Friday, July 21, 2017

How To Recruit Teachers

There isn't a teacher shortage. Not really. But there is a shortage of districts and states that are successfully attracting people to teach careers. If I can't get a dealer to sell me a Lexus for $1.98, that does not mean there is an automobile shortage. The "teacher shortage" is really a shortage of $1.98 teachers.



Something is wrong. Not only do we have a drastic drop in the number of proto-teachers in the pipeline, but the profile of the teacher pool is off. The teacher pool is overwhelmingly female and white. Males and minorities are not represented in the teaching force in numbers that remotely resemble the demographics of our student population.

So how do we get and keep the teachers that we need?

After all, it ought to be easy. No other profession gets to pitch itself to every single young person who could possibly pursue it. So what are we missing?

To understand how to recruit teachers, we just have to remember how the teachers we have found their way to the classroom. And the most important thing to remember is how they start.

It's not a deep, complicated thing. Almost every teacher in a classroom started out as a student in a classroom, and that student had two simple thoughts--

1) I kind of like it here in school.

2) I can see myself doing that teaching thing.

That's it. If we get a student to harbor those two thoughts in his teenaged cranium, we have successfully created the seed from which a future teacher could grow. But looking at those two thoughts can also tell us where our edugardening has gone awry.

Kind of like it here.

No excuses. Speak when you're spoken to. School to prison pipeline. Assumption that black and brown students are a problem. Crumbling buildings. Lack of even basic supplies like books and paper. Curriculum that is centered on test prep. 

None of these are going to make a student feel as if school is just like a second home. And schools that carry the greatest weight of discrimination and mistreatment are the greatest anti-recruitment. If you have made a student feel unwanted, unwelcome and unsupported in school at age fifteen, why would that same student consider returning to school at age twenty-two?

I can see myself doing this.

The most fundamental part of this is the modeling of staff. It's hard (not impossible, but damn hard) to imagine myself doing a job if I can't see anybody like myself doing the job.

Beyond that, students will be influenced by what they think the job is, the job that they see teachers doing. Are male teachers of color responsible for breaking up all the fights in the building? Do coaches get to follow a different set of rules than other staff? Do lady teachers have to keep their heads down and never talk back to a male boss? Do some teachers spend half their time doing drill and drill and worksheet band dull, boring drill? Any such unwritten rules are noted by students, and factor into how appealing the job might be.

Do students see that teachers struggle financially, holding down extra jobs to make ends meet? Do students see their teachers treated with respect? Do students see teachers supported with resources and materials, or do they have to buy supplies out of their own pockets? Do they see the job turned into a low pay, low autonomy, de-professionalized drudge? These factors also affect whether students can see themselves living the teaching life.

The Path

Of course, there's more care required for these early seeds reach full flower. College teacher programs may support the fledgling teacher or throw more obstacles in the path (I often wonder how many male teachers of color we lose to repeated "Well, what the hell are you doing here?") Then we get to the luck of the draw with the match-up for student teaching, and finally, the problem of individual district hiring practices.

The Circle

And then we arrive back in the classroom, where the person who was once a student may have to withstand one more assault on their desire to teach. And we don't have time to get into all of that yet again.

Retention is a huge problem, easily as big as recruitment, but here's the irony-- the recruitment problem and the retention problem are the same problem, because the best way to recruit the teachers of tomorrow is by giving support and respect to the teachers of today. You cannot dump all over today's teachers and expect students to say, "Oh, yeah, I'd love to jump into that pool of pooh."  You cannot reduce teaching to mindless meat widget drudgery and expect students to say, "yes! Someday I want to be a soul-sucked functionary, too."

Of course, there are folks out there for whom the death of the teaching profession is a goal, not a problem. But for the rest of us, the path is relatively simple and clear. Elevate and support the teaching profession, and the people who look at it in action every day will want to join in. If you want good seeds, you have to tend to the plants that are already growing.




Dear E: Mind the Old Farts

Dear E:

You have landed your first teaching gig straight out of college. That's a great thing. Back in 1979, I landed my first job on the sixteenth try-- and then was laid off at the end of my first year, after which I came back here, where it took me several more years to move from covering sabbaticals to getting a job of my own. And as you know, it took my wife several years to finally land a gig of her own. Despite everything you've heard about a teacher shortage, it can still be tough to land a job straight out of school, so kudos to you.

