Saturday, February 4, 2012

NCLB Waiver: False Advertising

There is much misconception among legislators, teachers, parents, and members of the public regarding the No Child Left Behind waivers as they do not realize that it does not get rid of NCLB. We are not free.

Instead, it keeps high-stakes testing, ties teacher performance to test scores, labels schools, and demands adherence to Common Core Standards in order to get funding and release from the 100 percent 2014 goal, and that is just for starters.

The NCLB Waivers are nothing more than blackmail to get all states to adhere to the Race to the Top principles pushed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. While many states are applying for the waiver rather than be labeled as failures in two years when the 100 percent meeting requirement goes into effect, some are not.

Furthermore, the waivers are not innovative. They are a template of what the federal government's design of what our state's education reform plan should be. What ever happened to local control? This is from the NCLB Waivers: The Devil's in the Details:

"ESEA Flexibility Requests

This all started when 11 states had asked for waivers, after the DOE announced they would offer a "flexibility package" from some provisions of No Child Left Behind, especially ones the states felt they couldn't reach by the target dates set by NCLB. States submitted what is called an ESEA Flexibility Request. This link will take you to a Word document which spells out exactly what should be in the request, and how it should be organized. It's really a template that all states must use to get the waiver."

California refused to apply stating that the waiver is an unfunded mandate and will cost the state 2 -2.7 billion dollars to implement. Furthermore, California is concerned about the new rules of the waiver which require states to tie teacher evaluations to test scores, adopt the Common Core State Standards, and to remediate the bottom 15 percent of schools.

Diane Ravitch was recently interviewed on what we can learn from California's choice to not apply for the NCLB waiver. She said:

"If California could send a message to other states, it should be this: There are no easy answers, no quick fixes, no solutions that can be supplied by Washington. We are all involved in the job of school improvement–parents, students, teachers, administrators, the local community. We must work together to raise up the next generation, to make sure they are healthy and prepared for good lives as citizens of our society. Our public schools are and will continue to be a vital part of our democratic society. We must improve the schools by making sure that every child in every community has a full and balanced curriculum. We must require that every school has an arts program and physical education. Our future as a state and nation depends on the education we provide today.

Other states, like Montana, had wished Duncan had frozen the state academic mandates in this time of economic crisis. They also questioned cost and whether the waivers would do damage to local control over things like teacher evaluations. Other states are concerned about and strings being attached to the waiver and what the waiver plan would mean if ESEA were reauthorized with changes that were different than that of the waiver. With so much up in the air it seems that the process should be slowed or be given a reprieve in these tough economic times.

In other states, leaders had the vision to question what the trade off really was for applying for the NCLB waiver. In Oregon, sadly, this wasn't the case.

Here in Oregon, if one listened to public input on the waiver plan, the plan would look a lot different: no high-stakes testing, no teacher evaluations tied to test scores, and no narrowing of the curriculum. You would find a plan that values teachers, small class sizes, local control, education funded in a quality an equitable way, a well-rounded education with plenty of opportunities for all of Oregon's children, assessments judged by our state's teachers that shows student growth, and wrap around services. However, instead when the waiver was paraded around the state, input was allowed, but not really valued as the waiver application was submitted in the middle of all the scheduled public input meetings. In Ashland, for example, teachers and schools express frustration by the lack of details, costs, and appreciation of valued public input.

In this legislative session, the question should really be about whether or not we want to apply for the waiver. Instead, it looks like it is a done deal the way that the Governor and OEIB want it.

In any event, now the focus will be on the Achievement Compacts. While one can only hope that perhaps the AC's will go away, the speed at which all of these reforms are coming along in our state is alarming. It will be up to the public and legislators to demand details, because while we all want a better education system for all our children, the question really is one of philosophy and in how we get there.

Our legislators need to slow this process down and really think about what the consequences will be for making these choices. The state needs to have a real dialogue with educators and the public and make an effort to really listen this time.

So far, any questions that have been asked such as cost, narrowing of curriculum, and how to address poverty have been met with vague answers at best. Leaders of the education reform plan seem to hope it will just all work out, and that if they can just get it all started, then the questions will go away.

It won't be that easy.

We at Oregon SOS urge you to email, call, or visit with your legislators to ask these important questions. Many are overwhelmed with the demands of a short session, but they need to hear your input. I just met with one of mine, and the information and questions were truly appreciated.

If you can attend any of the public meetings listed on our events page, that would be another great way to be heard. Talk to your friends, your children's teachers, and principals about concerns. Talk to your school board. Talk to your neighbors and family too. Every little bit helps.

