Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

Education Bears the Brunt of Colorado Budget Cuts

Everyone is falling on hard times. I get it. People are losing jobs, consumer spending is down, tax revenue collections are down, and the Colorado has an almost $632 million shortfall for the current fiscal year 08-09 with a potential $385.5 million shortfall for 09-10. I get all that, too. But, here’s a few items I don’t get:

  • From Governor Ritter’s State of the State address on January 8, 2009: “I’ve seen the promise of Colorado in every corner of our great state, in classrooms…the best economic strategy is an education strategy…we can’t shortchange hope…Now, more than ever, we must focus on policies like this, which will help us rebound from the downturn and put us back on the path to prosperity.”
  • Of the $201.1 spending reductions and program cuts, k-12 and higher education shoulder ($45.8 million+ $30 million= $75.8 million)  or 37.7%, larger than any other area, according to his budget balancing plan.
  • Of the $289.7 million in transfers and diversions to the general fund, The Higher Education Maintenance and Reserve Fund will lose $47.2 million, again, larger than any other area.

Add those two together and education in Colorado is out $123 million of the $631.9 million, 19.5%, this year alone. This is the “best economic strategy” the governor can propose? Really?

So now, schools (here and here) and colleges (here and here) are left to sort out the mess. We get to do more with less. (Yes, more, didn’t you see that enrollment is up nearly 2%?) What it certainly feels like is that education only really matters when politicians want to introduce “bold education-reform legislation.” By sacrificing education on the political altar, disguised as “protecting life, safety and public health,” Governor Ritter is doing exactly the opposite and revealing that he and all those who support such cuts are actively pursuing the destruction of public education, despite what their press releases say. And when the terrible test scores start coming in and the dropout rates continue to rise and kindergarteners enter first grade miserably prepared and those who do graduate from high school find themselves ill-prepared for post-secondary education or careers; it won’t be the politicians who bear the wrath of public discontent, but those ridiculous educators who need to reform but just aren’t willing to do it. 

So much for “push[ing] hard against the status quo and creat[ing] a bold new vision for education in Colorado,” right Governor? So much for your “moral document” reflecting our values (6th paragraph on page 4). I have a hard time reconciling your actions (especially when you use education as a political tool) with the “sacred trust” you mention at the beginning of your State of the State Address. Perhaps what would be truly bold would be to stand resolute and not cut a single dollar from the State’s education budget, in any form, this year or any hence. That, Honorable Governor, might be the only way we can truly believe you when you say, “Our children deserve nothing less than a world-class education.”

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January 17, 2009 Posted by | Education | , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New (Old) Component of Postsecondary Readiness

If you’ve lost track of the ongoing conversation, especially here in Colorado (but generally across the US), about college and workforce readiness. There’s been lots of buzz about it. The Colorado Department of Education is town hall forums meetings all over the state. All this, you may recall is a result of Senate Bill 08-212, the “Preschool to Postsecondary Education Alignment Act” also known as the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids (CAP4Kids) legislation introduced by Governor Ritter. According to one CDE news release,

The town hall forums will focus on such questions as:

  • What do students need to be workforce ready?
  • What do students need to be postsecondary ready?
  • Are there special considerations for the workforce or higher education in your region of the state?

S.B. 08-212 requires that the Colorado State Board of Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education adopt a description of “postsecondary and workforce readiness” by Dec. 15, 2009.

Further, S.B. 08-212 seeks to establish a seamless pathway from preschool into college or the workplace. Essential to that pathway is an understanding of what it means to be ready for education or the workforce after high school and a plan to ensure that students take the necessary courses and master the content to do so.

These are good questions, no doubt, but CDE is missing a critical element, a new (old) component of postsecondary readiness…

Cost.

I don’t mean how much all this legislation is going to cost. (That’s a whole post in itself.) I mean the cost of going to college. Consider an article from today’s New York Times that reports “…college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 while median family income rose 147 percent.”

Sure, we need to prepare our kids for postsecondary and workforce readiness; I’m not arguing that -yet. But, once we get them ready -especially for college -then what? Student loans, multiple jobs, navigating college over 6-7 years, scholarships and grants (not for all)? Not likely, probable, viable, sustainable, or practical. How many financial crises do we need in this country until we learn massive debt is NOT a good thing?

Unfortunately, massive debt is what we are really making our kids ready for as long as postsecondary education is a commodity to be brokered on capitalistic terms. That is our fundamental problem at the intersection of democracy and capitalism. We simply want postsecondary education for all, but we really can’t provide it for all. We can’t pay for it because we have to pay for it. No government “ism,” assistance programs, or bailout plans are going to help; no legislation introduced by and governor, president, mayor, or whomever will make a difference until we decide that education is a fundamental right for everyone. We’ll fall miserably short of our readiness goals until we restructure our social, economic, political, and cultural priorities to make it happen.

