Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Great Pushback

There has been some good pushback against the Obama/Duncan/Bush/Spellings/Bloomberg/Klein/Rhee/Gates/Broad agenda this week, with Diane Ravitch writing an op-ed piece about the failings of the Bloomberg/Klein "reforms" in New York City in the New York Daily News and warning about the damage the Obama/Duncan Race to the Top reforms is doing to public education nation-wide at Huffingtonpost.

First, here is Ravitch on the Bloomberg/Klein record:

Every year for the past four years, the New York State Education Department has announced dramatic test score gains. And every year, it turns out they were misrepresenting reality. This year, New Yorkers got an accurate accounting of student performance, and it was sobering.


New York Commissioner of Education David Steiner made a bold move. He decided to end the inflation - and administer some shock therapy. The sharp contrast between mostly flat scores on national tests and dramatic annual claims by the state made it necessary for him to act, and he did.

Now we know the painful truth. Last year, 86.4% of the state's students in grades three to eight were deemed proficient in mathematics; today it is 61%. Last year, 77.4% of students in the same grades were deemed proficient in reading; today it is 53.2%.

When the scores were released, there was a sound of bursting bubbles across the state. What once were miracles turned into mirages.

Since 2005, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein have trumpeted historic gains. But after the state's adjustment, the pass rate on the state reading test among city students fell from an impressive 68.8% to an unimpressive 42.4%, and from an astonishing 81.8% to a disappointing 54% in mathematics. Overnight, the city's historic gains disappeared.

Now, look at the achievement gap between the performance of white students and that of minorities. Last year, black students were 22 points behind white students in passing the state English exam. This year - after the state corrected its scoring - the gap increased to 30.4 points.

In math, the gap grew even more. Black students were 17 points behind whites last year. Now they've fallen 30 points behind.

Charter school advocates saw their bubble burst as well. The pass rates in the state's charter schools, overall, dropped even faster than those in regular public schools. In third grade math, it plunged from 96.1% to 61.6%, and in eighth grade, from 84.5% to 50.4%. On the 2010 reading tests, the scores of charter students in New York City were nearly identical to those of district schools: 43% compared to 42%.

n math, 63% of the city's charter students passed, compared to 54% in public schools, which was an advantage but nothing like the miraculous results previously claimed by charter promoters.

Among other bubbles that popped were the city's school report cards, which based 85% of their grades on the state's test scores, mostly on gains on the test now proven to be vastly overstated. Some schools were given an A for "progress" on dumbed-down tests, and others were closed because they didn't make the grade. But the measure was a deeply flawed instrument.

The hundreds of millions of dollars that the city has spent on test preparation turned out to be a bad investment. Students were learning test-taking skills, not truly learning reading or mathematics.

As a result of the fiasco, we now know that the bonuses of more than $30 million handed out last year to teachers in schools that made "gains" on the state tests were a waste of precious money.

Why does test score inflation matter? Aside from the fact that the state misled the public, the inflated scores caused tens of thousands of students to be denied needed remediation. The inflated scores also help to explain why 75% of the city's high school graduates require remediation when they enroll in community colleges at the City University.

Now we know that achievement in the city and state did not grow by historic proportions, as officials claimed.

The way to avoid similar messes in the future is to use test scores for information and diagnosis, not for rewards and punishments.

Two questions remain: Will Bloomberg and Klein accept this new reality or will they continue to deny the plain facts and refuse to be held accountable? And will the state education department find and fire the bureaucrats and private contractors responsible for this scandal? Unfortunately, the prospects for genuine accountability by the city and state are not promising.
And of course she is right about the prospects of Bloomberg and Klein being held accountable for their records on education not being promising.

The very next day after the real test scores in NYC were announced and it became clear the Bloomberg/Klein reform movement (reliance on test scores, testing at every level, pay and evaluations tied to tests, schools closed and teachers let go as a result of the test scores, etc.) is phony and harmful, President Obama trumpeted the very same reforms in a speech to the National Urban League, saying that relying on test scores to close schools and fire teachers "shouldn't be controversial."

Ravitch responded at Huffingtonpost to the president's attacks on public education:

President Obama spoke to the National Urban League this week and defended his "Race to the Top" program, which has become increasingly controversial. Mr. Obama insisted that it was the most important thing he had done in office, and that critics were merely clinging to the status quo.

Mr. Obama was unfazed by the scathing critique of the Race by the nation's leading civil rights organizations, who insisted that access to federal funding should be based on need, not competition.

