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Comment Archives: stories: Currents: The Range: The Tucson Weekly's Daily Dispatch: Last 30 Days

Re: “Did Arne Duncan Really Say, "Testing Is Sucking The Oxygen Out Of The Room"?

The potential problems with any standardized testing are legion. Among the biggest problems are that norm referenced tests are designed to generate a normally distributed curve of scores...NOT to measure how well students have learned the standards they were taught. Because of that they include many questions students were never taught. The tests used to assess learning on common core standards were even worse than the typical norm referenced tests because even the questions that were supposed to be easy were based on material that had often never been taught. Unless curriculum aligned with the new standards is provided to teachers and taught to students then most students will not score at the proficient level on tests aligned with the new standards.

As even Secretary of Duncan is beginning to understand...he is a slow learner and it has taken a lot of repetitions for him to get even this far...standards and the testing that goes with the standards must be properly implemented. BUT even if the tests are properly implemented the use of standardized tests as part of teacher evaluations is a flawed strategy. Unless you do what William Saunders attempted (and ultimately failed) to do and account for all the other variables not related to teaching (poverty, dysfunctional families, homelessness, etc...) to get a more or less correct picture of the "value each teacher adds" to the education of students then the scores students achieve are not connected enough to the quality of teaching to assess any teachers. Without an accurate "value added" formula all the use of tests as part of teacher evaluations will show is the erroneous result that middle class kids are predominantly being taught by great teachers and poor and minority kids are taught by mediocre (or worse) teachers. That is the real problem with Duncan's approach that teachers figured out long before their unions did. This is not accountability. This is scapegoating teachers in poor communities for the failure of societal institutions to work well for all children.

7 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Marty on 08/24/2014 at 3:42 PM

Re: “Buckmaster Show Callers Were A Wee Bit Upset With Me

David, You need to do yourself a favor and download the most current report on school district spending by the Arizona Auditor General. Checking the audited numbers in this document would give you the information to correctly answer school finance questions and not speak as if all districts got the same level of funding. The fact is that TUSD...in the most recent report, took in more than $1700 more PER PUPIL than Vail ($8,421 per pupil versus $6,695 per pupil.) TUSD took in more than $1600 more PER PUPIL than Sunnyside, ($8,421 versus $6,759) another district with a high percentage of poor and minority students.

You must have at least a nodding acquaintance with the research on what school factors make a real difference in student learning. That research is clear that the ONLY school factor that makes a significant difference is quality teaching. No program, no administrator, no curricular choices, no particular set of standards...in short, nothing that schools provide except for quality teaching...makes a difference for student learning. It is inexcusable for TUSD...which gets so much more money PER PUPIL than other local districts AND enjoys huge economies of scale spends less than half its revenues in the classroom. TUSD only spent 49.2% of its revenues in the classroom. A lot of the money that should have gone to the classroom went to administration. TUSD spent 10.2% of its revenues on educational bureaucracy. This was much more than other districts in its size category. By contrast, Vail spent 56% of its revenues in the classroom. BTW, this report has the percent spent in the classroom for every district in the state.

Having said all of that, I would argue that if the state legislature really wants to get more bang for its education dollar...and not just shortchange traditional public schools to be able to give extras to charter schools and divert more public money to private schools...then the best thing the legislature could do is to increase state funding for all public schools in accordance with the voter approved initiative AND require that districts spend no less than 55% of their total revenues in the classroom where it will actually make a difference for student learning.

6 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Marty on 08/24/2014 at 3:09 PM

Re: “Did Arne Duncan Really Say, "Testing Is Sucking The Oxygen Out Of The Room"?

Mr. Spanier: Our System of Public Education at the Local Level is in CRISIS! We need to hold Local Systems accountable. Standardized Testing, like Common Core, will do exactly that.....we need to implement rigorous Academic and Behavioral Standards, otherwise the slid downhill will continue!!

0 likes, 7 dislikes
Posted by Francis Saitta on 08/24/2014 at 9:42 AM

Re: “Did Arne Duncan Really Say, "Testing Is Sucking The Oxygen Out Of The Room"?

The problems with Francis' comments include the fact that Common Core standardized tests are not administered in every grade level or subject area. In fact, only two subject matters are measured and only in two grades each year. Additionally, more states are dropping the Common Core Standards and developing their own tests making comparisons between states problematic. More importantly the tests have not and cannot now be evaluated using the accepted criteria for assessing tests, reliability and validity. Add to this the fact that there are no common standards for the curriculum, the mode of instruction or teacher training and professional development and you have the perfect storm guaranteeing another decade of floundering.

Finally, think through the ramifications of completely reorganizing the administrative and teaching staff of schools failing to achieve at least a passing grade on the Common Core tests. In many cities this equals more than half the schools. End game? Increasing numbers of schools judged too poor to continue educating students. Increasing numbers of teachers leaving the profession and decreasing numbers of aspiring teachers changing their plans and entering other degree programs. Finally, and more importantly, tens or hundreds of thousands of students will be caught in the quicksand of shifting priorities, instructional methodologies and a decimated curriculum (no testing in the arts, foreign languages or history) throughout their public school lives.

The accountability end game relies on district and state interventions in "turning schools around." Given the resources available at those levels, especially in the poorest districts and states, the result will be systemic breakdown. Ask yourself, who are the school improvement interventionists at the district and state levels and how prepared are they to turn around anything but the swivel chairs in the offices of the bureaucracies they inhabit?

US education faces many serious issues but the Common Core Standards married to accountability schemes represents a cure far worse than the disease.

7 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Rick Spanier on 08/24/2014 at 9:30 AM

Re: “Buckmaster Show Callers Were A Wee Bit Upset With Me

How are they supposed to pay this "right now"?

0 likes, 4 dislikes
Posted by Yes Bob on 08/24/2014 at 9:16 AM

Re: “Did Arne Duncan Really Say, "Testing Is Sucking The Oxygen Out Of The Room"?

Standardized Testing, at every Grade Level/Subject, in our Public School System is necessary because of the heterogeneity of Instructional Programs of Schools and Classroom Teachers. We need an objective measure that indicates that our Students are being taught properly. This is the sole function of Standardized Testing and the necessity for their existence.

We have lost, as a Nation (particularly here in Arizona), an understanding of the fundamental importance of Education for the long term survival of our Democracy. In his first Annual Address to Congress on January 8, 1790, President Washington said that Education was “the security of a free Constitution”…that, through Education a free people would know and value “their own rights”…..and would be able “to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness”.

The Common Core Standards will highlight those States/School Systems/ Schools that have a viable/productive Public Secondary System and those that do not so that corrective measures can be taken; if necessary via a complete reorganization of the Administrative and Instructional Staff.

0 likes, 7 dislikes
Posted by Francis Saitta on 08/24/2014 at 8:32 AM

Re: “Militarizing Cities, Criminalizing Schools

Is everything now racism? It sure squelches the discussion.

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Rat T on 08/24/2014 at 6:27 AM

Re: “The Real Story Behind Lisa Frank

Well, life isn't always wonderful, and just because you're wealthy, doesn't mean you are perfect. For many children of the 70s, Lisa Frank symbolizes our childhood. I don't understand, if the images can still be printed, why a PR firm doesn't go in and re-vamp the company. A lying, cheating husband is enough to make any woman crazy. Maybe she just doesn't have the heart to try anymore. Maybe there's no one to help get it back together. Maybe she trusts no one, so does nothing about it but let it sit. How sad, I thought the company was gone, then saw products on shelves. I started looking it up and found this. I'd get things going again, hear me Lisa Frank? If you get a wild hair and decide to give it a go, I'd work there, in a second. You still have people out here that love what you do, and there isn't anything even close to Lisa Frank. Oh how I long to see the spools of stickers again!

Posted by Jennifer Cooper on 08/24/2014 at 6:24 AM

Re: “Buckmaster Show Callers Were A Wee Bit Upset With Me

TUSD balances its budget on the backs of children every day. You have made no comments about the fact that the superintendent's cabinet received 5 figure bonuses in their contracts. Couldn't that money be spent directly on the classroom? What's your position on the salary structure in TUSD? Do the exorbitant salaries paid out to central office administrators take money out of the classroom? Who was impacted the most by the economic downturn? It wasn't central office administration, it was students, teachers, and classified staff members. The truth is those salaries and that kind of misappropriation of funds robs children everyday. No bonus should ever be paid out to anyone while students are without adequate resources to educate them first. Why aren't you criticizing the TUSD governing board and leadership for this?

5 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by John Dewey on 08/23/2014 at 5:37 PM

Re: “Buckmaster Show Callers Were A Wee Bit Upset With Me

Lots of ways to go. The first for me would be, the less you spend per student, the lower the percentage that goes into the classroom, since the fixed expenses don't change. You can always put a few more desks and children in a classroom without hiring another teacher. That's why Arizona and other states that spend less per student also spend a lower percentage in the classroom.

Another issue, and I don't know if this is true, if TUSD pays a lower teacher salary than some other districts, that would lower the percentage spent on the classroom. And as you said, put together the spending on deseg and various ELL and poverty-related programs that TUSD probably has more of than neighboring districts, and that could change the percentage.

But there's always another question: was the caller right that TUSD spends a significantly lower percentage in the classroom than neighboring districts? I don't honestly know.

3 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by David Safier on 08/23/2014 at 4:40 PM

Re: “Schools, Society And Snake Oil Salesmen

Thanks for the comments, Ronni. Very well put.

Posted by David Safier on 08/23/2014 at 1:27 PM

Re: “Buckmaster Show Callers Were A Wee Bit Upset With Me

I had the same thought about the classroom spending issue. While the percentage of the total budget spent in the classroom could indicate efficiency to some extent, a more important stat in this case might be the dollar amount spent in each classroom. With all of the spending mandated (and funded) by the deseg case, it skews the percentage downward. It would be interesting to know what percentage of the combined M&O and Title I budgets are spent in the class room. That might make for a more meaningful comparison.

4 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Jana Happel on 08/23/2014 at 1:19 PM

Re: “Anticipating the Onslaught of Students, City Shutting Down 4th Ave Underpass Thursday to Sunday

That's great! Keep up the Positive Good! Let's make a Mall of this and set a example for Smart Transportation Trolly like Miami, FL. Safety first! God bless.

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Park Ranger on 08/23/2014 at 12:13 PM

Re: “Schools, Society And Snake Oil Salesmen

I have worked in poverty-stricken neighborhoods and Title 1 schools for most of my career, and I can definitely see the correlation between poverty and performance.

Many commenters above make good points: there has been an aura of low expectations surrounding the education of the poorest and most troubled students...I have seen this first hand. But it is also true that this is becoming a thing of the past, as "new blood" enters the teaching work-force. It is also true that teacher pay plays a major role in the quality of teacher a district will attract. It would be great if all teachers were so altruistic, that they were willing to work in thankless, brutal conditions, simply because they love teaching and wish to make a difference. But these kind of teachers are few and far between.

Politicos on both sides of the aisle have tried to address the problem, but continue to muddy the waters, because of their own agendas. They claim to be working for the public good, that they represent the parents, students and teachers. But none of this is entirely true. As David pointed out, as long as money comes into the question, and where to spend it, who deserves it, and who does not, education in this country will continue to suffer.

Then there is our state's policy (and others as well) of punitive measures toward teachers and schools. How can a poorly performing school and its surrounding community be expected to become more involved and pull out of a nose dive of failure, when they are continually losing funding, then resources, and finally good teachers?

I have seen this happen in as little as two years while at a southside school. The despair was palpable, as news of closing schools, slashed budgets, an layoffs of even the most valued staff filtered down to the students. And that brings me to the students themselves.

Every year, a new mandate comes along to drive the curriculum toward teaching to the latest test and the newest standards. However, the populations coming in are more troubled and poorer than ever... many have been bounced from school to school , either because their home school was closed, or their parents are following the job closest to their kids' school, or both. Some kids are coming in with no prior socialization or academic exposure, are from broken homes, or are fleeing with family from dangerous and corrupt societies.

We who work with them are expected to wear many hats of responsibility, including the actual job-description of "teacher", and we do it because we want to help, or because it must be done. Many times these responsibilities extend beyond the school day...we are, for some kids, the most involved adults in their lives, and our schools the safest place for them. Take that away, and the social issues of poverty, mental illness and crime multiply. And still there are no easy answers...and won't be, until poverty, mental illness and the value of teachers is honestly and completely addressed.

Posted by Ronni on 08/23/2014 at 10:28 AM

Re: “Buckmaster Show Callers Were A Wee Bit Upset With Me

Thanks Jana. I try to keep my teacher face on when I'm talking to people like that, to explain differences rather than shouting the caller down when I disagree. I wish I had a second try at answering that last caller, about the percentage of money spent in the classroom in TUSD. I went at the answer from the wrong angle and got trapped into her formulation rather than using a different approach to the question. Ah well. No take-backs in radio, I guess.

9 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by David Safier on 08/23/2014 at 8:54 AM

Re: “Schools, Society And Snake Oil Salesmen

A correction to my comment. This post isn't about the possibility of a change in direction by Arne Duncan and Obama. That's the next post about Duncan's statement. Sorry about the misstatement.

Posted by David Safier on 08/23/2014 at 8:43 AM

Re: “Schools, Society And Snake Oil Salesmen

Point well taken, Jon.

The reason I distinguish between Democrats who support portions of the reform/privatization agenda and conservatives is that the movement is led and driven by conservatives. Conservatives are its most ardent proponents, the ones who pour the most money into it and the ones who are the most likely to resort to exaggerations and lies to make their case. As I have said in many posts, Obama and his Secretary of Education Duncan are on the wrong side on this issue in my opinion, along with a number of other prominent and not-so-prominent Democrats. I, alongside other progressive educators, will continue to criticize and condemn them for their positions and their actions. It may be the pressure is beginning to have some effect, which is what this post is about.

As for Ted Kennedy, he joined with Bush to pass the No Child Left Behind legislation, then later regretted it. He hoped and expected the thrust of the legislation to move in a different direction. He was wrong, as he admitted openly.

1 like, 2 dislikes
Posted by David Safier on 08/23/2014 at 8:41 AM

Re: “Witness The Cutest Baby Elephant at The Reid Park Zoo

Another wild animal with a natural range of 2000 miles born to 6 acres.

2 likes, 5 dislikes
Posted by Yes Bob on 08/23/2014 at 8:40 AM

Re: “Did Arne Duncan Really Say, "Testing Is Sucking The Oxygen Out Of The Room"?

In theory, the Common Core Standards make sense seeking to provide educational content and teaching motivating students to dig deeper and demonstrate new proficiency in the limited subject matter at hand. And theory is fine until placed into practice without aggressive in depth professional development of the teachers who will be held accountable for student learning on these tests; tests that have never been subjected to the rigor of standard research into their reliability and validity.

Even in the doubtful case that this research is ever conducted establishing the testing as reliable and valid, the results themselves should never be used to punish teachers without adequately controlling for factors beyond those teachers and administrator are proven capable of effecting positively.

Bush and Obama have again attempted to transform public education to the perennially discredited factory model, a model abandoned each time it's been hawked as "the solution" to poor performance. They have raised the stakes based on a perception that the US is failing to keep pace with other nations, i.e. we are facing a National Emergency. Both have stopped just short of declaring a "War on Failure to Learn" and establishing an Education Czar" (although Duncan appears to chafing at the bit for that crown).

Worse yet, for over a decade testing has dominated classrooms and negatively effected our students classroom lives while creating an atmosphere of fear and loathing among our teachers.

Walt Disney's Davey Crockett advised "Be sure you are right then go ahead." That advice should have been considered before embarking on yet another crusade, this time unleashing an army of private educational buccaneers/snake oil salesmen on our schools.

7 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Rick Spanier on 08/23/2014 at 8:31 AM

Re: “Here's a Chance to Laugh At/With the Tucson Weekly's Editor

Now that there is funny....

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Rat T on 08/23/2014 at 7:27 AM

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