December 5, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wake Forest Drops SAT and ACT

Subtitle: Proving Alfie Kohn (and Others) Right Again

The Associated Press (as I traced the story back to them) through FoxNews.com and other outlets are reporting that Wake Forest University will drop the SAT and ACT for admission requirements and, as the University’s site says, make them optional. This, according to the the Wake Forest News Service, in light of some studies questioning the value of the tests. 

“‘While many top-tier universities are increasing their reliance on standardized testing in the admissions process, recent research suggests that standardized tests are not valuable predictors of college success,’ said Wake Forest Provost Jill Tiefenthaler, the university’s chief academic officer whose office oversees admissions.” 

The Raleigh News & Observer reports in their article,

“There is a growing movement among colleges to de-emphasize the test. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a Cambridge, Mass., organization that monitors standardized testing and advocates for alternatives, counts about 760 schools that don’t require the SAT or ACT. In recent years, highly regarded liberal arts colleges in the Northeast have joined the trend.”

The Wake Forest News Service also quotes director of admissions, Martha Allman, regarding the University’s reasoning,

“By making the SAT and ACT optional, we hope to broaden the applicant pool and increase access at Wake Forest for groups of students who are currently underrepresented at selective universities.”

Admirable, but is this really just a way for Wake Forest to keep the perception of being a highly selective university while broadening its applicant pool revenue stream? Time and bookkeeping will tell.

Further in the Wake Forest article you’ll see Allman remarking that 

“Removing the test requirement will demonstrate emphatically that we value individual academic achievement and initiative as well as talent and character above standardized testing.”

Interestingly the Wake Forest article makes this reference.

“Some studies indicate performance on the SAT is closely linked to family income and education level, while others suggest a possible testing bias against certain minority students.”

Ah, enlightenment in 2008, yet seems this has entered the collective understanding since at least March 9, 2001 (longer when you look at some of the research he sites) when Alfie Kohn published his article “Two Cheers for an End to the SAT” in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Consider some of his bulleted items.

  • “Year after year, the College Board’s own statistics depict a virtually linear correlation between SAT scores and family income. Each rise in earnings (measured in $10,000 increments) brings a commensurate rise in scores.”
  • “Individual scores don’t reflect a student’s intellectual depth. The verbal section of the SAT is basically just a vocabulary test. It is not a measure of aptitude or of subject-area competency.”
  • “SAT’s don’t predict the future. A considerable amount of research, including but not limited to a summary of more than 600 studies published by the College Board in 1984, has found that only about 12 to 16 percent of the variance in freshman grades could be explained by SAT scores, suggesting that they are not particularly useful even with respect to that limited variable…”

There’s plenty more there with one item referencing research from 1996.

So, I just have to ask… Knowing this specifically about the SAT and generally about standardized testing in general, how do we, in good conscience, perpetuate these practices? Why are we considering using a battery of tests from a similar company as part of our college and workforce readiness assessments?

May 27, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Schools as Worker Incubators and Education Reform

Subtitle: Education Reform Legislation Debrief -5.21.08 

Today at the CASE Legislative Debrief, we received an overview of the very active legislative session and the education bills that were passed (and defeated). One of the bills, SB 08-212 signed into law on May 14, 2008 by Governor Ritter, I have been writing about (see my CAP4Kids tag) and expressed some concerns. Later at the debrief round-table session I asked a series of questions about some things that haven’t been sitting well with me. I ask them here again (with some additional thought and background).

Is the purpose of schools [in Colorado] to produce workers? “Workforce Readiness” means preparation for getting a job and “College Readiness” means going to college to get a degree for a job, right? So schools are to be worker processing factories; that’s really what we are talking about, right? Take for example this excerpt from The General Assembly’s Finding (c) on pages 3 and 4 of the Bill,

“To be successful in the workforce and earn a living wage immediately upon graduation from high school, a student needs nearly the same level of academic achievement and preparation that he or she would need to continue into career and technical or higher education.”

