Tuesday, March 4, 2014
The credit for this article goes to the great Alexander Russo, who urged journalists to do a better job reporting on testing by finding the many parents and students who don't oppose excessive standardized testing. This is much the same way that the media overemphasized Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, when the vast majority African American ballplayers were content to stay in the Negro Leagues.
Alexander Russo has long been a friend of this blog and that's because he has a clear way of getting to the bottom of a story. When other "journalists" were reporting on the teachers at two Chicago Public Schools refusing to give the ISAT, Russo saw that the real story was the nearly 50 people on his blog who vented about CPS principals.
I didn't have to go much further than Chicago's Bernard E. Epton School of Sufficiency. For those of you who don't remember, the Epton School got in some trouble last year when the principal was caught importing unlicensed standardized tests from China. The principal, Dr. Michelle Perry claimed she acted at the urging of her teachers who noticed a 2 month period in the beginning of the year when there was no standardized testing in the school.
I was fortunate enough to get a chance to interview an entire family about their pro-standardized testing attitude and how they have found a home at Epton. I was joined by Lois Winslow, the matriarch of the Winslow family as well as her sixth grade daughter Kenyata and her fourth grade son Devon.
LS4C1: You are a big fan of standardized testing. In fact you moved your children to Epton School, specifically because it had more standardized testing than any other school. Is that correct?
Lois: Oh yes. Last year, we were at a public school and Kenyata had a teacher who really took an interest in her. She saw that she loved reading so she was always finding books for her and challenging her to go the extra mile. We loved that woman. Meanwhile, Devon's teacher seemed to just go through the motions. She was going through a difficult divorce and she smelled of bourbon. Well, we were surprised that at the end of the year, Devon's scores went through the roof, while Kenyata more or less stagnated. It turned out that all the time Devon spent reading movies and putting his head down on the desk was just what he needed. I only resent the money I spent getting Kenyata's teacher a nice Christmas present.
LS4C1: So you were happy with Devon's education?
Lois: Far from it. Actually, I was disturbed with the education he received in the lower grades. He had a picture of a snowman to color and he colored it purple. I can tell you, snowmen aren't purple. At his old school, that kind of thing went on all the time. Boxes were treated like space ships and pillows could be horses. They don't tolerate that sort of thing at Epton. Now, if he colors a snowman it looks like snow, thank goodness.
LS4C1: What do you want to do when you grow up Kenyata?
Kenyata: I'd like to work for a large corporation in a big office building downtown.
LS4C1: Do you think that standardized tests like the ISAT are helping you achieve that?
Kenyata: Oh yes! My test scores show that I'm in the 64th percentile. My mom told me that the people running corporations are very smart and score at least in the 90th percentile, but most of the workers are at 50% or even lower. With my score, I know I should set my sights on middle management.
LS4C1: How about you Devon?
Devon: I love testing.
LS4C1: Do you think it'll help you with your future job?
Devon: Yes, I want to make cartoons. Today, when we weren't testing, we saw The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo.
LS4C1: You like catoons?
Devon: I love cartoons.
LS4C1: How are you doing in art?
Devon: I love art, but we don't have it this week because the art room is used for testing and our art teacher passes out tests to all the teachers.
LS4C1: So no art this week?
Devon: Coloring in bubbles is a type of art.
LS4C1: I stand corrected.
There you have it. A family who loves their standardized tests, but you'll never see reporters come anywhere near them. Fortunately, there are people like myself and Mr. Russo who strive to make a difference.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Dear CPS Teachers and Parents,
What do you mean you are "opting out of the ISAT"? There is no opting out in testing. You are failing as teachers, as parents, and as students. The way that we are able to show you just how badly you are doing is through these tests. I have a crack team of writers ready to help me craft op-ed articles on the terrible state of education. If I have to lay off these writers, you are hurting the economy.
The failure of the Chicago Public Schools is well documented. Last month, I visited a public school in Beijing. I was in a room of 8 year olds and every one of them spoke fluent Chinese. How many of your 8 year old children are fluent in Chinese? Make no mistake, those children will be competing with these same Chinese children for jobs.
Standardized testing is important. Yes, I know Rahm's children don't have to take the ISAT at the Lab School, but they just got a $25 million dollar donation from George Lucas to build a new art wing. It'd be rude to be ignoring the arts at a time like this. I also know that this test will be about as relevant to CPS students as a timed typing test on a manual typewriter would be, but we need data.
I am outraged by the educational malpractice of teachers and parents in denying students the joy of filling in a test answer sheet. For those who say that testing stifles creativity, well then you have never had the joy of facing a page of empty test bubbles. Do you shade from the outside in or from the inside out? Maybe you start at the middle and shade across the surface of the circle. There are so many choices.
Have you seen the Saucedo teachers? I couldn't get over their spokesperson, a special education teacher named Sarah Chambers. She's the one in the fancy coat with the expensive fur collar. I heard her speak and she makes it sound as if giving students test after test is pointless and possibly abusive. Puh-lease. Kids love testing.
We have made great strides in transforming our schools, but 25% of our students still remain in the bottom quartile. Even more troubling, the students in that bottom quartile are far more likely to be in economic distress. For those who say that tests don't matter, think about that. If we can just improve their test scores, we can help lift them out of poverty. Even the second lowest quartile is far better off financially.
Opting out is child abuse pure and simple. What are the kids going to do if they don't test? Read a book? We can't afford to waste their time like this. Our children are precious.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
I remember when I was a young teacher in Boca Raton. I was invited to assemble a polo team to compete in for a cup at the local club. I immediately asked my fellow TFA recruit Scooter Nelson to join me and he had a friend who was an outstanding Number One. Unfortunately, I couldn't scrape together a 4th player and we had to cancel our plans to compete. I was embarrassed to have been unable to field a whole team.
Recently, I heard that you were forced to cancel your plans to debate Diane Ravitch at Lehigh University on February 6th because you were unable to find a third person for your side. I am happy to announce that I am willing to join your team. I believe my resume speaks for themselves, but as the Director of Last Stand for Children First, I've made a name for myself as one of the country's foremost education reformers. Through Last Stand's Project SLOW we have dropped the number of students in the bottom quartile on state tests in Louisiana from 25% to just over 15%. Our evaluation plan, which has been adopted in 9 states has caused more teachers to lose their jobs than Rahm Emanuel and Michael Nutter combined. We have streamlined new teacher training from our fellows from a time consuming 5 weeks to 5 hours and a showing of Freedom Writers on DVD.
In short, you, Rod Paige, and myself would be a dream team. I strongly believe in all the talking points of education reform, even the ones that contradict other education reform talking points. Together we can take on the status quo in a way that we have been unable to do in the 30 years of school reform going back to a Nation at Risk. I look forward to hearing from you and destroying Ravitch and her cronies in this debate.
(Last Stand for Children First)
Monday, September 16, 2013
Today, Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error came out. Her newest book claims to explore the hoax of privatization and the danger that America's public schools are facing. Sadly, Diane's new book is just another misguided screed aimed at the hedge fund managers and education reformers who seem to be the only people who still care about our country's children.
While I didn't actually read Ravitch's book, I think I've gotten a pretty good feeling for what it's about by reading the cover which is widely displayed on line and several negative comments from people I admire for their no excuses approach to education reform and this unfortunately, is where Ravitch comes up short.
Ravitch's very title suggests that privatization is a threat to our nation's public schools. However, to believe that you'd have to believe in crazy conspiracy theories like the somehow the 50 neighborhood schools in Chicago closed this Summer are related to the 50 charter schools that the Chicago Public Schools wants to open up. It seems to me that if privatizers were going to threaten our public schools, we wouldn't be pushing to close them down.
Ravitch is guilty of cherry picking her data and she often ignores push pulls conducted by pro charter school organizations. She never mentions that if 83% of character schools are scoring at or below their neighborhood school peers, than 17% must be scoring better.
Finally, Ravitch's view of history is revisionist. She badmouths the 1983 Nation at Risk study, where many people first found out that neighborhood schools were no longer the quality education options parents hoped they would be. Our only hope of change is when everybody can get on the same page and try and return our school system to the greatness it had at some other time. Michelle Rhee likes to say, "this will be the first generation in America that will not be as well educated as their parents" and though she never really says what that means, I know in my heart that it's true. I wish that Ravitch would get this.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Sunday, June 16, 2013
The children of our nation face an uncertain future. Parents have let them fall further and further behind the Chinese children with their superior tiger parents. Yet, as I looked in this Hallmark Store, I found not a single "Pretty Good Dad", "Adequate Dad", or "Needing Improvement Dad". I would estimate that about half the dads in this country are adequate and maybe 1/3 of them could be called good. At best 5% of the dad's could be called very good, but great? I would expect less than 1% of dads could truly be called great. The odds that 30 of that select group would all have children shopping in the shopping mall I was in, seems slight at best.
We at Last Stand for Children First love dads. We believe they're one of the two most important people in a child's life. That's why, we don't do any favors for the really good dads, when we call all of them great. What incentive do parents have to strive for greatness when they're not rated any higher than mediocre fathers who don't even require their children to learn to play a sport or practice the piano? Until, we find a way to evaluate parenting fairly and without sentimentality, the children are the real losers and that is a shame.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Tragedy struck the Mackinac Policy Conference when in their zealous to improve the efficiency of Mackinac Island's Grand Hotel, inadvertently made the hotel staff walk off the job. Mackinac, which is the Indian word for "Slaughter Island" soon found the peaceful conference guests facing off in tribes. While there was apparently only one fatality, only the timely arrival of some yachting enthusiasts prevented a much greater tragedy. Myron Miner's tweets provide a lasting testament to the horror that the guests endured on the island. They have been preserved at Storify and can be read here: