from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

EDUCATION you won't believe -- or will you?? 

what you will encounter in the four articles to which I am about to expose you.  These came across my path in the past two days.   For each I will provide the title and link, a biref summary, and perhaps one to four snippets, depending on the length of the actual piece.

Then, my dear friends, you can decide which of the four if any you wish to go and actually read.  You may laugh.   You may cry.   You may rage in anger and frustration.  

If you care about educational issues, you will find each of the articles will "touch" you in some way.  And now, to the task at hand.Our first piece, from The Texas Observer and written by Emily Pyle is entitled Te$t Market High-stakes tests aren't good for students, teachers, or schools. So who are they good for? and it is about Sandy kress and his business dealings.  If ou don't know who Sandy Kress is, you have not been paying attention to who has actually been making educational policy and why.  Nominally a Democrat, his involvement with educational policy and Bush goes beack to Texas.  Here are several brief samples.

Here's the beginning:

A committee hearing in the basement of the Texas Capitol on February 28 offered a glimpse of what the next phase of public school reform in this country might look like. The House Public Education Committee heard testimony on House Bill 2, an omnibus school finance and reform package. If the bill passes and Texas continues to serve as a national blueprint for school reform, the rest of the country should brace for more tests, with more riding on those tests than ever. The new legislation would inject additional "accountability" into public education, this time by expanding standardized testing in high schools, and tying funding, including teacher salaries, to performance on state exams. Those proposals aren't popular in many quarters. Eighteen people representing teachers, administrators, parents, and public school advocates testified against the bill. They asked for fewer testing mandates and more public school funding. The critics of the bill are part of a growing movement against the Texas education model, enshrined in the landmark federal law No Child Left Behind. Opponents say the current focus on testing degrades education and drains resources from the neediest schools.

Only one witness testified in favor of the bill. There was a small stir as Sandy Kress came to the microphone; in gatherings like this, he is something of a celebrity. Ten years ago, public school accountability was a vague, unenforceable ideal from free market enthusiasts who wanted to see schools run more like businesses. Kress, a Dallas lawyer, was serving what would be his last, tumultuous term as president of the Dallas school board. Fellow board members were calling the newspaper to denounce him as a racist and a bully. The fortunes of the reform movement and of Kress have risen together. He is one of the principal designers of No Child Left Behind, and has used his knowledge and connections to earn millions as a high-powered lobbyist for test publishers.  

A second snippet of how Kress presents:

"A decade earlier, Texas was going backwards," Kress told the committee. "Graduation rates were going down. Our minority youngsters were going nowhere." Now, he insisted, because of accountability, schools are better. The committee should go further, and faster--more tests, shorter deadlines, tougher standards. It was a radically different perspective than that voiced by other witnesses. Of course, unlike other witnesses, Kress was not lobbying on behalf of schools, teachers, or students, but a coalition of business interests who have pushed their version of school reform in Texas for more than a decade.

Kress can be an appealing witness--unusually alert and impassioned, with a voice that readily conveys sincerity in the faintest of Dallas inflections. He champions cash incentives for teachers who improve student test scores, but says they should be used primarily to draw talented teachers into the poorest schools. (Business groups use incentives as a means to side-step blanket pay raises, teachers' groups say.)  

Kress had been on the Dallas school board, had become its president, and it was probably him caught on tape making racist remarks.  He denied it, but did not run again. And then looked for another way to get involved with education.

He didn't have long to wait. A year later, Kress moved to Austin, where he already had friends. In 1993, he had worked with Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock on the first draft of the Texas accountability system, which introduced the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test. He had briefed George W. Bush on education policy during his 1994 run against incumbent Ann Richards. Once in Austin, Kress helped Gov. Bush lobby for pet reforms like ending social promotion. As a paid consultant for the Governor's Business Council, Kress traveled across the state pushing Bush's education agenda. He also served as a board member of the Texas Business and Education Coalition, and a lobbyist for TBEC's lobbying arm, Texans for Education. By 1998, Kress was working for Akin Gump. Through the firm, Kress held lobbying contracts for McGraw-Hill, the textbook publishing company that had long-standing personal ties to the Bush family. Kress was one of the architects of the Governor's Reading Initiative, which eventually landed McGraw-Hill the lion's share of the Texas textbook market.

In 2000, Kress helped Bush craft the education platform that became the centerpiece of "compassionate conservativism" and stumped for Bush's plan throughout the campaign, telling the story of the "Texas miracle"--rising test scores, happy urban school kids, a bright new future--again and again. When Bush finally secured his victory, he took Kress along with him to Washington, D.C. Once inside the Beltway, Kress played key roles in crafting and passing No Child Left Behind. Officially still a Democrat, he was instrumental in putting together the bipartisan push behind the bill, pulling Democratic lawmakers Ted Kennedy, George Miller, and John Boehner into the president's court. The law that took shape required states to test every student in the third through eighth grades and once in high school, and publicize the scores. By 2014, all students, including those in special education and those with limited English skills, would have to pass the exam. To that end, the states would establish "adequate yearly progress" or AYP standards. Schools that receive Title I funding--federal aid for schools with high numbers of poor, minority, and at-risk students--would be penalized if they failed to meet the standards for three years running.  

