BLUSHING…

No, the red in my checks is not a sun burn.  And yes, I know our society frowns on grown men blushing…

But who wouldn’t blush when confronted by the extraordinarily generous words of Diane Ravitch, a true American hero and the Patron Saint to all of us who believe in the importance of saving and improving American Education.

Diane Ravitch’s blog at http://dianeravitch.net/ is the first thing I read when I get up in the morning and the last thing I read before I go to bed.  (Not to mention checking it multiple times throughout the day.)

Thanks to the blogging she has been doing over the last three months, I’ve learned more about education policy and politics then I had over 35 years of work in and around government.

There is simply nobody in the nation who is doing more to battle the forces of evil that seek to privatize and destroy what is great about our educational system.  Knowledgeable and courageous, Diane consistently provides information and commentary about how we can make our schools better and what the opponents of public education are doing to undermine our country’s ability to provide all of our children with the knowledge and skills they need to live fuller and more productive lives.

Today, Diane posted a piece about me and my blog at Wait, What?

As a tribute to all of those who have helped me with my advocacy journalism, I post it below.  I am truly honored beyond words.

http://dianeravitch.net/2012/07/26/the-connecticut-watchdog-for-the-public-interest/

The Connecticut Watchdog for the Public Interest

A reader reminded me of a post by blogger Jonathan Pelto about Hartford, Connecticut, that shows how districts can “game the system” to meet testing target.

And that reminded me that Jon Pelto is someone you should know about. Subscribe to his blog if you want an insider’s view of education reform in Connecticut.

Pelto was a legislator for several years and cares passionately about public education. He knows how to follow the money and watches for conflict of interest and hidden lobbyists.

He has written many posts in opposition to Governor Dannel Malloy’s alliance with the hedge fund managers’ group called ConnCAN (now operating in other states as 50CAN). Pelto has called out all the players in the corporate camp, including the other Wall Street group called Democrats for Education Reform, the charter chain Achievement First, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, and Teach for America, all of which took a role in shaping and pushing Governor Malloy’s “reform” bill to funnel more money to charters than to the state’s poorest districts and to strip teachers of tenure. It’s all “for the children,” remember. Malloy said he would be happy to see more “teaching to the test,” and also said the achievement gap in his state made it necessary to take away teacher tenure. This is absurd; Connecticut has a large achievement gap because it has outsized income inequality, with large concentrations of urban poverty and intense concentrations of extreme wealth. But let’s not talk about that.

Pelto has been critical of State Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who was a founder of a Connecticut charter school, Amistad Academy, and chairman of its board for five years. That charter school is the flagship in the Achievement First charter chain. Pelto has been fearless in criticizing the claims of the powerful Achievement First chain, showing what a small percentage of ELLs it enrolls compared to urban districts in the state, and pointing out how Malloy’s budget showered far more money on this wealthy charter chain than on the state’s neediest students.

For the Diane’s full post go to: http://dianeravitch.net/2012/07/26/the-connecticut-watchdog-for-the-public-interest/

 

 

Nation’s “Leading School Takeover Expert” Calls Connecticut Mastery Test “Not Very Helpful”

For the last six months we’ve seen Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Pryor stake their careers on tying Connecticut’s Master Test to a new teacher evaluation system that they claim will allow administrators to determine which teachers are doing their job successfully and which need to be removed from the classroom.

In an extraordinary exchange on education expert Diane Ravitch’s nationally respected blog, (see http://dianeravitch.net/2012/05/31/test-test-test-test-another-day-in-bridgeport/), Bridgeport’s Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas, and his Chief Administrator, Dr. Sandra Kase, make the case that Connecticut’s Mastery Test is flawed.

Vallas, who has run the school systems in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, said “I have always been critical of annual state tests that are high stake, that are too narrow, that are administered too early and that produce data that is dated by the end of any given school year. Connecticut’s assessment system has all of those shortcomings. It is unfair to both teachers and students.”

The new Chief Administrator for the Bridgeport’s schools, and Vallas’ top associate added “Paul makes the point that the state standardized tests are not very helpful. First, they’re given in March when teachers have not had time to teach a full year’s curriculum and, as a result, hurry to “cover” topics that they believe might be tested. Teachers need time to teach the full curriculum

If Vallas and Kase are correct, Connecticut has just committed millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours to using a test to evaluate teachers that doesn’t measure teacher skills and is inherently unfair.

Below you’ll find my response to Kase and below that, Kase’s original post: 

Dear Sandy,

Yesterday, in the rush to respond to Mr. Vallas’ post on Diane Ravich’s blog, I didn’t get a chance to address the key issue that you raised – that being the Connecticut Master Test is not good.

You wrote, “Bridgeport schools were already using a myriad of tests, most of which they created and were not yielding data that could be used effectively to indicate the true needs of the children. As a result, the instruction being provided, while well-intentioned, was not based on accurate data. Paul and I have a duty to change that situation and to support teachers in providing the right instruction for the right children. None of us want to over-test our students. Testing serves an important purpose, but the tests have to be targeted and meaningful so that teachers have the data they need to plan effective lessons. As a result, we decided to give an end-of-year test in June.”

Focusing on the most important test of all, you point out that, “Paul makes the point that the state standardized tests are not very helpful. First, they’re given in March when teachers have not had time to teach a full year’s curriculum and, as a result, hurry to “cover” topics that they believe might be tested. Teachers need time to teach the full curriculum.”

I recognize that you and Paul have extraordinary experience with the utilization of standardized tests.  What is so troubling is that Governor Malloy and Education Commissioner Pryor just staked their careers on tying Connecticut’s Master Test to a new teacher evaluation system that will depend on the results of that test.

It is an incredible shame that neither you nor Paul took the time to inform Connecticut lawmakers that the results from the state’s test are not even valuable enough to determine which instruction is right for which students.

As you are aware, Connecticut just went through a tumultuous legislative session in which Malloy and Pryor consistently said the exact opposite and assured teachers, parents and communities that school administrators will be able to utilize the test scores to determine which teachers can do their jobs and which cannot.  In fact, millions of dollars were authorized to implement a 10-town pilot program in which the test you and Paul called “a bad test” will be linked to a teacher’s career.

I know my former colleagues in the General Assembly will be extremely upset to learn that someone of Paul’s caliber finds the Connecticut test so useless that he trashes them in a nationally respected blog.

In addition, you say that Connecticut teacher’s “hurry to “cover” topics that they believe might be” on the Connecticut Mastery test, however the test will and Paul instituted will allow you to make reasoned decisions about next year.  Of course, that begs the question about why your test did not follow the approved curriculum that is presently in place.  In fact, as far as I can tell your test was not linked to the present curriculum in any way what-so-ever.

Considering you have already announced a new curriculum development process for this summer, including the use of Rubicon Atlas, there is absolutely no way that your new test could possibly serve as the bench-mark you claim it to be, nor could it be used to determine placement for next year, since it doesn’t measure what the student was taught this year.

Your rhetoric about not “over-testing” students is commendable but the more we learn about the testing you’ve institute, the clearer it is that this test does not have value looking backwards or going forward.

Considering the issues you raise, I hope you will send it on to Connecticut policymakers so they can consider necessary changes to this year’s “education reform” legislation.

Original Post from Dr. Sandra Kase:

June 8, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Dear Diane,

It was disappointing to read your criticism of the work that Paul Vallas and I are doing in Bridgeport. It indicated to me that you did not have a full understanding of the educational conditions facing many of Bridgeport’s schools.

When Paul and I arrived in January, we were confronted with a 13 million dollar budget shortfall, schools without sufficient books and resources, teachers who had not had the benefit of consistent instructional training and support and administrators who were not empowered to make educational decisions for their own schools. Bridgeport schools were already using a myriad of tests, most of which they created and were not yielding data that could be used effectively to indicate the true needs of the children. As a result, the instruction being provided, while well-intentioned, was not based on accurate data. Paul and I have a duty to change that situation and to support teachers in providing the right instruction for the right children. None of us want to over-test our students. Testing serves an important purpose, but the tests have to be targeted and meaningful so that teachers have the data they need to plan effective lessons. As a result, we decided to give an end-of-year test in June.

