November Comments 11/29/2017


Criticisms of Test and Punish and Privatization

Daniel Koretz is a well-respective testing expert. His important recent book The Testing Charade citing Cambell’s law provides persuasive evidence of the  tremendous harm to schools and classrooms from significant test score inflation and misleading results when math and reading annual test results are used as primary measures of school quality. He has chapters on the narrowing of curriculum, deleterious test prep, devaluation of good instruction at the altar of teaching for the test, and outright cheating. Campell’s law: The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

California’s accountability system is attempting to combat some of these deleterious effects and its architecture is in keeping with most of his recommendations. He calls for such changes as broader measures of state and local performance, including measures of growth, building broader tests (even in math and reading the tests only cover a portion of the curriculum), making sure that other measures of school quality are included especially local ones, diminishing predictability of questions to decrease the ability to prep for tests, and, most importantly, orienting accountability primarily to improving instruction not providing consequences.  Still, if we believe his research and recommendations, there is some further work that needs to be done to combat the tendency for publicized test results to drive the system in the wrong direction. This is a worthy topic for discussion and Koretz’s book is a valuable read.

I only have two caveats with the book. Koretz does not like Common Core because of its origins as part of a test and punish orientation and offers the same curriculum for all. But the Common Core as articulated in the California frameworks which also include Science and History/Social Science promotes the very active instruction that Koretz finds diminished by the widespread focus on improving test scores. Discussions on how to teach Common Core’s more ambitious curriculum by school staffs also are a great catalyst for school site team building, cooperative efforts, and continuous improvement.

Secondly, Koretz never mentions the power of effective collective action at the school site and the support necessary to promote it as a worthy objective and important to include in any accountability system.

In an important post Mathew DiCarlo relying on a recent CREDO report questions school closure policies as producing no results but causing substantial community and family damage. He writes:

The primary finding of the [CREDO]report is that students from closed schools ended up making less testing progress than similar students in “low performing” schools that didn’t close. The difference was statistically discernible but very small (about 0.01-0.02 standard deviations). In other words, if you (cautiously) take these results at face value, closing schools didn’t help students, on average.


In addition to no results, school closures cause substantial disruption and collateral damage. Such closures are very controversial, however, and for good reason. For one thing, given adequate time and resources, schools may improve – i.e., there are less drastic interventions that might be equally (or more) effective as a way to help students. Moreover, closing a school represents a disruption in students’ lives (and often, by the way, to the larger community). In this sense, any closure must offer cumulative positive effects sufficient to offset an initial negative effect. Much depends on how and why schools are identified for closure, and the quality of the schools that displaced students attend. In practice, then, closure is a fairly risky policy, both educationally and (perhaps especially) politically. This disconnect between the appeal of theoretical school closures and the actual risks, in practice, may help explain why U.S. educational policy has been designed such that many schools operate at some risk of closure, but relatively few ever end up shutting their doors.


Katherine Stewart writing in the American Prospect has written an important article exposing the extent of religious true believers assault on public education and how the charter movement has been duped by them. The Proselytizers and the Privatizers; How religious sectarian school voucher extremists made useful idiots of the charter movement.

Education Next, a conservative publication, finds the “reform” test and punish effort in Douglas County, Colorado a disaster.

Another persuasive article on the failure of the test and punish experiment. No Child Left Behind: A Deeply Flawed Federal Policy by Helen Ladd.

The much hyped state achievement school district in Tennessee ends after flopping (which hasn’t stopped other states from replicating the idea). Diane Ravitch reports on a copy-cat achievement district in Nevada that has also failed.

Variation within schools is much greater than among schools. Marc Tucker raises the issue that our accountability priorities might be misplaced. Federal, state, and local policy have been based on belief that school variation in performance should be a major driver of policy. But Tucker relying on OECD research points out that within school variation is more than twice as important as between schools variation in science and by implication in other areas. This is consistent with the Coleman reports findings 50 years ago. In the US it is four times greater. The implication for policy  is significant. Variation within schools could stem from school policies on placement, discipline, and suspensions. Or from in-class instructional issues. Or from teacher differences in performance. Common-core and the frameworks contain advice on the classroom issues. Also, school variation means that in most schools there are very effective teachers and,  if the school can create effective learning communities where teachers learn from each other, those effective teachers could be a powerful resource in bringing up the performance of the rest and be part of school collaborative efforts at diminishing variation and offering differentiated instruction. This research validates California’s support and emphasis on site collaboration, instructional leadership, and district support of those efforts to engage in continuous improvement.

Tucker explains: We know where the differences are in school performance.  They are between the rich schools and the schools serving the poor; between the majority majority schools and the majority minority schools.  They are between the schools that can afford to hire the best teachers and the schools that cannot.  They are between the leafy suburbs and the grim inner cities.  In other words, while we know that there are differences in performance within schools, the big differences in student performance, the ones that really count, are between schools.  That’s why parents are willing to spend a lot more to get their children into schools in the leafy suburbs.  That’s why our accountability systems are focused on giving schools letter grades and singling out the poor-performing schools for special attention.

But then there is the graphic in front of me from the OECD titled “Variation in Science Performance Between and Within Schools.”  It tells a very different story.  Out of 68 countries surveyed, between-school variation accounted for 30 percent of differences in student performance, while within-school variation averaged 69 percent.  Hmm.  Maybe what we know is not true.  Among these countries, the variation in science performance is more than twice as much within schools as it is between schools. (In the US it is 20% between schools and 80% within schools). Also see the original charts

American-style Taliban invasion of our public schools by religious extremists.

Ten major problems with Teach for America’s treatment of its teachers.

A teacher’s defense of public education: the good, the deceptive, and the destructive.

Candidates who are speaking up for public education and against DeVos’s agenda are winning.

Peter Greene quotes another libertarian who misunderstands the public nature of our schools and argues that corporations should run public schools.

The problems with grading schools.

The more weight value added test score measures are given in teacher evaluation the flimsier the results. . Another finding by expert that VAMS are inherently biased.

Schools as a community institution played a major part in disaster relief, another example which contradicts DeVos’s insistence that education is an individual consumer good.


Good Instruction

A strong liberal arts curriculum is the best (comparable to California’s standards and frameworks in ELA/ELD, Mathematics, Science, History/Social Science/Civics, Health, World Languages, Visual and Performing Arts, and Physical Education.)

The Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) has produced a report about the implementation of continuous improvement efforts in California.

WestEd reports that based on a Rand survey study, California teachers are significantly more engaged in collaborative efforts to implement a high quality instructional program than their peers in other states. They found:

  • Increased site-based, collaborative professional learning and peer observation reported among California teachers
  • Higher levels of teacher involvement in key school decisions in California than in other states
  • Shifting approaches to standards-aligned materials among California teachers and leaders


Two prominent Americans, Robert Putnam (author of Bowling Alone and civic activist John Bridgeland published an op-ed supporting the revitalization of civic education.

Dr. Putnam and Mr. Bridgeland state: “Another bold idea would be to engage philanthropy in a $1 billion annual campaign to restore American history and civic education to its rightful place in American schools. We need “problems of American democracy” courses that teach students about the importance of bedrock American values, educate them through real-world experience about institutions that secure rights, check power, and enable public service, and provide practical skills to turn the wheels of a diverse democracy to address public problems.”

Commenting on the article Ted McConnell of the Civic Mission of the Schools organization stated: Now is the time for all who advocate for more and better civic learning to re-double our efforts to ensure every single K-Higher Ed student in the nation receives the student centered, innovative civic and history learning, vital to the student’s attainment of civic knowledge and civic skills essential to informed and committed civic engagement.  For more examples please see our Facebook page or Twitter feed: ( )

California initiates measures to revive civic education and engagement for students.



Sam Wineburg writing in the NYTimes about the inability of students to detect fake news.

Demystifying to help struggling students learn. Also see a column on how to study smarter.

Deans for Impact paper on the science of learning.

An insightful examination of the pros and cons of personalized learning.

In the same vein Education Week has produced a Special Report: Personalized Learning; Vision Vs Reality

A reporter embeds in a public high-school and finds competence, love, and dedication.

Over 200,000 kids writing samples were examined. Here are the areas that stumped many of them.

Why fractions are so hard. and



A video from the Learning Policy Institute on the power of performance assessment in Oakland Unified school district.


Technology and the Future

Marc Tucker describes a curriculum for a digital future which combines a strong liberal arts base with critical thinking and technology skills.

A balanced look at the problems and benefits of technology in the classroom by EducationNext. The article starts with the following paragraph: In the most recent issue of Education Next, for example, Susan Payne Carter, Kyle Greenberg, and Michael S. Walker write about their research finding that allowing any computer usage in the classroom “reduces students’ average final-exam performance by roughly one-fifth of a standard deviation.” Other studies have shown similarly dismal numbers for student learning when technology is introduced in the classroom. But continues on to say that in some instances targeted use of technology for enhancement and personalized learning in specific areas mediated by a personal touch can be helpful.

KQED’s Mindshift warns of the misuse of technology in the classroom.

A caution by Kristina Rizga writing in Mother Jones about the potential negative influence on public schools by tech companies advocacy of “personalized learning”. Personalized learning is the latest trend to catch the eye of tech moguls—and Betsy DeVos. But does it work? asking But does it work?.

John Merrow reviews a NY Times article by Singer and Ivory, How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom about how the Baltimore school district got snookered into squandering millions of dollars on technology while neglecting the district’s basic needs including payola and pay to play.

Another article, this one by Thomas Ultican, arguing technology in the classroom is highly problematical.

The Curmudgucation blog warns of the AltSchool failures and shift to an off-the-shelf personalized learning product.