You're getting packed and ready (congrats on the new apartment) because you leave in about a week, so I won't get to see you long enough to ramble on like an old teaching fart. Instead, I'm just going to write you letters which I'll stash here where they're easy to find. You are both a former student and family-- it's the least I can do. Ha.

You're headed for Kansas, which means you are probably going to encounter that a species that exists in almost every school-- the cranky old farts.

Cranky old farts are not always actually old; I've known teachers who were cranky old farts in their twenties. But when I say "mind the old farts" I mean it in the same way as "mind the first step" or "mind the poison ivy by the door."

Cranky old farts will not only tell you why you're making a mistake to work in their district, but why you should avoid teaching altogether. Kansas in particular has had it pretty rough for several years now, and I expect that many of your future co-workers are feeling pretty beaten down. They are going to tell you how the pay sucks and how the work conditions suck and how the gummint is totally screwing up the teaching profession these days.

Ignore them.

It's true that education is a complicated minefield these days, and it's true that in your career, you won't be able to close the door and safely ignore everything that's going on outside.

But this is the work you have been preparing for for four years now. You are excited about this, and you should be, because this is exciting and important work. You are going influence the course of peoples' lives. You are going to run your own classroom. You are going to be a real by-God teacher, and that should feel pretty damn awesome.

You do not have to apologize to anyone for your excitement and enthusiasm or the time and effort you put into doing the work. When people ty to bait you into denigrating the job ("Boy, you must have been desperate to take a position here"), you are absolutely entitled to fix them with your big, youthful smile and say, "I'm happy to have a job here. Who wouldn't be?"

Don't get bogged down in the side crap. There will be time in you career to worry about all the other stuff, but for right now just go ahead and put all your time and energy into doing the work the best you can. This is going to be one of the most intense, amazing, exciting years of your life-- savor that and don't let anybody take away from that.

Love, PAG



Thursday, July 20, 2017

Petrilli's Retro Stool Sample

At the Thomas Fordham, Mike "Ed Reporters Call Me First" Petrilli is engaged in a little summary, prognostication, and cheerleading for philanthropists, but mostly, a retelling of many favorite  reformster tales from yesteryear. "Education philanthropy and the unfinished business of policy reform" opens with what may well be a True Thought--

The era of hyperactive education policymaking is about to come to an end.



The states will take back power through ESSA plans. The DeVosian voucher dream will die in Congress. The USED will lapse into sleepy inaction. In short, Petrilli envisions the center of action to be shifting away from lawmakers (oh, please, let him be right this time), and so his eyes turn to the philanthropists.

Petrilli and I probably disagree about what constitutes philanthropy these days. Modern Phauxlanthropists aren't really giving gifts to Good Works, and their work is no more philanthropy than when I hand a tailor a "gift" of money in hopes that he will "gift" me with a pair of pants. If you expect some Quo for your Quid Pro, it's not philanthropy-- it's a transaction.

Petrilli uses some Very Special Language to cover that-- my personal favorite is when he starts to sum up Our Story So Far and says

Yet over the course of the past two decades, generous philanthropists helped to build a robust policy infrastructure that rests on high expectations for students.

Emphasis mine. That is a great, great euphemism, and sounds so much more generous than, say,

Over the past two decades, some rich guys have spent a lot of money creating pathways for circumventing the democratic process in this country.

Petrilli is here to talk about the "three-legged stool" of standards-based reform, and what a stool it is. The three legs are standards, tests, and accountability. You know, I think I've seen this stool before. Let's take a look at those three legs of the stool that Petrilli declares "finally sturdy"

Standards

Petrilli notes that the Common Core are still out and about in some form, and if by "in some form" you mean "shambling decayed zombie version of their former selves" then, yes, they're still about, under new names and with far more alterations than the 15% additions that were originally allowed. They look different everywhere, but I think the most important thing to remember about the Core is that after several years, classroom teachers have performed their own adaptations to the original standards, throwing some things out and putting some things back that the standards originally called for. Everyone who says they think the standards are awesome is lying about following them.

