Guest Post – PARCC Reports

When I received the following email yesterday morning, I temporarily had my waning faith in email restored. Justin Escher Alpert wasn’t a name I recognized and immediately I wondered, given the title of PARCC Reports, who had sold my email address. As I started reading the message, an excellent piece of satire about the educational failure known as the PARCC exam unfolded in front of me. I still don’t know Justin Escher Alpert but he authorized the reprint of this, and I find myself wanting to read more. Enjoy, Chris


Dear Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers:

Congratulations on the PARCC test reports finally coming out.  It will be great for the kids to come back from the holidays to work on where they fell short last spring.  Thanks for bringing it back up.  Without your efforts, it would be very hard to compare our children to those in Washington D.C. or New Orleans… that is… unless we had the means to actually visit and take in the Culture.

One point for your consideration, please:  That the reports were going to be IN COLOR was a major selling point of the PARCC Exam.  Take a look at the attached sample report.  The colors are dull and faded.  It is almost like we cheaped out on ink.  As long as we are reducing our children to two-dimensional depictions, couldn’t we use more vivid colors, if only to evoke the rich full spectrum of possibility that Life has to offer?


Thank you for your continued interest in the few PARCC states remaining.  Perhaps we might compare our lowest-performing schools and work together to fix the underlying socio-economic problems exposed by standardized testing.  The remnants of the PARCC structure would be a wonderful scaffolding to reverse the flow of information and effect innovation at the grass roots level.  Besides, just by sampling the lowest-performing schools, we could extrapolate the issues nation-wide and empower further responsible and accountable local Control.  You know, upon reflection, maybe we could cut back on the amount of testing and just do a statistical sampling.  Nobody ever needed a road map where one inch equals one inch.  You’d spend all of your time cartographing, lost in the details, and sort of miss out on the real-world beauty and adventure of the travel and interactions with People.  Just saying.

That’s all.  Well that, and your science is fundamentally flawed.  If you would like, I could put together a team to show you how to use data more effectively.  There is seemingly a conflict-of-interest bias that affects your results.  Maybe in the beginning of April you could submit your findings for peer review.  A continuing conversation.

Anyway, happy holidays to you and your whole PARCC team.  There is no reason why with critical thinking and rigor, we can’t raise the nature and quality of your work up to our standards of excellence in the New Year.

Very truly yours,

Justin Escher Alpert

Livingston, New Jersey

Money Talks

This is a re-blog of Ann Cronin’s over at Real Learning CT. We do hope you’ll give it a read as we think it’s an important one. Ann’s a smart and savvy colleague working in the best interest of students in our country. Feel free to direct any correspondence to her. 

At first, I felt empathy for Bill and Melinda Gates as they spoke about the Common Core in an interview with Gwen Ifill on the PBS NewsHour. I always feel for people who are talking publicly about something about which they know very little. I then reminded myself that these two people who know so little are actually in charge, almost single-handedly, of American education. That is profoundly wrong. Children and adolescents are entitled to the best education their society can provide. And in a democracy, it is unconscionable for the wealthy few to decide what that education will be.

Please watch this 9:54 minute interview with Bill and Melinda Gates:

If you cannot see the video, please click this link

1. Bill Gates says the Common Core sets high standards, but the Common Core Standards are not high. The Common Core Standards are judged to be harmful and developmentally inappropriate by the most respected early childhood professionals in the country. The math Common Core Standards prepare students for math at the community college level and do not equip students with the high school math to set them on the path for STEM careers. The Common Core English Standards require a pedagogy, popular in the 1930’s and 1940’s but now discredited. The National Council of Teachers of English did not endorse the Common Core. The Common Core is the antithesis of what we know, from John Dewey and many others who have studied the learning process, about how human beings learn because those standards do not teach students to create meaning and construct knowledge.

2. Bill Gates said that the Common Core Standards “have gotten the K-12 progression down”, but the Common Core Standards have not done that. The standards are not based on the cognitive, social, and psychological development of children and adolescents and do not address how children and adolescents learn. Both are required for a K-12 progression.

3. Bill Gates said the Common Core Standards will help students who move from one state to another state, but those standards do not help those students.Standards are not curriculum. Just because using adverbial clauses is part of a Grade 9-10 standard does not mean that it will be taught on the same day or even the same year in Florida and in Massachusetts. There are 188 skills for 9th and 10th graders and no schedule for when they are taught within those two years. To have uniformity of instruction, there would have to be a national curriculum with daily, scripted lessons used in every state at the same time. And that is against the law.

4. Melinda Gates said the Common Core Standards eliminate the need for remediation at the community college level, but the Common Core Standards do not eliminate the need for remediation.  Standards alone never create achievement even when achievement is based on the low bar of standardized tests. According to the Brookings Institute,” the CCSS (Common Core) will have little or no effect on student achievement”. The Brookings Institute report provides data that demonstrates that students in states that adopted the Common Core Standards did not do any better than students in states that did not adopt the Common Core, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the largest and most respected national assessment of what U.S. students know and can do.

5. Melinda Gates said that the Common Core Standards were approved by the governors and state commissioners of eduction, but no governor or state commissioner approved the Common Core Standards. Governors and commissioners voted to adopt a set of standards a year before the Common Core committee convened to write the standards. They had no idea what those standards would be so it is not true to say that governors and commissioners decided that the Common Core Standards were better, higher, or lovelier than the standards the states already had.

6. Melinda Gates said the governors and commissioners of education voted for the Common Core Standards because they knew it was the right thing to do, but doing the right thing was not their goal. They voted for undetermined standards in order to avoid financial sanctions from the federal government for not having 100% proficiency (an impossible goal) as specified by No Child Left Behind.

7. Melinda Gates said teachers believe in the Common Core, but teachers increasingly oppose the Common Core. In fact, the more teachers work with the Common Core, the less they like it, the less they think it’s the right thing.

8. Melinda Gates said teaching the Common Core makes teachers “step up their game”, but teaching the Common Core requires very little of teachers. Teaching the Common Core drains the life out of teachers. Teachers do not need to think critically, plan thoughtfully, and design assessments to evaluate their the students’ growth and achievement. Teaching the Common Core also does not give teachers those rewarding moments in which the they see their students in love with learning and motivated to stretch themselves as far as they can because the learning environment is so inviting.

9. Bill and Melinda Gates equate assessments of learning with standardized tests. The two are not the same. Not even close. Every educator knows the difference between real achievement and standardized test scores. Bill and Melinda Gates must know that too because they send their children to a private school which neither teaches the Common Core nor assesses students with standardized tests.

10. Bill and Melinda Gates said the best part of their work in education was seeing great teachers at work, but they didn’t ask one teacher to be part of creating standards for K-12 education. How great do they really think teachers are? I would bet, in their work of fighting ebola and finding cures for AIDS, they asked medical people to play key roles. Teachers, K-12 curriculum directors, college professors, and researchers who are knowledgeable about how children and adolescents learn could have created excellent standards for education, but Bill and Melinda Gates didn’t ask them.

Bottom line: Money talks. Even when it doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

“Profiting from Those Least Able to Resist”: On the “Promise” of Charter Schools

Day five of CIED 694V: Progressive Education Policy welcomed a guest lecturer from Louisiana State University to talk about charter schools, especially the charterization of the city of New Orleans and surrounding areas. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell is associate professor of Literacy and Urban Education at LSU and coordinates the elementary grades teacher education programs. Beyond living through Hurricane Katrina in the area and bearing witness to what happened in New Orleans–the city is now 100% populated by charter schools–she recently co-edited a special issue of the journal Equity & Excellence in Education on “The Promises of Charter Schools.” The issue was built around a single question: “How is the promise of charter schooling, as a vehicle for social justice in public education, playing out? (Dowell & Bickmore)”

I’ve questioned the motives of charter schools for a host of reasons, including the concept that they are leading to increased segregation of our public school system and the notion that students should not, in any situation, be turned into a profit scheme. To me, charters are a smoke and mirrors attack on public education marauding around as “choices” for parents who might be disenfranchised with their local public school. When I invited Dr. Dowell to speak to our Progressive Education Policy course, I thought I might finally get some nuance to my stance.

Dr. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell provided a guest lecture at the University of Arkansas
Dr. Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell provided a guest lecture at the University of Arkansas

In preparation for class and at the invitation of our guest, we read the introduction to the themed issue as well as a piece by Nancy Picard, a Louisiana attorney who penned Louisiana’s Great Education Giveaway, a lengthy blog post that captures the genesis and repercussions of the New Orleans takeover. Ms. Picard doesn’t hedge language in her opening paragraph:

Instead, [charters] create a separate and wholly unequal educational system masquerading as choice, which serves to destabilize and discredit public schools in the name of improvement and to make state funds accessible to a wide range of individuals and corporations with little or no oversight.

As Picard point by point explained what happened in New Orleans, the way the laws were changed without anyone in the city following the hurricane, the way African American teachers were fired when their school system was dissolved, the way the Recovery School District (RSD) has now spread across the state, I grew ill. Those interested in privatizing education didn’t miss a beat in attempting to take advantage of the crisis Hurricane Katrina left in its’ wake. If everyone in education were to read Ms. Picard’s post, the world might, in fact, be a better place.

She closed with damning words for her state:

Tossing around public school funds like so many Mardi Gras beads is irresponsible, short-sighted, and an evasion of our responsibility to educate all citizens.

That last phrase really stuck with me. Isn’t this what it’s all about, the evasion of responsibility to all citizens? Do we–Americans–really want equality in our schools or our country and if we do, why do our actions not support such when our actions are to sidestep and shirk our responsibility of educating all citizens in favor of engineering and then spending a windfall of cash on unproven charter schools?

Dowell was able to put names and faces to what exactly has happened in the area. As someone who has worked in teacher preparation and as a school superintendent and teacher, some of her research has taken her to these New Orleans charter schools. She related that some schools are “Mom and Pop” charters that operate loosely (she offered the example of a New Orleans East charter which ran out of money to bus kids in March of last year before closing) and others are good schools that reflect the part of the city from which they originated (she mentioned Homer Plessy and Morris Jeff as two examples of great schools). It sounded like the quality of the schools was–at least to some extent–dependent on the socioeconomics of the students from which each schools drew.

What’s happened in New Orleans represents one of the elements to education deform–destabilization, an element that Professor Dowell spoke of during her visit to class. The RSD took out all of the teachers with experience teaching in the area–not to mention deep roots in the community–in favor of quick fixes like Teach for America and other temp workers. Charter schools sweep into an area like New Orleans and provide temporary homes for students (and the all important $$$ that accompany them) and many charters–if the national trend holds–will go out of business, leaving students and parents in the lurch, leaving a path of destabilization one might liken to the destructive path of a hurricane.

Class also spent some time discussing issues related to the special themed issue of Equity & Excellence in Education that Dowell and her colleague Dana Bickmore, co-edited. The pair asked important and enduring questions, ones I think the country writ large needs to consider before opening one more charter school.

“But we wonder, how have charter schools empowered students, teachers, and families/parents, particularly in schools that are comprised of children of color and children from low socioeconomic backgrounds?”

Champions of charter schools are quick to point out that some students are achieving in those schools whereas their achievement was less certain in their former public schools. This achievement issue is a tricky one to navigate because how well students do is important to everyone. But because charters are presently conceived as being in competition with public schools and adhere to a different set of rules than public schools, the achievement issue is murky at best. Of course the biggest factor in this conversation is, again, the amount of income present in the home (you might be detecting a pattern here). As Kevin Welner eloquently points out in “The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment,” when education as competition is a game to be played and there’s hardly a limit to ways of gaming the system.

Part and parcel to that game, of course, is the high stakes standardized testing regime, about which Dowell and Bickmore offered this astute analysis:

We contend that one score as an evaluation tool denies social justice. Other outcomes might be appropriate for children who will live their entire lives in the twenty-first century. These outputs might include democratic citizenship and social responsibility, as well as critical self-reflection around unequal socially constructed relationships and enhanced capabilities of students, teachers, and local communities to address marginalization through race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability.

Let me be clear, Professor Dowell doesn’t see charters schools through a single lens. She wants the best possible learning situations for all students and that is something laudable and about which most of us can agree. When charters become, as I’ll argue they have in New Orleans, a source of profit for outside interests, a problem exists that needs to be addressed.

While touted as promising change for the betterment of children and public education in the U.S., charter schools as an educational reform strategy appear to be more aligned with profiting from those least able to resist. We posit that the shift in what constituted a charter school, coupled with the increase in standardized testing and the commodification and privatization of education, limit the promise of charter schools as social justice-inspired entities.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan might have uttered his most offensive words ever in 2010, calling Hurricane Katrina “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.”

If one’s goals are to risk the education of young people (despite overwhelming reasons to question charters), to change laws to make it easier to privatize a public education system, and to destabilize a region in the wake of a crisis, Arne and many others are “profiting from those least able to resist” (Dowell & Bickmore, 2015).

Who will stand up for them?

To Cursive or Not to Cursive: That’s Not the Point!

EduSanity is pleased to again feature the writing of Dr. Donna Wake, Associate Dean of Education at the University of Central Arkansas and most importantly, Mia’s mom. Donna is a 2011 Teacher Consultant of the Northwest Arkansas Writing Project and has taught nearly all grades through graduate school.

I recently posted a screenshot of a blog post on my Facebook page. The image showed a summary of two bills recently passed on the floor of the state legislature. The first bill mandated a computer science class for all public high school students. The second bill required that cursive writing be taught to all elementary public school students.

Cursive CruiserI posted the screenshot because I found the juxtaposition of the two bills to be startling. While one mandate has a foot in the 1700s (literally the argument was that cursive writing should be taught so kids could read the Declaration of Independence), the other has a foot in this century. A pretty wide spread.

I did not anticipate the flurry of responses that post would receive. Few people commented on the mandate for a computer class, but I was inundated with posts regarding the sanctity and usefulness of cursive writing. My followers told me tales of their children learning to write in cursive and how important that skill was to learn. They accused me of being liberal and left-wing. They accused me of being an extremist and un-American. They fueled each other’s anger with me.

Initially I attempted to defend my position, but I soon stopped and just watched the conversations progress. And soon I began to see what was happening. The fact that this debate, as ridiculous as I found it, even occurred was symptomatic of a larger problem in education. This debate was spurious. Whether or not our children learn cursive simply does not matter.

What is important here is that this debate is distracting us from far more important issues besieging kids and teacher and schools today. Issues such as testing. Such as standards. Such as accountability. Such as merit pay for teachers. Such as the degradation of the public school system and the growing presence of charters and voucher systems.

In short, this debate about cursive writing, and other similarly distracting non-topics, is shifting our focus away from the damage being done to education, to teachers, and to students. It’s taking us away from conversations about how to empower teachers and kids in our public systems.

Furthermore, laws like this “cursive mandate” are symptomatic of a system where lawmakers with little to no background in education are making rules that impact larger numbers of kids, teachers, and families. Cursive is a faded skill for a reason. We no longer give a grade in penmanship for a reason.  There are bigger and more important issues on which to focus our attention and time.

So, let me break it down for you. This is what I want my Cursive Capdaughter to learn in school. I want her to learn to think critically. To analyze. To create. I want her to learn to love to read. I want her to invent. To organize. To collaborate. I want her to learn to have empathy and to help others. I want her to criticize. To compare, contrast, and categorize. I want her to make decisions. To assess. To choose. To defend. To find errors. To estimate and measure. I want her to predict. To debate. To listen to and respect the perspectives of others. I want her to design. To modify and mix and meld. I want her to learn to infer and to imply. I want her to explain her thinking. I want her to evaluate her own thinking and thinking and those of others. I want her to learn deductive and inductive reasoning. I want her to solve. To calculate. To break down and then build. I want her to experiment. I want her to dramatize. I want her to role-play. I want her to paint, sculpt, sketch, and model. I want her to prepare and to be surprised. I want her to learn to love learning. I want her to be a life-long learner. I want her to self-actualize, self-regulate, self-direct. I want her efficacy to be strong. I want her to ask questions. Lots of questions. I want her to be learn resourcefulness and problem solving. I want her to take risks and make mistakes. I want her to have voice and choice. I want her to learn to fail and to fail gracefully. I want her to discuss. I want her to value diversity. I want her to advocate for herself and for others. I want her to learn social justice and service to others.  I want her to be happy.

And yes, I want her to learn to write. I want her to write to see her thinking on paper. I want her to write to analyze an argument. I want her to write to interpret her experiences or whatever topic she is exploring. I want her to write so she will know herself. I want her to write to evaluate the world around her. I want her to write to advocate for herself and others. I want her to write because she likes it.

And folks, whether she does it in cursive is absolutely irrelevant.

Reblog: 12 Questions Parents Should Ask about PARCC

Education Blogger Network colleague Marie Corfield posted these 12 questions over at her blog. Given recent murmurs in Arkansas regarding legislation to push the PARCC exam out for at least two years, these seemed timely and relevant.

From her website: Mother, artist, teacher, education activist, former NJ State Legislature candidate, that teacher in that Chris Christie You Tube video, writing about education, poverty, politics, women’s issues, social justice and living in a world gone strange.

12 questions every parent must ask about the #PARCC

      Parents, print this out and bring it with you next time you meet with representatives from the State Board of Education, the ADE, or any administrator anywhere who tries to tell you this test is a magic bullet:
  1.  The reading level of some of the language arts test questions has been found to be several grades above the tested grade. How is a child who cannot read at that grade level and can’t understand the text or the test questions expected to complete the test?
  2. What happens when a student—particularly in the younger grades—doesn’t have the keyboard skills to successfully navigate the test? How is that fair to the child?
  3. If the tests are supposed to be diagnostically useful, how come students and teachers can’t see them to see what students got wrong and where they need help?
  4. If the tests are supposed to be diagnostically useful, how come the scores won’t be made available until the following school year, essentially rendering them meaningless?
  5. Why are the cut scores being determined after the students take the tests?
  6. Why aren’t you concerned that Pearson is advertising for test scorers at $12/hour on Craigslist?
  7. A high school student’s GPA is a more accurate indicator of how well they will do in their first year of college than any standardized test. If the PARCC can ‘magically’ determine college and career readiness, why don’t 4-year colleges require the test for admission instead of the SAT or ACT?
  8. Currently, there are 10 states left in the PARCC consortium. If the test is so fantastic, why have half the states in the original consortium dropped out?
  9. Bari Erlichson, Chief Performance Officer/Assistant Commissioner of Data, Research, Evaluation and Reporting at the NJDOE admitted in a public forum that “the PARCC end-of-year/end-of-course assessments —are not intended to be the… diagnostic form of assessment… that would diagnose and be able to inform instruction… These are in fact summative test scores that have a different purpose than the one that we’re talking about in terms of diagnosis.” (emphasis mine) So, why are we being told they are diagnostic? Why are we being told teachers will be able to use the results to help students?
  10. How do you justify submitting children to this test when many adults cannot pass the sample tests?
  11. Test design expert Bob Shephard has said that “For many of the sample released questions, there is, arguably, no answer among the answer choices that is correct or more than one answer that is correct, or the question simply is not, arguably, actually answerable as written.” How do you justify placing a child’s education and a teacher’s career in the hands of such a flawed instrument?
  12. How do you justify the narrowing of the curriculum, the cuts to the related arts, foreign languages, physical education, and other subjects when so much research shows that a well-rounded education is much better preparation for a productive life?

On School Takeover: “There is a track record and it’s lousy”

Lily GarciaLast week the Little Rock School District was taken over by the Arkansas State Board of Education. This morning I caught a clip of the National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García speaking with a television reporter.

I decided that for today’s post I’d transcribe the audio from the video (ok, actually would transcribe the audio for four dollars) as an attempt to further the record on this important issue. Honestly, I may still be too emotional and upset to write clearly about what happened in Little Rock last week. Tears streamed down my face when I told people from across the country about it over the weekend at a meeting in Memphis. For me, this is what I could do today to help add to the conversation today.

Here’s the video:

Here’s the transcript:

Interviewer: Last week the Arkansas Board of Education voted to take control of Little Rock schools. This less than 6 months after a federal judge granted more independence to the district and ended a quarter century of payments to boost immigration. Our next guest making a visit to our state and with that turmoil as the backdrop, she has lots to take in. She is Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association. Lily, good morning to you. Thanks so much for being here.

Lily Garcia:  Good morning.

Interviewer: First off, let’s talk about your visit to Little Rock. We know a lot going on here, but this was planned way before this decision.

Lily Garcia:  A long time ago I was invited here by our National Education Association members here in Little Rock. They’re so proud of many of the innovative schools that are going on. I’m going to a STEM Academy today. We’re going to be looking at what happens when you have a lot of resources in your schools and even what can happen when you don’t and so this kind of fell out of the sky on this visit and I wanted to come and show my support for this school district.

Interviewer:  Let’s talk about the NEA’s official stance on the decision taken by the state to assume control of the district. How do you guys feel about that?

Lily Garcia: You know, there is a national perspective on school takeovers. They don’t happen often, but there’s a track record and it’s lousy. It’s a horrible track record. It usually ends up with people mixing things up, coming in with some expert and they never ever solve the real problems in that district. The district has problems. It does, but you have another organization here in Little Rock called Heifer and I got to visit some of the Heifer projects. One of the things Heifer says is you have to have the community make the plan. It has to belong to them. You can never bring in an expert with a magic wand that says, “We’ll make all this go away for you.” I think we should listen to that.

Interviewer:  There’s been some criticism leveled at the Little Rock Education Association for failing to work with the district to help prevent this takeover, once making clear the state might take action. How do you respond to that?

Lily Garcia:  I think that you have the educators, the parents, the students, the school board all saying, “We have to come together to solve this problem,” and now that is going to be harder to do when you don’t have a school board, but it can still be done. I think you’re still going to have parents and students and educators say “We love the kids in this building. Regardless of what happens, we’re going to come together and we’re going to find out a way to solve our problems.”

Interviewer:  You’re actually in town to speak tonight at the Clinton School of Public Service. What’s the focus of your speech tonight and will you touch on this?

Lily Garcia:  I will because I’m talking about what works. I’m talking about after 12 long years of No Child Left Untested, Congress is now talking about reauthorizing this law that has turned so many schools into testing factories and what we really need to do to humanize and personalize our schools. I think it will be a message to the Little Rock community, too, because what is working, what we’ve seen working globally, it’s exactly what we need here. You bring communities together, you give them the authority to plan, you give them the resources they need and you can be top.

Interviewer:  Lily Eskelsen García, thank you so much for being here. Your insight is very interesting. Again, you’ll be speaking tonight at the Clinton School of Public Service. Enjoy your time in Little Rock and enjoy visiting the schools that you’ll get to tour today. Coming up next, a quick check of your news headlines before you head out the door. Stay with us.



Methinks Pearson Doth Propriety-ize Too Much

On Friday I received a 188 word email invitation to an “Arkansas Forum” to “learn about and discuss current hot topics in Arkansas academia” from the Pearson company. Invitations like this aren’t all that uncommon; I receive them with some frequency and it seems that every single day there is a book buyer on campus with 3 million titles on her or his electric reader that wants to stop by my office, take a look at my books, and buy them from me. I’ve only responded to either a couple of times, asking them to promptly get lost.

The reason I’m writing about Friday’s invitation is that the message from the education corporation Pearson contained the following 222 word disclaimer:

“Pearson is committed to the highest standards of ethical conduct and does not intend to create even the appearance of impropriety when providing a meal or refreshments to a university employee and we recognize that you are committed to the same standards.  As part of Pearson’s ongoing effort to maintain open, honest, and ethical relations with our customers, we want to ensure that by offering you a meal or refreshments valued at up to $25, neither you nor Pearson violates the letter or spirit of applicable ethics or gift laws or rules (“Ethics Rules”).  By accepting an invitation to attend this event, you hereby certify that you are not prohibited by any applicable Ethics Rules from receiving a meal or refreshments provided by Pearson, that your receipt of a meal or refreshments from Pearson does not require disclosure by you or Pearson, and that you are authorized to make these representations.  You agree to let Pearson know right away if you later learn that your receipt of a meal or refreshments violates any such rules or requires any such disclosure.  If Pearson becomes aware that your receipt of a meal or refreshments violates any applicable Ethics Rule or otherwise requires disclosure, you understand that Pearson may request reimbursement from you for the meal or refreshments.”

What an absurd disclaimer. Why do they feel the need to add something like that to the bottom of a message? I found it interesting that the disclaimer was both longer and in slightly larger print than the message itself.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the Pearson’s connections to the PARCC exam and the fact that Arkansas is still holding on by a thread to the idea that all of our children will be subjected to that this spring. Other than the parent company and the time, I have no evidence that the invitation and the exam rollout are related.

Even though, it made me go hmmm.

Will giving the appearance of propriety help salvage the 17 million dollar payday when the PARCC rides into town?






Will the Left Wake Up to Charter Realities?

The left in Washington is indistinguishable from the right on charter schools, a rare point of agreement in times marked by contentious discord. In 2009, Race to the Top specifically targeted expansion of charter schools and in May, President Obama offered the following words in his proclamation of national charter school week.

“I commend our Nation’s charter schools, teachers, and administrators, and I call on States and communities to support high quality public schools, including charter schools and the students they serve.”

Mr. President, though I support students, teachers, and leaders of charter schools through my work at the University of Arkansas, I won’t support charters and respectfully disagree with the your calls for increases for three central reasons:

  1. Competition. While Albert Shanker’s original vision for charter schools was for innovation, labs where teachers could experiment with new ideas and then, if demonstrated successful, return to the host public schools with those ideas, today’s charters are all about winning and losing. Sorry but when kids are involved, I can’t accept a system setup for some to lose. I’ve never met a single child who deserves to lose or to attend a losing school.
  2. Privatization. I believe that public education should now and forever remain public and that attempts by private industry to engage in the education conversation are duplicitous at best. When larger cities take over failing schools, shutter them, and then usher in companies to re-open charters in those spaces, I don’t believe the greater good of our country or those individual cities rests at the heart of this issue. Several states are experimenting with the same notion: declare something failing, sweep in for a takeover, and then sell it to the highest bidder.
  3. Segregation. My strongest negative reaction to charter schools is the way in which they are serving to provide choices to people. Choice in schooling creates situations where charters are segregating our schools by race and class. With schools more segregated now than before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, and evidence that charters are exacerbating the issue, it seems that our country is taking steps in the exact wrong direction when people vote with their feet.

So how did we get here?

As educational historian Diane Ravitch detailed in her 2010 book, at least some of the roots of these issues began under President Ronald Reagan’s 3C’s initiative for content, character, and choice.

Choice photo

An Inconvenient Truth pronounced Davis Guggenheim a hero of liberals, making his Waiting for Superman, as Ravitch explained, “the most important public-relations coup that the critics of public education have made so far.” Or, as Hermansen-Webb concludes in her 2014 rhetorical analysis of the film, “The growing enthusiasm about charter schools from the political left stems, in part, from arguments for market-based reform that are delivered to liberal audiences through popular culture (p. 533).

It was comments on an article about President Bill Clinton published at Huffington Post in September that gave me some hope that the liberals who were seduced by Waiting for Superman, victims of the blistering hot school choice narrative, were waking up to at least some issues with charter schools.

I’ve selected the following quotes from the comment section because they offer criticism of the charter narrative. Of course these comments are not a scientific reflection of anything.  

“The privatization of public institutions will ALWAYS lead
to disaster.”

“The profit motive can’t be trusted.”

“Funny, we’ve been saying that for years but no one will listen until a famous politician says it? They are motivated by profit, not results.”

“Charter schools are veiled discrimination against the disabled and disadvantaged.”

“And don’t forget to add the racially different to your list! Whether some are passed over for race or the difficulty of getting to the chosen school several miles and neighborhoods away. (Could therefore be a dangerous journey.)”

“Everybody needs to quit calling charter schools “public schools”. They leach public money just like the private prison industry. But we do not call private prisons, ‘public prisons.'”

“Education policy is being determined by people who know little to nothing about education, so the failure of charter schools shouldn’t come as a surprise. These schools are being run by folks who care a lot about making money, and not so much about educating children. And just like with the big banks: deregulation = disaster.”

I responded first the day the Clinton article posted, primarily citing this piece from May. While my comment and a few of the others focused on the segregation issue, commenters were more concerned with the privatization aspect that charters represent. While I deplore that as an unforgivable reality too, the real issue for me and others is the idea of segregation based on race and class.

“Drive to Anywhere, Southern State, USA and look around for the private school and public school. It’s Jim Crow all over again with near complete segregation by race, something a colleague formally linked to expanding charter schools, not only in terms of race but also ethnicity and class. Is this the country we want? […] stacked measurements and positive press don’t obscure the deeper realities.”

Is this the country any of us want?

Iris C. Rotberg’s research published in Phi Delta Kappan in 2014 on the issue offers three specific findings:

“There is a strong link between school choice programs and an increase in student segregation by race, ethnicity, and income. 

The risk of segregation is a direct reflection of the design of the school choice program. 

Even beyond race, ethnicity, and income, school choice programs result in increased segregation for special education and language-minority students, as well as in increased segregation of students based on religion and culture.” 

While some–including President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan–want charter school proliferation, the dangers of doing so, of giving choice to some, seem to far outweigh any benefits.

As Rotberg concludes:

“Proponents of charter schools believe they’re giving low-income and minority students opportunities they otherwise would not have had. That belief is true in some cases; all charter schools do not result in segregation. But far too many do, and the trend is unfavorable.”

Dr. Paul Thomas articulates the big ideas well in a post written in honor, ahem, of National School Choice Week:

“Choice in education is an ideological lie driven by an idealized faith that ignores the negative consequences of choice: some parents choose for their children to drop out of school, some parents choose to smoke with their children in the car, some parents choose to place their children in schools based on racist and classist beliefs.”

Isn’t choice that leads to segregation unconscionable?


Author’s note: Thank you Jen, Brandon, John, and Paul for reading and responding to earlier drafts.


Local Media Takes on the Opt Out Issue, Sort Of

The time is now. This is it. This is the spring semester of testing using the new PARCC exams in Arkansas (and ten other lucky states) and our local media has caught on to the idea that some parents aren’t exactly celebrating this new educational experiment being used on their children.

I opened the January 5th Arkansas Democrat-Gazette with a fair amount of trepidation, assuming I’d find another gooey love story about charter schools or some other misrepresentation of the education profession. Instead, I found an article about parents who want to opt their children out of the forthcoming standardized assessments. While local in scope, the article relates to the growing national movement of people from all walks of life (think way-liberal to way-conservative to moderate to radical) who are opting their children out of standardized assessments in our country. If you’d like to follow their stories, go here, here, here, here, and here for starters.

imgres-19s4nua Just as I was finishing the first article, the local television news station (KNWA) came on with yet another story, and I decided that since the authority on these issues– United Opt Out (–wasn’t represented, I’d take on this issue again. Further, as a reader/viewer of the two pieces of local journalism, I was confused and conflicted. Could parents opt-out their children or not? What is the Arkansas Department of Education position on the issue? Are there repercussions for students or parents participating in opt-out?

The article, “Schools May See Boycott of Tests Aligned with Common Core,” by John Lyon revolves around an issue with the Cabot School District in which the superintendent and director of professional development and testing made public comments about consequences for students whose parents chose to opt them out of assessments, noting that students could be “retained” (superintendent) and “the law says you cannot receive graduation credit, or graduate, if you have not taken the test” (testing person).

My colleague in EduSanity wrote a terrific piece last year about opting his then fourth grade son out of the final No Child Left Behind exams. Fortunately, the young Endacott is attending the Fayetteville Public Schools versus Cabot and won’t have to forgo graduation in seven years and, in fact, wasn’t retained as a fourth grader.


So, this makes me wonder, what are the consequences for students whose parents opt them out of the assessments? Somewhere, perhaps sitting in a padded leather chair while sipping single malt scotch, there sits an attorney who would love to take a $pecial interest in these issues. According to the Arkansans Against Common Core (and other sources), parental rights are protected under the Washington v. Glucksburg Supreme Court Decision (1997) that confirms, “In a long line of cases, we have held that, in addition to the specific freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights, the ‘liberty’ specially protected by the Due Process Clause includes the rights…to direct the education and upbringing of one’s children.” The Washington Post recently featured an article that supports this position.

In their “Arkansas PARCC Test Refusal Get Tough Guide,” the AACC asserts “when the Department of Education tries to bully you, know your rights.” This was one of my favorites.

Bully Tactic #5: Your school will be punished.

Response: How so? Can you please show me the written documentation that outlines how my school is punished because I refused a test? I have yet to find any evidence of schools being punished for lack of testing. Schools have been punished for low test scores and right now the PARCC is averaging a 50-70% failure rate in other states.

Perhaps no truer words have been spoken than “Schools have been punished for low test scores.” Even a casual look around the rest of the country will net several examples (i.e., New Orelans, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia) of what happens next. Schools are identified as weak or struggling or in distress. Next, other entities sweep in to “help” schools by taking them over. Schools are closed and/or converted to charters, private schools, or very large versions of a pigeon mall of America.

If the parents in America wake up in time to pull their children out of these tests, the school privatization through excessive testing game is over. It’s remarkably simple.

I maintain that it should be the right of every parent to make that choice for their child, regardless of the assessment or other activity at school (try to make a child read a controversial book against the will of their parent and see what happens, for example). I’m also quite keen on the idea of instead of having to opt-out of something—an act that feels unnatural to most Americans—making these assessments that have a history of being used against education, educators, and even students, something parents would opt-in for, sort of like they do for photos and everything else.

Let’s revisit the original questions that were either left hanging or not fully answered in the two previous reports:

  1. Can parents opt-out their children or not? Yes but recognize that resistance is possible and as a reminder, this isn’t something about which one should ask, it is an act of civil disobedience. Use the United Opt Out website for support, dig in thy heels, and say enough is enough.
  2.  What is the position of the Arkansas Department of Education on the issue? This remains unclear and perhaps out of their purview. Other state departments have made their position on this issue very clear, see for example my former colleague’s letter regarding this issue in Kansas last year: letter-2_opt-out
  3. Are there repercussions for students or parents participating in opt-out? Not according to the supreme court and while I’m hesitant to suggest that legal action is the only way forward, my recommendation to any parent of a student suffering consequences for opting out of school assessments is that they should seek immediate legal counsel. I also strongly recommend that the governing bodies of Arkansas (and other states) protect the rights of parents by introducing or reaffirming legislation stating that parents, in fact, have the final say on issues like whether or not their children are subjected to standardized testing.

I’ve reached the conclusion that these assessments are sacred to some and are made sacred to others through misguided policy. A smokescreen is cast over all of the issues due to misinformation out there. To assess, by definition is ‘to assist’ but rather than help students, teachers, or schools, tests were co-opted in order to help name and shame poor schools, close those schools, and privatize parts of public education. Regardless of your political allegiance, you’ll probably agree with me that you don’t want a company or group who hold the opposite political view as you to take charge of your child’s education.

It’s a funny thing about rights, if they aren’t exercised, one doesn’t keep them for long.

Inequitable Teacher Salaries Studied by Arkansas Legislature

On September 9th I picked up a copy of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette and read a story about teacher salaries titled “Lawmakers Study Salaries for Educators.” Of course this is something that I care about not only because I used to be a teacher and earned one of those for five years but also because I help prepare teachers at the University of Arkansas for careers in education, careers in which they’ll be compensated for the good work they do.

Let’s start by dispelling any myths: secondary English teachers work harder than any other teachers and they have more planning, reading, and responding (not grading) to do—by far—than any other discipline. Since I used to be an English teacher I’m probably biased, but I stayed up all night responding to papers with some frequency, averaging about four hours of sleep per night during the school week. After each paper I symbolically ran my fingers over the top of my head in a downward motion, my thinning hair thinning right in front of my eyes onto the students’ papers. I’d then tally in the upper corner of the paper how many individual hairs each took—the all time record was a six-page single spaced mess that cost me 22 hairs.

jason-alexander-george-costanza-baldI’ll blame my baldness on those papers, but what really made me lose hair was when I paid bills at the end of each month. Maybe I should say that instead of pay bills, I figured out which bills I could pay and which bills could be put off. I worked second and third jobs, taught summer school, coached football, debate, forensics, and even sponsored the class of 2004 for four years. Supplementing my all-consuming teaching job with other ways of making a meager 300/year stipend is, to date, some of the hardest money I’ve ever earned; my work history includes building fences, machining metal in a machine shop, hauling and stacking alfalfa hay, and mixing for a muffin company, a job which involved an 800 pound mixer and countless pallets of 50lb bags of flour and sugar.

Teaching is a wonderful career, and I’m honored to still be involved with education. The tenor of the policy conversations—especially any of them involving money—make lifting 50lb bags of flour and sugar or hauling 90lb alfalfa bails seem like light work. That aside, I’ve been consistently bothered by the teacher salaries in the state of Arkansas, not to say that our state is any different than others, just to say that I sense a great inequity in the funding system that currently exists. Little Rock Senator Joyce Elliot relates similar feelings in the ADG piece, “We really must spend more time thinking about this because the issue of disparity and maintaining teachers, all of these things are hugely, hugely important all around this state.”

Let’s say that one of my teachers graduated with a Master of Arts in Teaching and took a job at Springdale High School. This first year teacher made $49,029 for the 2013-2014 school year. Another pretend graduate opted to move to across the state to Brinkley, Arkansas. She made $35,950 starting out with a Master’s degree at Brinkley High last year.

Does anyone else sense that there is something wrong with that picture? Maybe it’s just me.

What I see are two jobs teaching, let’s say, ninth grade English that are likely pretty different. I’ve worked some with students and teachers at both schools and while I taught at a school that more closely resembles Springdale in terms of size and mission, I attended a small rural high school in the flatlands of Kansas, a 220px-Brinkley,_AR_009school and community not all that dissimilar to BHS. Is one job more important than the other? Is one job more difficult and if so, which one? Why is there such a gap—nearly $15,000—between pay in these two districts for equally qualified and experienced teachers? If one adds up $15,000 over a thirty year teaching career, there’s a $450,000 difference between teaching at SHS versus BHS.

Why the difference you ask? Property taxes are used to supplement the state provided minimum salary in districts that collect enough of it.

So let me get this straight, the districts that already have more money—people paying higher amounts of property taxes—hire teachers at nearly $15,000/year more than districts that don’t have as much. This sounds to me like a classic case of the rich get richer and poor stay poorer. Since we can likely count the number of garage doors per house in any given district and reasonably predict the school’s achievement numbers, it stands to reason that the districts where wealthier people live are able to hire teachers at a higher salary and they’ll also receive better marks from the state.

These same inequities are true in the northwest Arkansas corner as well and the scenario of two first year teachers from the same class of our professional teacher preparation program here leaving to make vastly different salaries is not imagined or the act of a mistreatment of schools in the Arkansas Delta. In this little corner of the state, one can find the same disparity in salaries by driving nine miles between high schools. This is pure, unadulterated class warfare and Arkansans should expect better.

So, if you, dear honorable members of the 2014-2015 Arkansas Legislature are serious about studying teaching salaries, I’d urge to first look very critically at the formula in place being used to pay teachers. In my way of thinking, the teachers in Brinkley (and all of the other small and/or rural schools) deserve to be paid every bit as much as the teachers in the population centers of our state, if not more. Let’s raise the minimum starting teaching salary to $45,000 and then initiate a plan to create equity—however a bipartisan group defines it—amongst the salary funding formula. We’ll have an easier time attracting and keeping great teachers in the profession, if, in fact, that’s what we want for all children.