they are embedded in this system.
What do you think? Should we join Randi Weingarten in pushing for one year's delay in the harsh consequences attached to Common Core assessments? Will this year put the project on sound footing?
Thursday night I had a chance to watch John Merrow's new documentary, Rebirth: New Orleans, with an audience at the Education Writers Association seminar at Stanford. The film will soon be available on Netflix.
Merrow has done a creditable job in capturing the core elements of the transformation of this district. He does us all a disservice, however, when he concludes the film by declaring this experiment a success. In so doing, he short-circuits the very deep reflection his movie ought to provoke.
The vast majority of students in New Orleans now attend charter schools. Following Hurricane Katrina, state leaders closed the schools in that city, laid off all the teachers, and waited months before gradually re-opening schools primarily as charters.
We see Ben Marcovitz, the 27 year old founder and principal of Sci Academy, who has his students walking through the halls on lines painted on the floor. He runs into trouble with his African American students, especially when the demerits begin piling up for minor infractions, like wearing gray shoes instead of black. As Andre Perry points out, the lines on the floor evoke the prisons we hope these students can avoid.
We find out that, even according to charter school leaders, it is possible to push low performing students, or those with behavior problems, out -- and back into the residual public schools. Special ed students likewise are concentrated at the public schools, and we meet an autistic youth who is repeatedly turned away from one charter school after another. The non-charter public schools where these challenging students are concentrated are under-resourced, and the morale of students and teachers is low. They have effectively been abandoned by state leaders.
Another moral dimension not really explored is the fact that New Orleans teachers were basically fired en masse, without cause, and replaced in large part by younger, largely white TFA corps members from other parts of the country. We can understand why schools were temporarily closed, but why were these predominately African American teachers, many the first in their families to attend college, not given their jobs back when the schools reopened? These teachers have recently won a lawsuit that, if upheld, will garner them millions of dollars in back pay. Is it morally acceptable to, in effect, take advantage of a crisis to fire teachers because they do not fit your model of reform?
Teach For America and similar programs have played a huge role in this project. There are nine KIPP schools in New Orleans, and the charter chain was founded by TFA alums. The charter sector has actively recruited TFA corps members to the city, and approximately a third of the teachers there now are current TFAers or alums of the program. I do not know what the turnover rates for TFAers in New Orleans are, but in my experience in Oakland, fewer than 25% remain after three years.
We see that test scores have risen - and that many of the charter schools do very well on this set of measures. The screening process seems to have favored data driven operators such as KIPP. An audience member who was a teacher in New Orleans at this time suggested that many charter school proposals that came from the community there were rejected.
The stories we see are vivid. We see a young woman who is struggling to finish high school at age 19, who benefits from the attention of her TFA teacher. We also learn of one student who has vanished from the schools after dropping out, and we have no idea where he went. Another young woman with ambitions of attending medical school was killed by gun violence.
And this highlights for me, the moral dimension that Merrow ignores, when, at the end of the film, he proclaims this experiment a success. How can we accept that a third of the schools in New Orleans have been consigned to the status of dumping grounds for the other two thirds? How can we celebrate the creation of a system that allows schools to wall themselves off from students who are the most damaged by poverty and violence - and relegates those students to schools that cannot possibly succeed in this competitive scheme?
We hear in one segment that Louisiana has proportionally more people behind bars than any other state. The students in these dead end schools, those kicked out of the "no excuses" charters, are being shuffled from one sort of abandonment to another. And the cost to them, and to the rest of us, is tremendous. There is a lot of talk of choice in our education reform discourse -- and this term usually refers to the choice of schools we offer parents and students. But in New Orleans we have established a system where charter schools are exercising choice as well, to reject students -- and teachers as well -- that do not fit in to the no-excuses model of reform. This is portrayed as competition, but the charter and public schools are operating with different sets of rules, and different sets of resources.
John Merrow has recently proclaimed his independence from Gates and Broad Foundation funding, but they appear among those who sponsored this film.
Once upon a time in this country, we had a project with the noble name "No Child Left Behind." What should we call this project? Only a third of the children left behind?
The film actually does a good job in presenting the details necessary to comprehend this moral dilemma. It is only Merrow's too glib proclamation of success that in the end, lets the viewer, and society, avoid confronting the difficult moral dilemma this experiment presents.
Feeling a tad overwhelmed by 2,400 sessions, I braved my way to the Westin St. Francis where an audience of about 250 gathered for a session based on the just-released book Closing the Opportunity Gap: What America Must Do to Give Every Child an Even Chance in School It proved to be a wise choice. Judging from the audience's response to the session, it seemed to reasonably represent a direction that most other AERA meeting goers would like to follow to improve American education.
Here's the SparkNotes version: The kids who come to school with less get less from school. Closing the achievement gap with high-stakes, test-centric teaching combined with low resources, few opportunities and a lack of support has failed. The best way out is to close the mushrooming opportunity gap, create more equitable opportunities and gauge how well states and districts are doing to create those opportunities. Achievement follows from opportunities to learn.
The book's editors, Kevin Welner and Prudence Carter, plus five of the 17 Opportunity Gap chapter authors -- Christopher Tienken, Harvey Kantor, Linda Darling-Hammond, Bob Lowe and Patricia Gandara -- were on hand with mounds of evidence on how we need to reboot: how to go from the proverbial Education 1.0 with a focus on the achievement gap to Education 2.0 with a focus on closing the opportunity gap. And mounds more evidence fill the book: Both session "critics," David Berliner and Meredith Phillips, pointed out, many of the chapters could well serve as the basis for college courses.
I came away more hopeful despite a swarm of depressing evidence on how we derailed our kids. The focus of my optimism centered on the presentation by Darling-Hammond, who authored the "Closing the Opportunity Gap" chapter "Inequality and School Resources: What it Will Take to Close the Opportunity Gap?" Her historical perspective was less "The Lost Future," more "Back to the Future." More possible Renaissance than difficult Reboot.
The Stanford professor made a compelling case that closing the opportunity gap -- paying attention to rising poverty rates and lack of resources for children outside of school -- began with the Great Society and the War on Poverty in the mid-'60s. One result was a sharp decline in the Achievement Gap between Black and White students between 1971 and 1988, when the achievement gap was at its smallest point and when the gap between those two groups closed by two thirds, according to Darling-Hammond.
"Had we stayed on the track with the policies that produced that [progress], then we would have had no racial achievement gap by the year 2000," said Darling-Hammond. "But we took a sharp U Turn in policy" (when federal funding for education decreased from 12 percent to 6 percent during the 1980s and most of those programs that were eliminated were focused on investing in reducing inequalities in schools).
Instead, the U.S. has been hyper focused on the achievement gap since the early 1980s. As a primary consequence of that switched focus (what Berliner called "The Great American Switcheroo: How we got conned from going from inputs to outputs in what we worry about in our educational system"), the attainment levels of U.S. students graduating from high school has remained largely static more than 50 years since the Great Society and the War on Poverty, and exactly 30 years since "A Nation at Risk" was released.
Which brings me to my other reason for hope: Investing in reducing the factors leading to school inequality pays major dividends. Sure, the list of fixes is long and expensive: from high-quality early childhood education; to addressing the needs of language minorities, which UCLA professor Gandara spoke about; to limiting standardization and standardized testing, which professor Tienken addressed.
But as economists Clive Belfield and Hank Levin point out in their chapter in Closing the Opportunity Gap, a conservative estimate of the economic benefit of closing the opportunity gap by just one-third would result in $50 billion in annual fiscal savings and $200 billion in savings from a societal perspective (for example, by lowering rates of crime and incarceration). By point of comparison, they note, total annual taxpayer spending on K-12 education, including national, state and local expenditures, is approximately $570 billion.
More optimism: Darling-Hammond discussed how other nations that HAVE focused on investing in children's welfare and social supports for families and on an equitable schooling system have shown great results. Countries such as Finland, South Korea and Singapore have surged ahead, as evidenced by PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) and other international rankings, in part by investing heavily to ensure that all children are taught by well-trained and supported teachers.
It can't happen here, you say. Maybe. But it can happen some places. While huge funding disparities exist between states and within districts, states that have invested in preschool and other supports have seen reductions in the achievement gap.
"Almost every state has a state bird, a state flag and a state school finance lawsuit," joked Darling-Hammond. But then she brought up New Jersey: After 30 years of litigation and nine court decisions to close the funding gaps between well-funded and less-funded districts, the Garden State made needed investments. They became one of the top scoring states in the nation on NAEP and cut their achievement gap in half -- this in a state with 46 percent students of color and more than a third of the kids living in poverty.
So despite poisonous political winds, maybe it is possible to close the achievement gap and improve the life chances of children and the welfare of our society with targeted investments.
What do you think? Can we refocus on closing the opportunity gap? What will it take?
Steve Cohen is a consultant focused on strategic communications and content development for a range of public interest education organizations.