Also, attend the Strong Schools = Strong Oregon rally Monday, Feb. 20th and help support the message that our state needs to provide and fund quality schools to our children and the generations that will follow. Bring the kids.

Make our voice one that will not be ignored. Our children are depending on us.

The Data-Driven Knowledge Economy

Shopping for budget-busting colleges busts dreams. Wouldn’t a “shopping sheet” that compares financial aid packages and earnings and employment information be a benefit to parents and students?

Not if that shopping sheet generates a bad bill of goods that also costs your privacy.

President Obama, outraged by out-of-control college costs, recently appealed to University of Michigan students.[1] Through competition, the White House hopes to spur state reforms that reduce college costs and encourage college completion. States would have to maintain their funding levels for higher education and align entry and exit standards from secondary education and community colleges to help promote on-time graduation.

These ideas were conceived at an early December meeting[2] between the President, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and college leaders and foundations. Western Governors University[3], Lumina Foundation[4] and the Delta Project[5] were invited. The American Association of University Women[6] and the American Association of University Professors[7] were not.

But the gestation of these ideas has been even longer.

Data systems to me are at the heart of this reform effort...we need comprehensive data systems that do three things. One, track students throughout their educational trajectory. Secondly, track students back to teachers so we can really shine a spotlight on those teachers that are doing a phenomenal job of driving student achievement. And third, track teachers back to their schools of education.

Secretary Duncan, EdWeek Interview, March 2009

Certainly, these goals fit well with “outcome based budgeting” and “achievement compacts” proposed by the Oregon Education Investment Board.[8]

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided more than $100 billion for education to “save jobs and support innovation.”[9] Project ALDER[10] (Advancing Longitudinal Data for Education Reform) is the ARRA funded data system[11] for the Oregon Department of Education (ODE).

An educational database that extends into the workplace requires a common denominator. The social security number is personally identifiable information that links wages to name. While personally identifiable information can be “de-identified” and correlated to make conclusions about education and work outcomes, this takes a lot more effort. And pooling all this information in one big warehouse makes it even easier. That’s what Project ALDER proposes to do![12]

The legal eagle may wonder, doesn’t this violate FERPA[13] (Family Educational Rights and Acts) privacy laws?

Not with recent rulings coming from the U.S. Department of Education. For while there should be “reasonable methods” to ensure that “authorized representatives”[14] who conduct educational research must protect and destroy data, states have wide latitude in creating these databases.

Nonetheless, states must have plans “to mitigate the risks associated with intentional and inadvertent data breaches.”[15].

Project ALDER’s legal advice came from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE). WICHE includes Oregon and fourteen other states, working “to improve access to higher education and ensure student success.” [16] With funding from Ford, Lumina and Gates Foundation on policy and workforce development, WICHE explored FERPA barriers at a December 2008 conference.

Former US Department of Education attorney Steve Winnick[17] advocated, “FERPA needs to be interpreted or, as necessary, amended to harmonize these state and federal policies.” He pointed out that “Under a 2002 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Gonzaga University v. Doe parents and others may not sue a school or school district for alleged violations of FERPA.”[18]

Brian Prescott, Director of Policy Research for WICHE, and Peter Ewell, Vice President for the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, wrote how a multi-sector, multi-state data resource might be designed and governed. “The rise of a globalized knowledge economy requires us to understand the distribution of skills and abilities in our population. It is no longer sufficient to know how many resources are devoted to the development of our nation’s human capital.[19]

Oregon’s has ambitious goals for its knowledge economy: 40-40-20 by 2025[20]

· 40 percent of adults will have earned a bachelor's degree or higher.

· 40 percent of adults will have earned an associate degree or post-secondary credential.

· 20 percent of adults will have earned a high school diploma, modified high school diploma or the equivalent of a high school diploma.

Even Lumina Foundation has less ambitious goals[21]: To increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by the year 2025

There’s a big problem with this grandiosity. 2010-20 labor statistics project that 2/3 of the occupations projected to have the most jobs "require less than a postsecondary education, no related work experience, and short- or moderate-term on-the-job training."[22]

In Oregon, “the fact is there are many job openings that do not require post-secondary education.”[23] This 2008 report notes, “(S)ome individuals believe that at least a post-secondary education will be essential for today’s young people to qualify for the jobs of the future. While this… may be a laudable goal as we seek to improve the standard of living for future Oregonians, it is not a requirement for the likely jobs of the future, based on the known current trends of Oregon’s economy.”