Because, and I can't believe we have to have this conversation again, the Common Core standards are junk. No, they will not turn our children into communist lesbians, but they're junk. They were created without any teacher input, and it shows. They were created without any reference to standards in other countries, and it shows. And they were created without any conversation ever about whether or not having a bunch of standards really improves the quality of education.

Testing

Petrilli says that half of the Common Core states still use the PARCC and SBA, which is a clever way of saying that hardly any states use these tests, which turned out to be expensive and, again, junk. After all these years, there isn't a lick of evidence to suggest that doing well on the Big Standardized Test is indicative of anything except doing well on the test.

These are by far the most toxic byproduct of reform, as test-centered accountability has pushed every school in the country to teach to the test-- and even if the test was awesome (it's not) and measured really solid standards (it doesn't), teaching to the test is still educational malpractice.

Accountability

Yeah, we don't have that, either. In fact, after years of throwing the word around, we still don't have any idea what we're talking about. Accountability to whom? Parents? Students? Taxpayers? Government bureaucrats? Politicians? Thinky tank guys? Philanthropists who want to see a return on their investment? And accountability for what? Growth? Ready for life? Meeting needs of students? Job preparation? Helping America? Helping the students? Helping the community? Teacher quality? School quality?

We don't really know what we mean by "accountability" and not surprisingly, we don't have any kind of measuring instrument that works. VAM is a ridiculous botch, and we don't really have anything else! Test scores. That's it-- the desired outcome of the great American institution of education is supposed to be a good score on a bad test.

So, Next?

Petrilli hears that Phauxlanthropists are looking for their next big investment opportunity, and his thought is that they should turn from "policy to practice." It's not enough to have Gates and Walton and Broad telling me what the underlying policies of my work should be-- they should now hunker down and tell me exactly how to do that work.

Mind you, Petrilli thinks they should keep their eyes on the stool because those legs are " under relentless attack from traditional education groups and libertarians alike" (so welcome, libertarians, to the resistance, I guess) and again, I can't say this enough-- those things are under attack because they are largely junk, and while a decade ago they were speculative junk, they are now tested-and-failed junk.

Now that we’ve got a set of stable, rigorous standards; challenging, honest assessments; and fair, transparent school ratings, the action is in helping schools help kids make progress. Funders are wise, then, to focus on new initiatives around curriculum development and adoption, student assignments and grading, next-generation professional development, and efforts to integrate technology and personalized learning into the classroom.

No, Mike. Just, no-- we don't now have any of those things. And no, I do not need some amateur hour philanthropist writing my curriculum for me or telling me what assignments to give or how to grade them. What in the name of God's green earth makes you think that Bill Gates or Eli Broad or any other deep-pocketed money-tosser knows anything at all about how to do these things?

But Petrilli is sure that teachers are handing out high grades "willy-nilly" and principals are just shuttling students through and Kids These Days are graduating all stupid and stuff. So as we fix education, we must be sure not to involve any actual professional educators, because they are screwing everything up (wow, it's like it's 2012 all over again).

Petrilli does identify computer-centered Personalized Learning as something fraught with all sorts of problems.

So what's the solution to all of this chicken littling?

And the only answer that stands up to scrutiny, I fear, is standards that are actually enforced. We need external assessments of whether students have demonstrated their competence and are genuinely ready for their next step. That inevitably means more testing—and real consequences linked to student performance.

But here's the thing-- we do not know which standards must be met in order for a student to proceed to her next step. We don't. And "real consequences" for failing the test can only mean one thing-- held back a grade and/or denied a diploma. Do we have any proof that such things help? Or is this just one more manifestation of that old Grumpy Old Fart impulse-- "Dammit-- these kids are going to do as I say, or else." Because any real teacher can tell you what a mistake it is to go down that road.

Notice, too, where we need more responsibility to land-- not on efforts to minimize the impact of poverty and racism, but on kids who need to suck it up. As with classic reformspiel, there is no acknowledgement that factors outside school matter. We just need to rustle up some standards and consequences and those kids won't be distracted by their poverty or hunger or the fact that their school is collapsing because the Powers That Be don't want to waste a bunch of money fixing up a school for Those Peoples' Children. Nope-- we just have to push the kids harder.