The program contains these key elements: Teachers will be evaluated in relation to their students' test scores. Schools that continue to get low test scores will be closed or turned into charter schools or handed over to private management. In low-performing schools, principals will be fired, and all or half of the staff will be fired. States are encouraged to create many more privately managed charter schools.

All of these elements are problematic. Evaluating teachers in relation to student test scores will have many adverse consequences. It will make the current standardized tests of basic skills more important than ever, and even more time and resources will be devoted to raising scores on these tests. The curriculum will be narrowed even more than under George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind, because of the link between wages and scores. There will be even less time available for the arts, science, history, civics, foreign language, even physical education. Teachers will teach to the test. There will be more cheating, more gaming the system.

Furthermore, charter schools on average do not get better results than regular public schools, yet Obama and Duncan are pushing them hard. Duncan acknowledges that there are many mediocre or bad charter schools, but chooses to believe that in the future, the new charters will only be high performing ones. Right.

The President should re-examine his reliance on standardized testing to identify the best teachers and schools and the worst teachers and schools. The tests are simply not adequate to their expectations.

The latest example of how test results can be doctored is the New York state testing scandal, which broke open this week. The pass rates on the state tests had soared year after year, to the point where they became ridiculous to all but the credulous The whole house of cards came crashing down this week after the state raised the proficiency bar from the low point to which it had sunk. In 2009, 86.4% of the state's students were "proficient" in math, but the number in 2010 plummeted to 61%. In 2009, 77.4% were "proficient" in reading, but now it is only 53.2%.

The latest test scores were especially startling for New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg staked his reputation on their meteoric rise. He was re-elected because of the supposedly historic increase in test scores and used them to win renewal of mayoral control. But now, the city's pass rate in reading for grades 3-8 fell from 68.8% to 42.4%, and the proficiency rate in math sunk from an incredible 81.8% to a dismal 54%.

When the mayor ran for office, he said that mayoral control would mean accountability. If things went wrong, the public would know whom to blame.

But now that the truth about score inflation is out, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein steadfastly insist that the gains recorded on their watch did not go up in smoke, that progress was real, and they have reiterated this message through their intermediaries in the tabloids. In other words, they are using every possible rationalization and excuse to avoid accountability for the collapse of their "historic gains."

Meanwhile Secretary Duncan travels the country urging districts to adopt mayoral control, so they can emulate New York City. He carefully avoids mentioning Cleveland, which has had mayoral control for years and remains one of the lowest performing districts in the nation. Nor does he mention that Detroit had mayoral control and ended it. And it is hard to imagine that anyone would think of Chicago, which has been controlled by Mayor Richard Daley for many years, would serve as a national model.

President Obama and Secretary Duncan need to stop and think. They are heading in the wrong direction. On their present course, they will end up demoralizing teachers, closing schools that are struggling to improve, dismantling the teaching profession, destabilizing communities, and harming public education.

From my perspective, Bloomberg and Klein do NOT want to improve the public education system.

They want to destroy it (and the teachers union with it.)

That's what the four reorganizations have been about.

Blow up the system so that it can NEVER be reconstituted like it once was.

Then replace it with a privatized system run by Klein cronies like Eva Moscowitz and other "reformers" hand picked by hedge fund crooks like Whitney Tilson and make lots of money for the education management organizations and test prep companies.

I think Duncan and Obama have the same "reform" in mind.

That's why Duncan backs mayoral control everywhere (even when, as Ravitch points out, it hasn't worked in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit or NYC) - get rid of public education systems run by democratic consensus and give all the power to absolutist dictators like Bloomberg and Daley.

When you have one autocrat running a system, it is MUCH easier to finish it off the way Daley has in Chicago and Bloomberg has in NYC.

Now Obama and Duncan have taken their neo-liberalization plans nation-wide and other than some pushback from Ravitch and a few civil rights organizations (and of course we here in the anti-ed deform blogophere), there has been no coordinated response to the neo-liberals' privatization plans.

In fact, many on the left, even at the Netroots convention in July that was populated by supposed progressives, cheer the firings of teachers, the closings of schools and the turning over of public education to for-profit charter operators:

Addressing a group of civil rights leaders and advocates at this week's meeting of the Urban League, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan accused people who criticize his Race to the Top grants and other education policies of being "intentionally misleading or profoundly misinformed." As highlighted by Paul here at Open Left the other day, President Obama immediately reinforced the message by scolding critics of his education reforms for making "a fuss" over something that shouldn't be seen as "controversial." Then, to complete the triumvirate, the supposed progressives at the Center for American Progress castigated Congress and anyone else who would dare lay a finger on the Obama administration's Race to the Top and other "reforms."

As Paul explained yesterday, what's seldom discussed - not only among leaders of the Democratic party but also in the progressive community - is the actual "evidence" for and against the dangerous proposals being championed by those who consider themselves to be "on the left" of America's political spectrum. Instead people on the left are generally in denial about issues of race and class that are at the heart of the matter. And educators themselves are being played for suckers by the Democratic establishment.

Nowhere was this situation more painfully obvious to me than at last week's Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas. As lots of lip service was being paid to "saving teachers' jobs," not much of anything in the agenda addressed the destructive education policies of the Obama administration. Of course, lots of presenters had high-minded declarations about the importance of schools to democracy and the progressive cause. But no one had anything particularly progressive to say about the direction of school reform.

As news came out during the conference that another 241 teachers were being fired by Washington, DC's autocratic chancellor Michele Rhee for being "ineffective," no one of any prominence at the meeting pointed out the blatant unfairness of the Obama administration's push to evaluate teachers on the basis of students' scores on standardized tests.

In fact, an attendee I was having coffee with as the news broke was absolutely gleeful about it. "There are too many bad teachers," she explained to me while coolly scrolling through the headlines on her Blackberry, "And they're never made accountable for anything."

Ah, yes, a woman who knows absolutely NOTHING about public education other than what she hears from the Gates Foundation propaganda that passes as news and infotainment these days cheers the firings of teachers because "they're never made accountable for anything."

Well, Ms. Blackberry, how accountable have Klein and Bloomberg been for the morass they created here in NYC?

The test scores for minority students are now BELOW what they were BEFORE Klein and Bloomberg grabbed absolute control and closed hundreds of schools.

What exactly does one have to do to get the people in charge held accountable, even by the supposed "progressives" in the country?

What exactly would get people to pay attention and see that the Bloomberg/Klein/Obama/Duncan/Gates/Broad/Bush/Spellings reforms have FAILED and we have all the evidence needed to prove the case (i.e., their own BLOODY TEST SCORES)?

What would get them to stop attacking teachers and see the real problem with public education - the reliance on forced free market schemes to solve all the ills, the refusal to deal with the socio-economic problems that so many students face at home and in their neighborhoods, and the use of flawed tests, data collation and accountability measures as substitutes for actual standards-based education that helps students to develop critical thinking and life skills?

I tend to think the neo-liberals don't actually want to be convinced of these. Otherwise why continue to defend a failed testing/privatization agenda when the evidence is mounting that is going to damage a whole generation of students (particularly students of color from inner cities)?

In other words, I don't think they're genuine about wanting to improve education - they're genuine about the privatization and the union-busting and using the "education crisis" as an excuse.

That goes for Klein and Bloomberg and Rhee and Gates and Broad and Jobs and the hedge fund/education reformers, of course, but also for Obama and Duncan and George Miller and the rest of the Washington D.C. neo-liberals as well.

It's true of the op-ed shills who rationalize the bad scores as "progress."

So while I appreciate all the commenters in the Open Left thread writing that maybe we can convince the neo-liberal privatizers that their arguments are flawed, that assumes that the neo-liberals actually can be swayed by facts, stats or rational arguments.

In my estimation, they cannot. You cannot look at what happened here in NY with the scores plunging to pre-Bloomberg levels, listen to the media and Obama continue to shill for Bloomberg and Klein and "accountability for teachers," and not see that they are FULL OF SHIT and just do not care about reality or facts.

They care simply about privatizing the system and busting the last of the powerful unions in the country.

I think this is the difficult part about the Great Education Deform Pushback.

Many of us involved in public education know the ed deformers are bullshit artists and snake oil salesmen selling phony reforms to mask their own privatization agenda.

But it is difficult to reveal that to the public at large when the ed deform shills in the media have spent so much time, energy and money hailing the reforms while demonizing teachers and teachers unions as part of the "failed status quo."

I mean, what do facts and data showing the test scores plummeting to pre-Bloomberg levels matter when you have Bloomberg saying "Well, proficiency means different things to different people..." and the Daily News, Post and Times op-ed writers echoing that Orwellian/Clintonian jive with a straight face?

So, I ask you out there in the blogosphere, how do we coordinate pushback to the ed deform movement when so many of the ed deformers are just lying, cheating bullshit artists?

No comments:

Post a Comment