  • Only about one fourth of Oregon’s projected job openings (including both growth and replacement openings) will require post-secondary education in order to meet the minimum requirement for the job. (Graph 13)
  • More than half of Oregon’s projected job openings will require post-secondary education if the job applicant wants to be really competitive for the position (Graph 14).

The economic collapse has worsened job prospects. Perhaps that’s why so many college grads are competing for Starbucks jobs?

How do we reconcile all this with “The Critical Connection Between Higher Education and the American Dream?[24]” Lumina, Gates and Ford Foundation workforce projections are behind the myth of this oft-made claim: “While unemployment hovers at nine percent nationally, employers are still struggling to find enough workers to fill the skilled positions that they need to grow.”

Political satirist Jon Stewart illustrates this absurdity on the Daily Show in this January 31st clip, “Pander Express.”[25] A Texas woman appeals to President Obama through an online town hall. She says her engineering husband with ten years experience has been unemployed for three years. He replies, “If you send me your husband’s resume. I’d be interested in finding out exactly what’s happening right there.”

What kind of demagoguery does Rush Limbaugh spew in response? “Your idiot husband should be able to find work!”[26]

Microsoft has led the way for “permatemps” devaluation of professions. Over twelve years ago, Gates paid $97 million to settle a claim brought forward by 8,000 to 12,000 people who claimed they were denied benefits while working for the software behemoth.[27] Only retirement ended his efforts lobbing Congress to expand H-1B visas for foreign workers.[28] Microsoft is the #1 corporation for H-1 B visas.[29]

The billionaire Harvard dropout and Steve Jobs, the Reed dropout, expressed their opposing views of education last year.[30] Jobs believes it’s less about the system structure and more about free will; individuals should chart their own course. Gates said, “…we need to raise performance without spending a lot more.” We just need reliable disaggregated data so policy makers can allocate limited resources to produce a higher yield…

There are red flags raised over the data stored by Project ALDER. The data is warehoused at Oregon State University’s Open Source Lab, a nonprofit that depends on platinum sponsors like Google to fund its operations.[31] As the website boasts "Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

And more red flags rose over a no-bid contract with Microsoft SQL.[32]

Why would I question the good work of Microsoft’s cloud computing and data mining capabilities? Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters sees red too.[33]

Here’s where former Portland Public Schools Superintendent Vicki Phillips fits in. As Gates Foundation Director of College-Ready Education, she blogged about the Shared Learning Collaborative.[34] Haimson notes the Gates Foundation funded $76.5 million to give eight participating states free access to open-source software. The vendor of choice to “build the open software that will allow states to access a shared, performance-driven marketplace of free and premium tools and content”? Phillips further gushed about Wireless Generation, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp [35]

Last summer, Murdoch’s phone-hacking scandals seemed to kill New York’s $27 million data project. In December, the New York Board of Regents approved a revised plan that awards competitive contracts to multiple vendors to build similar tools.[36] New York will participate in the multi-state Shared Learning Collaborative. The ‘Shared Learning Infrastructure’ enables “vendors and developers to create applications and content that can interface with the SLI,”[37] allowing further development of the database at “no cost” to taxpayers.

So when Project ALDER’s advice to the U.S. Department of Education is to: "Turn your vendors into partners. Give them buy-in to the project and make sure that they know you value their opinion,[38]" we know that means.

The flags I’ve raised could be just the red, white and blue flags of patriotic do-gooding corporations and wealthy elite. But we should heed the words of President Kennedy.

We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. Mythology distracts us everywhere. For the great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie: deliberate, contrived, and dishonest. But the myth: persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.[39]

Look at your narrative and throw away the myths. Does the knowledge economy enlighten the global collective or skew more money and power to those who use knowledge to serve their purposes?

Humorist and self-acclaimed grad school drop-out, Benson Bruno published Evergreens are Prudish in 1983. He wrote, “We need to save the forests. I have a big warehouse we can store them in.”[40] I know an ALDER that just needs sunlight![41] [42] [43]

[23] Working in Oregon… Now and in the Future, Oregon Employment Department Workforce and Economic Research

Friday, February 3, 2012

OEIB Vocab 101

A shout out goes to Stacia Rosenau for her effort to pull this lingo together for her PTA group. She graciously allowed us here at Oregon SOS to post her work in order to help education others who feel overwhelmed by all of this education reform and OEIB terminology. Thanks so much Stacia!

