Oklahoma Eliminates VAM, and Simultaneously Increases Focus on Professional Development

Approximately two weeks ago, House leaders in the state of Oklahoma unanimously passed House Bill 2957, in which the state’s prior requirement to use value-added model (VAM) based estimates for teacher evaluation and accountability purposes, as written into the state’s prior Teacher and Leader Effectiveness (TLE) evaluation system, was eliminated. The new bill has been sent to Oklahoma’s Governor Fallin for her final signature.

As per the State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joy Hofmeister: “Amid this difficult budget year when public education has faced a variety of challenges, House Bill 2957 is a true bright spot of this year’s legislative session…By giving districts the option of removing the quantitative portion of teacher evaluations, we not only increase local control but lift outcomes by supporting our teachers while strengthening their professional development and growth in the classroom.”

As per the press release issued by one of the bill’s sponsors, State Representative Michael Rogers, the bill is to “retain the qualitative measurements, which evaluate teachers based on classroom instruction and learning environment. The measure also creates a professional development component to be used as another qualitative tool in the evaluation process. The Department of Education will create the professional development component to be introduced during the 2018-2019 school year. “Local school boards are in the best position to evaluate what tools their districts should be using to evaluate teachers and administrators,” he said. “This bill returns that to our local schools and removes the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach dictated by government bureaucrats. This puts the focus back to the education of our students where it belongs.” School districts will still have the option of continuing to use VAMs or other numerically-based student growth measures when evaluating teachers, however, if they choose to do so, and agree to also pay for the related expenses.

Oklahoma State Representative Scooter Park said that “HB2957 is a step in the right direction – driven by the support of Superintendents across the state, we can continue to remove the costly and time-consuming portions of the TLE system such as unnecessary data collection requirements as well as open the door for local school districts to develop their own qualitative evaluation system for their teachers according to their choice of a valid, reliable, research based and evidence-based qualitative measure.”

Oklahoma State Senator John Ford, added that this bill was proposed, and this decision was made, “After gathering input from a variety of stakeholders through a lengthy and thoughtful review process.”

I am happy to say that I was a contributor during this review process, presenting twice to legislators, educators, and others at the Oklahoma State Capitol this past fall. See one picture of these presentations here.

OK_Picture

See more here, and a related post on Diane Ravitch’s blog here. See here more information about the actual House Bill 2957. See also a post about Hawaii recently passing similar legislation in the blog, “Curmudgucation,” here. See another post about other states moving in similar directions here.

What ESSA Means for Teacher Evaluation and VAMs

Within a prior post, I wrote in some detail about what the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) means for the U.S., as well as states’ teacher evaluation systems as per the federally mandated adoption and use of growth and value-added models (VAMs) across the U.S., after President Obama signed it into law in December.

Diane Ravitch recently covered, in her own words, what ESSA means for teacher evaluations systems as well, in what she called Part II of a nine Part series on all key sections of ESSA (see Parts I-IX here). I thought Part II was important to share with you all, especially given this particular post captures that in which followers of this blog are most interested, although I do recommend that you all also see what the ESSA means for other areas of educational progress and reform in terms of the Common Core, teacher education, charter schools, etc. in her Parts I-IX.

Here is what she captured in her Part II post, however, copied and pasted here from her original post:

The stakes attached to testing: will teachers be evaluated by test scores, as Duncan demanded and as the American Statistical Association rejected? Will teachers be fired because of ratings based on test scores?

Short Answer:

The federal mandate on teacher evaluation linked to test scores, as created in the waivers, is eliminated in ESSA.

States are allowed to use federal funds to continue these programs, if they choose, or completely change their strategy, but they will no longer be required to include these policies as a condition of receiving federal funds. In fact, the Secretary is explicitly prohibited from mandating any aspect of a teacher evaluation system, or mandating a state conduct the evaluation altogether, in section 1111(e)(1)(B)(iii)(IX) and (X), section 2101(e), and section 8401(d)(3) of the new law.

Long Answer:

Chairman Alexander has been a long advocate of the concept, as he calls it, of “paying teachers more for teaching well.” As governor of Tennessee he created the first teacher evaluation system in the nation, and believes to this day that the “Holy Grail” of education reform is finding fair ways to pay teachers more for teaching well.

But he opposed the idea of creating or continuing a federal mandate and requiring states to follow a Washington-based model of how to establish these types of systems.

Teacher evaluation is complicated work and the last thing local school districts and states need is to send their evaluation system to Washington, D.C., to see if a bureaucrat in Washington thinks they got it right.

ESSA ends the waiver requirements on August 2016 so states or districts that choose to end their teacher evaluation system may. Otherwise, states can make changes to their teacher evaluation systems, or start over and start a new system. The decision is left to states and school districts to work out.

The law does continue a separate, competitive funding program, the Teacher and School Leader Incentive Fund, to allow states, school districts, or non-profits or for-profits in partnership with a state or school district to apply for competitive grants to implement teacher evaluation systems to see if the country can learn more about effective and fair ways of linking student performance to teacher performance.

Victory in New Mexico’s Lawsuit, Again

My most recent post about the state of New Mexico (here) included an explanation of a New Mexico Judge’s ruling to postpone New Mexico’s state-wide teacher evaluation trial until October 2016, with the state’s December 2015 preliminary injunction (described here) in place until (at least) then.

New Mexico’s Public Education Department (PED) recently, however, also tried to appeal the Judge’s October 2016 injunction, and took it to New Mexico’s Court of Appeals for an emergency review of the Judge’s injunction order.

The state and its PED lost, again. Here is the court order, which essentially says that the appeal was denied, and pasted below is the press release, released by the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico and Albuquerque Teachers Federation (i.e., the plaintiffs in this case).

Also here is an article just released in the Santa Fe New Mexican about this ruling, also about how the “Appeals court reject[ed the state’s] request to intervene in [this] teacher evaluation case.”

PRESS RELEASE, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Court Denies Request from Public Education Department; Keeps Case in District Court

March 16, 2016

Contact: John Dyrcz
505-554-8679

Albuquerque – American Federation of Teachers New Mexico (AFT NM) President Stephanie Ly and Albuquerque Teachers Federation (ATF) President Ellen Bernstein released the following statement:

“We are not surprised by today’s decision of the New Mexico Court of Appeals denying the New Mexico Public Education Department’s request for an interlocutory – or emergency – review of District Court Judge David Thomson’s injunction order. The December 2015 injunction preventing the PED from using its faulty evaluation system to penalize educators was well reasoned and the product of a fair and lengthy series of hearings over four months.

“We have maintained throughout this process that while the PED has every right to pursue all legal options under our judicial system, these frequent attempts at disrupting the progress of this case are nothing more than an attempt to stall the momentum of our efforts to seek relief for New Mexico’s education community.

“With this order, the case returns to Judge Thomson for final testimony from our expert witnesses, and we are pleased that the temporary injunction granted in December of 2015 will remain in place until at least October of 2016, when AFT NM and ATF will seek to make the injunction permanent,” said Ly and Bernstein.

VAMs: A Global Perspective by Tore Sørensen

Tore Bernt Sørensen is a PhD student currently studying at the University of Bristol in England, he is an emerging global educational policy scholar, and he is a future colleague whom I am to meet this summer during an internationally-situated talk on VAMs. Just last week he released a paper published by Education International (Belgium) in which he discusses VAMs, and their use(s) globally. It is rare that I read or have the opportunities to write about what is happening with VAMs worldwide; hence, I am taking this opportunity to share with you all some of the global highlights from his article. I have also attached his article to this post here for those of you who want to give the full document a thorough read (see also the article’s full reference below).

First is that the US is “leading” the world in terms of its adoption of VAMs as an educational policy tool. While I did know this prior given my prior attempts to explore what was happening in the universe of VAMs outside of the US, as per Sørensen, our nation’s ranking in this case is still in place. In fact, “in the US the use of VAM as a policy instrument to evaluate schools and teachers has been taken exceptionally far [emphasis added] in the last 5 years, [while] most other high-income countries remain [relatively more] cautious towards the use of VAM;” this, “as reflected in OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] reports on the [VAM] policy instrument” (p. 1).

The second country most exceptionally using VAMs, so far, is England. Their national school inspection system in England, run by England’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED), for example, now has VAM as its central standard and accountability indicator.

These two nations are the most invested in VAMs, thus far, primarily because they have similar histories with the school effectiveness movement that emerged in the 1970s. In addition, both countries are also both highly engaged in what Pasi Sahlberg in his 2011 book Finnish Lessons termed the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM). GERM, in place since the 1980s, has “radically altered education sectors throughout the world with an
 agenda of evidence-based policy based on the [same] school effectiveness paradigm…[as it]…combines the centralised formulation of objectives and standards, and [the] monitoring of data, with the decentralisation to schools concerning decisions around how they seek to meet standards and maximise performance in their day-to-day running” (p. 5).

“The Chilean education system has [also recently] been subject to one of the more radical variants of GERM and there is [now] an interest [also there] in calculating VAM scores for teachers” (p. 6). In  Denmark and Sweden state authorities have begun to compare predicted versus actual performance of schools, not teachers, while taking into consideration “the contextual factors of parents’ educational background, gender, and student origin” (i.e, “context value added”) (p. 7). In Uganda and Delhi, in “partnership” with an England based, international school development company ARK, they are looking to gear up their data systems so they can run VAM trials and analyses to assess their schools’ effects, and also likely continue to scale up and out.

The US-based World Bank is also backing such international moves, as is the US-based Pearson testing corporation via its Learning Curve Project, which is relying on the input from some of the most prominent VAM advocates including Eric Hanushek (see prior posts on Hanushek here and here) and Raj Chetty (see prior posts on Chetty here and here) to promote itself as a player in the universe of VAMs. This makes sense, “[c]onsidering Pearson’s aspirations to be a global education company… particularly in low-income countries” (p. 7). On that note, also as per Sørensen, “education systems in low-income countries might prove [most] vulnerable in the coming years as international donors and for-profit enterprises appear to be endorsing VAM as a means to raise school and teacher quality” in such educationally struggling nations (p. 2).

See also a related blog post about Sørensen’s piece here, as written by him on the Education in Crisis blog, which is also sponsored by Education International. In this piece he also discusses the use of data for political purposes, as is too often the case with VAMs when “the use of statistical tools as policy instruments is taken too far…towards bounded rationality in education policy.”

In short, “VAM, if it has any use at all, must expose the misleading use of statistical mumbo jumbo that effectively #VAMboozles [thanks for the shout out!!] teachers, schools and society. This could help to spark some much needed reflection on the basic propositions of school effectiveness, the negative effects of putting too much trust in numbers, and lead us to start holding policy-makers to account for their misuse of data in policy formation.

Reference: Sørensen, T. B. (2016). Value-added measurement or modelling (VAM). Brussels, Belgium: Education International. Retrieved from http://download.ei-ie.org/Docs/WebDepot/2016_EI_VAM_EN_final_Web.pdf

Tennessee’s Trout/Taylor Value-Added Lawsuit Dismissed

As you may recall, one of 15 important lawsuits pertaining to teacher value-added estimates across the nation (Florida n=2, Louisiana n=1, Nevada n=1, New Mexico n=4, New York n=3, Tennessee n=3, and Texas n=1 – see more information here) was situated in Knox County, Tennessee.

Filed in February of 2015, with legal support provided by the Tennessee Education Association (TEA), Knox County teacher Lisa Trout and Mark Taylor charged that they were denied monetary bonuses after their Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS — the original Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS)) teacher-level value-added scores were miscalculated. This lawsuit was also to contest the reasonableness, rationality, and arbitrariness of the TVAAS system, as per its intended and actual uses in this case, but also in Tennessee writ large. On this case, Jesse Rothstein (University of California – Berkeley) and I were serving as the Plaintiffs’ expert witnesses.

Unfortunately, however, last week (February 17, 2016) the Plaintiffs’ team received a Court order written by U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice Jr. dismissing their claims. While the Court had substantial questions about the reliability and validity of the TVAAS, the Court determined that the State satisfied the very low threshold of the “rational basis test,” at legal issue. I should note here, however, that all of the evidence that the lawyers for the Plaintiffs collected via their “extensive discovery,” including the affidavits both Jesse and I submitted on Plaintiffs’ behalves, were unfortunately not considered in Judge Mattice’s motion to dismiss. This, perhaps, makes sense given some of the assertions made by the Court, forthcoming.

Ultimately, the Court found that the TVAAS-based, teacher-level value-added policy at issue was “rationally related to a legitimate government interest.” As per the Court order itself, Judge Mattice wrote that “While the court expresses no opinion as to whether the Tennessee Legislature has enacted sound public policy, it finds that the use of TVAAS as a means to measure teacher efficacy survives minimal constitutional scrutiny. If this policy proves to be unworkable in practice, plaintiffs are not to be vindicated by judicial intervention but rather by democratic process.”

Otherwise, as per an article in the Knoxville News Sentinel, Judge Mattice was “not unsympathetic to the teachers’ claims,” for example, given the TVAAS measures “student growth — not teacher performance — using an algorithm that is not fail proof.” He inversely noted, however, in the Court order that the “TVAAS algorithms have been validated for their accuracy in measuring a teacher’s effect on student growth,” even if minimal. He also wrote that the test scores used in the TVAAS (and other models) “need not be validated for measuring teacher effectiveness merely because they are used as an input in a validated statistical model that measures teacher effectiveness.” This is, unfortunately, untrue. Nonetheless, he continued to write that even though the rational basis test “might be a blunt tool, a rational policymaker could conclude that TVAAS is ‘capable of measuring some marginal impact that teachers can have on their own students…[and t]his is all the Constitution requires.”

In the end, Judge Mattice concluded in the Court order that, overall, “It bears repeating that Plaintiff’s concerns about the statistical imprecision of TVAAS are not unfounded. In addressing Plaintiffs’ constitutional claims, however, the Court’s role is extremely limited. The judiciary is not empowered to second-guess the wisdom of the Tennessee legislature’s approach to solving the problems facing public education, but rather must determine whether the policy at issue is rationally related to a legitimate government interest.”

It is too early to know whether the prosecution team will appeal, although Judge Mattice dismissed the federal constitutional claims within the lawsuit “with prejudice.” As per an article in the Knoxville News Sentinel, this means that “it cannot be resurrected with new facts or legal claims or in another court. His decision can be appealed, though, to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.”

The “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) To Replace “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB)

Yesterday, the US “Senate overwhelmingly passe[d] new national education legislation” called the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA; formerly known as The Student Success Act (H.R. 5)). The ESSA passed the Senate with an 85-12 vote, and it is officially set to replace “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB), once President Obama signs it into law (expectedly, today). This same act passed, with a similar margin, in the US House last October (see a prior post about this here).

The ESSA is to reduce “the federal footprint and restore local control, while empowering parents and education leaders to hold schools accountable for effectively teaching students” within their states, and also “[reset] Washington’s relationship with the nation’s 100,000 public schools” and its nearly 50 million public school students and their 3.4 million public school teachers, while “sending significant power back to states and local districts while maintaining limited federal oversight of education.” Peripherally, albeit substantially, this will also impact those who greatly influence (and/or profit from) the “public school market estimated to be worth about $700 billion” (e.g., testing companies, value-added modelers/contractors).

More specifically, ESSA is to:

  • Replace the current national accountability scheme based on high stakes tests with state-led accountability systems, returning responsibility for measuring student and school performance to states and school districts. Although, states will still be required to test students annually in mathematics and reading in grades three through eight and once in high school, as per NCLB’s earlier provisions. States will also be required to publicly report these scores according to race, income, ethnicity, disability and whether students are English-language learners (ELLs).
  • Allow states to decide how to weight these and other test scores and, more importantly as related to this blog, decide whether and how to evaluate teachers with or without said scores. States will be able to “set their own goals and timelines for academic progress, though their plans must be approved by the federal Department of Education.” About this latter caveat there exists some uncertainty; hence, we will have to see how this one plays out.
  • Related, ESSA will excuse states with NCLB waivers; that is, from having to adopt stronger accountability measures as based on student and teacher level growth, and as per current (and soon to be past) federal legislative requirements. All 43 states currently holding waivers are, accordingly, soon to be released from these waivers, no later than August. “It is unclear [however] whether states will retain [these] policies absent a federal mandate.”
  • Overall, ESSA will protect state and local autonomy over decisions in the classroom by preventing, for example, the US Secretary of Education from coercing states into adopting federal initiatives. As per the same Washington Post article, “The new law will significantly reduce the legal authority of the education secretary, who [will] be legally barred from influencing state decisions about academic benchmarks, such as the Common Core State Standards, teacher evaluations and other policies.”