But see a paper on the science underpinning the Summit Learning charter school network.

School and the Future of Work: Ten research papers you should read.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, in many fields there are more science and technology graduates than there are jobs. STEM education is all the rage in the U.S. today, but we may be misleading students when it comes to which type of STEM jobs are in high demand and which are not. New data highlighted by Steve Lohr in the New York Times reveals that the number of students with STEM-related degrees is outpacing many of the job opportunities in STEM fields. For example, there were an estimated 169,000 engineering degrees (bachelor, master and Ph.D.) awarded in 2015-2106. But there are only 51,000 job openings projected per year. This gap holds true in other fields like life sciences and physical sciences. The one exception is computer science . . . where the number of jobs is equal to the number of computer science degrees.

Good jobs which don’t require a four year college degree. and an article in EdSource entitled California Has Millions of Good-Paying Jobs for Workers Without a Bachelor’s Degree.

California poll shows the public wishes schools to do more to educate the non-college bound.


Team Building and Collaboration

Five benefits from collaboration.–and_improved_teaching_and_learning.html?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzRss&utm_campaign=learningdeeply

International study finds teacher collaboration pays off.

School leadership counts for improving instruction—five findings from a major recent report. Key findings:

  • Students perform better in schools with the highest levels of instructional and teacher leadership.
  • Specific elements of instructional leadership are strongly related to higher student achievement: (a) Fostering a shared vision for the school; (b) Providing an effective school improvement team; and (c) Holding teachers to high instructional standards.
  • When teachers are involved in decision-making processes related to school improvement planning and student conduct policies, students learn more.
  • Schools rarely implement the instructional and teacher leadership variables most strongly related to increased student achievement.
  • High-poverty schools often lack the instructional and teacher leadership elements that strongly relate to increased student achievement, limiting students’ potential.


Voucher and Charter School Tribulations

A major, new well-researched report on charter schools demonstrates major problems and negative consequences and recommends policy remediations.

Michael Petrilli comments that some of the better charter schools are shifting from a narrow no-excuse concentration on reading and math and embracing a broader liberal arts curriculum.

Julian Vasquez Heilig tells of the unfortunate history and segregation of charter schools.

Former Ohio legislator explains how massive shifts to fund charter schools has hurt students in traditional public schools.

Ohio charters have terrible college attendance and graduation rates far below regular public schools with harder to educate students One of the more interesting — and telling — datasets now available with the state report card is how kids who graduate from Ohio’s schools perform after they graduate. For example, we now know the percentage of graduates who have a college degree within 6 years, as well as how many graduates have enrolled in college within 2 years of graduation.
Looking at these two metrics, it’s remarkable how bad charter school perform. Overall, Ohio school districts have 5 times the rate of students with college degrees that charters have. And Big 8 urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati. Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown) have twice the rate.

Ohio charters widening achievement gap compared to traditional public schools.

Vouchers don’t improve student performance.

Diane Ravitch reports that for the fifth year in a row every Pennsylvania cyber-school fails to meet state standards.

Debunking the “New Orleans Miracle” The New Orleans Tribune finds fault with the much hyped “progress” in New Orleans charter schools.

The performance of a school touted as a “miracle success story” found to be bogus.

The Poison Fruits of Lax Charter Accountability

Founder of a prominent charter school network in New Mexico found guilty of embezzling millions.

Charter school chief in Ohio busted for stealing $2.7 million from school lunch funds to support a lavish life style.

Charter school principal in Delaware pleads guilty to misappropriating school funds.

The head of a small charter school in Texas paid himself a huge salary while neglecting teacher salaries and student resources.

Diane Ravitch reports on Laura Chapman’s findings of lax oversight on charters in Ohio.

The Orlando Sentinel spent months investigating the $1 Billion voucher-like scholarship program and found massive fraud with little oversight.

In another expose, the Sentinel blew the whistle on the Florida voucher program entitled School Vouchers Gone Wild: A serious problem exposed by serious journalism

A virtual high-school in Indiana has one of the worst records in the US. One of Indiana’s largest high schools ended this past school year with almost 5,000 students, but no desks and no classrooms. The school also had very few graduates — 61 out of more than 900 seniors graduated last year. What Indiana Virtual School did have: Tens of millions in state dollars due to come its way over the next two years, and a founder whose for-profit company charged millions of dollars in management fees and rent to the school.

In Chicago, the inspector general found that large numbers of teachers barred from Chicago Public Schools secured work at city charters.


Report finds that parents often make flawed choices in choosing schools because of lack of quality information vitiating one of the major rationales for choice.

The World Education Blog published an article raising substantial questions about choice in OECD countries titled Does School Choice Really Exist?

Jeff Bryant penned a compelling take-down of a badly argued paper by the Center for American Progress which failed to make a progressive case for charter schools.

An article in the Cornell Law Review by Derek Black, Preferencing Educational Choice: the Contitutional Limits.


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