Waiting for Someone to Step Up

Excellent piece by Jennifer Schuberth that challenges the Oregonian and Governor's idea to just push forward on the OEIB education reform plan to include the NCLB Waiver.

QUOTE: "I'm waiting for someone in Oregon's leadership to step up and tell Oregonians the truth they already know: You can't educate kids on the cheap. Unless we start having that conversation, unless we start making simple changes like instituting smaller class sizes, the governor and his board are simply rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I want to see Oregon students do better, but movement is not equivalent to progress. What I see at OEIB meetings and within the proposed education legislation is opportunities for private entities such as K12 Inc. and Western Governors University to make money while our children sit in larger classes and take more tests that make them hate learning. "

Jennifer Schuberth is an assistant professor of religion at Portland State University and co-founder of CORE: Calling Oregon to Reinvest in Education.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Who Should We Really Hold Accountable?

This piece by Superintendent John Kuhn, hits the nail on the head:

1) poverty is a huge problem that those in power are ignoring

2) who in the decision-making realm is held accountable to help develop an education system that helps to alleviate and remedy the effects of poverty on a child's education?

Instead, these very same people are trying to hold teachers accountable to solve this instead. I am a teacher who just spent and entire day teaching and then had conferences until late tonight. I barely had time to say goodnight to my own children. Still, I love conference night. I love meeting parents and helping their children. I teach good kids, but the struggle from the effects of poverty: illiteracy, busy working schedule, struggle to meet basic needs, etc... These kids need something more: time to do homework after school, parent outreach, family support so they don't have to be the family's primary caregiver after school, books in their house, school supplies, and food for starters.

The policymakers here in Oregon refuse to address these issues. They ignore poverty hoping it will just go away, and believe that if we just hold our teachers accountable even more, then this problem will be solved. Sorry to say, but this it is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars to go forward with this OEIB plan. Instead, they need to finally talk about providing equitable funding and a quality, well-rounded education to every child in this state. And they need to ask their teachers, parents, and students what is important in developing that.

When I think of all the time and energy that has gone into reinventing the ed reform wheel, it is frustrating, as the same amount of time could have gone into solving our funding problem. The public spoke to this fact at each and every OEIB public input meeting. The question is: will they listen? Time will tell.

"I say baloney. Poverty can be contained; it's just that no one wants to do it. "Inequality is inevitable" would make a really pathetic national motto, wouldn't it? So quit screaming at me to put out these fires faster and admit just once that there's an arsonist on the loose. "

John Kuhn

The Trouble with Outcomes

By Steve Buel

Outcomes are the new mantra in education. Programs cost money and are no longer how educational “experts” wish to measure education. You can get improved outcomes by being smarter and more efficient. Having better systems. And you can measure them. We can know if what we are doing is working or not. Data allows us to hold educators accountable, to make sure we are getting the results we want and even allows educators to hold themselves accountable. Outcomes – the way to go.

But there is a problem and it pervades the entire idea of outcomes. Focusing on outcomes limits education itself. Take something like understanding the first amendment to the Constitution. If I want my students to be able to list the five basic freedoms of the first amendment then outcomes works great. Students can be measured on whether they know the five freedoms. But if I want my students to understand what these five freedoms mean, have a real sense of the role they play in society and in the creation of our democracy, be able to have a knowledge of the role they play or might play in their own life, and learn to be sophisticated in critically thinking about this topic, then outcomes get in the way.

If I focus on measurable outcomes I create some interesting problems. First off all students won’t even remember the five freedoms after a short period of time. I hardly know any adults who can state them. Yet those five freedoms are the basis of the freedom in the greatest free country ever devised on the face of the earth. So you can’t make the argument they are not important to know.

Further, if I focus on measurable outcomes none of my students will have any real understanding of what these freedoms actually mean because this type of material is not seen as important because it can’t be accurately measured. So the students coming out of my “measurable outcomes” class will have a substantially worse education than students whose teachers have expanded into areas which take more thought and critical thinking.

Now try to work this problem backwards as the educational proponents of outcomes do. If you say I want to teach what I can accurately measure then I am left with knowing there are five freedoms and what they are. But if I work backwards stating that I don’t care if I can accurately measure the result of my teaching or not but want my students to have a sophisticated understanding of the many roles the five freedoms play in America then my teaching will be much more powerful and my students will be much better educated.

So, when the new state achievement compacts state that we want to have the outcome of a certain percentage of test scores, or graduation rates, we are in the first case limiting the breadth of education our students are getting, and in the second case ignoring the incredibly complex story behind a student dropping out. In effect, we are choosing the weaker educational approach.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Belief Only Carries Us So Far

My heart is breaking over comments made by well-intended folks that if teachers just believed in their students, they can bring them out of poverty and into the arms of an ivy-league school. If I could, I would save every kindergartner that walks through my door of every injustice and societal failures they have and will continue to experience. In a recent article written in The Atlantic, “What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success” Anu Partanen points out the success in Finland’s school comes down to equity, “'There are no private schools in Finland.’ This notion may seem difficult for an American to digest, but it's true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.” Everyone is provided an education that all in the community has a stake in, and in turn all want to see succeed. “Finland's experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity. The problem facing education in America isn't the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad.”

Let me come back to this idea that if a teacher just believes that his or her students can learn that will make all the difference. I grew up in North Portland. I attended public schools that were rich in diversity: language diversity; ethnic diversity; income level diversity; and diverse life experiences. I had the same teachers, as others in my neighborhood, with passion and rigor in their teaching. I went on to graduate from college (double majoring in English Literature and Spanish with a minor in Latin American Studies) and onto graduate school in Early Childhood Education with a focus on Bilingual Education and English Language Learners. Some of those I went to middle school with went onto college, some did not, some ended up in jail, some filling the statistics of teenage pregnancy, or others wandering the neighborhood to this day (15-20 years later) dealing and/or doing drugs. I know that our teachers cared. I know that our teachers believed in every student that walked through the door. I know this because I was in those classrooms. Why did my life take a different path than some of my classmates? Yes, my being a white middle class girl had something to do with my privilege in life. But so did the excess of books that filled my home, the dance, music, and theatre lessons I did after school many days a week. I had the opportunity to swim on a swim team for many years. My parents graduated from college. I had the stability of living in the same house throughout my whole childhood, I still show up today and know there is food in the fridge I can eat. My parents supported my decision to study abroad when I was 16 years old and I flew to Argentina for a year on their dime. My father had a living wage job as a union carpenter to help pay for that year abroad. All of those factors helped support me to become the well-rounded individual I am today.

Now I am that teacher, like teachers I had before me. I can believe all I want that all my students can learn, which I do. I can believe that they all can achieve greatness in life, which I do. I can believe that global warming isn’t happening, yet that doesn’t mean it will stop the glaciers from melting at a more rapid rate. I can believe that my friend will overcome cancer, yet see her die. I can believe that the earth is flat, yet have it proved a sphere. 

Belief only carries us so far. I can tell you what I know from teaching in a high poverty school. I know that I can be the best teacher I humanly can be when students fill my classroom. I know I cannot control my students moving away because mom moves in with a boyfriend, dad goes to jail, homelessness, mom’s sick in another state, eviction, and many other causes of mobility that many of my students face. I know the importance of a relationship that allows me to connect and encourage my students and their families. I know that some parents will walk in the rain to make a parent meeting, while others will never show up at all. I know that I may or may not be able to get a hold of a parent by phone because so often phone numbers are either disconnected or wrong. I know that I will get new students throughout the year who may or may not come with any school ready skills. I know that books are probably not as cherished in my students’ households as cable television and video games. I know I can make an impact in my students’ education and life, but I also know I only get that student in my classroom for 7 hours a day for less than a year. I cannot control or save them from their everyday lives.

I can and I have helped by translating for a family moving into new apartment. I have driven Thanksgiving baskets to students’ homes and presents for Christmas. I have bought and given many books to my students. I have taken students on special outings to the Nutcracker and the zoo. I have driven families to the vaccination clinic so that their child would not be excluded from school. I have bought clothes, soap, backpacks, and much more for students. I have laughed and cried with my students. I have 29 students this year, the most I have had in my 5 years of teaching kindergarten. I teach in two languages Spanish and English. I want each one of my students to leave kindergarten loving learning, school, and leaving with rich classroom experiences. I dream big dreams for each one of my students. I watch them make huge growth socially and academically throughout the year. I wonder what happens to my students who leave the school after that year or the next few years. Or the ones who make it through and than go on to the awkward and challenging years of middle and high school. I may never know, but I try my best to positively influence their lives and their education. Life doesn’t always give us an answer. Life is not a standardized test, my choices are not always A, B, C, or D. There is a whole alphabet, many outcomes. I can believe all I want, but I don’t get to choose the outcomes for my students. I may cultivate their hunger for learning and pray that hunger never dies.