Paul makes the point that the state standardized tests are not very helpful. First, they’re given in March when teachers have not had time to teach a full year’s curriculum and, as a result, hurry to “cover” topics that they believe might be tested. Teachers need time to teach the full curriculum. Second, the results are not sent to districts until well after school ends. Our plan is to create a coherent benchmarked system next year that is predictable and does not “over-test” our students. Teachers need data they can use when planning instruction.

I am not a corporate reformer. I am a career educator who has had experience in turning around the lowest performing schools, an achievement in which I take great pride. I understand the need to support and train teachers so that they can use their own creativity effectively. I also understand the need for “un-regimented” learning and have already supported many opportunities for those kinds of experiences in the schools. No one is substituting testing for teaching. However, I also know how important it is for children to learn how to read and understand mathematics at high levels. I believe that teaching students these important skills and providing opportunities for creative activities are not mutually exclusive. It’s disingenuous to state that they are.

Paul and I are interested in building the capacity of teachers and administrators to provide the highest quality education with opportunities for children that are unprecedented in Bridgeport. Many groups and individuals are asking what they can do to support our efforts to raise the achievement of Bridgeport’s students. Positive change will not occur until everyone is working together to achieve the desired goals. While constructive criticism is always welcomed, it should be accompanied by positive suggestions. We look forward to working with all constituents to create schools of excellence in Bridgeport.

Best regards,
Sandy

 

Vallas Explains His Bridgeport Testing Frenzy on National Blog; Just Fails To Tell the Truth

On May 31, 2012, American education expert Diane Ravitch posted a blog about the decision by Bridgeport’s Interim Superintendent, Paul Vallas, to end the school year with another round of standardized tests.

Yesterday Vallas posted a response on her blog and I, in turn, responded to Mr. Vallas’ comments.

 It is a long read – but I would urge anyone who is impacted or following the developments in Bridgeport to take a look.  Mr. Vallas’ claims are beyond astounding;

Ravitch Blog: Test, Test, Test, Test: Another Day in Bridgeport

Paul Vallas has taken over as superintendent in Bridgeport, Connecticut, while running a consulting business on the side (he just won a $1 million contract to help fix the Illinois schools).

He is concerned that students and teachers slack off after they take the state tests in March, so he has just imposed yet another round of tests for the end of year, which will precede the administration of even more tests.

You see, this is the way corporate reformers think. If students don’t have tests to face, they won’t learn anything. If teachers don’t have a test to prepare students for, they won’t teach anything. They think that no one in school will do anything unless someone at the top is holding out a stick or a carrot.

What they do not understand is the basic idea of intrinsic motivation. By relying so heavily on extrinsic motivation, the corporate reformers will snuff out any outcroppings of intrinsic motivation.

What the Bridgeport approach will do with certainty is to eliminate any time for creative activities and projects; to remove any time for exploration and un-regimented learning. It will substitute testing for teaching. It relies on coercion as the prime motivator for learning.

It is a plan that will prepare students for factory work in the early twentieth century.

Diane

 

Paul Vallas’ Comment To Ravitch’s Post on June 8, 2012

Diane,

As someone who has known you for a long time as a colleague and a friend, I am taken aback by your post about Bridgeport testing. We are up to our ears with a district in crisis and trying to right the ship for the mostly minority, low income children who are our responsibility. Perhaps the hectic pace here in the district accounts for why I missed your phone call expressing concern for the methodology I, in partnership with my Chief Administrator, Dr. Sandra Kase, are employing? Of course, no phone call ever came. Therefore I will respond in this forum.

As I explained to my teachers in school visits and by memo, which I would have been happy to share with you, the Connecticut assessment test is weak. I have always been critical of annual state tests that are high stake, that are too narrow, that are administered too early and that produce data that is dated by the end of any given school year. Connecticut’s assessment system has all of those shortcomings. It is unfair to both teachers and students. Thus, in an effort to support teachers and to give them the baseline data that they need in real time at the end of the year, we are am administering a series of short end-of-the-year tests to give teachers an accurate and up to date picture of their students’ full learning profiles, and in particular the skills and concepts that need to be re-taught or strengthened to ensure student success in the new school year term. Our teachers care deeply about their students’ success, and most of them are delighted to have the opportunity to gain a clear picture of which children need to be in summer school. They welcome the baseline data that will give them the information they need over the summer to plan for the strengths and weaknesses of their incoming classes, to ensure they are equipped with the appropriate interventions and supports. They agree with us that this will help them be confident and ready to instruct in the new and more rigorous curriculum and instructional program we are implementing in 2012-2013.

There is no downside to these baseline assessments. The results do not factor into student promotion or teacher retention. Allow me to reiterate, they will simply provide current, data-guided decisions about summer school interventions to the benefit of students who are struggling, they will inform as to where additional supports should be allocated to individual students next year, and they will provide a baseline that will guide the implementation for next year’s new curriculum and instructional program. It is a responsible, proactive, vigorous measure to ensure teachers have the information they need to be effective in as close to “real time” possible, and that students get the support they need beginning on day one of next school year.

With regard to the comment about running a consulting business on the side, after my previous districts, Bridgeport is a small district by my experience. I was recruited Bridgeport to become interim Superintendent with the full understanding that I would continue to be available to help other school districts as needed. You will recall that I have been doing work in Chile and Haiti. The Illinois contract you speak of, which has yet to be tendered, is actually a request to do turnaround in two historically failing districts. I have assembled a team of top educators, many of whom you know or know of, and all of whom come from the traditional schools community. While the price tag on that contract may sound exotic at $1 million, that actually covers the cost of the team for three years work in two school districts. Let me point out that in New York, that much money is frequently spent annually on interventions targeting a single school only. I hope these are the not the only projects where we can make the type of impact we are making here in Bridgeport. I expect it to be quite a challenge and one I look forward to. Give Dr. Kase and me a call if you wish to discuss further or the next time you want an explanation of any of our programs. Your call is always welcome.

Regards,
Paul Vallas

Jonathan Pelto’s Response to Paul Vallas on June 8, 2012

Paul,

I’d like to take a moment to respond to the comment you recently posted in response to Diane Ravitch’s blog about the testing mania that you have brought to Bridgeport, Connecticut.

My name is Jonathan Pelto and I’m the one who writes the CT Blog called Wait, What?.

I spent nearly a decade as a member of the Connecticut General Assembly, serving as a member of both the Appropriations and Education Committees. During my tenure in the Legislature, I had the honor of helping to develop the Education Enhancement Act and the Education Cost Sharing Formula, the two most important pieces of education legislation in modern Connecticut history. I represented the 54th House District, while my friend and colleague, Nancy Wyman, who presently serves as the state’s Lt. Governor, served in the 53rd District.

In addition to spending nearly four decades working on and monitoring education policy in Connecticut, I’ve managed or worked on numerous political campaigns at the federal, state and local level. Although I’m from far northeastern Connecticut, my first campaign working with Bridgeport politics was thirty years ago. Since then I’ve been a regular observer, and sometime participant, in Bridgeport politics.

Your response to Diane raises a few key issues.

Let me first address your introduction in which you say;

“We are up to our ears with a district in crisis and trying to right the ship for the mostly minority, low income children who are our responsibility. Perhaps the hectic pace here in the district accounts for why I missed your phone call expressing concern for the methodology I, in partnership with my Chief Administrator, Dr. Sandra Kase, are employing? Of course, no phone call ever came.” Therefore I will respond in this forum.”

That paragraph is probably the most insulting, self-centered and sophomoric thing I’ve ever read. Only someone who is obsessively self-centered would start with such an absurd and arrogant introduction. No one, least of all someone of Diane Ravitch’s caliber, would be expected to “check in” with you before articulating an opinion about your public activities. You are a public employee, engaged in the public’s business. If you wanted a life of quiet insignificance you should have chosen to be a hedge fund manager.

Then, to add insult to injury, you go on to say that you;

“Explained” to your “teachers in school visits and by memo that the Connecticut assessment test is weak…”and “thus, in an effort to support teachers and to give them the baseline data that they need in real time at the end of the year, we are am [sic] administering a series of short end-of-the-year tests to give teachers an accurate and up to date picture of their students’ full learning profiles, and in particular the skills and concepts that need to be re-taught or strengthened to ensure student success in the new school year term.”

But of course, Mr. Vallas that is an absolute and total lie.

The memo that you or Sandra Kase wrote to all teachers, of which I’d be happy to give you a copy, speaks of the “lull in learning” that takes place after standardized tests and announces that you have scheduled another round of tests – to be done exactly like the first round – in order to ensure that teachers are focused on their jobs till the end of the semester.

Your memo reminded me of Governor Malloy’s comment that a teacher need only show up for four years to get tenure or his statement that he is okay with teaching to the test as long as the test scores go up. They are statements that are, at best, disingenuous.

As we now know, your testing scheme actually disrupted the finals and end of year projects that would have given teachers and administrators the ability to finalize the lists of who needed summer school. Your tests not only failed to do that but were actually counterproductive to that very task.

You go on to inform Diane Ravitch that “our teachers care deeply about their students’ success, and most of them are delighted to have the opportunity to gain a clear picture of which children need to be in summer school. They welcome the baseline data that will give them the information they need over the summer to plan for the strengths and weaknesses of their incoming classes, to ensure they are equipped with the appropriate interventions and supports. They agree with us that this will help them be confident and ready to instruct in the new and more rigorous curriculum and instructional program we are implementing in 2012-2013.”

Come now, please. Try to maintain some element of the truth. The additional standardized test was an opportunity to know one’s students. And who needs extra help from a test that appeared late in the year and failed to remotely follow the approved curriculum?

 

What about the 11th grade math test that included topics that aren’t taught until 12th grade or the 5th grade questions that were simply wrong?

What about the question that proved the pitfall of standardized testing when it asked urban, minority students to respond to a question about a “deck” when it turns out that not a single student knew what a “deck” was, although all knew that the porch was the thing that is attached to nearly every house in Bridgeport.

And if you are so concerned about preparing for the fall’s high school seniors, how do you rationalize your decision to purchase new textbooks before the group that is assigned to develop the revised curriculum even meets.

That doesn’t even begin to address your unilateral decision to shift next fall’s high school seniors away from reading African American and world literature and, instead, having them read an anthology of British Literature.

I had the opportunity recently to tour a Title 1 school in New York City. Their school wide curriculum development process, which included full utilization of the Rubicon Atlas software program, was a weekly event throughout the year and they are still not completely ready for next year. Under your approach, the curriculum will be developed in a few short sessions and presented to teachers in the days immediately before the start of the school year.

Finally, as a Connecticut resident let me just say that your belief that you are entitled to run “a consulting business on the side” since Bridgeport is such a small district compared to your previous experience” says more about your commitment and dedication than anything you could have possibly said. The $229,000 plus benefits may seem a pittance to you, but Connecticut residents are not out of line to believe that for that amount of money the children, parents and teachers of the City deserve someone’s full-time attention.

Since it was you who introduced the notion that an “expert’s” comments should go unquestioned, let me just say, as an expert on Connecticut politics, that while you will come and go as you please, that last comment of yours implying that setting Bridgeport’s schools is virtually child’s play compared to your previous efforts will live to haunt Mayor Finch and the Bridgeport leaders who recruited you. If one of my employees said something so incredible insulting, I’d tell him he needn’t return in the morning.

I have watched your activities from afar since you arrived in Connecticut and your post on Diane Ravitch’s blog says more about you and your intentions than anything else I’ve read to date.