Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

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!!!).

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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

Media Illiteracy

Received today from our district’s Public Information Office (emphasis added in the last line):

“At 2:32 a.m. this morning (April 1) television stations and the Gazette in Colorado Springs were sent a hoax e-mail that looks like a press release from Academy School District 20. The fake press release states that high school students have to retake CSAP tests because some tests were destroyed. All TV stations and the Gazette were alerted this morning that the press release is fake and that the content is erroneous. No CSAP violations have occurred in any of our testing and there are no students who have to retake the test. Some media agencies made no attempt to confirm the e-mail they received and did air the erroneous information or posted it to their websites. Most corrected the information by 8:30 a.m. today.”

It turns out that the “news release” sent to the various news organizations had the district’s logo of some form, the superintendent’s signature of some kind, the mispelled name of our Public Information Officer, multiple misspellings, different font types, and was sent from an non-district email address.

April Fool’s Day hoax commentary aside, how does the story get run at all in any reputable news outlet? Who missed their information literacy standards and why has there been no public outcry even if it was April Fool’s Day? Perhaps it’s because most people already know the truth: the established, commercial media is cannot be trusted so it doesn’t matter anyway. If this sort of communications blunder had happened in the context of a school district mistake, I guarantee those very media outlets would be leading some kind of investigative report calling for someone’s termination.

How did our trusted media sources respond?

From the Gazette:

“Turns out the official looking “news release” from Academy District 20 about high school students needing to retake CSAP was a prank. District officials are trying to determine who sent it to local media. The “why” is obvious.

In keeping with the spirit of the day – good one!”

KRDO NewsChannel 13:

“Early Tuesday morning, NEWSCHANNEL 13 received an apparently legitimate e-mail from District 20. The e-mail explained how the district would be re-testing 9th and 10th graders who had already taken the Colorado Student Assessment Program exam. Multiple local media organizations reported this false information, until the District set the record straight…[text of email]…Obviously, unless for another reason due to a particular circumstance, no students will have to be re-tested. The e-mail is under investigation.”

I was unable to find anything on the other three news stations websites. I guess we’ll just have to trust them.

The joke’s on us.

April 1, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

State Standardized Test Questions

Boy: “Dad, why do I have to take the CSAP tests this week and next week?”

Dad: “Son, the CSAP tests are part of the Colorado Student Assessment Program and, look here, the law says so, ‘Every student enrolled in a public school shall be required to take the (state) assessments (in the content areas and grades administered). – Colorado Revised Statutes [22-7-409(1.2.a.1.d.I)].'”

Boy: “When will I know how I did?”

Dad: “Four or five months from now.”

Boy: “When I’m in the next grade? Will my new teacher tell me how I did?”

Dad: “Well, they send the Performance Report home and the results get stored in a data warehouse that your teacher has access to.”

Boy: “If I do well, how will that help me in school?”

Dad: “It won’t; it shows your teacher, school, and district did a good job. It helps them.”

Boy: “What if I don’t do well?”

Dad: “Well, they might put you in a different class to help you get better.”

Boy: “With other kids who didn’t do well? You know, some kids just write anything in their tests. Will any teachers want to teach that class? It sounds like a tough job.”

Dad: “I’m sure the teacher will do her best.”

Boy: “Our principal came on the announcement speaker and said we should get lots of rest and eat a good breakfast the day of the test. How come he only says that during testing time? Is it okay to stay up and skip breakfast the rest of the school year?”

Dad: “No, you…”

Boy: “And how come we don’t have any homework for the testing weeks? My teacher said it’s because they want us to concentrate on our work. How come we don’t do that all the time?”

Dad: “Well, see…”

Boy: “I kinda like testing time. We actually don’t do that much work in class for almost two whole weeks. And I can’t wait until I get to my junior year in high school. Those kids don’t have to come in until noon because the freshmen and sophomores are testing all morning. Except one day when only sophomores take the Science test. And some kids’ parents say they don’t have to take the test. Our principal says that those kids’ tests count against our school.”

Dad: “That last part is true, but it may be changing.”

Boy: “Do the teachers still get paid for not teaching those weeks?”

Dad: “Yes, it’s part of their jobs.”

Boy: “Wouldn’t they rather be teaching?”

Dad: “Without a doubt. But some people say this will help them teach better.”

Boy: “But our teacher says that our 5th grade class will be compared to next year’s 5th grade class. Is that right? I mean, we’re pretty smart but the fourth graders are a bunch of booger pickers.”

Dad: “Um, the State is working on that. They are trying to look at how you do and, hopefully, improve each year.”

Boy: “That makes sense. How come they haven’t been doing that all along?”

Dad: “What else have you been told about the CSAP tests?”

Boy: “Somebody named Nickelbee made the schools give us all these tests. We have one or two administrators who are in charge of the tests and some secretaries that help sort and bubble the outside of the tests with information about us and if we finished the tests. In fact, we had a visit from a nice lady from the district office who says her only job is to coordinate all the tests the kids in the district take. She’s nice, but I think she likes numbers a little too much.”

Dad: “Now be nice. You know if a teacher messes up and give the wrong test or a kid goes ahead, she gets blamed?” 

Boy: “When you add up all the teachers, support staff and secretaries, paraprofessionals, building adminstrators, district administrators and support staff, and all the people at the state level, and all the paid test graders, for all the 477,000+ kids in grades 3-10 in all the schools in all the districts in the entire state and multiply that by the three or four tests each kid must take over multiple days, that seems like lots of time and money.”

Boy: “Dad, is it worth it and where does all that money go?”

March 6, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment