Education, Politics

Is Rep. Lisa Lyons Color Blind? When It Comes To School Rankings, Perhaps

Yesterday, the great State of Michissippi’s Board of Edjumacation released its convoluted Accountability Scorecard and Top to Bottom Ranking List. Each public school is ranked based on its Statewide Percentile Rank, and given a color (from best to worst: green, lime, yellow, orange, or red) to “help” the rest of the people who didn’t calculate the rankings figure out how well their local schools are doing.

How convoluted is it? Well, Rep. Lisa Lyons (R – Alto) was so troubled by it that she called for a new set of rankings, based on good old A, B, C, D, and E. Simple, no? So simple that it would, in effect, reduce the complex concept that is public education to one of five letters in the alphabet. Rep. Lyons didn’t explain how those grades would be calculated, but since it’s not her idea anyway (Seriously, did you think she came up with this on her own?), she can leave that to the folks who did:

The use of letter grading for school accountability is supported by national groups including Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education and StudentsFirst, the group headed by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

Andy Solon, director of StudentsFirst-Michigan, said the organization believes letter grading for accountability is a “no-brainer.”

Yes, Andy, it’s a “no-brainer” because it doesn’t require any critical thinking on the part of those calculating the grades, those education reformers privatization supporters, or anyone in the editorial department of The Grand Rapids Press. Also, too, this little letter grading system was backed by former Indiana School Superintendent Tony Bennett, who left his heart in Kokomo to help Jeb Bush in Florida, then resigned because some intrepid journalists discovered Bennett had changed some charter schools’ grades to please the people who funded them. (Side note for future education reformers: You can always manipulate the data.)

But seriously folks (and, by the way, leave a comment if you’re still reading this), Rep. Lyons is correct (that was hard to type) about Michissippi’s Accountability Scorecard. To wit: a well-regarded school (Forest Hills Eastern High School) in a well-regarded district (Forest Hills) ranks at the 97th percentile in the state. That’s very impressive, right? Not when you look at its color code. FHE is a code ORANGE, one color above gloom and doom RED. Why?

Rep. Lyons can’t figure it out. If you’d like to take a shot a figuring out your district’s ranking, begin here.

Then let me know how a school in the 97th percentile is somehow performing at a lower color level than one in the middle of the pack.

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Education, Media, Politics

Are You Smarter Than a 5-Year Old? Kindergarten Common Core

Until Amazon’s Jeff Bezos – new owner of The Washington Post – realizes Valerie Strauss isn’t pro-corporate education reform and drops her like a bad habit, you need to read her blog, The Answer Sheet. Last week, she posted this gem about Common Core standards for kindergarteners:

To get an idea of what they say, below are the English Language Arts and math standards for kindergarteners. You should know that some early education experts have criticized the English-Language Arts standards, arguing that they do not square with what is known about early childhood development.

The one that may well be my favorite is this:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.4 Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.

I can just picture a class of kindergarteners learning how to read emergent-reader texts with great purpose and understanding.

Whatever happened to playing? To drawing? To being a kid, for crying out loud?

Education, Politics

Michigan Parents: You Can Opt Out of Standardized Testing

All public school parents need to know they can have their students opt out of tests like the MEAP, MME, and Common Core tests created by Smarter Balanced.

Information specific to each state can be found here. Why opt out? There are so many valid reasons, including the mining of data (your child’s personal information) that can be shared with corporate interests.

For more information, visit United Opt Out National’s website.

Education, Politics

Dr. Ravitch Will See You Now

WARNING: Long post. Grab a drink, sit back, and get ready to scroll.

Last night, I read on MLive that Dr. Diane Ravitch would be testifying today in front of the State House Education Subcommittee on Common Core.

As any Badass Teacher would do, I immediately canceled my plans for today (sleeping in, reading, playing with the baby) and made a beeline to Lansing.

I arrived five minutes before testimony was scheduled to begin, and was told I’d have to sit in the overflow room. By the time the hearing got underway, the overflow room was close to overflowing.

First on today’s agenda was a trio of businessmen representing the businesses of Michigan, including furniture giant Steelcase and our best friend in the winter, DTE Energy. Lo and behold! They love Common Core and think Michigan shouldn’t delay implementing it whatsoever! It’s going to help us better understand how we compare to other states, they said. It will help us compete globally, they said. Mr. Steelcase suggested there’s a “war on talent” out there for qualified workers.

(Really? Must you use the tired “War on” cliché? Go on.)

Mr. Steelcase also claimed the Smarter Balanced tests (which sound like they were developed by a margarine manufacturer, but I digress) would provide schools with “real time” feedback.

(Pause to clean up my spit-take. No they will not. Mr. DTE? What do you have to add?)

Mr. DTE echoes Mr. Steelcase’s claim that they just can’t find enough qualified job seekers for the lucrative positions available right now, begging the following questions: Might that have something to do with how much you’re willing to pay them compared to how much they can make in comparable positions out of state? And how the heck will CC add more qualified job seekers, anyway?

(Other big question: Why are so many business people testifying in favor of CCSS?)

This trio also pulled out the ACT canard. You know the one. Only 18% of Michigan students are “college and career” ready according to ACT scores. Gentlemen, allow me to provide quick primer in ACT scores. Those 18% represent students who passed all four sections of the ACT, plus the writing portion. Those 18% would likely earn an A in each of those areas in college. That’s what “college and career” ready means. It doesn’t mean that the other 82% need remediation before heading off to college; it means that they will probably struggle in some academic areas (as this blogger did in science back in the day).

After the Business Boys were peppered with questions they were prepared to answer from the pro-CCSS side, they stumbled a bit when challenged on their questionable use of data. Good times.

Now it was time for Dr. Ravitch’s testimony. There was an audible buzz in the overflow room. Alas, it was just the audio and video from the good doctor’s Skype feed (no autographs for the geek teachers today – I was crestfallen).

The disembodied head of Diane Ravitch schools Michigan legislators on CCSS.
The disembodied head of Diane Ravitch schools Michigan legislators on CCSS.

Here are a few of Diane Ravitch’s bon mots from today’s testimony:

“I don’t know how you can have a standard that hasn’t been field tested.”

States like Michigan agreed to implement CCSS because they were “bribed by Race To The Top”.

CCSS “early childhood standards are not appropriate” and no early childhood teachers were consulted when CCSS was developed.

Ravitch suggested numerous times that we “delay testing” until teachers have a chance to work with the standards in their classrooms, then asked the legislators to “listen to the true experts in Michigan, and that’s your classroom teachers.”

Ravitch also brought up how the CCSS testing debacle in New York shows tests increase achievement gaps instead of eliminating them. (For loads of info on New York’s experience, see her blog.)

Here’s another reason to question CCSS: Who’s making the big bucks on textbooks (which no districts can afford to buy) and test development? Why, it’s Pearson, the world’s largest producer of standardized tests. Ravitch mentioned that in New York, the fifth grade test was written at an eighth grade level. “That’s not rigor, that’s stupid,” said Ravitch.

Finally, Diane Ravitch hit one out of the ballpark (for me, at least) when she said, “I don’t believe that teachers should be evaluated based on test scores.” Before anyone could ask, Ravitch offered Maryland’s Montgomery County Schools as an excellent example of effective teacher evaluation.

There you have it. The doctor has spoken. I cannot fathom why any Michigan school should take on the CCSS/Smarter Balanced tests anytime soon. Our legislature won’t fund it. It hasn’t been field tested. It’s terribly flawed at the elementary level (example: 1st graders should know what a preposition is and how to use one). And I agree with Diane Ravitch’s assessment that our unions (both NEA and AFT affiliates) are supporting CCSS because it’s the politically correct thing to do right now.

My fellow MI BATS, we are going to end up just like New York. The initial test scores will be brutal, and we’ll be used as a scapegoat. After that, it’s just a matter of time until Queen Grifter Michelle Rhee and Temps For American rush in to teach in all of those brand-spanking new (for-profit) charter schools.