This certainly seems to indicate worker production preeminence. What if a kid doesn’t want to be a worker in the traditional get-a-job sense?  Doesn’t this kind of thinking simply reinforce our old industrial models? The logical next question in response is “If not college or workforce readiness, then what?” My response is that those things are important, but we’re still negelcting the same things. What if a kid wants to be a musician, artist, novelist, actor, athlete, missionary, entrepreneur, public servant, or [add your own]. (disclaimer: there are requirements that standards be created in Visual and Performing Arts and PE, too, but we have those and they don’t figure figure into any of the state or national accountability reports now.) Right away I can anticipate the old arguments about managing money and “what if she blows a knee” and “kids still need to know how to read and write” and [commence hand wringing and brow furrowing] and other traditional “that’s not practical” objections. And before some get all “that’s not realistic” with me how many stories are out there and haven’t been told like Ben Kaufman’s, who started making money at 12?

Here’s some reasons why this has been so widely accepted. We K-12 people, especially us high school folk, finally have a law saying Higher Education has to work with them and not dictate to them. Higher Education loves it because they get tap into their revenue streams potential students in 8th grade (See Definition 13 on page 7).  The business community loves it because it gives them a consistent flow of workers and all those kids Higher Ed weeds out will already have their workforce skills mastered. Lots of  grades 3-11 educators love it because it’s not CSAP. (Be careful, fellow educators, what you wish for; you just might get it.) The testing companies, particularly ACT, love it because they get to make all kinds of money from all those School Readiness and Workforce Readiness assessments. (Think I’m exaggerating? click on the ACT link and look at the wording on the left side of the page.) Legislators love it because they have so many constituents in those other sectors who love it.  Lots of voters will love it because who can really argue against “School Readiness” or “College and Workforce Readiness” anyway. The feds are going to love it because we’ll be testing the kids like crazy -all the time. The media will love it because they can draw more people to their outlets when they sensationalize just how miserable a job education is doing because they’ll be able to manipulate all this testing data to tell any story they want.

I understand that we’ve been told we’re failing in so many areas in education when compared with the rest of the world. (Those notions, by the way, are also debatable on so many levels.) America is bleeding out jobs all over the world. America’s dominance in [add your lost American sector here] is [fill in rank here] to [fill in global competitor here]. So we must act with an Act using the ACT in order to perform the same act again. Maybe I’m becoming cynical and being critical, offering no solutions, but we have long identified the problems, proffered remedies, and ended up in the same place. Professor Daniel Tanner of Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education put his finger on it.

“No less than any other era, the contemporary scene is marked by waves of conflicting and contradictory criticism and reinvented demands for reform. Following an era of damaging retrenchment, public school educators may be justified in hesitating to find fault with any of the recent reports and studies of our schools when these documents call for a vast increase in our investment in education. But unless the profession sorts out the demands and prescriptions for reform, the schools will continue to be buffeted by conflicting demands and will ride whatever sociopolitical tide is dominant.”

The American High School at the Crossroads from ASCD (1984!!!).

May 21, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Acronymns Started Fighting This Week

Subtitle: Education Reform Legislation Update -4.19.08

On Thursday (4/17/08) this week I received my BriefCASE from the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) detailing the legislative updates and amendments for Senate Bill 212, also called Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids (CAP4Kids), that passed the second reading of the bill in the Senate. I have referenced this initiative-turned-bill in two of my previous posts on March 19, 2008 and March 30, 2008.

CASE writes (I’ve added links): “These amendments will put Colorado on a fast track to piloting EPAS (Educational Planning and Assessment System) for purposes of data collection in the 2008-2009 school year. The next phase would call for the elimination of 9th and 10th grade CSAP and adoption of ACT College Readiness Standards for reading, writing, math, and science. It would move forward the following assessment package: Explore in 9th grade; PLAN in 10th grade and ACT plus ACT writing in 11th grade. All assessments would be administered in the spring.”

Later that day, I received a news release from the Colorado Department of Education(CDE) that detailed Commissioner Dwight D. Jones‘ “concerns about rush to adopt assessments before standards.” CDE Communications can be found at http://www.cde.state.co.us/Communications/index.html. Here are some quotes from the press release.

Colorado Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones today expressed his concern that amendments to Senate Bill 212 approved today may tie the hands of the department in choosing the best possible standards and assessments for Colorado students.

Specific concerns (abbreviated and bulleted, read the full text here)

  • Alignment with standards. The ACT/EPAS products are not based on content standards adopted by 178 school districts across the state.
  • Achievement gap information.“The Colorado public needs an assurance that any proposed system would provide a similar or better view of achievement gaps.”
  • Costs. “No state in the country has gained federal approval for what is being proposed today,” said Commissioner Jones. “No costs have been projected or identified for the process of gaining federal approval…
  • Growth model. “It’s unclear what adjustments are needed to fit a new test into the growth model,” said Commissioner Jones.

This appears to be the first skirmish in the highly publicized legislation. The legislative amendments definitely seem to be an acknowledgement, albeit political, of the general (correct or not) perception that CSAP is an irrelevant (at least in terms of usefulness to students beyond high school) exam. CDE has spent much of their time and energy on a longitudinal growth model that has CSAP scores at its heart. See Reference 1 and Reference 2for more information. There’s a sort of disconnect since the legislature, in House Bill 07-1048, required CDE to work with a technical advisory panel appointed by Governor Ritterto “to revise the growth model developed under HB 04-1433 to better quantify student growth (CRS § 22-7-604.3). The statute stipulates that the analysis of longitudinal growth should serve as the cornerstone of Colorado’s education accountability system.” (Note: HB 07-1048 is in the appendix in Reference 1 and mentions CSAP specifically. See the press releasefrom the technical advisory panel from March 6, 2008.) Apparently the House, Senate, Governor, CDE and the 178 school districts have lots of work to do before this becomes a practical reality. Is practical too hopeful of a word?

As an additional point the people over at ACT must be absolutely drooling over the prospect of getting an entire state of 9th and 10th grade students taking their tests. Of course we have mandated the ACT for our 11th graders already. Let’s not forget that although ACT is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit company, they aren’t giving their tests away and it’s in their best interests to capture as many kids as possible to give weight to their college and workplace influences. Their continued corporate health directly depends on their sustained growth. Their National Career Readiness Certificate and the associated WorkKeys assessment can’t be far behind if we go down the currently proposed legislative path. 

CSAP or EPAS, I could go on, but I already have: Fit: Corporational Education; State Standardized Test Questions. Let’s just hope there’s not more Death Threats for Test Scores (Thanks, Wes!)

April 19, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Whole New Mind Book Study Part 4.07.08 -Success and Meaning

We wrapped up the last chapter of the book this weekend with a discussion on Meaning. The next step for participants is to post on our book discussion page to the Now What? section. They get to write (and respond) about what they are going to do with their whole new mind. I’m very interested in seeing the responses. I know for sure one of the art teachers in the group has been having her AP Art students read it.

As we discussed the Meaning chapter, some of my previous thinking surfaced and I found myself (probably) rambling on to the group about the various definitions of success we have in education and how they are tied to meaningfulness. It went something like this…

It doesn’t sit well with me that our primary gauges of success in education are college and workforce readiness. The most obvious response is “if it’s not college or workforce readiness, then what?” It’s a struggle to come up with an answer. However, if we define success (through school mission statements, especially) as economically productive, competitive global citizens prepared for future success (or some derivation like that). Many schools don’t necessarily have that idea explicitly stated, but our practices, often externally mandated, reveal such a focus. The big testing companies sell their world-o-work diagnostic tool as part of their business models so kids can know at 16, 17, 18 where they fit in the world of work or college. How do we reconcile this with some of the labor statistics and college major numbers cited by Did You Know and Shift Happens? I suppose that means we should be producing well-rounded students who have the ability to adapt and continue learning their whole lives. That seems to stand in contrast of streamlining kids into specific career and college paths. Do and will some kids go that route? Sure, but I’m not convinced that we should structure our educational systems so that all kids have to. Regardless, our system is structured to produce college and workforce ready people and that’s how we define our success and how we’ll expect them to define their success. The ways to success are to get a good job either with a college degree or without it.

What does good job mean for many people? Good money. Satisfaction and fulfillment all play a part, but like some fool said in answer to how much money is enough…just a little more. So there it is. If our definitions of success and meaning are closely and inextricably tied to that path of success, then the acquisition of wealth is really our metric. After all, it’s how we evaluate the colleges and businesses that pass dictates and judgements on to our schools. What about colleges why we’re at it. Why so many college drop outs? They want to blame inadequate preparation in high school, but perhaps it’s an inadequate ability for colleges to create meaning for their students as the colleges propel students to corporate bondage.

So now that we have defined education over the last 100+ years in the context of joining corporate America, we have no other way to define education. And that brings me back to “if it’s not college or workforce readiness, then what?” Self determination; the pursuit of happiness; the pursuit of knowledge; the search for meaning, service, caring, compassion, passion, creativity, individual expression, and on and on. Does any of it generate income? Can a corporate society support such an approach? It’s hard to conceive and even harder to see how these directly increase the bottom line. Can we do without college and workforce readiness? No. Can we do without all those other things in the pursuit of college and workforce readiness? Not for very much longer. If you think I’ve missed the mark, then I ask you to ponder the following and give an honest answer.

If a society defines success as the acquisition of wealth and the individual loses the capacity to create wealth, what value and meaning does the individual have to that society?

April 14, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment