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OP-ED | Legislate Based On Research, Not Hyperbole

by Sarah Darer Littman | Mar 22, 2013 10:00am
(13) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Business, Education, Opinion, Greenwich, Madison

Earlier this week, Rae Ann Knopf of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform wrote an op-ed opposing raised bill SB 1097, urging Connecticut to “stay strong” in support of the so-called Big Six corporate education reform agenda. Other than a lot of dramatic hyperbole, she neglected to actually say much about what was the matter with the bill.

I’ll be a bit more specific about one of the good things the bill does — it delays the implementation of a costly, inadequately tested teacher evaluation system for which there is a large body of research showing the negative impact on both student learning and teacher collaboration and instruction — not to mention morale.

One hopes our legislators have been paying attention to the experience of our neighbors in New York as they listen to advocates from the Big Six (ConnCan, CCER, CBIA, CAPSS, CAS, and CABE). According to March report by the New York State School Boards Association and based on an analysis of data from 80 school districts, the districts outside the state’s five largest cities expect to spend an average of $155,355 on the state’s new evaluation system this year.

That’s $54,685 more than the average federal Reach To the Top grant awarded to districts to implement the program.

“Our analysis . . . shows that the cost of this state initiative falls heavily on school districts,” says Executive Director Timothy Kremer of the New York State School Boards Association. “This seriously jeopardizes school districts’ ability to meet other state and federal requirements and properly serve students.”

At a time when Connecticut’s towns and cities already face the potential for significant state aid reductions based on Gov. Dannel P.  Malloy’s proposed budget, is it any wonder that the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities testified in favor of delaying a system that is proving costly and problematic elsewhere?

That’s before we even get to the whole question of whether this is the best way to evaluate teachers or to most effectively spend our tax dollars to educate our children. Meanwhile we just allow policy to be dictated to us by Washington and various billionaire funded foundations (Gates, Walton, Broad).

JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), recently penned a must-read editorial, The Danger of Misguided Evaluations.

“In a January survey of NASSP and NAESP members, nearly half of respondents indicated that 30 percent or more of their teacher evaluations are now tied to student achievement,” Bartoletti wrote. “There is no research supporting the use of that kind of percentage, and even if the research recommended it, states don’t have data systems sophisticated enough to do value-added measurement (VAM) well.”

Bartoletti continued, “Still, the test-score proportion on evaluations will increase at a time when we predict that test scores will decrease. These evaluation systems will be put in place just as the Common Core State Standards assessments roll out in 2014. This volatile combination could encourage many teachers and principals to leave the profession or at least plan their exit strategies. I don’t want to attribute a malicious intent to anyone, but if policymakers were going to come up with a plan to discredit and dismantle public education, it’s hard to think of a more effective one.”

It’s ironic that corporate education reformers talk about “the children” and “stakeholders,” but what they really mean is themselves — it’s about money, not children.

Take in contrast, the town of Madison, where an innovative educator with a capital “E,” Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice, was concerned by the emphasis on test scores in the evaluation plan and worked with all the interested parties — parents, teachers, and community members — to create a more meaningful, research-based evaluation system that truly reflects the educational goals of the community.

Madison strives to “develop students’ capacities to think critically and creatively, to put ideas into action, to collaborate purposefully, and to act ethically and with resilience.”

The Madison committee did an extensive review of current research and literature regarding the Value Added Model (or MET, as the Gates Foundation, which has spent a bundle promoting the idea, prefers to call it) and found that the research shows that using such an approach in teacher evaluations has a negative impact on both student learning and teacher instruction. What’s more — and here’s where I really admire the people of Madison for taking a stand and only wish I could get Greenwich to do the same — “essential skills, such as critical and creative thinking, problem-solving and ethical and responsible decision-making, which are the highest priorities of the Madison Public Schools, are marginalized in pursuit of higher test scores.”

It’s about time legislators stopped listening to propaganda and started paying attention to research. Otherwise, we’re just going to pour more money down the drain without really serving our children or preparing them to live as educated, effective, employable, and ethical citizens in 21st century society.

Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.

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(13) Comments

posted by: Speak up | March 22, 2013  4:26pm

Other than a lot of dramatic hyperbole, she neglected to actually say much about what was the matter with the bill….for Rae Ann that seems to happen often. When you are operating with the corporate reform playbook (tips from ALEC, Gates, Bloomberg, Broad, Rhee, etc) and you don’t know much about teaching and learning, you get into the habit repeating feel good rhetoric that is meaningless. They don’t even know what they don’t know.

posted by: Linda12 | March 22, 2013  4:31pm

The Big Six have a common agenda:

Less government regulation; more private enterprise in public sector activities; replace public schools with vouchers and charters; cut the pay and benefits of the workforce; bust the unions; lower standards for entry into teaching; replace professionals with temps. Ultimate goal: reduce the labor costs to funnel taxpayer funds to corporations and eduvultures.

Kids are props and kiddie data is for sale.

The race to nowhere is a stimulus program masquerading as “reform”.

posted by: Charlie Puffers | March 22, 2013  8:58pm

Thank you Sarah.  It is so refreshing to read the truth about “school reform” which is as scary as “reform school”.

posted by: Parent and educator | March 22, 2013  9:04pm

Alas, in poorer districts it will be very difficult to opt out.  We have to make sure that these bad ideas do not get foisted on under-funded, racially-isolated districts while the wealthier ones can be designated “Districts of Distinction” and thus avoid being evaluated. Courage to all Superintendents to campaign against this.

posted by: brutus2011 | March 22, 2013  9:28pm

brutus2011

The bigger the lie, the easier it is to believe—the corporate reformers secret strategy.

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | March 22, 2013  10:04pm

GoatBoyPHD

Let’s look at the scientific background of the author of “The Case Against Standardized Testing” as cited by Madison in their 7-page polemic (which by the way would fail any decent Graduate Course for using authoritative research standards based on their citations). 

From his Henry’s Amazon web page:

“Peter Henry was raised in a nine-child family by a pair of professors. He has attended or taught in over a dozen different schools across America, has studied abroad in Mexico and France, has a bachelor’s degree from Carleton College and earned a Master’s of Arts in Teaching degree from St. Thomas University. He currently teaches at a community college in the Midwest.”

I’ve no wish to impugn Mr Henry or sully his reputation. Pehaps we should hire him as Commissioner of the CT DOE.

posted by: ACR | March 23, 2013  11:21am

ACR

Goat Boy said:
“Perhaps we should hire him as Commissioner of the CT DOE.

There you go again; that might make sense and you know how they hate that here in Connecticut.

BTW, how’s the kids?

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | March 23, 2013  1:58pm

GoatBoy, what, exactly, are you trying to imply by quoting Henry’s bio? That he didn’t go to Harvard? That he has a teaching degree? That he went to schools outside the United States? So did I. City of London School for Girls, and a course at Oxford. Does that make me less able to analyze data? I’m confused. Please explain. Right now, your comment sounds like elitist goobldygook.

posted by: ConcernedVoter | March 24, 2013  10:04am

Wow.  An opinion backed up with facts, stats, and research.  This is an entirely foreign concept to all those “Reformer$” out there.  Thank you.

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | March 24, 2013  1:07pm

GoatBoyPHD

What I am saying Sara (and I know you know this), is that some of the resources mentioned in that 7-page polemic would not pass muster as Research Rebuttal anywhere else besides the internet and in certain union lobby offices.

I’d be appalled if it passed in a first-year graduate course and likely wouldn’t pass muster in a Senior Paper (standards haven’t fallen that far). What’s next? Quoting Ned Lamont on his opinion of GLobal Warming to debunk Naysayers and passing Ned’s scientific opinion off as ‘research’?

posted by: Not Born Yesterday | March 24, 2013  1:51pm

Impressive piece from a credible source, so thanks, Ms. Litman.  Quite refreshing after hearing all the PR fluff and creative nonsense that CCER’s Knopf and related Malloy/Pryor/Duncan shills routinely dish out via the print and other media and their websites. Sad that our state leaders seem to need and heed these misguided cheerleaders (maybe it has to do with their deep pockets?).  How can legislators and the public continue to blindly fall prey to the deceptive aura that surrounds VAM and actually agree to the relatively heavy use of test scores for evaluating teachers and schools?  There’s tons of research evidence written by nationally recognized experts explaining that VAM and test scores are invalid, unfair, and potentially highly destabilizing measures of the effectiveness of teachers and schools.  Seems pretty clear that the demise of traditional public schools and teacher unions, along with teaching as a profession, are precisely what’s intended by the corporate interests that comprise CCER and their joined-at-the-hip pal ConCAN, but why the education members of the Gang of Six have bought into this purposely destructive vision beats me.  Anyone figure this out yet?

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | March 25, 2013  5:51am

Actually, no, I didn’t know that. Somehow, during the course of attaining a phD, you escaped learning how to write clearly and concisely. Let me guess, is the phD is in STEM related subject?

The first thing I emphasize to kids when I speak in schools is the necessity to learn to how express oneself clearly in writing no matter what field you want to pursue.

posted by: ASTANVET | March 25, 2013  7:31am

wait, now I’m confused. What makes a School perform and a School not perform?  Can that be solved with legislative action?