Tag Archives: national standards

Mañana Nunca Viene

What if our curriculum was as rich as it has ever been?  If children learned to think again?  To create and play with ideas and innovate and imagine and stretch their  logic and bring their innate gifts to bear.

What if kids learned science and economics and geography again?  What if they traced the footprints of Monet? Sang like John Legend.  Wondered at the vastness of space.  The mystery of the ocean floor.

What if we switched off the conveyor belt and closed the factory school?  What if we just abandoned the archaic systems altogether?  What if kids had the time they needed to learn the things that you say they need to learn?  The standards.  The important stuff.  What if we quit pushing them forward as if it is some long inexorable march? What if they stayed till they were ready to fly?  Then we gave them wings.  No more grade levels to box them in… no more rigid tracks that consign them to a direction that is pre-determined and pre-ordained.

No more instant promotions to grade levels for which they are not ready.

What if merely staying upright in one’s desk until June was no longer the crietria for promotion, but rather, a clear and thorough demonstration of mastery?  Authentic. Beyond bubbles and the swift utility of a standardized test.

What if we awoke– as if from some long and stubborn nap that is neither refreshing nor productive– awoke in time to remember that children aren’t standardized and neither are their minds?  Nor their hands.  Nor their dreams.  Nor their journeys.

What if we knew it would take a revolution to set our children free of this?  Would we fight?  Would you?

What if we pushed against the stubborn status quo?  I mean… all of us.  All at once. Pillar by pillar piled in mounds of Ephesian dust. Just like this.

We’ll go first.  We’ll go now.  Mañana nunca viene.  El Milagro.

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Filed under El Milagro, gifted children, innovation and change, spiritual intelligence, standardized testing

CHEATING OUR KIDS

testingThis past week the National Center for Education Statistics released a report that may have been a shocker for people outside of the education industry:  when it comes to student achievement, many of our states are cheating!  Or at the very least, they are cheating their kids.

According to an article in Education Week, their results suggest that between 2005 and 2007, various states made their standards less rigorous in one or more grade levels or subjects in at least 26 instances.

“I think as 2014 looms, … clearly what a lot of states are doing is changing the bar so that a lot more students will become proficient,” said Mark S. Schneider, who served as the NCES commissioner from 2005 to November 2008.

Surprised?

What do you expect from high stakes tests that threaten people’s jobs and their professional reputations? When you have put so much stock in leveraging improvement trends on standards-based tests… you invite otherwise well-meaning people to cheat.  So politicians who run on a promise to “improve public schools” and “raise the test scores’ and “close the achievement gap” will do what politicians do to stay in office.  And by lowering the bar in places like New York, you can create the illusion that more students are getting to grade level on your watch.  Even if they aren’t.

The states are free to establish their own standards and select their own tests to determine who has mastered those standards.  And they are free to define “Proficient” for their own students.  The lower the bar is set, the more students will test at “Proficient”.  And when you compare the students in states where the bar has been lowered to the students in California– if you don’t know those states are gaming the system– you will conclude that California’s public schools are inferior.

This is happening because there are no national standards or definitions or assessments required by NCLB.  It is a loophole for any states that choose to use it.  And how do we know that so many states are sand-bagging their kids?  All you have to do is look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an optional national test that assesses kids in 4th and 8th grade.

In 4th grade reading, for example, the federal study found that 31 states set proficiency scores that were lower than the cutoff for “basic” performance on NAEP. At the 8th grade level, 15 states set standards judged to be lower than the basic level on the national assessment for that grade.

The Northwest Evaluation Association has been reporting on this phenomenon for several years.  They too maintain that it is just easier to demonstrate proficiency in some states than it is in others– like California.

So the pressure gets turned up in California… from the top down.  And what happens?  Schools stretch to get their kids to those higher, more stringent levels of achievement– by any means necessary. And yes… they cheat.