This “is the single biggest step toward local control of public schools in 25 years,” said Senator Lamar Alexander (Republican-Tennessee), chair of the Senate education panel and a chief architect of the law along with Senator Patty Murray (Democrat-Washington).

See other related articles on this here, here, and here. As per this last post, the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) highlight both the good and the bad in ESSA as they see it. The good more or less mirrors that which is highlighted above, the bad includes legitimate concerns about how ESSA will allow for more charter schools, more room for Teach For America (TFA), “Pay for Success” for investors, and the like.

Something to Be Thankful For, in New York

New York is one of a handful of states often of (dis)honrable mention on this blog (see for example here, here, and here), given its state Schools Chancellor Merryl Tisch, with the support and prodding of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, have continuously pushed to have teacher-level growth scores count for up to 50% of teachers’ total evaluation scores.

But now, it looks like there is something for which we all, and especially those in New York, might be thankful.

As per an article published yesterday in The New York Times, Governor “Cuomo, in Shift, Is Said to Back Reducing Test Scores’ Role in Teacher Reviews.” Thankful we should be for teachers who expressed their frustrations with the state’s policy movements, who were apparently heard. And thankful we should be for the parents who opted out last year in protest throughout New York, as it looks like their collective efforts also worked to reverse this state trend. “More than 200,000 of the nearly 1.2 million students [16.7%] expected to take the annual reading and math tests [in New York] did not sit for them in 2015.”

“Now, facing a parents’ revolt against testing, the state is poised to change course and reduce the role of test scores in evaluations. And according to two people involved in making state education policy, [Governor] Cuomo has been quietly pushing for a reduction, even to zero. That would represent an about-face from January, when the governor called for test scores to determine 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.”

It looks like a task force is to make recommendations to Governor Cuomo before his 2016 State of the State speech in January, with recommendations potentially including the “decoupling test scores from [teacher] evaluations or putting in place some kind of moratorium on teacher evaluations.”

As per Diane Ravitch’s post on this breaking story, “Cuomo may not only reduce the role of testing in teacher evaluation, but eliminate it altogether.” However, we might also be cautiously thankful, and critically aware, as “[t]his may be a hoax, a temporary moratorium intended to deflate the Opt Out Movement and cause it to disappear. Do not rest until the law is changed to delink testing and teacher-principal evaluations.” Rather, “Let’s remain watchful and wait to see what happens. In the meanwhile, this is [certainly] reason for joy on the day [of] Thanksgiving.”

The Nation’s “Best Test” Scores Released: Test-Based Policies (Evidently) Not Working

From Diane Ravitch’s Blog (click here for direct link):

Sometimes events happen that seem to be disconnected, but after a few days or weeks, the pattern emerges. Consider this: On October 2, [U.S.] Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that he was resigning and planned to return to Chicago. Former New York Commissioner of Education John King, who is a clone of Duncan in terms of his belief in testing and charter schools, was designated to take Duncan’s place. On October 23, the Obama administration held a surprise news conference to declare that testing was out of control and should be reduced to not more than 2% of classroom time [see prior link on this announcement here]. Actually, that wasn’t a true reduction, because 2% translates into between 18-24 hours of testing, which is a staggering amount of annual testing for children in grades 3-8 and not different from the status quo in most states.

Disconnected events?

Not at all. Here comes the pattern-maker: the federal tests called the National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] released its every-other-year report card in reading and math, and the results were dismal. There would be many excuses offered, many rationales, but the bottom line: the NAEP scores are an embarrassment to the Obama administration (and the George W. Bush administration that preceded it).

