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Moratorium Needed From More Tests, Costs, Stress

Fairtest.org has produced a factsheet looking at Common Core testing. Whatever you believe about the Common Core State Standards themsevles, the tests continue to be a problematic area. Fairtest's list highlights many of the issues

Myth: Common Core tests will be much better than current exams, with many items measuring higher-order skills.
Reality: New tests will largely consist of the same old, multiple-choice questions.

Proponents initially hyped new assessments that they said would measure – and help teachers promote – critical thinking. In fact, the exams will remain predominantly multiple choice. Heavy reliance on such items continues to promote rote teaching and learning. Assessments will generally include just one session of short performance tasks per subject. Some short-answer and “essay” questions will appear, just as on many current state tests. Common Core math items are often simple computation tasks buried in complex and sometimes confusing “word problems” (PARCC, 2012; SBAC, 2012). The prominent Gordon Commission of measurement and education experts concluded Common Core tests are currently “far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes” (Gordon Commission, 2013).

Myth: Adoption of Common Core exams will end NCLB testing overkill.
Reality: Under Common Core, there will be many more tests and the same misuses.
NCLB triggered a testing tsunami (Guisbond, et al., 2012); the Common Core will flood classrooms with even more tests. Both consortia keep mandatory annual English/language arts (ELA) and math testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school, as with NCLB. However, the tests will be longer than current state exams. PARCC will test reading and math in three high school grades instead of one; SBAC moves reading and math tests from 10th grade to 11th. In PARCC states, high schoolers will also take a speaking and listening test. PARCC also offers “formative” tests for kindergarten through second grade. Both consortia produce and encourage additional interim testing two to three times a year (PARCC, 2012; SBAC, 2012). As with NCLB, Common Core tests will be used improperly to make high-stakes decisions, including high school graduation (Gewertz, 2012), teacher evaluation, and school accountability.  

Myth: New multi-state assessments will save taxpayers money.
Reality: Test costs will increase for most states. Schools will spend even more for computer infrastructure upgrades.

Costs have been a big concern, especially for the five states that dropped out of a testing consortium as of August 2013. PARCC acknowledges that half its member states will spend more than they do for current tests. Georgia pulled out when PARCC announced costs of new, computer-delivered summative math and ELA tests alone totaled $2.5 million more than its existing state assessment budget. States lack resources to upgrade equipment, bandwidth and provide technical support, a cost likely to exceed that of the tests themselves (Herbert, 2012). One analysis indicates that Race to the Top would provide districts with less than ten cents on the dollar to defray these expenses plus mandated teacher evaluations (Mitchell, 2012).

Myth: New assessment consortia will replace error-prone test manufacturers.
Reality: The same, incompetent, profit-driven companies will make new exams and prep materials.

The same old firms, including Pearson, Educational Testing Service and CTB/McGraw-Hill, are producing the tests. These firms have long histories of mistakes and incompetence. The multi-national Pearson, for example, has been responsible for poor-quality items, scoring errors, computer system crashes and missed deadlines (Strauss, 2013). Despite these failures, Pearson shared $23 million in contracts to design the first 18,000 PARCC test items (Gewertz, 2012).

You can read their entire factsheet, here.

Ohio’s charter schools: Costlier and worse

When charter schools burst onto Ohio’s education scene about 15 years ago, proponents claimed they could educate at-risk children better and more cheaply than traditional public schools. Today, the reality is quite different — and alarming.

Charter schools cost the state more than twice as much per student as traditional schools do. And with a handful of exceptions, their academic performance is worse.

Ohio’s system of deducting charter-school funding from the amount of state aid to school districts gives charters more money than they spend.

Meanwhile, students in traditional schools — who account for 90 percent of Ohio’s school population — get, on average, 6.5 percent less funding than the state says they need and are entitled to receive.

Most of the money transferred to charters goes to schools whose students’ performance scores are worse than in the school districts from which that money and those students came. Clearly, reform is in order.

Since Gov. John Kasich and the General Assembly are developing a new school funding system as part of the 2014-15 state budget, there couldn’t be a better time for change.
Continue reading...

Dispatch finally reports on failing charters

The Columbus Dispatch took a brief break from its constant haranguing of Columbus City Schools to report on the terrible state of charter schools in the city. It took some haranguing of JTF and others to make this happen. On August 26th we wrote to the Dispatch education reporters via Twitter:

@jointhefutureOH: Isn't it about time the Dispatch starting reporting the poor quality of Columbus charters as vigorously as you do CCS? @jsmithrichards

We continued to press the Dispatch to report on the sorry state of charter schools in Columbus and around the state.

1/3 of cities students go to charters, paper of record needs to do a much better job of holding charters accountable too. @jsmithrichards

On Sunday, the Dispatch finally reported on the sorry state of charter schools with a piece titled "Charter schools’ failed promise"
But what started as an experiment in fixing urban education through free-market innovation is now a large part of the problem. Almost 84,000 Ohio students — 87 percent of the state’s charter-school students — attend a charter ranking D or F in meeting state performance standards.

“Measured up against the hype of the proponents early on, this adds to the accumulation of what has to be regarded, measured (through proficiency tests), as disappointing results,” said Jeffrey Henig, a Columbia University political-science and education professor who has studied the school-reform movement.

“There were proponents who believed there was a fundamental flaw in the public system that led them to be resistant to change,” Henig said. “Charters were going to unleash this energy and responsiveness, and they haven’t done that as a sector.”
The whole piece is worth a read. For the Dispatch to finally recognize that the charter school experiment has failed is a surprising but much overdue development.

However, as Steve Dyer notes, while the Dispatch highlights the poor charter performance on the new report cards, they failed to understand just how bad charters truly are

Are Charters really comparable to Big 8 urban buildings? The most basic question I could think to ask was, "How many kids from the Big 8 schools actually make up the populations of Big 8 Charters?"
Dyer goes on to demonstrate the charter schools in urban areas are not populated by just urban students, but also attract very large numbers of students from the suburbs. Students that data shows come from improved socioeconomic backgrounds.
For example, Columbus Preparatory Academy, which routinely ranks high on accountability measures, only took 49% of their children from Columbus City Schools. The school took about 42% from South-Western, another 5% from Hilliard and kids from Bexley, Dublin, Olentangy and Westerville. So is it fair to hold up Columbus Prep's performance and compare it with Columbus City's?
No, it is not. The problem goes even deeper than Dyer points out. Charter schools also screen students using a variety of techniques, many of which we documented here - How "top charters" screen students.

So when you put this all together you have
  • Charters that underperform traditional public schools in a head-to-head match up
  • Despite being able to pull in students from suburban districts where poverty is a lesser factor in learning
  • Despite attracting students with the most engaged parents
  • Despite being able to use many techniques to screen for students they believe might perform higher
  • Despite receiving more money per student from the state than traditional public schools
When you look at the full range of failure of charter schools, you can see that the urgent plan required in Columbus and Cleveland and across the entire state, is a plan to deal with the explosion of poor quality charter schools that are failing tens of thousands of students every year.

Welcome to the real conversation, Columbus Dispatch.

ODE Hires Tea Party reactionary to oversee charters

Last week it was announced that the Ohio Department of Education had hired David J. Hansen, former President of the Buckeye Institute, a Tea Party front group, that pushes extreme right wing ideological policies. Mr. Hansen will be the states Executive Director for the Office of Quality School Choice and Funding.

It should come as little surprise then, that Mr. Hansen holds ideas that are out of the mainstream and not supported by facts. In an op-ed in the Hillsboro Times Gazette, he wrote
"Parental choice in education offers the promise of improving public school systems by holding them accountable to market forces."

"Market accountability ensures that schools are run for the sake of educating children."

"Parental choice strategies are still needed to simply save as many children as possible from our failing public schools."

"Unfortunately for the children left behind in public school systems, teacher union contracts are the greatest impediment to the meaningful reform promised by parental choice."
As you can see, Mr. Hansen is a big supporter of corporate education,and SB5 like policies that Ohioans rejected by a massive margin. If teacher's union contracts are such a problem, how does Mr. Hansen explain away the simple fact that unionized schools in Ohio significantly outperform non-unionized charter schools? As we previously wrote
If charter schools can;
  • Compensate their teachers based on any criteria they choose since they are unencumbered by a union contract (ie merit pay)
  • Employ teachers without offering a continuing contract (ie tenure)
  • Fire or lay off teachers for any performance based criteria without need to follow a union contract (ie no seniority)
  • Avoid class size limits created by a union contract
  • Be free to impose any legal work place restrictions or rules they wish
  • Be unencumbered by any union contract provision and be free from a whole host of regulations
Why is it that their performance is so darn terrible
Let's hope that Mr. Hansen spends more time wondering why for-profit charter schools in Ohio are so terrible, than pursuing his ideological agenda against teachers. We should also note that Mr. Hansen is the husband of the Governor's Chief of Staff. The Governor's spokesperson denied nepotism was involved in the hiring.

Three-Quarters Of Teachers Have Hungry Students

It probably doesn't help students learn, let alone take the all important raft of high stakes standardized tests, when they are hungry. And according to a new report, plenty of them are.

Three-quarters of America’s teachers have students who routinely show up to school hungry and half say hunger is a serious problem in their classrooms, according to No Kid Hungry’s annual educator survey.

Here's the report from Share Our Strength

NKH_TeachersReport_2013

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