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Is high stakes testing of young children harming their brains?

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) reports that Washington DC, the center of the corporate education reform world, is about to being high stakes testing of 3 and 4 year olds.

...all of the city’s Pre-K and lower elementary charter school programs will forthwith be ranked according to a weighted formula that assigns between 60 and 80% of a school’s overall performance to student reading and math scores. And although the proposal includes the possibility for schools to “opt-in” to adding an assessment that measures the social and emotional (SEL) growth of children, it would count for just 15% of the total for Preschool and PreK, and 10% for Kindergarten.

On the face of it, this is testing gone mad, but the problems might be much more severe for the well-being of the young students themselves
This sort of weighted formula squares neatly with the latest trends in education policy. It does not, however, align with the latest research on the brain.

“Everything that happens to us affects the way the brain develops,” says Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and the author of The Whole Brain Child. “The brain is a social organ, made to be in relationship. What happens between brains has a great deal to do with what happens within each individual brain . . . [And] the physical architecture of the brain changes according to where we direct our attention and what we practice doing.”

Where we direct our attention, then, matters greatly when it comes to determining what our children will practice doing, and how their brains will develop. And what scholars like Siegel are saying is that the worst thing we can do is disproportionately weight one piece of the developmental puzzle. “We want to help our children become better integrated so they can use their whole brain in a coordinated way,” he explains. “We want them to be horizontally integrated, so that their left-brain logic can work well with their right-brain emotion. We also want them to be vertically integrated, so that the physically higher parts of the brain, which let them thoughtfully consider their actions, work well with the lower parts, which are more concerned with instinct, gut reactions, and survival.”
The testing mania, especially for younger students, needs a timeout.

Using Value-Added to Compare Teachers Who Work in Different Schools

The Carnegie Knowledge Network have an interesting brief looking at what we know about value-added variation among educators who teach at different schools, the correctly note that

Some schools are more effective than others by virtue of their favorable resources, leadership, or organization; we can expect that teachers of similar skill will perform better in these more effective schools.

This then adds a new wrinkle to using value-added to evaluate the efficacy of individual teachers. Not only can value-added scores be dramatically affected by the socioeconomic conditions in the community and student body, but significant variation can exist between schools in the same communities. Carnegie notes

This brief has considered sources of potential bias when we use value-added scores to compare teachers working in different schools. A growing body of evidence suggests that schools can vary substantially in their effectiveness, potentially inflating the value-added scores of teachers assigned to effective schools. Schools also vary in contextual conditions such as parental expectations, neighborhood safety, and peer influences that may directly support learning or that may contribute to school and teacher effectiveness. Moreover, schools vary substantially in the backgrounds of the students they serve, and conventional statistical methods tend to break down when we compare teachers serving very different subsets of students.

Carnegie recommends much more study and analysis, and concludes that the possible stratification of teachers into sub-groups serving similar students, complicate value-added analysis and may not be congruent with policymakers’ wish to compare all teachers in a district.

You can read their short brief, here.

Voters: spend more on public education

Education Next released their 7th annual survey of the publics attitude towards a range of education issues. You can read their entire survey, here.

We want to draw your attention to the public attitude towards school funding

Public Parents
Greatly Increase 14% 26%
Increase 39% 35%
Stay About the Same 40% 28%
Decrease 6% 4%
Greatly Decrease 1% 1%
We can see from the results above that the majority of people (53%) want to see education funding increase, with a fully 2/3's of parents wanting that. Only 7% of the population want to see education funding cut - the actual policies being pursued by the governor and his legislative allies in the previous 2 budgets. This helps explain his collapsing poll numbers, once it is understood how unpopular this chosen course of action is. To further exemplify how out of the mainstream the governor's policies have been, the publics attitude towards teacher pay is in contradiction to the governor's preferred policy choices (such as SB5). When asked "Do you think that public school teacher salaries in your state should increase, decrease, or stay about the same?

Public Parents
Greatly Increase 10% 19%
Increase 45% 37%
Stay About the Same 37% 40%
Decrease 7% 4%
Greatly Decrease 1% 0%
A majority of the public want to see teacher pay increase. This should sound caution to some of the more extreme school boards around the state (we're looking at you, Fairborn) who are looking to boost their Tea Party bone fides

When looking at the year over year trends, Education next notes

Those supporting such performance pay policies remains at 49 percent, virtually unchanged from the last time we asked this question in 2011. However, resistance to the use of student performance information to evaluate teachers seems to have intensified. Opposition to basing teacher salaries in part on student progress has grown from 27 percent to 39 percent over the past two years.
Similarly, 27 percent oppose basing decisions about teacher tenure on how well students progress on standardized tests, nearly double the 14 percent opposed to the idea one year ago.
Growing resistance to reform extends to school voucher programs as well. Opposition to expanding school choice through a universal voucher initiative that “gives all students an opportunity to go to private schools with government funding” is higher in this year’s survey than a year ago. Whereas 29 percent of Americans expressed opposition to universal vouchers in the 2012 survey, 37 percent do so in this year’s survey.