One of California’ most celebrated charter schools is unapologetic in their methods.  They, in effect, have replaced their curriculum with the California Standards Test. They teach the test.  Every day.  And they hand-pick their students and eliminate those who don’t keep up with the daily rigors of “drill and kill”– the doctrine of test preparation.  The result? They are one of the highest performing schools in the entire state with an Academic Performance Index of 967!  The governor sings their praises because they demonstrate that getting all of your students to grade level can be done.

govBut the California Department of Education (over which the Governor presides)  forbids the practice of test preparation.  Regarding advance preparation for state tests, the California Code of Regulations, Title 5, Section 854 (a) states:

Except for materials specifically included within the designated achievement test, no program or materials shall be used by any school district or employee of a school district that are specifically formulated or intended to prepare pupils for the designated achievement test. No administration or use of an alternate or parallel form of the designated test for any stated purpose shall be permitted for any pupils in grades 2 through 11, inclusive.

So they are cheating!  At least in spirit. But even worse, they have stripped the curriculum and the school of the real things that matter: the 21st century skills, the arts, technology.

And not to pick on one school, this practice is rampant in the state.  Teachers, by necessity, must provide daily test prep in one form or another to meet the accelerating expectations on the federal law, and their Governor, and their school boards.  And they must focus on the narrow scope of standards that are tested– especially language arts and math.

So they are all cheating their kids.  And one day soon, they will realize that for their collective zeal to game (or survive) a very flawed testing scheme… our students will pay.

our kids

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Filed under charter schools, public education, school reform, standardized testing

A RACE TO THE TOP

tour djpegAfter the 10th stage of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong sits in third place.  Amazing.  What an athlete.  The Tour de France has to be one of the most grueling events in competitive athletics and he continues to put himself in a position to win in that legendary bicycle Race to the Top

Now that has a ring to it: “The race to the top.” And evidently President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan think so too.  In fact, they have set aside BILLIONS of federal dollars as part of a stimulus package to encourage states to “race to the top” in school reform.

At this point in the race, however,  we don’t have many details.  For example, no one seems to know what the rules are for the race or where exactly  the “top” is.  There definitely is a “Race to the Top Fund” that is a component of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that Congress approved in February, but there are no guidelines to tell you when you win or when you lose or even when you can climb off  your freakin bicycle and have a cold gatorade.

arnejpegPundits seem to think there are some clues in Duncan-speeches that suggest that the states on the inside track in this epic Race to the Top  are those who 1) are committed to improving low performing schools; 2) states that are lifting caps on charter schools; 3) states that are big on improving teacher quality; 4) states that are moving their data systems into the 21st century, and 5) states that are on board with the whole “national academic standards” drive.

Given that description, states that are in the back of the pack about a small French village away from the leader group, include: 

• Alaska, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas—because they don’t want to play the national standards game.  

• Indiana and Maine because they  are considered “unfriendly” to charter schools.  Shame on them.

• California, New York, and Wisconsin who are all guilty of constructing “firewalls” between student and teacher data.

• Illinois because, in general,  their school system (even under the leadership of Arne Duncan) just suck.

The current leaders… that is, those who are vying with Lance Armstrong for the yellow jersey include:  Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and Louisiana. (Nearly 70% of the schools that re-opened in New Orleans after Katrina are charter schools!)

up hillSo I wonder…  as the facts and the details of the Race for the Top Fund come to light, what kind of pressures will individual states bring to bear on their schools?  California is facing a $26.5 billion deficit and while the federal money won’t bridge that gap, it would certainly encourage re-investment into the system.  It would suggest we are headed down (or up) some positive path and maybe that we have a half a clue of how to catch up with the race leaders and sprint to the finish.  

I wonder if Arne Duncan is prepared for the kind of innovation that the lure of $5 billion can buy.

Billions of dollars on the table.  Bragging rights.  A poorly fitting yellow jersey that nevertheless looks pretty nice on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  New standards and expectations. 

I suspect that high stakes testing is about to get higher stakes.

lance

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Filed under California budget, California charter schools, charter schools, President Obama, public education, school reform, standardized testing