October 26, 2015

Spellings Is A Tar Heel! Too Many Tests, Yes, But Not Enough Solutions, NAEP, Robots, Moskowitz V. PBS News Hour, And Camp Counselors!

By Bellwether

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Here’s a picture of a honey badger piñata.

Margaret Spellings is the new president of UNC. Long article reviews and previews. Couple of things to keep in mind. First, it’s fun to speculate but no one knows how anyone will do at a job like this. Lots of contingencies. Second, university president jobs are largely about strategic direction and fundraising – especially the latter. And don’t underestimate the donor appeal of someone with her background. That’s the logic to the choice of Margaret. The political climate in North Carolina makes her a smart pick for a school facing some political headwinds in a red state. She’s not going to be discussing the finer points of anthropology with the faculty. She’s going to be raising money, setting direction and handling big problems that come up. Third, she is her own person. The idea that she’s this or that is belied by a complicated record. In Washington she worked well with a variety of people, she’s not a partisan, cares about results. So stay tuned.

Possible Achilles heel? I can’t see Margaret having a lot of patience with this kind of thing that’s all the rage on campus today. If someone like Kathy McCarthy is struggling with it at Smith – after bringing a left-leaning free speech advocate to campus to talk about the importance of literature! – it could be a real landmine for Spellings.

Speaking of Spellings…the Department of Education announced an effort to cut time on standardized tests over the weekend. Spoiler alert: It’s not going to work (or not going to work as least insofar as we care about student learning). There are too many tests – but most are state and local and are misaligned with one another, larger goals, standards, etc…That should be cleaned up but the real problem with testing in schools is not the amount of time spent on tests – that’s actually pretty minimal even with today’s dysfunction in the big scheme of things and given what good assessments can yield. Rather, it’s all the circus around tests, which is the result of two issues. One is poor quality instructional programs where curriculum is not rich, engaging, and aligned with assessments and where teachers are left to scramble on their own. The second is that even where conditions are better too many schools still struggle to really deliver a powerful instructional program. That’s why they drill kids instead of teaching them, it’s all they know how to do. Teaching is not easy work but we approach it as though it is. Pondiscio thinks the whole gambit is a sham. It does have that flavor of ‘let’s look like we’re doing something!’

Substantively, those two issues are hard ones to solve – especially given the limited things the federal government can really do about them. They are, however, solvable. In the meantime, though, we’re left with a bean counting approach.

“What happens if somebody puts a cap on testing, and to meet the cap ends up eliminating tests that could actually be helpful, or leaves the redundancy in the test and gets rid of a test that teachers can use to inform their instruction?” asked Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, an organization that represents about 70 large urban school districts.

Good question!

Mike Magee, CEO of Chiefs for Change, said guidelines are helpful, but “the real solution will come from state officials and school district leaders working together to demand test publishers develop high-quality tests that are informative and efficient. Further, officials at every level must be willing to end any test that does not lead to improved student learning.”

Sense! Yes. (Via Politico Morning Edu). Elsewhere, you could do a lot worse than this set of test principles. Here’s Chad Aldeman on whether the new generation of tests are going to solve some of this problem. I still think one very politically unacceptable solution to this is to have a lot more companies able to offer assessment support to states, districts, and schools rather than the handful that drive the market now. But that takes capital and time because it’s a hard sector. And it’s not much of a political platform.

Back to things that might happen:

If you’ve been living in a cave Eva Moskowitz and John Merrow are sparring over a PBS News Hour story about discipline at Moskowtiz’s schools. PBS issued a clarification and apology for a pretty serious oversight but Moskowtiz wants more. There is also a FERPA issue at play because the dispute centers on a parent’s account of what happened to their child. Big fun. It seems like to understand what’s going on you have to keep a few things in mind all at once. First, the story was unbalanced. Moskowitz has them dead to rights there. Merrow has now said as much. Second, this probably isn’t about this one story, which is why to many observers it all looks disproportionate. Moskowitz is sending a message that if you come after her schools you’d better have your account buttoned up. This isn’t surprising since Eva derangement syndrome is a real malady. Here, Merrow just gave her an easy target to send the signal. Third, the discipline issue is a real one worthy of attention and it goes far beyond this school, charter schools, or any one city. RiShawn Biddle has been all over that. Running schools where students can learn and making sure all kids get a good education are two ideas in tension. Like so many things in education it’s a tension that is being weaponized. But it’s not cut and dry (as both “sides” would like you to believe) and is worthy of discussion. It’s also not as simple as Dewey’s admonition about what parents want – because on this one different parents do want different things and how to balance it all in a choice-driven system is a hard question.

Whitmire on what it’s going to take in LA.

Florida is a mess on assessment policy and it’s understandable everyone is frustrated. But I was absent the day the state’s school superintendents were all on board with the accountability system there, the old test, and all of that. This is a classic education move. Flashback to the 1990s: State tests were never as popular as when Bill Clinton proposed a national one…if Obama really wanted to make sure Common Core standards were embedded he’d propose U.N. education standards…you get the idea…

A robot may take your job. So get a hobby or volunteer more.

Today in pensions are a public finance problem.

Here’s a NAEP prophylactic. I don’t really buy this and it’s unclear the data support it. But then again I don’t live and die on short term NAEP results either. Pay attention to trends. But NAEP is a Rorschach test and people say whatever they want because it’s not causal – so in education you can say it’s any cause you want and get away with it. BTW – A lot of rumors around about these NAEP results, way more than usual based on my impressionistic take…Also check out this serious Matt Chingos paper on NAEP scores.

Nice nod to camp counselors.

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