And what retro party would be complete without this classic:

That’s the sort of policy that other advanced countries take for granted, and that help to explain their superior student performance

Yes, once again we are reminded how a nation's students scores correlate directly to that nation's international success. That's why Estonia is a world leader-- because test scores.

I realize you can't raise money by announcing that a crisis is over, but this is just old rewarmed hash, a pile of "We need bicycles because a vest has no sleeves" and "If I keep saying something is true, that makes it true." Petrilli's stool is barely a frisbee, and it's long past time to toss that discus into the bay so we can go looking for a different stool.




Back the Hell Up

And there it was, the question cutting through the various nuanced and complicated discussions of the various threads of ed policy, privatization, and the Newest Big Thing for making a buck in education changing the face of education.

What do you want?

If you don't like X or Y or Z, what is it you want?















Here it is. My short, simple answer for what I want to see in a perfect world.

I want bureaucrats and politicians and business people and profiteers and other interested amateurs to just back the hell up and let the professionals work.

When the call goes out for an expert in education, I want the call to go a real live experienced classroom teacher. This morning Jose Luis Vilson has a great piece about the need for teachers to view-- and treat-- ourselves as experts. I want that.

There's more I'd like. I'd like the US to really commit to great education for every student, instead of quietly being okay if Those Kids don't get it because that would be expensive. We're unwilling to admit that we're okay with lousy schools for Some People's Children as long as it's not too expensive, and so instead of making a spare-no-expense commitment to education for every child, we get politicians and bureaucrats and profiteers trying to figure out a way to support public education on the cheap and at a profit, while wrapping it in a bunch of rhetorical bullshit so that it can pretend to be more than it is (personalized-ish learning, common core, even charters, et al). We are having way too many conversations in education where one's side position is, "I don't really have any expertise in this field, but I believe X would be a great way to look like we're doing better without too much money or effort or allowing teachers too much autonomy, plus somebody could make money selling this." This is all bullshit. I'd like a real conversation about how to really get great education, really, to every single child. Because the conversations we're having are too often (not always, thank God) fundamentally dishonest, and dishonesty is just tiring.

Just give us the tools we need. Hell, treat us like the military and give us tools we only sort of think we might maybe need. Let us get the training we need (and let us decide what that is).

And then back the hell up and let us work.

Accountability? Hell, yeah. Come sit in my classroom. Come ask me what I'm doing and why. Ask my students about the class. If you don't like what you see or hear, come talk to me about it. But don't try to micromanage me and give me a million items to tick off on a list and write my lessons and curriculum for me because you're sure that if you could just remote control me, I'd do a better job.

Back the hell up and let me do my job.

Let me study up and become an expert in my subject area, and let me practice up to become an expert in the actual work of teaching. Let me figure out how best to meet each student where she is and help her move further on the road to her own best self. And yes-- trust me to exercise my professional judgment.

Yes, I know I'm fantasizing here, that there are a plethora of obstacles to implementing my vision and stakeholders to read in and just general reality. But you asked what I want, and bottom line, this is what I want--

Back the hell up and let me work.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The "Real" Reformsters

The Center for Education Reform is a pro-privatization group that has, at least, the virtue of not pretending that it has any interest in building bridges or honoring any single part of public education. Where other reformsters may be thoughtful or interested in dialogue or evolving over time or staking out a rhetorical middle ground, CER is the Yosemite Sam of the reformster universe, leaping in with guns blazing and mouth flapping. Give them this much-- you don't have to wonder what they're really
thinking.



Take this classic piece from 2014-- "How To Spot a Real Education Reformer"-- in which some unnamed CER functionary combines a codification of privatizer creed with a straw man assault on the rest of us. It's an instructive piece because it does list the hard-core reformster talking points.

These days, everyone is “for” education reform. But when everyone claims to favor “reform,” how can you tell the real reformers (“the doers” who are focused on real results for students) from the rest (“the talkers” who are more concerned about maintaining the status quo)? 

Got that? Nobody actually opposes any reformster ideas-- those folks with reasoned arguments against this stuff just don't exist. But Nameless Functionary will now walk us through the tenets of reformsterdon, topic by topic.

Education in General

Real reformsters don't admit poverty as any sort of excuse. RR believe that the only accountability is accountability based on test scores. Parents should have control of who gets the money attached to their child. And innovation should happen because the US education sky is falling.

 Big fakes talk accountability without explaining it, "banter on" about how poverty actually affects students, and try to claim pre-school as a growth for old, faily public ed instead of letting privatizers stake out that market unchallenged.

You'll note that the tune for the accountability polka has changed a bit since 2014-- choice fans are less attached to the idea of test-based accountability now that it hasn't worked out so well for choicey programs. In fact, CER just cranked out a whole book on the theme of "Maybe we shouldn't get so picky about accountability and test scores." Weaponizing test results was only attractive when the weapons didn't bite reformsters in the butt.

Teachers Unions

Real reformsters know that unions suck and stand in the path of every good and true reformy idea. Contracts and job security somehow make people not want to be teachers. RR understand that the public school system is just a scam for the unions to suck up tax dollars for their political purposes

Faux reformers-- well, I'm just going to cut and paste this, because if I paraphrase the hatred here you'll think I'm just exaggerating for effect:
  • Issues gobs of praise for the teaching profession, for teachers in general, and begins to make excuses that the job is really much harder than most realize and never fully addresses what stands in their way.
  • Discusses, proposes, or advocates having an honest conversation with the union leadership, who (s)he sincerely believes wants what’s best for children.
These fake reformsters might even brag about having developed a policy by collaborating with teachers. Such people are traitors to the reformy agenda and must be purged. Teachers suck and have no interest in educating children, nor do they care about children or communities or anything.

School Choice

Real reformsters support parent choice, and the focus on creating an "environment" where lots of education flavored businesses can thrive. Because really, it's all about using education tax dollars to provide private businesses with entrepreneurial opportunities.

Fake reformsters bring up "misleading claims" that vouchers don't actually work. Oh, Jeanne Allen of 2014-- if only you could have known then how great 2017 would be for people who want to deny research and science and facts.

FR also make comments about how choiice schools cream and don't have to take all students as public schools do. Nameless Functionary doesn't even try to offer a theory of how those folks are wrong, though NF does allude to the old market-competition-improvemenyt baloney.

Charter Schools

Real reformsters want to see charters authorized by independent groups (aka unelected folks who don't have to answer to the taxpayers whose money they spend on charters). RR also-- and this is kind of astonishing-- believe there is no magic formula for judging what a “good” charter school looks like during the application phase. So those independent authorizers should exercise no oversight at all. Anyone who wants to start a charter should get the tax dollars to do it.

FR make excuses about why their market might not be good for charters. They speak against for-profit charters which, Functionary tells us, do not actually exist! Oh, and watch out for those who "support" charters by advocating to lift caps. There should be no caps. Charters should get all of everything they want, always.

Performance Pay

Real reformsters understand that we "honor" teachers by making them compete for piddling pay, because nobody really wants consistent, reliable pay.

The fakers only want some of teacher pay to be based on performance, or to let local district define excellence in various different ways. This is bad, apparently-- just pay teachers based on students scores.

Federal Education Policy

Oh, 2014. What fun times those were. Real reformsters wanted to tweak NCLB, but believed that the feds should only gather data and conduct nonpartisan research to support policymaking. Fake reformsters thought RTTT actually accomplished something, and thought the waivers were swell.

Of course, now that we have Trump-DeVos in DC, let's just forget about that part where the USED only does research and collects data. Let's go ahead and grab the reins and just slam vouchers into place from coast to coast, with federal money. Turns out that powerful activist federal departments are just fine when they favor your policies.

Digital Learning

Which always makes me think of counting on my fingers, but never mind that. Real reformsters love online learning because-- and again, I'll cut and paste-- reformsters recognize

the role businesses, which have transformed the nation’s infrastructure, can play in the creation and delivery of online learning.

The fakers think online learning should be developed and managed by school districts (who are they to hog all that money). Also, beware of people who think you've innovated if you just stick a computer in each kids' hands. Okay, they're right on that one.

Curriculum and Standards

Another ghost from 2014. Real reformsters know that standards aren't enough by themselves, and that the Common Core must be backed up with other stuff. Beware people who hate the Core or who think it's anti-American. And especially beware people who say "doozies" like this one that could be "uttered by phony" reformsters.

“We believe learning should be child-centered.”

Where have we heard that? Oh yeah-- it's a central pillar of DeVosian education philosophy. She says it a lot, even more often than she has nodded to her many supporters who believe that Common Core is un-American and must be scrapped. So I'm betting that CER has shifted its policy position on this particular point.

Jeanne Allen (CER's head honcho, face and voice) has lobbied hard for DeVos, and why not. DeVos shares her hatred of union, her disrespect for teachers, and her desire to get those sweet, sweet tax public tax dollars into private corporate pockets. If she has to sacrifice one or two of her previously-held sort-of beliefs to get a seat at that banquet table, well, never let it be said that CER is above realpolitik.

In the meantime, bookmark this so that the next time you're wishing that a reformster would just come right out and say what she's after, you can read a piece from one who did, untroubled by nuance, reflection, or scruples. This is not the whole reformster movement, and CER is not the arbiter of what "real" reformers believe, but it is the reformster movement's most bald, bare, avaricious, backwood-looking corner, and while other reformers have moved on to more nuanced, reflective stances, it's important to remember-- and keep an eye on-- the folks who haven't.



Did SAT Unmask Grade Inflation?

The story was carried by USA Today and rapidly picked up by much of the Kids These Days press-- the good people at the College Board have discovered rampant grade inflation as illuminated by the SAT, as witnessed by variations on this lede:

Recent findings show that the proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average — that includes an A-minus or A-plus — has grown sharply over the past generation, even as average SAT scores have fallen.


Like many education stories, this puts some thins together that have nothing to do with each other. Let's pull apart the pieces, shall we?







SAT Score Dip

The span discussed is 1998 to 2016. During that span, the average SAT score (on the 1600 scale and without the worthless writing portion) dropped from 1,026 down to 1,002. So, just a few questions we need to answer to know how exciting this is.

First, is a 24 point dip significant? That's hard to track down. This source from the College Board suggest it would mean about 3 percentile points. But folks at Fairtest (who don't work for the College Board) peg the margin of error at 60-- so the "drop" would fall well within the margin of error.

Second, are the populations who took the test comparable? That's a no. Since 1998 the folks pushed to take the test have grown, especially in states like Illinois where every student must now take the test. So over the span we've added way more students who would not have taken the test in 1998, which would tend to lower the average.

Third, did both populations take the same test? Again, no. The College Board under new boss, Common Core creator David Coleman, has worked hard to revamp its signature product over the past decade, so we are comparing scores on two entirely different tests.

Conclusion? This reported "fall" of SAT scores is a big fat nothing burger with a side of self-serving PR sauce.

Reminder about The College Board

Despite its high-sounding name, the College Board is a business, and one of the products it sells is the SAT test. Sales of that test depend on students buying the chance to take it and college buying into the notion they need it to help make a decision.

With that in mind, note this quote from Michael Hurwitz of the College Board, the lead researcher on this little project:

He said one of the goals of the research is to "make sure that college admissions professionals are equipped to make the best decisions possible.”

Hurwitz also calls the grade inflation piece of the findings "really stunning." We'll get there in a moment, but here's what you need to remember. The number one rival of the SAT is not the ACT-- it's student GPAs. Studies show that high school GPAs are a far better predictor of college success than SAT scores, so who even needs SAT scores at all?

It is absolutely in the College Board's financial interest to try to erode trust in high school GPAs, just a surely as it makes sense for Ford to suggest that Chevy's aren't reliable. Hurwitz is not an impartial observer without a stake in the outcome of this research. This is the tobacco institute doing research on healthy lifetsyles (You know, jogging can be very harmful for you).

Grade Inflation

Recent findings show that the proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average — that includes an A-minus or A-plus — has grown sharply over the past generation, even as average SAT scores have fallen.

In 1998, it was 38.9%. By last year, it had grown to 47%.

That's USA Today again, and boy would I like to see the specific research behind both of those numbers, because I sure don't personally know any school where half the graduating class has an A average. So I have some huge questions about where those numbers come from.

