Friday, April 20, 2018

I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody.

“You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it.”

Ever since I provided feedback on the Ohio Strategic Plan for Education  I’ve been thinking about this quote. You see, the plan embraces a holistic view of education, one that seeks to allow children to develop academically through diverse coursework in order to pursue their interests, become creative and critical thinkers, and learn about their place in their community and the world. 

The plan presents 4 “Equally-Valued Domains of Learning” that include the academic skills & knowledge, but also creativity & analysis, well-rounded content, and social-emotional skills. There are specific references to promoting the arts, wraparound services to help remediate the effects of poverty, and promoting student interest and career driven exploration through choices. These are precisely the ideas that make school a valuable experience, and even fun.

Furthermore, these ideas coincide with much of my own reasoning in going into the field of education. As a young teacher I was interested in building relationships, offering choices and opportunities for students to learn about themselves and their develop, in the words of the Strategic Plan, lifelong learners. Then things went awry. No Child Left Behind placed an inordinate focus on standardized assessments, and the state of Ohio cranked up the high stakes to include promotion, graduation, teacher & district ratings, and all sorts of irrelevant punishments.

Our focus had to shift. My focus turned to the kids who primarily needed to pass tests in order to graduate. Sure, I’ve worked to infuse interest and creativity, choice and exploration, communication, critical thought, social-emotional The reality, however, is that all of these things remain secondary (at best) in a system reliant upon high-stakes standardized tests.

I could’ve been a great teacher.

The Strategic Plan is lacking an adequate sense of reality. Its EachChild, or Whole Child view is contradicted by the existing system, and there is absolutely nothing in the plan to suggest that the existing system will change to facilitate these valid expansive ideas. 

In an education system saturated by standardized tests, where their outcomes determine promotion and graduation, evaluation results, success of levies (so economic stability), and potential district takeover by the state (Youngstown & Lorain currently), the educational focus must remain on the assessments. In districts where assessments scores suffer (read impoverished districts), an inordinate focus will remain on  ELA & math, as well as other tested subjects as necessary. 

This is a focus on a single domain, Foundational Skills and Knowledge. There is simply no time or resources to devote to the other domains. Opportunities for creativity lack in the current system. Art, music, phys ed, and electives are sacrificed for attempts at success on high stakes assessments. Social and Emotional growth becomes secondary to the numbers on assessments.

As long as there is punishment attached to tests, schools will purchase Chromebooks to administer assessments instead of hiring art teachers. They will invest in reading software that mimics assessment questions instead of organizing field trips. Our gymnasiums will continue to turn into testing rooms. Our Counselors will primarily serve as Test Administrators. Teachers will continue narrowing their focus to the tested material, and student experiences will continue to be limited.

Sure, affluent districts that do not even need to think about the assessments will continue to move forward promoting all domains, while less affluent students will suffer under a system that has not promoted growth over the last 20 years. With this said, all Ohio’s Strategic Plan will do is to highlight the inequality that exists, while its vision is supposed to be one of equity.

Without significantly dismantling the current system by moving toward federal minimums in assessment, eliminating all high-stakes associated with assessments, and fixing school funding, the Vision, Goals, and Strategies in Ohio’s Strategic Plan for Education are utterly meaningless. I appreciate the work that has clearly gone into the Strategic Plan, but it is once again attempting to shoehorn reform into a system based on punishment. It simply will not work.

A Few Other Thoughts for the Ohio Department of Education on the Strategic Plan.

1) Standardized Assessments are not "robust measures." Stop with this nonsense. Recognize that poverty impacts education, and that this is what your assessments measure. Then move forward with remediation of poverty through wraparound services as indicated.

2) Recognize the innate problems with a high-stakes assessment system. (3rd grade, Graduation Requirement, Teacher Evaluation, District Takeovers are not accomplishing what you believe or claim)

3) Do not pretend that Teach for America has been successful. It hasn't. It brings less qualified individuals into the classroom. Then they leave the profession after a short time, which provides little consistency, harms children, and the educational culture in schools. Similar programs for administrators are unproven as well.

4) Personalized learning is unproven in the research, as are digital methods. Presenting them as viable is terribly misguided.

5) Actually follow the feedback on the Strategic Plan given to you in the Stakeholder Meetings, and through the Survey by educators like myself. You didn't do this with the ESSA plan until we all called you on it. Your actions have been disingenuous and disrespectful. I’m not a bum. Don’t treat me like it.

Friday, April 6, 2018

24 Giant Sized Brillo Soap Pads, 240,000 Educators, 1.7 Million Children, & One Lie of an Assessment System.

I woke up with three days of spring break to go. I’d planned to go to the Allen Art Museum, and get home in time for the Indians home opener. This was supposed to wash away the mess of sickness, departure, and funerals of the last month, the waves of political opportunists using school safety to make us all feel unsafe in order to get elected. I just wanted to forget about that shit, so I could begin to get ready for the run in with my sophomores to the state assessments over the next few weeks, and maybe still find some fun in teaching.

I already feel like a liar, for the degree to which I’ve got to pretend to take the state tests seriously. Anyone paying attention knows that they best reflect socio-economic status. To tie them to graduation makes little sense, but the law is the law, and my students need to score well in order to graduate. As a teacher, I have to manufacture a requisite level of seriousness with regard to the assessments. I’m sick of it. 

The Ohio Department of Education and state leaders like Superintendent DeMaria and Governor Kasich believe the tests somehow measure college and career readiness, despite an utter lack of data to prove their assertion, and the fact that colleges generally recognize GPA as the greatest predictor of college success. Our task as educators at the secondary level has become something of a farce.

To make matters worse Superintendent DeMaria is currently busy traveling the state, celebrating the Strategic Plan for Education in Ohio, being transparent, “listening” as he takes in stakeholder input on the plan. Here’s an excerpt...

“The aim of this comprehensive strategic plan for education is to create the conditions for EachChild to reach success through the guidance and support of caring adults who are empowered by a system continually evolving to meet the needs of every student.”

This would be great if Superintendent DeMaria hadn’t been “transparent” and listened to stakeholder input on the ESSA plan, only to completely ignore the input on minimizing assessments until he was called out on his bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, I think teachers and other stakeholders should still provide input regarding the state’s education plan, but more importantly should be outraged and call them out on their hypocrisy.

My outrage shook me upon my return from the museum. All of the depth of calm I’d achieved in proximity to Neel, Monet’s Wisteria, Warhol, and Lichtenstein was reduced to anger at the headline below...

The story indicates that thousands of English Language Arts tests at the freshman and sophomore level were scored incorrectly due to human error, but had been fixed. Incorrect scores were delivered to schools, so students, not knowing any better, likely became further demoralized regarding their graduation prospects, many likely scheduled and began remediation classes as they prepped themselves for another go at the tests.


How much “human error” has gone unrecognized?

How many tests were incorrectly graded, and recognized, that we haven’t been told about?

How many 3rd graders have been held back due to incorrect scores?

How many diploma’s have been, and will be withheld for the reason of incorrect scores?

This is bullshit.

Yes, the Ohio Department of Education assures us that these are the only issue, and they’re fixed, but it’s been quite some time since I’ve trusted anything from the ODE.

And they’d like me to weigh in on the Strategic Plan? Sweet Fancy Moses.

First of all, these are not the conditions under which children can be expected to reach success. 

Furthermore, while I am a caring adult in the business of education, I am NOT empowered by this system, nor are my students. As a matter of fact, the ODE’s system seems like one that has been designed to trick, fool, lie to, and fail us, whether we are, or are not successful. In my mind, the Ohio Department of Education has lost its credibility. It has lied on behalf of charter schools to manipulate ratings. It has perpetuated an assessment system that elevates the rich and demonizes the poor. It has championed a graduation requirement that it cannot prove establishes college readiness. And all the while, the ODE and Superintendent DeMaria travel the state with their nonsense rhetoric...

“Ohio’s future is powered by its education system. Today, more than 240,000 educators work in 3,500 schools to serve more than 1.7 million CHILDREN—our most precious asset. Ohio benefits from a dedicated group of CARING ADULTS who inspire and guide children and prepare them for an exciting future.”

“Our most precious asset” is being served by a system riddled with inequity, punished by assessments whose chief accomplishment (whether the scores are lies or truth) is celebrating the rich, while demonizing the poor.

If Superintendent DeMaria’s Strategic Plan is worth any more than the paper on which it is printed, then he and the State Legislature need to internalize the idea that Ohio’s education system should be “continually evolving to meet the needs of every student.” With that accomplished, Ohio’s standardized assessments need to be removed from any high stakes decisions regarding student promotion and graduation.

Until that occurs, we will be forced to call this assessment system what it is, bullshit.