Let me conclude my examination  of this article with a series of brief snippets, which will show you how Kress has PERSONALLY PROFITED from his work in education.  I will offer parts of several paragraphs:

Bush signed No Child Left Behind into law in January 2002. Five months later, Kress registered with the U.S. Secretary of the Senate as a lobbyist for NCS Pearson. Kress specializes in helping his clients tailor themselves to the requirements of No Child Left Behind, something Pearson has done with startling success. . . .    Pearson had been a bit player in the education market, concentrating on the scoring of standardized tests. In 2000, however, Pearson acquired National Computer Systems. . . .Since then, Pearson has built an accountability empire of sorts, becoming the third-largest testing company in the country. . . .

NCS Pearson publishes software systems that allow teachers to create, administer, and score "diagnostic" tests that purport to show how well students are learning by demonstrating in part how prepared they are for state tests. Subsidiary Pearson Educational Measurement holds test design contracts in states with large testing programs, like Florida and Texas. Pearson Education, another subsidiary, publishes reading, math, science, art, and music curricula for grades K-12. Other subsidiaries offer online testing, data management services, and professional training for teachers, including an online master's degree program. The company claims to have at least one product placed in 50,000 schools nationwide.

Another of Kress's clients, Educational Testing Services, Inc., also made a sudden market surge in the wake of No Child Left Behind. . . .

Kress also lobbies for HOSTS Learning, which publishes online testing tools and an associated line of curricular materials and for Kumon North America, a rising star in the brand-new after-school tutoring market. Other clients include Community Education Partners, a for-profit school management company that runs alternative campuses for students with disciplinary problems, as well as companies that help schools and districts collect, manage, and report the volume of data required by No Child Left Behind.


Let's move on. Our next piece is from The Virginia Journal of Education and is entitled FIGHTING CRIME, NCLB STYLE.  It is written by Mark Angle, the principal of Amherst Elementary School in Amherst County].  After presenting his bona fides as a supporter of high standards for all, he introduces the premise of his piece, which is about the underlying absuridty of NCLB.  I will offer only this selection.  You really do want to read the entire piece.

I support standards, I appreciate assessments and I value disaggregating data. What, then, is my problem? The 100 percent standard to which politicians are determined to hold us. To illustrate my point, I've come up with my own legislative agenda to combat crime. I think we would all agree that reducing and eventually eliminating crime is a worthy goal, just like increasing achievement for all students. Thus, in the spirit of No Child Left Behind, I present No Criminal Breaking Laws (NCBL).

The first thing that NCBL does is hold individual police precincts accountable for eliminating crime by setting "reasonable" Crime Reduction Benchmarks (CRBs) that, by 2013-14, completely eliminate all crime. Each year, precincts will be required to publish all crime statistics, which media outlets will carry. Precincts will be expected to provide activities for families so as to decrease the probability that they will engage in any criminal activity. Additionally, all police officers will be expected to engage in ongoing professional development so they can learn how to be better police officers and thus reach the goal of eliminating all crime.

The third article for your reading please is from The Roanoke Times in Southwest Virginia and is by a freelance writer and paragelal named  Betsy Biesenbach.  It is entitled Promise of learning standards unfulfilled
.  Here's the beginning:

In 1977, I was enrolled in what was then Radford College. As with most bachelor's degree programs, ours required several courses that were not directly related to our majors, but intended rather to turn us into well-rounded people.

I vividly remember the first day of Art 101. The professor stood in front of the class with a slide of Leonardo DaVinci's "The Last Supper" projected on the screen behind him. He was trying to explain perspective by pointing out that the landscape you see in the window behind the foreground figures looks realistic because it was painted from the viewpoint of someone who would be standing in the room. Apparently there were several people who had never heard of the concept, and just weren't getting it.

Finally, in desperation, the professor said: "It's like train tracks going off in the distance."

And a voice piped up from the back of the room: "I don't see no train tracks in that there pitcher."

I realized right then that the education I had received in well-to-do Fairfax County was vastly different from that which students in other parts of the state had gotten. So in the mid-'90s, when I heard that Virginia was instituting a Standards of Learning test, I thought it was a great idea. Why, I reasoned, shouldn't a kid living in the Northern Neck or far Southwest Virginia have the same opportunities I had?

Now that I have a child in public school, I have changed my mind completely.  

and the concluding part, which after you read, you will want to read what I have omitted to see why she feels as she does:

I don't blame my son's teachers for wasting his time on this test.

In fact, I admire them for even getting out of bed in the morning and coming to work. I'm sure their training did not prepare them to teach children to merely parrot the answers to questions dreamed up by someone who may never have set foot in a third-grade classroom. I also don't blame the principals, the school administration or the school board, whose jobs are hanging on the test scores.

I blame the people who thought up this test and the ones who have implemented it so that our schools pass or fail based only on this one criterion. I blame the people who turned a really good idea into something that has nothing to do with educating our children, and which, in the end, will probably turn many of them off to learning.

Our final piece is also from Virginia, and is written by Olympia Meola of The Richmond Times-Dispatch.  It describes what recently happened in suburban Henrico County when students were undergoing computerized testing.  This MAY make you laugh, at it should at least make you groan.  I will offer only the very beginning.  You may be able to figure out what happens next, but go red the rest of this relatively short article to find out why.  It is entitled Test Glitch  Halts SOL Testing

Some Henrico County high school students taking Standards of Learning tests online this week got locked up after coming across a pimp.


Not a real pimp, though. The word "pimp."


A randomly generated security code, made up of a long combination of numbers and letters, was being sent to computers at several high schools from an online-testing software program.

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