Am I going to swear up and down that grade inflation doesn't happen? No, I'm not. But it's hard to believe there could be that much (I am sure someone will correct me in the comments). But do parents push for better grades? Do students put themselves in lower-than-challenging levels (particularly in senior year)? Do some special ed supervisors declare that students with special needs must get a passing grade? Yes (but not usually an A!)

It also occurs to me that in the age of differentiation, we make much more effort to match the course requirements to the student's ability, which might lead to better grades all around. 

But I'm not going to defend grade inflation-- it's not a good thing where it happens. I'm just highly doubtful that it happens this much. And when it's being reported by someone who has a stake in discrediting grades (see above), I'm extra doubtful. I guess I'll have to wait for the book.

And as the story rips around the conservative media world, that's just how it's playing. Participation trophies for all the little snowflakes-- that's why we need leadership that will kick ass and take names and give really low grades (just not to my kid). It's the damn teachers union.

So I wish USA Today had reported this story a little more thoughtfully. Reporter Greg Toppo does report that Hurwitz is with the College Board, but doesn't really examine what that means in this research. That's a disappointment. Just remember to fill in those blanks for all the people who are about to confront you with this story and say, "So, what are all you lazy cheaters up to, anyway?"

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

FL: Third Grade Readers Lose

And another sad chapter in the Floridian assault on education comes to a sad close.


We've been following this story for a while. Florida has a third grade reading test requirement-- Florida's third graders must show they can score high enough on the state Big Standardized Test, no matter what else they've done. Florida's "Just Read, Florida" (because the way to get students to read is to just insist they do it) is like many versions of this bad idea, and last May, a handful of families put it to the test (with the stubborn assistance of their county school systems-- not all Florida counties chose to be part of this exercise in idiocy).

Some children opted out of the Big Standardized Test, so their school district declared that despite the fact that some of those children had exemplary report cards, they would be denied advancement to fourth grade. By the end of the summer, the whole sorry mess as in court. That case was gobsmacking in its wrongheadedness, including the moment in which the state argued that teacher-issued grades were meaningless.

But by the end of the summer, sense and decency had prevailed and the state's rule was not only set aside, but subject to some scolding. The parent goals were commendable:

The goal is to have the statute, which allows third grade retention, found unconstitutional and unenforceable. The implications of a positive outcome from this case are significant and far-reaching.

It didn't matter. In September some of the school districts chose to ignore the court ruling, and took it all to the court of appeals.

The court of appeals ruled in favor of stupid, in fact opening the door to some novel legal; actions by declaring

The purpose of the state test is to “assess whether the student has a reading deficiency and needs additional reading instruction before [and after] being promoted to fourth grade".

The test can only achieve that laudable purpose if the student meaningfully takes part in the test by attempting to answer all of its questions to the best of the student’s ability. Anything less is a disservice to the student — and the public.

So, I guess, eight year olds in Florida can be arrested for not trying hard enough on the BS Test. Also, good to know that the court of appeals has such expertise in reading education that they know the difference between a laudable policy and a stupid one.

The group of parents fighting this case decided to take their last shot by appealing to the state supreme court. That attempt is now done, and the results are not good. The state supreme court has chosen not to hear the case. The ruling seems to be based on the notion that the suit was filed in the wrong court. So that sucks.

What sucks more is that the final outcome maintains Florida's power to flunk any third grader who refuses to take the test, regardless of any other academic indicators. In fact, the whole mess of a ruling would seem to suggest that Florida intends to ignore the part of ESSA that explicitly recognizes parental rights to opt out.

The parents stuck their necks out for this-- the process of appealing has cost about $80K in legal fees and their gofundme is short of halfway there. If you'd like to thank them for making the effort, you can still go chip in to cover some of these costs. There's not a lot to take comfort from here-- the state of Florida grows bad education policy like it grows oranges, and this one has survived the legal challenge. The best thing we can say about the whole business is that the state had to explicitly declare that it doesn't believe in the grades on report cards and that it values test-taking compliance above all else AND that it fully intends to ignore the opt-out portion of ESSA. So the face of education policy continues to be ugly, but at least they were required to show it without any mask or make-up.