For nearly 15 years, Presidents Bush and Obama and the Congress have bet billions of dollars—both federal and state—on a strategy of testing, accountability, and choice. They believed that if every student was tested in reading and mathematics every year from grades 3 to 8, test scores would go up and up. In those schools where test scores did not go up, the principals and teachers would be fired and replaced. Where scores didn’t go up for five years in a row, the schools would be closed. Thousands of educators were fired, and thousands of public schools were closed, based on the theory that sticks and carrots, rewards and punishments, would improve education.

But the 2015 NAEP scores released today by the National Assessment Governing Board (a federal agency) showed that Arne Duncan’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top program had flopped. It also showed that George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind was as phony as the “Texas education miracle” of 2000, which Bush touted as proof of his education credentials.

NAEP is an audit test. It is given every other year to samples of students in every state and in about 20 urban districts. No one can prepare for it, and no one gets a grade. NAEP measures the rise or fall of average scores for states in fourth grade and eighth grade in reading and math and reports them by race, gender, disability status, English language ability, economic status, and a variety of other measures.

The 2015 NAEP scores showed no gains nationally in either grade in either subject. In mathematics, scores declined in both grades, compared to 2013. In reading, scores were flat in grade 4 and lower in grade 8. Usually the Secretary of Education presides at a press conference where he points with pride to increases in certain grades or in certain states. Two years ago, Arne Duncan boasted about the gains made in Tennessee, which had won $500 million in Duncan’s Race to the Top competition. This year, Duncan had nothing to boast about.

In his Race to the Top program, Duncan made testing the primary purpose of education. Scores had to go up every year, because the entire nation was “racing to the top.” Only 12 states won a share of the $4.35 billion that Duncan was given by Congress: Tennessee and Delaware were first to win, in 2010. The next round, the following states won multi-millions of federal dollars to double down on testing: Maryland, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Rhode Island.

Tennessee, Duncan’s showcase state in 2013, made no gains in reading or mathematics, neither in fourth grade or eighth grade. The black-white test score gap was as large in 2015 as it had been in 1998, before either NCLB or the Race to the Top.

The results in mathematics were bleak across the nation, in both grades 4 and 8. The declines nationally were only 1 or 2 points, but they were significant in a national assessment on the scale of NAEP.

In fourth grade mathematics, the only jurisdictions to report gains were the District of Columbia, Mississippi, and the Department of Defense schools. Sixteen states had significant declines in their math scores, and thirty-three were flat in relation to 2013 scores. The scores in Tennessee (the $500 million winner) were flat.

In eighth grade, the lack of progress in mathematics was universal. Twenty-two states had significantly lower scores than in 2013, while 30 states or jurisdictions had flat scores. Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Florida (a Race to the Top winner), were the biggest losers, by dropping six points. Among the states that declined by four points were Race to the Top winners Ohio, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. Maryland, Hawaii, New York, and the District of Columbia lost two points. The scores in Tennessee were flat.

The District of Columbia made gains in fourth grade reading and mathematics, but not in eighth grade. It continues to have the largest score gap-—56 points–between white and black students of any urban district in the nation. That is more than double the average of the other 20 urban districts. The state with the biggest achievement gap between black and white students is Wisconsin; it is also the state where black students have the lowest scores, lower than their peers in states like Mississippi and South Carolina. Wisconsin has invested heavily in vouchers and charter schools, which Governor Scott Walker intends to increase.

The best single word to describe NAEP 2015 is stagnation. Contrary to President George W. Bush’s law, many children have been left behind by the strategy of test-and-punish. Contrary to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, the mindless reliance on standardized testing has not brought us closer to some mythical “Top.”

No wonder Arne Duncan is leaving Washington. There is nothing to boast about, and the next set of NAEP results won’t be published until 2017. The program that he claimed would transform American education has not raised test scores, but has demoralized educators and created teacher shortages. Disgusted with the testing regime, experienced teachers leave and enrollments in teacher education programs fall. One can only dream about what the Obama administration might have accomplished had it spent that $5 billion in discretionary dollars to encourage states and districts to develop and implement realistic plans for desegregation of their schools, or had they invested the same amount of money in the arts.

The past dozen or so years have been a time when “reformers” like Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, and Bill Gates proudly claimed that they were disrupting school systems and destroying the status quo. Now the “reformers” have become the status quo, and we have learned that disruption is not good for children or education.

Time is running out for this administration, and it is not likely that there will be any meaningful change of course in education policy. One can only hope that the next administration learns important lessons from the squandered resources and failure of NCLB and Race to the Top.

VAMboozled’s Two-Year Anniversary

It’s our two year anniversary, so I thought I would share our current stats and our thanks to all who are following (n ≥ 15,000), and also sharing out our independent, open-access, research- and community-based content. We still have a lot of work to be done in terms of America’s test-based teacher evaluation systems, but I feel like we are certainly having a positive impact on the nation writ large, again, with thanks to you all!!

On that note, if there are others (e.g., teachers, students, parents, administrators, school board members, policy advisers, policymakers) who you might know but who might not be following, please do also share and recommend.

Here are our stats (that are also available on our About page):

November, 2013: Blog went live
May, 2014: Subscribers ≈ 3,000; Hits per month ≈ 50,000*
November, 2014: Subscribers ≈ 8,000; Hits per month ≈ 100,000*
May, 2015: Subscribers ≈ 13,000; Hits per month ≈ 160,000*
November, 2015: Subscribers ≈ 15,000; Hits per month ≈ 180,000*

Subscribers

We have also made public 295 posts, to date, averaging 2.8 posts per week and 12.3 post per month.

*This number is calculated by ((subscribers x average number of posts per month) + external hits per month)), although external hits may also include subscribers as analytics cannot differentiate between subscribers and hits. These two indicators are not mutually exclusive.

Two Questions Every Presidential Candidate Needs to Answer about Education

In an article released by Truthout, author Paul Thomas recently released an article titled “Five Questions Every Presidential Candidate Needs to Answer About Education.” You can read all five questions framed by Thomas here, but I want to highlight for you all the two (of the five) questions that most closely relate to the issues with which we deal via this blog.

Here are the two questions about education reform in this particular arena that every candidate should have to answer, and a few of Thomas’s words about why these questions matter.

1. While state and national leaders in education have repeatedly noted the importance of teacher quality – while also misrepresenting that importance [emphasis added] – increasing standards-based teaching, high-stakes testing and value-added methods of teacher evaluation, along with the dismantling unions, have de-professionalized teaching and discouraged young people from entering the field. How will you work to return professionalism and autonomy to teachers?

The teacher quality debate is the latest phase of accountability linked to test scores that started with school and student accountability in the 1980s and ’90s. While everyone can agree that teacher quality is important, the real issues are how we measure that impact and how we separate teacher and even school quality effects from the much larger and more powerful impact of out-of-school factors – that account for about 60% to 86% of measurable student learning.

The misguided focus on teacher quality – linking evaluations significantly to test scores – has begun to have a negative impact on teacher quality, precisely because such measures de-professionalize educators. Teachers typically want autonomy, administrative and parental support, and conditions (such as appropriate materials and smaller class sizes) that increase their professionalism and effectiveness – not raises [although I think given sweeping cuts to teacher salaries that have accompanied all of this craziness, raises would also certainly help situations, at least to bring many teachers back to what they were making before such reforms were worked to justify salary cuts].

2. Since the era of high-stakes accountability initiated in the early 1980s has not, in fact, closed the achievement gap, can you commit to ending accountability-based education reform, including a significant reduction in high-stakes testing, and then detail reform based on equity of opportunities for all students?

Andre Perry, former founding dean of urban education at Davenport University, has noted that accountability has failed educational equity because “having the ability to compare performances among groups hasn’t brought educational justice to black and brown students.”

More useful models do exist. The National Education Policy Center has called for identifying and recognizing school reform that addresses equity for all students through their Schools of Opportunity project. This model shifts the focus on reform away from narrow measures, test data and punitive policies and toward creating the opportunities that affluent students tend to have but poor and racial minorities are denied, including access to experienced and certified teachers, rich and diverse courses, small class sizes, and well-funded safe schools. [I too would certainly support a paradigm shift away from focusing on accountability to opportunities, no doubt!]

***

Citation: Thomas, P. (2015). Five questions every presidential candidate needs to answer about education. Truthout. Retrieved from http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/32472-five-questions-every-presidential-candidate-needs-to-answer-about-education