Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

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

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

Education Reform Legislation Update -3.30.08

In a previous post, I referenced an educational reform bill introduced by Governor Ritter and bipartisan legislators. According to the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) (of which I am a member) BriefCASE Newsletter, the initiative is now Senate Bill 212 and has passed out of Education Appropriations after hearing testimony from 20 or more witnesses.

The CASE newsletter reports that the bill, containing more than a dozen amendments, has support from CASE that “strongly believes that it will reach into classrooms with a new vision for standards and assessments as well as alignment at the critical junctures of preschool to kindergarten and high school into postsecondary options.” The newsletter reports that several superintendents testified in support of the bill as well. CASE reports “direct involvement in a series of amendments that were adopted into the next iteration of the bill. Many of these amendments were jointly presented by the anchor group members (CASE, CASB, and CEA), and we appreciated joining efforts with Great Education Colorado on the important resource questions that this bill raises.”

The article also reports “Boulder New Vista High School Principal and CASE member Rona Wilensky opposed the bill because she does not think that college and workforce readiness mean close to the same thing.” Wilensky’s commentary in the Denver Post can be found by following this link. Additionally, Principal Wilensky wrote a blog post in Education News Colorado titled Shooting Holes in CAP4K Underlying Premise on March 26.

Her Denver Post piece raises several issues that align with my “Points of Concern” in the previous post. I’d like to see more discussion about this beyond the PR news reports. I’m hoping that the analysis that CASE will be doing will be of substance and provide some insight. I can’t say that I have become a supporter, but I can’t say I have become an opponent either.

March 30, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment