Read this Post

No, not this post, but THIS post.

Our friend Ann Cronin who blogs for Real Learning CT has done a great Untitledjob of breaking down the Democratic candidates for President in relation to their records on progressive education.

Here’s the link again.

Read it.



Education “Research” So Bad it Deserves an Award

The National Education Policy Center NEPC has released it’s 2015 award for the worst Educational “Research” – otherwise known as the “Bunkum Award”.   We look forward to this award every year because they do a fairly comprehensive job of debunking biased research that privileges a political purpose rather than the generation of new knowledge.

According to NEPC:

This year’s winner is the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, for Separating Fact from Fiction: What You Need to Know about Charter Schools. The National Alliance (NAPCS) describes itself as “the leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the charter school movement.” Separating Fact from Fiction is a fetching, sleek publication adorned with 15 charming photos of smiling children keeping watch over 21 easy-to-digest, alleged “myths” followed by responses that the report generously describes as “facts.” Yet Separating Fact from Fiction might more honestly be titled:

Playing 21 with a Stacked Deck
Blackjacked! 21 Attempts to Club Sound Policy.



Charter school “research” has become very popular lately as private groups seek to cash in on public money in order to create schools that are “superior” to public options.  You can see NEPC’s YouTube Presentation of the Award below and be sure to check out the full story HERE.

Which States Value Public Education? A New Report from NPE Says “Pretty Much None of Them”

The Network for Public Education, an Organization with values and beliefs that align with us here at The Progressive Educator, released a report yesterday that evaluated our 50 states and D.C. according to the value each state places on public education.  In writing the executive summary, Diane Ravitch describes the purpose of the report:

Our report, Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card, evaluates how well each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia support their public schools, based on objective and measurable factors aligned with our values. We promote specific policies that will help make our public schools vibrant and strong—a well-trained, professional teaching force, adequate and equitable funding wisely spent, and policies that give all students a better opportunity for success.

The report then goes on to evaluate each state based on the following criteria:

  1. No High Stakes Testing
  2. Professionalization of Teaching
  3. Resistance to Privatization
  4. School Finance
  5. Use of Taxpayer Resources

Readers of this blog won’t be surprised to find that applying these five criteria to the current status quo of “test-punish-close-privatize-and-profit” results in 8 states with failing grades and no state with a grade higher than a “C”.

We find this report to be interesting because it is an example of how a common education reform strategy can be turned on its head.  In order to perpetuate the myth of public school failure, many organizations that promote education reform produce report cards for states based on criteria with narrow visions of accountability or appropriate disciplinary content.  Not surprisingly, many or most state fail these evaluations.  This makes headlines and results in a renewed rush to find solutions (many of which cost prodigious amounts of money) for the “problems” our schools face.

With the NPE report, you see a different take.  If states were to align their values towards public education with the NPE criteria, they would not only see far less demand for external solutions (i.e. testing regimens, expensive gifts to Teach for America, tax payer supported private charter schools), but more importantly, they would actually align themselves with decades of research that shows the “test-punish-close-privatize-and-profit” status quo simply doesn’t work.

We encourage you to check out the entire report here.

Assigning Letter Grades to Schools? The Danger of a Single Performance Indicator

We recently published a commentary in Teachers College Record that revisits aGrades topic we took up in 2014 – the decision by the Arkansas legislature to require the “grading” of schools.   You can read the first portion of the commentary below and finish it up on the Teachers College Record website.  Free access is available for a limited time.

Assigning Letter Grades to Schools?  The Danger of a Single Performance Indicator

Sixteen states require their Departments of Education to assign a single performance indicator such as a “letter grade” to schools within those states. We take a look at the relationship between school grades and poverty in one of these states. Our analysis indicates that there is a moderate negative correlation between poverty and school performance indicators. We discuss the implications for communities and structural poverty and make a plea to reconsider the manner in which single performance indicators are determined. 

In 2013, the Arkansas legislature passed two pieces of legislation requiring the state Department of Education to assign a single indicator of performance to schools in the form of an A through F letter grade. This decision was met with consternation by those who argued that the system represented an unfair oversimplification of the process of schooling. Christian Z. Goering, Associate Professor of English Education at the University of Arkansas wrote,

“Grading schools based on achievement (or growth) will actually be grading them on their socioeconomic status…I challenge all members of the Arkansas legislature to plop down in their cars and drive around to all of the different towns and neighborhoods in their districts, paying close attention to the size of the houses. All they have to do is count the number of garage doors they see on the houses in a particular district and then return to their offices to rank schools accordingly.

  • 0 garage doors/carport – D or F school
  • 1 garage door – D school
  • 2 garage doors – D, C, or B school
  • 3 or more garage doors B or A school.” (Goering, 2015, n.p.)

We don’t have the time or the gas money to take up this challenge, but we were curious to see if there was indeed a relationship between poverty and the letter grades assigned to Arkansas schools. Researchers have found a nearly perfect correlation between parental income and scores on the SAT (0.98) & ACT (0.99) standardized tests (Orlich & Giffords, 2005). Correlations with ethnicity (0.96) were also nearly perfect. These findings do not imply causation, though other researchers have been able to predict district-level state test scores in Language Arts and Mathematics for 60 percent of school districts in New Jersey based only on percentage of single parent households, percentage of residents with at least a Bachelor’s degree, and percentage of economically disadvantaged children (Turnamian & Tienken, 2012). We reasoned that finding a relationship between Arkansas school grades and poverty was a likely proposition.

Read the remainder of the commentary HERE.

The Progressive Educator Goes On the Road to NH

We are very excited to be traveling to New Hampshire this Friday to give a presentation entitled Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: How Americans Have Been Tricked into Perpetuating the Myth of Public School Failure
UntitledUntitledSo, you know, if you’re in the neighborhood and all, come on by.


Welcome to The Progressive Educator

EduSanity is no more.

Well, there’s more. But it’s different.

When Chris and I launched EduSanity in 2012 we were pretty angry about the course that public education was taking in the United States. In the three years since our launch we have written lots of posts that take on the forces of privatization that seek to profit off the education of our children.

We won’t be quitting that fight.

But things have changed somewhat. Where we once wanted to simply restore sanity to the discourse of public education in the United States, we now have broader goals. Rather than seeing our blog and related endeavors as a reaction to bad ideas, policies and sometimes people, we want to take our work in a more positive direction.

That doesn’t mean we won’t still fire up the righteous indignation when it is warranted.

As avowed progressive educators, we decided that renaming this site “The Progressive Educator” would be a proper reflection of what we want to do.

It’s important to start off on that path by clarifying what “progressive” means in this context. While we tend to think of “progressive” in political terms – thereby associating the word with others like “liberal” or “democrat” – that’s not how we are using it here.

Instead, we like to think of progressive education in the same fashion as the father of progressive education, John John-Dewey-Laboratory-School-1859-1952Dewey, did over a hundred years ago. I won’t bog down this post with citations or quotes, but rather with a simple distillation of the theory in terms the average reader can appreciate.

Dewey knew that in order for education to maximize its value to the human experience, it needed to be in a state of constant change – or more specifically – progress. Progressive educators are those who recognize that education is experience, that our educational experiences must change as our life experiences change, and that educational experiences are only truly educative if they lead to further life and educational experiences.

That’s a very generalized take on a very complex and granular philosophy.  But blogs aren’t necessarily meant to be complex and granular.  It’s enough to know that progressive educators connect meaningful educational experience to students’ lives in a manner that will prepare and encourage them to seek out more experiences. That’s who we are and that’s what we are in the classroom.

This site is named “The Progressive Educator” because we envision it as a space for those who share our philosophical approach to educating students across disciplines and ages. In the future you will see posts related to this purpose as well as posts that look like classic EduSanity diatribes. Its not like we’re changing who we are.

To be clear, we don’t believe that the discourse on public education has had its sanity restored thereby freeing us to move on. But one can only feed off righteous indignation for so long before it becomes debilitating to the energy and soul of the educator. That’s one reason we want to use this space in a more positive way – to write about what we believe in rather than primarily dissecting the potentially harmful beliefs of others.

Our social media accounts are also changing to keep up. If you already follow us on Facebook or Twitter you will see “The Progressive Educator” show up on your Facebook timeline and @T_P_Educator in your Twitter feed. If you don’t follow us you can click on the icons in the left sidebar!

Thanks for the support,

Jason and Chris

I Got To Meet the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans: Here’s the Question I Didn’t Ask Him

Sorry for the clickbait in the title, but this is indeed the question I didn’t get a chance to ask David Johns, who is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

Mr. Johns (Twitter @MrDavidJohns) was at the University of Arkansas to discuss “Paying it Forward in the Black Community”, which was sponsored by the Black Men’s Solutions Summit, a group that partners with businesses such as Walmart and Tyson Foods to provide free, educational, professional, and social development events for African-American men.

Mr. Johns and his message

The presentation coincided with the regularly scheduled time for our class on Progressive Education Policy and I was admittedly skeptical when my colleague Chris Goering suggested that we attend this session with our class rather than hold our regularly scheduled discussion. I wasn’t skeptical because of the topic, educational equity is #1 on my list of concerns about public education. I was skeptical because Mr. Johns works for President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, two of the people who I believe are largely responsible for the plundering of public education by corporations and other private interests. Unfortunately, my disapproval for the federal government’s education policy is so powerful that I am immediately suspicious of anybody who works for it. That’s not fair, but that’s where I am.

However, Mr. Johns changed my opinion of President Obama’s education policy somewhat. He had a powerful message on the importance of love when educating African American students. I believe that love is important when educating all students, and I’m sure that Mr. Johns does as well, though his audience was predominately African American and he heads up an initiative for African American students, so that’s where he went with the message. He reinforced his message by providing examples of black children with amazing academic accomplishments – further dispelling the notion that the success of African American students should be determined by a test score. He spoke of the importance of making sure that “black babies” are enrolled in high quality pre-school programs, which is one of the president’s primary policy goals. He gave the audience some concrete suggestions and places to find resources in order to make sure that African American children have access to similar opportunities as their future white classmates.

As I listened I went from dubious skepticism, to nodding my head along with his presentation, to a feeling of optimism. It seemed that for the first time, I was hearing something from the federal government (of which Mr. Johns is an agent) that really spoke of educational equity. Secretary Duncan has called standardized testing a civil right, though as I’ve said before, the appearance of equity doesn’t make education equitable.

And this is where my question started to form. The one I didn’t get to ask.

I blame myself for not asking the question. Mr. Johns was more than gracious with his time, and there were many members of the audience who had some great questions that he answered very convincingly. I blame myself because it simply took too long for me to formulate the question in my head, and by the time I had it right, time was up. Fortunately, in this space I can pose the question and then expand on why I feel compelled to ask it. So here it is:

“Why do I have to be on a university campus among a predominantly African American audience in order to hear this message?”

To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of Mr. Johns, but rather a criticism of the way in which the federal government has handled education policies surrounding issues of equity.

Nationally, the federal government praises and promotes the proliferation of charter schools – despite the academic research that says they are no better on average than their public counterparts and in the face of research that shows they are disproportionally segregated. African American students are more likely to attend the “No Excuses” charter schools that are far more about controlling black babies than loving them. Secretary Duncan has used his influence to disproportionately emphasize the importance of standardized tests – leading many low income schools to make drastic cuts to anything other than time spent on math and reading. Perhaps you’ve seen this Washington Post story about a student in Newark, NJ who is destined to spend the vast majority of his time preparing for standardized tests rather than receiving a well-rounded education. Ironically, I received an email during the presentation about the hunger strike in Chicago to oppose the closing of yet another neighborhood school. Chicago currently serves as a model for eschewing love in favor of closing neighborhood schools and opening charters staffed with temporary teachers (i.e. Teach for America). Where’s the love?

That brings me back to Mr. Johns. His message was music to my ears but it isn’t a major talking point in the mainstream message coming from our federal government. Aside from the major policy push towards universal preschool, the message that Mr. Johns brought to this audience is lost in the misguided rhetoric of Duncan. The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans is a commendable effort, but in the bigger picture, it reminds me of Black History Month – a special (and segregated) place in education where we pay attention to what we should be concerned with 365 days a year in the mainstream of public education policy.  Perhaps I didn’t look hard enough to find this White House initiative or find Mr. Johns before this event, but my point is that I shouldn’t have to.  Nobody should.

