What Arnie Duncan’s Resignation Really Implies (Guest Post by Daniel Kwet)

Daniel Kwet is a Connecticut educator on the front lines of the effort to provide Connecticut’s urban children with the education they deserve.  In a school system under-funded by both the State of Connecticut and the local community, Daniel Kwet and his colleagues are not only fighting for children but provide a powerful inspiration for the rest of us who are advocating on behalf of students, parents, teachers and our public schools;

What Arnie Duncan’s Resignation Really Implies (Guest Post by Daniel Kwet)

Recently, Arne Duncan announced that he will resign as United States Secretary of Education.  His tenure has been controversial.  The National Education Association had recently asked for his resignation and its board cheered when he stepped down.  Understanding these events and their significance should help us better understand what is happening in the ongoing fight for public education.  It should also help us to understand the obstacles our unions and all people interested in the future of public education are facing.

While I am no fan of Arne Duncan, I think his resignation needs to be situated in the broader landscape of our political system.  We are currently entering an election cycle.  When Barack Obama ran for office in almost 8 years ago, he ran with Linda Darling-Hammond as his educational advisor, one of the most progressive possible choices he could have made.  Upon election, Obama made a clear shift in appointing Duncan.  Duncan had been “CEO” of Chicago schools and pushed a corporate agenda, so no one could have had any delusions about who he was.  He proceeded to help push through the Race To the Top, the Bush administration’s educational policy on steroids.

The Democratic Party is thoroughly saturated with pro-corporate education deformers.  At every level, national, state, and local, Democratic deformers have been pushing charter schools and restructuring our school policies to adopt a corporate mentality, stripping the public sphere of its emphasis on common good through high stakes standardized testing and through grants that are funded by the super-rich, especially Gates, Waltons, and Eli Broad.  Many urban districts are strapped for cash, leaving them in a weakened position to turn down outside programs when there is a strong enough financial incentive.

As we enter another election cycle, there will be an attempt to make Hillary Clinton look like a saint.  The NEA has officially endorsed Hillary and highlighted her “achievements” in a front page editorial.  Environment plays a large role in shaping the child’s education.  As educators, we should be aware that her husband ripped apart welfare with the Orwellian titled Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, passed through the anti-labor North American Free Trade Agreement that sent good paying jobs to sweatshops overseas, greatly increased the amount of people (mostly black and Latino) in our prison systems (though now we’re supposed to believe it was a mistake).  Perhaps most egregiously, he pushed the Democrats further into the hands of its corporate wing, the Democratic Leadership Council in so-called “Third Way” politics, helping to pave the way for what we are dealing with now. It is also worth noting that Hillary Clinton has served on the board of Walmart.

At this point, Arne Duncan was a political liability for Hillary to gain the support of teachers.  The NEA needs to have real demands and not simply clap for public relation moves.  Below are some simple things should be a base line of support for any candidate:

Will you guarantee that if elected, you will appoint a pro-teacher, pro-union secretary of education?  Who would you consider viable candidates for that position?

Will you denounce charter schools and do everything in your power to get rid of them?

Will you oppose the corporate restructuring of our schools and do everything in your power to get them adequate funding so they can more easily refuse grants that don’t align with our actual needs?

Will you refuse campaign donations from the Gates Foundation, the Waltons, the Broad Foundation, and similar foundations and their front groups?

Furthermore, the NEA has a lot to account for when it writes editorials that omit the clear flaws of the candidates.  This is a pedagogy of deceit, and we should be opposed to it, as it misinforms our members so the NEA can continue a game of begging the Democrats to dismantle public education with kiddy gloves on and friendly faces while it puts the rank and file to sleep.  We should learn from the victories in Chicago and Seattle that nothing is gained if nothing is demanded.  If we fail to learn, we will be in the same place in 2017 as we were in 2009.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García says every parent should have the right to opt their child out of Common Core test

In a blog entitled, The Opt Out End Game, the President of the National Education Association has announced her strong stand for a parent’s fundamental right to opt their child or children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing system.

