Why Philadelphia Schools Can’t Win


Meredith Broussard in The Atlantic:

Last June, the state-run School Reform Commission—which replaced Philadelphia’s school board in 2001—passed a “doomsday budget” that fell $300 million short of the district’s operating costs for the 2014 fiscal year. (The governor of Pennsylvania had already cut almost a billion dollars from public education funding in 2011.) Philadelphia schools were allotted $0 per student for textbooks. The 2015 budget likewise features no funding for books.

It may be many years until Philadelphia’s education budget matches its curriculum requirements. In the meantime, there are a few things the district—and other flailing school districts in America—can do. Stop giving standardized tests that are inextricably tied to specific sets of books. At the very least, stop using test scores to evaluate teacher performance without providing the items each teacher needs to do his or her job. Most of all, avoid basing an entire education system on materials so costly that big, urban districts can’t afford to buy them. Until these things change, it will be impossible to raise standardized test scores—despite the best efforts of the teachers and students who will return to school this fall and find no new books waiting for them.

It’s enough to make you weep. Read the entire article here.

Let’s hear it for slow and steady …

NJ policymakers are finally noticing that the runaway train of teacher evaluations needs some brakes applied. After several intensive sessions last week, an agreement was reached on key issues related to standardized testing and its use in evaluating teachers. A commission has been established to take a look at the entire standardized testing environment. At the same time, student growth objectives have been reduced (to 20%) of a teacher’s evaluation rating.

More on the story here.

Will other states take notice?

Children approach solving the problem differently than adults.

Problem Solving

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have found that 4- and 5-year-olds are smarter than college students when it comes to figuring out how toys and gadgets work …

Exploratory learning comes naturally to young children …  Adults, on the other hand, jump on the first, most obvious solution and doggedly stick to it, even if it’s not working. That’s inflexible, narrow thinking.

Or, is it possible, that schools encourage kids to “unlearn” their natural problem-solving abilities? After all, it doesn’t take much flexibility or expanded thinking to color in bubbles on a standardized test.

Read the article here. Access the study here.

Surprising news: Gates Foundation sees reason

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the country’s largest donors to educational causes and a strong backer of the academic guidelines known as the Common Core, has called for a two-year moratorium on states or school districts making any high-stakes decisions based on tests aligned with the new standards …

“No evaluation system will work unless teachers believe it is fair and reliable, and it’s very hard to be fair in a time of transition. The standards need time to work. Teachers need time to develop lessons, receive more training, get used to the new tests and offer their feedback.”

Although Diane Ravitch doesn’t think 2 years is enough:

“If the sanctions and punishments tied to test scores are wrong now — promoting teaching to the test, narrowing the curriculum, cheating and gaming the system — the sanctions and punishments will still be wrong two years from now,”

Full New York Times article here.

The Condition of Education


Owen Phillips of EdCentral:

…when we take a step back and look at things on larger scale, it becomes clear that students in United States are, at least, making progress. Across all reported races and ethnicities, scores on the reading and math sections of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) have increased since 1990. While there is still much room to improve, these small gains warrant some congratulations—and they give hope for what else is possible.

Full article here.

Test scores shouldn’t be used in teacher evaluation—now supported by research

In a large-scale analysis  of new evaluation systems that evaluate teachers by using test scores (as one element), Morgan Polikoff (University of Southern California) and Andrew Porter (University of Pennsylvania) found little or no correlation between quality teaching and teacher ratings.

Under Race-to-the-Top, the number of states using teacher evaluation systems based in part on student test scores has increased dramatically over the past five years. Many are using those systems to make high-stakes decisions regarding hiring, firing, and compensation.

According to Polikoff and Porter:

Low correlations raise questions about the validity of high-stakes (e.g., performance evaluation) or low-stakes (e.g., instructional improvement) inferences made on the basis of value-added assessment data … the results suggest challenges to the effective use of VAM data. At a minimum, these results suggest it may be fruitless for teachers to use state test VAMs to inform adjustments to their instruction. Furthermore, this interpretation raises the question—If VAMs are not meaningfully associated with either the content or quality of instruction, what are they measuring?

Before moving forward with new high-stakes teacher evaluation policies based on multiple- measures teacher evaluation systems, it is essential that the research community develops a better understanding of how state tests reflect differences in instructional content and quality.

…this study contributes to a growing literature suggesting state tests may not be up to the task of differentiating effective from ineffective (or aligned from misaligned) teaching.

At the very least, these findings indicate a need to slow these implementations down. At best, they suggest (what we’ve known all along): student test scores cannot be meaningfully used to evaluate teachers. Read the entire report here.



An unintended and tragic consequence of our metrics for schools …

Fascinating interview with Linda Stone on maintaining focus in a maddeningly distractive world. An excerpt related to schools:

I interviewed a handful of Nobel laureates about their childhood play patterns. They talked about how they expressed their curiosity through experimentation. They enthusiastically described things they built, and how one play experience naturally led into another. In most cases, by the end of the interview, the scientist would say, “This is exactly what I do in my lab today! I’m still playing!”

An unintended and tragic consequence of our metrics for schools is that what we measure causes us to remove self-directed play from the school day. Children’s lives are completely programmed, filled with homework, lessons, and other activities. There is less and less space for the kind of self-directed play that can be a fantastically fertile way for us to develop resilience and a broad set of attention strategies, not to mention a sense of who we are, and what questions captivate us. We have narrowed ourselves in service to the gods of productivity, a type of productivity that is about output and not about results.

Read the interview here.

Ken Robinson on the Culture of Education in America

TED talks hosted a special show (broadcasted on PBS) around US education, specifically focusing on reducing the high school drop out rate. Ken Robinson’s discussion of alternative education and the role of standardized testing was particularly noteworthy. Excerpt here:

Robinson-Culture of US Education

Watch the entire program here.