The evidence is clear, the corporate reform movements efforts are running out of steam, and support

e-schools with no standards

We have written many times about the catastrophe of Ohio's e-schools. Criticism of Ohio's e-schools has come from many quarters, including a scathing report from Education Sector, and Innovation Ohio. News that the Department of Education has green lit 3 more schools to open should cause concern for any student minded educator and parent.

The the Dispatch's credit they report on the shocking state of standards that e-schools in Ohio operate under
Ohio law first called for the creation of standards in 2003, but the legislature took no action on the proposals submitted, said Department of Education spokesman John Charlton. The budget bill from 2011 called for standards by 2012, which the governor and state school superintendent delivered to the legislature. But lawmakers didn’t adopt those standards, so a backup set — written by an association whose members include online charter schools — became Ohio’s standards on Jan. 1, Charlton said.
The legislature, always quick to impose tougher and tougher standards of public schools and their teachers punted on creating standards for the worst schools in the state, and instead allowed their for-profit operators to write their own rules. As you can imagine those standards lack vigor
Those standards, from the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, differ from those submitted by the governor and state superintendent in that they make no mention of attendance-keeping or budgeting.

The standards that the legislature rejected said that students had to have functioning hardware and software before they could be considered enrolled in an e-school and that attendance policies must ensure that enrolled students are “engaged.” They also called for schools to have a process for what actions to take when students fail to participate, and truancy policies that “enforce compulsory education laws.” An e-school’s sponsor would be required to “have a budget which allocates sufficient resources” to support the school.
A new moratorium of e-schools is not enough. These catastrophically failing schools need to be closed down, and new e-schools only allowed to open when strong common sense standards are in place.

Kaisch trails in latest poll

If latest polling is any indication, the public is souring on Gov Kasich and his budget that did little to alleviate the financial stress on local communities and schools.

PPP, Just released their latest poll of Ohio, and after months of Ohioans having a positive opinion of the Governor's job, his approval is now underwater.

Do you approve or disapprove of Governor John Kasich's job performance?

42% Approve
47% Disapprove
11% Not sure

The news gets worse for the Governor. His likely opponent in next years election, Ed FitzGerald has taken the lead for the first time

If the candidates for Governor next year were Republican John Kasich and Democrat Ed FitzGerald, who would you vote for?

John Kasich 35%
Ed FitzGerald 38%
Undecided 27%

If anything should be clear it is that policies matter and the Governor has pursued unpopular ones, especially when it comes to financing local schools and communities.

Ohio Statewide Results by jointhefuture

Build quality into education, not over measure it

An interesting article appeared on EdWeek noting that not all business ideas are making it through the corporate education reform movement
Many of the current education reform trends in America attempt to improve the quality of our public schools by applying various management strategies used in the business world. These model business lessons, heralded as tough, effective reform, don't always look like the strategies being seen in business-to-business advice about managing systems and working effectively with people, however.

Take, for example, the groundbreaking and very influential work of Edwards Deming. Deming is best known for his 14 points of quality management. Deming and his principles were instrumental in working to improve the quality of Japanese manufacturing after World War II. As companies in the United States began to see the improved quality of Japanese products, they too adopted Deming's principles.

For some reason, however, the Deming strategies of quality that businesses utilize are all but ignored when trying to improve education in America.

For example, consider Deming's third point of quality, "Cease dependence on inspection to achieve quality. Eliminate the need for massive inspection by building quality into the product in the first place." In the United States current education reform initiatives seem to be totally ignoring that Deming principle by our insistence of depending on inspection with standardized testing.

What are some examples of changes we could do to "build quality" into education? We could revamp the way teachers are trained. We could utilize the intern model used by the medical profession by having quality internships for new teachers. Doing so would also be honoring Deming's sixth point; "Institute training on the job." Instead, in most cases new teachers are given the most difficult teaching assignments and expected to perform alone.

We could "build quality" by questioning the idea of one teacher per classroom. We could "build quality" by redesigning the school year calendar and replacing it with a calendar that recognizes the quality benefits of time for teachers to plan and evaluate student work.

We could "build quality" by developing 21st century techniques of education that aren't built on a foundation of a standardized curriculum developed by 10 elite men in the 1890's. We could "build quality" by developing a support system in the education process that would reduce the high percentage of teachers that leave the profession within the first five years.
The article also points out some comments Demming made about education
  • Quality goes down when ranking people.
  • Cramming facts into students' heads is not learning.
  • People talk about getting rid of deadwood (bad teachers), but there are only two possible explanations of why the dead wood exists: 1) You hired deadwood in the first place, or, 2) you hired live wood, and then you killed it.
It seems there are some lessons corporate reformers could learn from their own corporate world.
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