While explaining that the real goal is to do away with the fixation on standardized testing, NEA’s President is joining the call to recognize that parents do have the right to opt their children out of the testing.

Lily Eskelsen Garcia writes,

Parents should have the right to know for what purpose a test is designed and whether it’s valid and reliable for that purpose; how the results of that test will be used; whether or not testing companies will have access to private student information and for what reason those companies need that information.

They should have a right to demand that any testing companies hired by the district sign the Student Privacy Principles developed and endorsed by major student advocates from the PTA to the NEA to the School Boards Association to the American Library Association and the Thomas Fordham Institute.

And they should have the right, if they are not satisfied with the answers to their questions, to opt their children out of any mandated standardized testing that they believe is inappropriate or harmful to their child. NEA fully supports parents and supports our affiliates who take a stand against tests that serve no educational purpose.

The rest of Eskelsen Garcia’s piece focuses on why the testing is so inappropriate and the NEA’s position is to permanently reduce the use of standardized testing.  Her blog post can be found at: http://lilysblackboard.org/2015/04/the-opt-out-end-game/

Now that the presidents of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have announced their support for parents who want to opt their children out of the destructive common core testing, hopefully the Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – Connecticut Chapter will come out strongly on behalf of Connecticut students and parents and their right to opt out of the SBAC test.

Common Core (SBAC) Results May Provoke Shock, Officials Urge Families to Stay Objective

Teachers, Parents, Public School Advocates, it is probably best to sit down for this one….

That bizarre and disturbing statement was the headline in a piece recently posted by the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) following this week’s meeting of a Connecticut State Department of Education Working Group.

Reporting on the event, the CEA explained;

“Details are emerging about how the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) program will affect students, teachers, and communities.”

Wait?  “Details are emerging”?

The Common Core Standardized Testing Scam, known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment consortium (SBAC), is actually designed to ensure that about 70 percent of Connecticut students fail. [Governor Malloy – Our children are not stupid, but your system is! and Beware the Coming Common Core Testing Disaster and A system that labels children as failures (another MUST READ by Wendy Lecker]

Not only is the Common Core testing system created to generate the false impression that Connecticut and the nation’s public education system is failing, but by tying the Common Core SBAC test results to the new inept, illogical and counter-productive Connecticut Teacher Evaluation System, the incredibly expensive “golden nugget” of the corporate education reform industry aims to denigrate teachers and blow apart what is left of the teaching profession.

But despite this truth, Governor Dannel Malloy and his administration remain wedded to the implementation of the Common Core, the Common Core standardized testing program and a teacher evaluation process based on the results of those tests.

As the CEA’s January 21 2014 blog post explains,

“Most school districts in Connecticut administered a field test last year, but this year the program will be in high gear with educators administering the tests to students in grades 3-8 and 11 this April/May.

[…]

This year, the stakes will be high as students establish a baseline for the test. Jacqueline King, who works for the SBAC program, says the baseline data about Connecticut students’ performance on the first-time test has the “potential to shock” students and their families.”

The CEA goes on to report that at this week’s Working Group Meeting,

“Members of the working group [said they] are concerned about how test results will be messaged to ensure that the public understands that the SBAC program is still a work in progress.”

How the test results will be messaged??

That the SBAC program is still a work in progress?

It was Governor Malloy’s own Commissioner of Education who joined the other state education chiefs who voted to set the “cut score” so that 70 percent of Connecticut’s public school students would be deemed failures.

It was Governor Malloy and his State Department of Education that remain committed to linking the unfair test to the state’s new teacher evaluation system.

And it is because Malloy’s complete unwillingness to de-couple the Common Core SBAC test results from the teacher evaluation system that teachers across Connecticut are being coerced to teach to the very Common Cores Standardized SBAC test that their students will fail – and those failing scores will be used to “evaluate” the teachers.

The CEA article adds,

“Mark Waxenberg, executive director of CEA, raised a series of concerns at today’s meeting, saying that the new testing program is still in “the developmental stages.”

The article also noted that Joseph Cirasuolo, who is the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents and one the most vocal supporters of Governor Malloy’s Corporate Education Reform Industry initiative, said the results from the Common Core SBAC tests could, “scare the hell out of parents.” He apparently added, people “are talking about this as if it has a level of precision that it does not.”

“The new testing program is still in “the developmental stage”???

“A level of precision that it does not have”????

These two individuals and everyone else involved in the discussions surrounding the Common Core and Common Core testing debacle know perfectly well that the SBAC test is designed to fail 70 percent of the students and that the SBAC test will be used as a significant factor in determining which Connecticut teachers are deemed to be “good’ and which will be deemed “not good.”

Instead of raising these “concerns” at a State Department of Education Working Group, the CEA, AFT and the other Connecticut organization purportedly committed to Connecticut’s students, teachers and public schools – such as CABE and CAPSS – should be demanding that the Common Core be halted, the Common Core Tests eliminated that Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system should be fully de-coupled from the SBAC test or any other standardized tests.

As if all of this wasn’t clear enough, in what is undoubtedly one of the most incredible and shocking comments to come out of the Malloy administration yet, the representative of the State Department of Education told the SDE working group,  “best practice dictates that educators should never make consequential decisions based on a single test score.”

OMG, What the____?????

Malloy, with the support of the Connecticut legislature is the one that MANDATED the expensive and wasteful Common Core SBAC tests be given and MANDATED that the Common Core SBAC test scores be used to evaluate teachers.

As the CEA post adds,

“Connecticut’s Board of Regents for Higher Education reportedly already has placed SBAC results on its list of multiple measures that colleges and universities can use to evaluate student readiness and placement. SDE officials also envision scenarios where high schools could include SBAC scores on student transcripts (as reportedly has been done in the past with CAPT scores)…”

The real problem is that the Common Core Standards were developed without the proper participation of educators and experts in child development.

Furthermore, as has been widely reported, some of the Common Core standards are developmentally inappropriate and the foundation of the Common Cores Standards are demanding that students immediately perform at a level that is at least two grade levels above what students have been learning.

The Common Core Test (SBAC) also discriminates against English Language Learners and students who require special education services…not to mention, as noted, that the absurd and warped system is actually designed with a pass/fail rate that will ensure that nearly 7 in 10 students fail.

The real problem with the entire situation lies with the Common Core itself and the way in which the Common Core standardized tests have been designed to undermine the stability of public education in America.

The solution is that the leadership of the two major teacher unions, and all of the others committed to public education, should be retreating from their support of the Common Core and its associated testing scheme.

Yet even now, while the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers raise concerns and call for action, their fundamental position of support for the Common Core remains intact.

The National Education Association’s website reports that the,

“NEA believes the Common Core State Standards have the potential to provide access to a complete and challenging education for all children. Broad range cooperation in developing these voluntary standards provides educators with more manageable curriculum goals and greater opportunities to use their professional judgment in ways that promote student success.”

At the same time, the American Federation of Teachers says,

That if implemented carefully and with the needed supports and resources, these new standards will help improve education for all students.  At last July’s  AFT Convention, “AFT members today passed a resolution at the union’s national convention reaffirming the AFT’s support for the promise and potential of the Common Core State Standards as a way to ensure all children have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the 21st century while sharply criticizing the standards’ botched implementation. “

But the Common Core Standards are inappropriate, unfair, and discriminatory.  The Common Core standardized tests are inexorably linked to those Common Core Standards, and until we set aside the Common Core and the Common Core testing, our nation’s children, teachers and our entire system of public education system will remain the primary target for those who seek to destroy public education for their own financial and political gain.

And when it comes to the relationship between the Common Core, Common Core testing and the teacher evaluation systems, those who are responsible for speaking up for our children, our teachers and our schools simply say enough is enough and corporate education reform initiatives need to be dismissed and real action taken to reduce the barriers to academic success – poverty, language barriers, and unmet special education needs to name a few.

Perhaps the leaders of the CEA, AFT, CABE and CAPSS should also read or re-read the commentary piece published last year by Wendy Lecker, one of the state’s leading public education advocates.

Wendy Lecker’s piece entitled, “Solution to failed tests is not more tests,” first appeared in the Stamford Advocate, and she wrote;

Fact: Connecticut’s teacher evaluation plan, because it relies on student standardized test scores, is fundamentally flawed. Student test scores cannot measure a teacher’s contribution to student learning. In fact, the president of the Educational Testing Service recently called evaluation systems based on student test scores “bad science.”

Rather than admit failure, the Malloy administration is trying futilely to “fix” the fatal flaw. Last week, PEAC, the panel charged with developing Connecticut’s teacher evaluation system, working under the direction of Commissioner Stefan Pryor, approved a change which calls for more standardized tests to be included in a teacher’s evaluation.

The commissioner’s “solution” is to add interim tests to a teacher’s rating. Determining what tests will be used, how they will be aligned to the standardized tests, and how all the test scores will be rolled into one “score” for teachers, will likely render this change completely unworkable.

However, there is an even larger issue at play. Will the addition of more tests in a teacher’s evaluation help us measure whether a teacher is effective?

According to the Connecticut Supreme Court, Connecticut’s public schools must prepare children “to participate in democratic institutions, and to prepare them to attain productive employment and otherwise to contribute to the state’s economy, or to progress on to higher education.”

Thus, we want our children to acquire the skills and knowledge that will enable them to succeed in college and in life. We want teachers who will help our children develop these skills.

Standardized tests have no bearing on college success. Moreover, although standardized tests are supposed to measure cognitive skills, research from MIT has shown that increasing test scores does not increase cognitive skills.

Even more striking is that cognitive skills, while important, are not the most important skills in determining success either in college or in life after college. Research has shown again and again that non-cognitive skills such as self-discipline, taking responsibility, and listening skills are more critical.

A recent comprehensive study by Northwestern Professor Kirabo Jackson found that children with teachers who help them develop non-cognitive skills have much better outcomes than those who have teachers who may help them raise test scores. Jackson found that every standard deviation increase in non-cognitive skills corresponds to a significant decrease in the drop-out risk and increased rates of high school graduation. By contrast, one standard deviation increase in standardized test scores has a very weak, often non-existent, relationship to these outcomes. Test scores also predict less than two percent of the variability in absences and suspensions, and under ten percent of the variability in on-time grade progression, for example.

Increases in non-cognitive abilities are also strongly correlated with other adult outcomes, such as a lower likelihood of arrest, a higher rate of employment and higher earnings. Increased test scores are not.

In short, focusing on non-cognitive abilities, those not measured by test scores, are more important in predicting success in high school and beyond.

Jackson also found that a teacher’s supposed effect on test scores is not related to how well that teacher can improve non-cognitive skills.

Moreover, a new statement by the American Statistical Association reminds us that ranking teachers based on test scores does not even work for measuring their effect on cognitive skills.

ASA notes that teachers account for 1-14 percent of the variability in student standardized test scores. The majority of variability in test scores results from “system-level conditions”; meaning everything affecting a student outside the teacher’s control: the child’s socio-economic status, parental background, language barriers, medical issues, student mobility, etc. Rating systems cannot eliminate the “noise” caused by these other factors.

ASA further states that test scores at best “predict only performance on the test.” This conclusion confirms Jackson’s results, i.e that tests cannot predict how well a student will succeed in school or life.

In the context of this evidence, what does the PEAC change mean?

By adding more tests of the same skills in the same subjects, PEAC merely added more meaningless “noise.” This addition will not give us any better picture of how well a teacher teaches.

Worse still, adding more tests increases the focus on tests, increases the frequency of testing, and distracts us from considering the skills teachers should be helping children develop. And since Connecticut’s evaluation system completely ignores these non-cognitive skills, they will be de-emphasized in school.

Meaningful evaluations systems can be developed, but relying on faulty measures is simply rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and taxpayers deserve better.

YES!  Connecticut’s students, parents, teachers and taxpayers deserve better.