I have no idea what conversations about education on the highest levels of our federal government look like, but I hope that Mr. Johns and others like him are heard in those conversations. I sincerely hope they have a central and increasing role in deciding future policy.  That would give me some hope for the future of all students in this country, especially those who need far more love and far less technocratic nonsense.

Is the Illusion of Equity a Civil Right?

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently gave an interview in which he stated that the federal government “would have an obligation to step in” if states fail to crack down on the parents like me who make the choice opt their children out of standardized tests. He argued that “folks in the civil rights community” want their kids to be assessed. Some took this comment as offensive, assuming that Mr. Duncan was inferring that white people like me who opt their kids out of standardized testing are racist because standardized testing data is valuable for uncovering educational inequity between white and non-white students.

Not surprisingly, since Mr. Duncan is a politician, his interview was quickly followed by a statement from 12 civil rights groups that voiced their opposition to the opt out movement. This statement, which was signed by organizations of great importance such as the NAACP and the National Urban League, seemed to lend credence to Mr. SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE HEARING ON THE IMPACTS OF SEQUESTRATIONDuncan’s claim that opting out of standardized tests is an act of opposition to the civil rights movement.

I took a while to think about this issue, principally because I know that my privilege affords me the opportunity to opt my children out of standardized tests without much fear of personal consequence. I wrote about that privilege in my personal opt out manifesto, which spanned the first 20 days of PARCC testing in Arkansas. Reason #20 for opting out centered on the fact that we can opt out and therefore we do opt out for all of the children who suffer from the detrimental effects that our national fetish with testing have wrought.

I don’t take offense from Mr. Duncan’s remarks because it is difficult to be offended when the affront originates from a place of well-meaning ignorance. I do believe that Secretary Duncan has just intentions when he argues for standardization of educational outcomes through the Common Core State Standards or accountability through high stakes testing. For those who aren’t trained educators, such as the Secretary of Education, the philosophical ideals of “equal” and “equitable” might appear to be the same.

It also didn’t take long for those experts who know far more about equity to weigh in with powerful critiques of the opt out statement.  I’m more impressed with evidence than rhetoric, which is why I found Wayne Au’s piece in the Washington Post to be particularly convincing. I would suggest that you read these critiques because they do a far better job of demonstrating how standardized testing has been far more damaging than helpful to people of color in the United States. The bottom line is that “equal” and “accountable” sound great in a political speech or interview, but in reality they lead to resegregation and the disproportionate denigration of educational experiences for children who are not white.

That’s primarily why I do take significant issue with the manner in which “folks in the civil rights movement” are used as a political chit to promote educational policies that really are not in their best interest. I was even more disappointed to find out that 7 of the 12 have been well-funded by the Gates foundation – one of the top grease providers to the wheels of CCSS and its attendant testing regime.

We need to think about how children are being used to further a political agenda that is harmful to their educational and overall well-being. Are we using data to turn students into “objects rather than subjects” by focusing on the numbers they generate rather than their actual lived experiences? Should those who use children as political leverage be held accountable for the negative consequences that result?

Besides, the argument that we need standardized testing in order to uncover the “achievement gap” doesn’t hold water.  We know that educational inequity in the form of an “opportunity gap” exists between white and non-white students.  It has been documented in any number of books by authors such as Jonathan Kozol, Paul Gorski, Lisa Delpit, Gloria Ladson-Billings, and many others.  They demonstrate how we should be focusing on the disparities that manifest themselves in the “achievement gap” in test scores that Duncan and others hold up as a cause rather than an effect of childhood poverty.  The “achievement gap” is quite misleading because contrary to popular belief, the test score gap between white and non-white students has been closing over the past forty years, yet the opportunity gap between students of different socio-economic statuses remains stubbornly fixed.  What happens if we succeed in closing that gap?  Are we going to be satisfied with the appearance of equality if the conditions that underlie them are anything but?  Will we wait until we have the facade of equity before we look critically at whether the ends justified the means?

