Weekly Roundup: 8/22/14

With teachers and students heading back to school (already) or in the next couple of weeks, education seems to be in the news more now than usual. Each week, we are going to bring you the good, the bad, and the ugly of the education-related news stories that grabbed our attention, listed in no particular order. *FYI – Newsletter subscribers have the advantage of receiving our top news picks sooner than they will appear in the Weekly Roundup.*

  • Award-winning high school English teacher Ian Altman’s list of seven things reformers should stop saying to teachers perfectly captures the anger and frustration teachers feel when they are being attacked by the public and reformers. Altman curated the list after speaking with educators across the country, and one thing is clear: it is time for teachers to stand up and take back their profession. Check out the full article from the Washington Post.
  • Arne Duncan decided this week that states may delay using test results in teacher-performance ratings for one more year, citing teachers’ need for more time to adapt to the new CCSS and tests. His tone was noticeably changed in his blog post: “I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools.” Some states are choosing to continue to use test results in teacher evaluations, while Vermont’s state board of education recently decided against using test scores in teacher evaluations. Check out the full article from The New York Times.
  •  With all of the hype surrounding test scores and the very real and serious ways in which those scores affect teachers (not to mention students!), it is interesting, to say the least, that New York state officials “reportedly” lowered the number of correct answers needed to pass half the exams. Testing giant Pearson is the state’s testing vendor, and they, along with the state, determined that six tests were harder and four easier this year than in 2013. This all begs the question: how valid are the results that everyone relies on for so much in education? And, why are we relying on these tests in the first place?  Check out the full article from the New York Post.
  • Education reform is “A National Delusion,” according to Steve Nelson, Head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan, in an article contributed to The Huffington Post. We’re hearing about online education programs, charter schools, Common Core, testing, testing, and more testing, and a whole lot of blame placed on unions, tenure, and of course, teachers. “None of the things on the partial list above will have the slightest effect on the so-called achievement gap or the supposed decline in America’s international education rankings,” Nelson says. And we couldn’t agree more. Check out the full article.
  • Veteran teacher Arnold Pulda brilliantly describes teacher tenure at a time when so many public figures are getting it all wrong. He also craftily describes how his experience makes him a better, not worse, teacher and why it is so important to have veteran teachers in classrooms across the country, especially at a time when teachers are the target of blatant disrespect. Check out the full article from telegram.com.
  • Reynoldsburg, Ohio, is becoming a hotbed of grassroots political action as parents are increasingly supporting teachers after they failed to reach a contract agreement with the district even with the help of a federal mediator: the current contract expired July 31. 20% of the district’s teachers have left since January, and the community members, parents, and teachers are uniting to tell the school board to come up with a new proposal that addresses steady increases in class size, the teacher exodus, and merit pay based on a single high-stakes test. Check out the full article from NEA’s EdVotes.org.
  • Things just keep getting worse for the state of education in Pennsylvania, under the governance of Tom Corbett. As if slashing the education budget weren’t reason enough, Corbett is under fire because his former Education Secretary Ron Tomalis may have been a ghost employee as a “special adviser” to Corbett. Now, multiple people are calling for an investigation into whether Tomalis actually worked for his $139,542 salary and whether Corbett named him an adviser simply to boost Tomaslis’ annual pension by nearly $7,000. Check out the full article from PennLive.com.
  • With the push for big data being used in every facet of education, it will be interesting to see how education reformers will spin the latest polling data that shows significant opposition to the Common Core. The polls, one by Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup and one by Harvard researchers for Education Next, both found public support diminishing for the standards. Check out the full article from The Atlantic.
  • It became very apparent this week that the war on public education and teachers is in full swing, as the Michigan Education Department approved the Detroit Public Schools’ plan to cut teachers’ pay by 10% and close 24 schools; the district found itself in trouble when voters failed to pass a county-wide tax millage that they had counted on for revenue. The DPS is $127 million in debt and has a five-year deficit elimination plan that includes the pay cuts and school closures, which result in larger class sizes for DPS students among other serious challenges.  The Detroit Teachers Union is vowing to fight the cuts. Check out the full article from CBS Detroit.
  • Another useful set of data was released this week to demonstrate the failure of NCLB and Race to the Top. ACT scores are proving to be flat from 2010-2014 even as billions of dollars have been spent on testing, test-based teacher evaluations, and teacher merit pay that education reformers think boost college readiness. Additionally, scores are stagnant on the federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the SAT college admissions test. It appears as though the data proves that focusing on standardized testing has backfired; it is time to create better learning experiences for our students. Check out the full article from Diane Ravitch’s blog.
  • But we are living in a Golden Age of Education! That is, one in which we place the appearance of teaching our children well above the actual quality of said education. “Never before have so many dedicated hard-toiling bureaucrats in the education industry done so much to ensure the quality of the veneer of education,” author James Hanley says, in a post at Ordinary Times. Read the full story here. 
  • Are American parents to blame for messing up their kids’ education? While there’s ample discussion on this topic to spark a debate spanning decades, an article in The Statesman Journal takes a look at how the shifting mindset, entitlement mentality, and general tendency to make everything a high-stakes initiative is actually leading kids to believe that they’ve either got it or they don’t. And if they don’t, there’s no point in trying. It turns out, there’s value in making mistakes, in being less than the best, and — gasp — even sub-par performance. Get the full story from The Statesman Journal. 
  • Education reform relies on cold, impersonal measures to pit schools against one another and create stiff, rigorous testing environments in pursuit of the goal of “closing the achievement gap.” But how do we measure and account for the value of the human relationship that is “at the core of education,” according to Berkeley professor David Kirp in The New York Times (finally!). Natalie Wexler reflects on the human element and whether caring is enough in an article at Greater Greater Washington.
  • The Washington Post has an interesting piece regarding the positioning of education reform efforts in the media, and what opponents of high-stakes testing must do in response to successfully win the battle. A set of nine values/ goals are presented which paint a picture of a lovely ideal, but as a few commenters point out, fail to get down to the nitty-gritty of strategic efforts needed to actually get there. Still, it’s an intriguing read and there are some insightful responses in the comments that are worth a look. Check it out at The Washington Post.

What have you been reading this week? Share your favorite picks with us, or sound off with your reactions in the comments below.

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