Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Commercial Appeal on Defense for the Indefensible

Posted earlier at Schools Matter:

The testing madness is underway this week in Tennessee, where a week of TCAP counts 15-25 percent of a student's grade and 35-50 percent of a teacher's evaluation for the other 195 days of the school year.  Is that reason enough for 3rd graders to be vomiting and having nosebleeds on their test booklets this week?

But the insanity does not stop there.  The State of Tennessee is funding the use of SAT-10 in K-2 again this year, so that benchmarks can be set and teachers evaluated based on standardized tests that some children cannot read yet.

But wait, what is that deep rumbling I hear?

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But wait, there's more.  Black academics are actually speaking out against high stakes testing.

Ivory Toldson was in Memphis last week to point out the racist and classist nature of our testing orgy, which gave rise today to the petulant and flabbergastingly ignorant rebuttal by the corporate media news of Memphis.  A clip:
While an argument can be made that the tests are unfair, maybe even prejudicial, they have been instrumental in making sure children are learning under the same standard.  
If you are a parent that should be something to celebrate, not something to fear.
So never mind, working parents, if your children are being assessed with tests that expect the same results from all, whether children living in cars down by the River or those from the leafy suburbs of Germantown.  The editorial board of the Commercial Appeal argue that you should be proud that your children have been judged worthy of attempting the unachievable.  Celebrate the impossibility, rather than fearing living "under the same standard" of test performance, which your children are programmed to believe is achievable, if they sacrifice their lives for test scores that are then used to further justify their imprisonment in corporate charter test factories.

The editorial board goes on to claim that tests have "exposed that for decades children have not mastered core subjects in too many of our public schools, especially in Memphis."  Do the luminaries of the Commercial Appeal believe that they know more now than they did when this psychometric frenzy began in earnest in 2001?  Do the desperate conditions, rundown neighborhoods, and segregated conditions of Memphis tell them something different today than they did 15 or 50 years ago?  Does the editorial board really want to pretend that it took a decade of miseducative and racist tests to identify where proficiency is low?  It's the same places where hope is low, jobs are low, health care is low, and crime is high.  Does the editorial board really want to admit that it took years of punitive and dehumanizing tests to make that call?

The editorial board wants, too, to make sure that an "A" in the poorest parts of Memphis is equal to an "A" in leafy Collierville.  While assuming that that is possible, they argue that standardized tests are the only way to do that.  How can sane people dismiss the vast economic differences in local contexts to make such an argument?

Does a job for working parents in inner city Memphis mean the same as it a job does in Collierville?  Does a meal mean the same in a food desert as it does in the Kroger strewn suburbs of Shelby County?  Does housing opportunity mean the same?  Transportation?  Health and dental care?

If all these other aspects of life are different, which they most assuredly are, how is it that we can expect that schools are equal?  If they are not, and they most assuredly are not, then how is it that the best that two student with very sets of opportunities should be the same.

I am not advocating for the bigotry of low expectations but, rather, acknowledging the vast differences in contexts that help to shape the lives of all humans, whether students or parents.  If we do not acknowledge that, then we are stuck with the racist and classist tests that are made so by demanding that everyone perform exactly the same, regardless of all contextual differences.  We cannot make the panoply of problems that policymakers ignore disappear by demanding that children, parents, and teachers make it so.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tamara Shepherd for Knox County School Board

For supporters of public schools, parental involvement, and elected officials who are not rubber stamps for corporate education deform, I can see one candidate that stands head and shoulders over the rest running this year.  Her name is Tamara Shepherd, and she an informed, tireless supporter of public schools for the public good, rather than for the benefit of billionaires or the testing industrial complex.  

Below are her responses to questions for the Knox County Voters' Guide. I hope you will go to this page and support Tamara in her efforts to restore sane and humane education policies that support the restoration of learning and the dignity of students, parents, and teachers of Knox County:

Questions for Board of Education Candidates February 2014

Questions for the Voter Guide
1.     Some say the Board of Education appears to work for the superintendent rather than the other way around.  Do you agree/disagree?   What changes to board operations would you make to reduce or eliminate the perception?

I agree that this appears to be the case.  The problem is likely that the Board of Education (BOE) has recently been asked to opine on too many proposed reforms, too rapidly.  There have therefore been several instances in which its members have rendered their votes absent their adequate research of the reforms. 

The BOE has also been compromised by a dearth of media coverage to assist them in fully vetting these proposals and their possible ill-effects on students and teachers.   It has become necessary for dedicated board members to often undertake their own independent research to inform their decisions.    

2.     Two Knox County communities are mounting campaigns to override the Knox County Board of Education Three-Year Capital Improvement Plan in order to build middle schools in those two communities.  Are you familiar with the contents of the Capital Improvement Plan?  What, if any, recommendations do you have for adjusting current priorities?

The BOE should not adjust its current priorities.

The BOE should promptly investigate any obligation to the Gibbs community since a 2007 SCOTUS ruling prohibiting student assignment on the basis of race, but I do not know whether fulfilling that obligation translates into building a new middle school there.

The BOE should also address the consequences of past growth on schools before it addresses anticipated growth in the Hardin Valley community.  System wide, 47 schools rely on portable buildings, seven of which presently house ten or more classrooms this way, and 17 schools were built in the 1930s or earlier.

3.     Given the state mandate to implement the Common Core State Standards, what do you believe is the Board of Education’s role in addressing issues related to Common Core?

My root concerns are that the math and science standards are too rigid, that they are not developmentally appropriate in the lower grades, that they will result in even more frequent and more costly standardized testing of students, and that they will ultimately widen, not close, the so-called “achievement gap” in student test performance.

I expect that the BOE will soon need to begin advocating with state legislators to re-think their approach to boosting student achievement and especially to re-think their approach to closing the “achievement gap,” so that both goals may be achieved in a more holistic manner. 

4.     A perception exists among some in the community that the Board of Education is not listening to teachers.  How will you address this perception?

The BOE has not listened to teachers.  Paramount among teachers’ concerns are this broken and illogical teacher evaluation model, TEAM, as well as the heavy reliance on the volatile student growth measure, TVAAS, which the model employs.

Since state law requires the model (or one similar) and since law also requires the TVAAS growth measure the model employs, that law must be changed by either the legislature or the courts.

 I believe on the basis of consultation with two local attorneys that it is both possible and advisable for the BOE to initiate legal proceedings to strike down the law. 
5.     Is the current funding for Knox County Schools adequate for teacher salaries and school facilities? Please explain your answer.
No, but it is the state, not the county, which is failing to adequately support Knox County Schools.  Knox County continues to allocate around 62 or 63% of its total budget to local schools.  Meanwhile, the 2013 State Report Card says Tennessee supplies just 36.65% of the KCS total budget, supplies less than 40% of any urban system’s budget, and on average supplies just 48.8% of all systems’ budgets, statewide.
Also, 2010 Census data rank Tennessee  46th nationally in per pupil funding.
Full funding of the state’s BEP 2.0 funding formula for schools would alleviate this problem to some extent.

6.     As a member of the Board of Education, would you consider yourself responsible to your constituents or to the county as a whole?

I would consider myself responsible to both, of course, but I would always be mindful of the words of one of our much revered former BOE representatives, the late Dr. Paul Kelley, who often said he felt he represented all Knox County students.

Although his are big shoes to fill, I would strive to grow into them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Much Are Shelby County Citizens Prepared to Pay for Corporate Welfare Charter Schools?

Posted earlier at Schools Matter:

During this school year now winding down, Shelby County Schools will give up $67 million to corporate charter schools in Memphis.  Next year that amount will increase almost 16 percent to over $78 million, so that almost one dollar of every ten spent will be for charter schools.  That's $145 million in two years.

The 39 charter schools will get more, then, than all monies in the budget for student services, more than twice the amount that will spent on retirees' benefits, and more than all the combined costs for facilities, utilities, and custodial services.  By the end of the coming school year, the Shelby County Schools Fund Balance will have withered from $210 million to $149 million, a 30 percent drop in two years.

The $78 million for charters will not include almost $9 million for the "Innovation Office" and the bureaucrats who are scheming to create another money sink in the form of a virtual school ($6.6 million).

As you can see from the chart below, the 2014-15 budget plans all sorts of cuts to pay for the corporate welfare charters.  A 22 percent decrease in salaries and a 23 percent cut in employee benefits will serve to offset the costs for the continuing drain from charters, more contracted services with profiteers, and the increasing costs for debt services.

Will teachers and staff sit quietly as their livelihoods are sucked away to pay for the Gates Foundation School Privatization Plan to benefit billionaires and Wall Street vampires?

While we wait to see, the County is moving forward with a $16 million plan for merit pay based on test scores, a strategy that has not raised achievement any place it has been tried. What such meritless loser plans have done is intensify the focus on junk tests and test prep, which have supplanted learning in schools.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Will Harry Fail Kindergarten, or Will Kindergarten Fail Harry?

Back in December I reported on Harry, a little boy I have come to know who goes to kindergarten in the leafy suburbs of Germantown, TN.  I talked with Harry's dad yesterday and got an update on how school is going, with only 4 weeks left in the year.

Harry's dexterity has improved since December, so that now he is not being downgraded for not clicking in the answers on the computerized bubble sheets fast enough. With Tennessee planning for computerized Common Core testing, Harry has cleared this most important hurdle.

And Harry's grade cards are acceptable in all areas, from conduct to counting.  Still, Harry's dad tells me yesterday that the teacher has spoken about the possibility of retaining Harry due to a "lack of maturity."  In kindergarten.

Seems Harry doesn't take his "work" seriously enough.  Is he, perhaps, too full of joy, precociousness, and too interested in so many things?  I wonder if Harry's pleasure in living may be his kindergarten undoing?  Harry's father has been waiting a week to hear back from his teacher about a conference with the school principal included this time.  Harry's parents are confused and not just a little bit upset.

I told Harry's dad that research shows that children have two greatest fears: losing a parent and failing in school.  Harry doesn't need this, he says.

And now, Harry's dad says, he comes home and I ask him what he did in school today, and he says, we worked all day.  They are doing things in kindergarten that Harry's dad did in second and third grade, and often now recess in set aside in order to get more work done.  Nap time disappeared last fall, and now recess seems to be on its way out.

Across the fence in the back of Harry's house, there are other children who are Harry's pals.  Their parents are members of Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence (TREE).  TREE is trying to restore sanity to schools, and they believe that play is important and that testing most often gets in the way of learning.  Maybe it is time, I suggest, that you parents get together to talk about these problems and develop an action plan.  He agrees.

But for now it's time to get Harry ready for bed.  Tomorrow, he says, is another work day in the child's garden.