Mr. Duncan has no legal authority to “step in” and compel my children or anybody’s children to take his tests. However, he does have the ability to punish states if they don’t “crack down” on parents like me who practice civil disobedience in order to protest the harmful and arguably racist standardized testing regime in this country.   He’s already done his part to compel states to adopt CCSS and teacher accountability systems based on standardized test scores by using Race To The Top money and No Child Left Behind waivers as a powerful carrot/stick combination.  But the backlash has begun in states around the country as state legislatures have woken up to the reality of what they signed on for back in 2010 when they were desperate for federal money.  Pushing states to crack down on their citizens is a path of political danger.  Frankly, a part of me hopes that is exactly what Mr. Duncan does, though his energies might be better spent worrying less about the appearance of equity and critically appraising his well-meaning but unintentionally harmful policies.

John Oliver Gets It

One of my favorite shows is “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”. In our modern age of corporate media, it is becoming more and more difficult to find real investigative journalism. John Oliver does his homework and pretty much nails it with his latest piece on standardized testing.

A Month of Opting Out of Standardized Tests: DAY 20! The PARCC is over!

This is the LAST of 20 posts I will be writing during the PARCC testing window of March 9 – April 10.  If you’re interested in the growing master list of reasons we opted out of standardized tests in 2015, you can find it here.

Reason 20:  Because We Can

In many ways we are the perfect and not-so-perfect parents to serve as a public symbol of the opt-out movement.

We are perfect because we know exactly why we are opting out and can explain it in 6000+ word manifestos that criticize the standardized testing racket with research-backed and experience-based critiques.  This is due largely to my experience as a middle school teacher in a public school, the Ph.D. I hold in Curriculum and Instruction, and the connections I have with teachers from around the country.  If there’s a story out there, I’ve probably heard it and I can relate it to research while throwing in a personal anecdote from my own experiences to make a point.  As a university professor part of my responsibility is to engage in public outreach, so I view my blogging as part of my job, though the “credit” I receive for it doesn’t quite match the effort I put in.  I am also currently aware of the legal precedents surrounding parents’ rights when it comes to educating their child though I’m hardly a legal expert.

On the other hand we are also not-so-perfect role models because our situation doesn’t really reflect the reality that most parents face when trying to decide whether or not to opt their children out of standardized tests.  I haven’t faced the same threats that other parents have faced when informing their child’s school of their intentions to opt out.  Whether that is because they don’t want to mess with a guy who can make a very public mess out of the situation or because our school district is particularly enlightened isn’t totally clear to me.  Then there’s the fact that I just keep our children home with me when they are opting out.  My job allows me the flexibility to work from lots of places (currently writing this at Panera) and home is one of them.  This makes it much easier to opt out because we don’t have to worry about sending our kids to school and putting the responsibility for opting out on them.  I’m constantly impressed by the stories I see of students who refuse the tests, often enduring the “sit and stare” treatment (i.e. they are required to sit and have nothing to do but stare at the wall during the test they are refusing).  Our children don’t have to face that.

All in all, opting out is relatively easy for us.  We are privileged in that regard and it is important for us to recognize that privilege.  But we also believe that it is important for us to use that privilege to do what is right.  It would be arguably more beneficial for us to have our children take the PARCC.  They would undoubtedly score well, which is reflective of their ability and the relatively privileged situation they live in.  They would almost certainly be among the “desired” students courted by schools of choice because their ability and socioeconomic status fit the profile.  That said, we sacrifice relatively little compared to other parents who wish to opt their children out of standardized tests but have a more difficult time asserting their parental rights.

Every parent should have the right to make the choice that has been relatively easy for us to make.  I’ve consulted with lots of parents and most choose not to opt their kids out of standardized tests though it’s usually because they are afraid of the consequences, not because they believe tests are good for their children.  I suppose that’s one of the aspects of standardized testing in the U.S. that concerns me the most.  There are few things that schools can impose upon parents and those that are imposed are designed for safety or protecting the learning environment.  Take immunizations for instance.  Schools require them because there’s a mountain of research that says they protect children, despite what former Playboy cover models will argue.  Still, you can opt your kids out of immunizations if you really want to with a religious exemption.  Yet, when it comes to standardized tests, states are adamant that there is NO exception for opting out.  This is concerning because unlike immunizations, the mountain of evidence about standardized testing doesn’t point to them being all that great for children.

When parents are compelled to subject their children to tests with a fervor unlike anything else in our schools, then one certainly has to wonder why.  Of course, if you’ve read the 20 days of opt-out posts I’ve laid out over the past month then I’m sure you’re not wondering at all.