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Cathie Black and the end of school `reform'

In New York, the resignation of magazine executive Cathie Black after serving 95 days as city schools chancellor is being viewed as further evidence that Mayor Bloomberg's administration has lost its way in the mayor's third term. That may be, but I think we may be seeing evidence of a larger story, too: the gradual discrediting of a supposed school reform movement that applies business management technique, with its focus on the bottom line, to education.This is the approach, endorsed by major foundations, much of the news media and politicians from both major parties, that made annual scores on a single standardized reading test the only standard that mattered. The results have been too mixed to believe that corporate managers necessarily know more about educating children than professional educators do. Despite the public-relations apparatus behind the corporate approach to schooling - not to mention Mayor Bloomberg's own personal advertising campaign for his school policies - the public is on to its downside. Cathie Black's appointment was a disappointment because it promised more of the same, and the public never bought it.Many parents are rebelling against the excessive emphasis schools have been forced to put on standardized test scores for English language arts and math. One of them is President Obama, who sends his daughters to a private school. According to the Times:

Mr. Obama agreed that we have piled on a lot of standardized tests under federal education law, meaning the annual proficiency tests in reading and math given to Grades 3 through 8 as well as once in high school.

Now, theres nothing wrong with a standardized test being given occasionally just to give a base line of where kids are at, he continued. "Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasnt a high-stakes test. It wasnt a test where they had to panic.

Mr. Obama went on to denounce how standardized tests had narrowed the curriculum and led to teaching to the test.

Too often, he said, what weve been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools.

The Education Department has denied that Obama is distancing himself from the policies of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as some bloggers have argued. I would say the president is distancing himself from his own policy. His 2009 federal stimulus bill included $350 million for the "Race to the Top Assessment Program," which challenged states to compete for federal money to develop the next generation of annual high-stakes standardized reading and math tests. The bidding document gives the true story. It calls for the contestants to design tests, given at least once a year, in reading and math to guide "determinations of school effectiveness for purposes of accountability" under the standards set by federal education law and "determinations of individual principal and teacher effectiveness for purposes of evaluation." It also calls for the contestants to show how they would go about "building support for the system from the public" and stakeholders - public relations being one of the themes of the so-called school reform.Race to the Top is looking for a lot more than a test "just to give a base line of where kids are at." It's all about high-stakes testing. It looks as if the president's views on the subject are evolving, and he's not the only one.

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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The only reform worth the name is to end the godless government school monopoly. A child's moral and intellectual formation is the right and duty of his parents. Only the family that knows and loves an individual child can act in his best interests.That said, so long as the government school monopoly is being perpetuated at staggering costs, taxpayers must and will demand accountability. We can debate which metrics and standards are most effective, but there will be metrics and standards. As a nation we simply cannot accept a situation where we spend so much for so little. We will demand an end to poor performance, corruption, waste, collusion and union thuggery.give a base line of where kids are atPerhaps Adjunct Professor Obama would benefit from some old-fashioned drills in grammar.

Cathie Black certainly came and went. I agree with advocates that standardized tests don't mean much, but I don't find that conversation very helpful. My daughters, since their mother is not the President of US, are going to need very good SAT scores to get into a decent college. I think if we're ever going to get away from an over-emphasis on standardized tests, we should begin by eliminating them from the college admissions process.Regarding "running the schools like a business', don't you think there is a happy medium? In community development circles, I had to listen to the same spiel for years from corporate funders, mostly bankers (and how's that for a kick in the teeth; having a banker tell you to run your business better!).But I think that school administrators, like non-profit managers, are so committed to the mission- they put so much of their energy and talents into delivering the important services- that sometimes the mundane work of building the organization gets overlooked.I think we should be constantly trying to figure out ways to run the business better, with a goal of creating a school system that supports teachers and their work.

If the notion is to hold teachers and schools accountable, and the vehicle for accountability is the standardized test score, then we shouldn't be surprised that teachers "teach to the test", because that is what teachers do - they teach.If better or more focused teaching doesn't address the root cause, or one/some of several root causes, for schools underperforming, then it isn't fair to anyone to hold teachers and schools accountable for problems they're not, and never will be, equipped to address.I subscribe to the notion that schools and teachers must be held accountable. The value of a standardized test is that it is a quantifiable and (hopefully) fair measurement of how students are doing. If we assume, as we must, that teacher effectiveness is closely related to student performance, then I don't think we're out of line to use standardized test results as one measure of a teacher's effectiveness.But I don't think we're measuring effectiveness correctly. One of the issues with "No Child Left Behind" is that it put forth an "absolute" measure: students must be at a certain predetermined standard level of accomplishment by a certain grade, and they must achieve that baseline regardless of other circumstances in their lives. If all children started from the same starting line, that might be fair. But not all children start equally. Some children start with substantial disadvantages, most of which are beyond the teacher's control.If standardized tests could be used to measure how far teacher has advanced her pupils *considering their starting point* (that is, a relative rather than an absolute measure of accomplishment), that strikes me as more fair.

"My daughters, since their mother is not the President of US, are going to need very good SAT scores to get into a decent college. I think if were ever going to get away from an over-emphasis on standardized tests, we should begin by eliminating them from the college admissions process."Hi, Irene, I'm just back from a college visit yesterday, so this topic is fresh on my mind. If we believe what college administrators tell us, then standardized tests are just one of several components used to assess applicants.The value of an ACT or SAT score is that it controls for the potentially wide variability from one school to the next. Three students from three different schools in the same state might each rank in the the top 20% of their respective classes, but might be at very different levels of readiness for college, despite the similarity of their GPAs.

Strikes me that the good mayor (as we often see) turns to inner circle people when things go bad - and may bring more of the same.We need Ann to say,"complexity,complexity" about how to understand "accountability" in schools.Standardized testing has real value though historically there have always (and I suspect wil continue to be) questions of "fairness."But because they offer "quantifiable" information, - a value often overrated in human services- they tend to be focused on too much.I was interested in Jim P."s "starting point' and how he thinks we can quantify the inequalities that students face.Complexity, complexity....

"We will demand an end to poor performance, corruption, waste, collusion and union thuggery."Now is that not true of many religious schools? So much for letting God fearing leaders run the public schools. Furthermore, we know that parents are the real moral educators because of all the Catholic school kids who stop practicing their faith as soon as they leave grammar school. And we now know, irrefutably. that Catholic bishops protect the perpetrators over the victims. So let's get rid of that fallacy.In very large part schools have always been run like a busineses. Principles lose their morality as they mark present students who are absent so they won't lose funding. They say it is playing the game....or purely business. The point that should be made is that teaching is not easy. Teachers are not just baby sitters. They perform a marvelous function which too many of their critics have no idea what a teacher does. The problems that plague teachers plague all of society. Like prejudice, parental apathy, bribery at the top, cliques and power groups, etc. Bloomberg got what all mayors and governors have pined for; control of the schools. All of us should learn from this. It is always much easier on the outside.

"I was interested in Jim P.s starting point and how he thinks we can quantify the inequalities that students face."Hi, Bob, conceptually, I don't think it would be difficult: we'd administer a standardized test very early in the children's school career (e.g. 1st grade) to establish a personal and a school-wide baseline. If the hypothesis is correct that not all children start with the same advantages (e.g. some schools have a significantly higher percentage of students living in single-parent households), then we'd expect to see that some schools significantly outperform other schools, even at a very early age.Once the baseline is established, then we're in a position to measure performance *against the school's baseline*. The idea would be, regardless of how far ahead or behind a school is compared to the national standards, by comparing the school's perofrmance against its own early-grade baseline, we can measure how effective the teachers are in that school.(It would also tell us, as standardized tests do now, how the school is performing against national standards. I'm suggesting, though, that it isn't fair to teachers to judge them by that 'absolute' criterion.)

I think you'd have to factor in other things including school facilities (including texts/libraries) as well as other soucial indicators and perhaps even competition in an area. And so forth -complexity

The picture of the new chancellor in this morning's Times (and yesterday on the web), hints at some of the social class issues at work in the controversy. And a very nice photo it is of Mr. Walcott and his grandson.

My job (and dissertation research) is in public school education, specifically in NYC. One of the sort of "key" things to understand is that public school quality runs the gamut - after all, NYC has 1,700 public schools. There are specialized high schools in the city that can compete with private schools for quality of education (Bronx Science, for example, has produced something like 9 Nobel laureates in physics). There are, of course, some terrible schools: overcrowded, under-resourced, etc. Many of the inequalities in resources have resulted in lawsuits, which led to a more egalitarian distribution of funding dollars (I can't remember the specific timeline, but it's fairly recent). This may have helped to produce the "narrowing" of the achievement gap between poor (black) and middle-class (white) students in the city. What remains the elephant in the discussion is the role of economic class in achievement - test scores are so highly correlated to income that if the relationship weren't so consistently validated, you'd think the research was faked.Testing is not my area of expertise, but I've read all the big testing experts, and they are almost unanimously critical of the way tests are used in public school systems. There is no objection to standardized testing as such; rather, they point out that the use of testing to track a school's "achievement" is ultimately invalid. Tests are usually designed to be diagnostic of a narrow range of knowledge and skills. They are usually applied indiscriminately. (See Dan Koretz' books & articles, if this topic is of interest to you.)There are problems with using raw data to track anything, ultimately, including the emerging fad of "value-added teaching." I'll stop here, before I get too wonky, but if anyone's interested, I'm happy to go into more detail.

Irene, SATs have already been rendered optional by an increasing number of institutions. I realize your daughters might not be ready for college yet, but I suggest you look at this site and start researching those schools you would be interested in: largely agree with Jim P.'s comments on standardized testing and NCLB in particular.

To Thomas Jacob's point: New York public schools run the gamut. True, not only of the specialized high schools he mentions, but the primary schools as well. The middle schools are less clear to me as to quality. The equalization process has included trying to compensate for what is one of the most obvious facts about NYC and its schools, housing "segregation". This has meant enlarging choices for parents within school districts and even allowing movement across districts. My informal observations as parent (once) and grandparent (now) of my kids in public schools is that besides having really good teachers and super principals, excellent primary schools have parents that are dogs (or as Irene Baldwin and I once agreed "busybodies") who raise money, patrol quality, and scream like mad when things aren't working right. A classroom full of angry parents can get rid of a bad teacher faster than you can say "race to the top."My point: good schools are subtle conglomerates of many factors; standardized testing can hardly measure them.

Barbara & Jim, Though it's a long way off for me, it's encouraging to hear that less weight is given to standardized testing (now if they just make college cheaper we're all set). But I have friends with college-bound children and they seem to uniformly fret that colleges are much, much harder to get into than when I was young. (What I would have thought of as "safe schools", my friends tell me are out of reach for their kids. And what I would have considered a pretty good SAT score, isn't now).Thomas Jacobs, I was speaking to a woman on the subway whose husband is an "education economist". She said that student achievement has little to do with class size or teacher quality, but instead it all hinges on parent expectations. Something along the lines that if parents set high performance expectations, the children will achieve. I can believe that parents are a major factor in how children will perform, but is it really that controlling? And if academic performance is really tied mostly to factors outside the classroom, what do we do then to help struggling students?

And to Margaret's point, what is it about our City's middle schools? I hear from a lot advocates that the middle schools are especially problematic. Why?

Middle schools? Hormones? 11-13...brink of adolescents? I've always thought that grades 1-8 or K-8 make sense sociologically and psychologically. The older kids can be given serious responsibilities for helping/working with youngers in a way that takes the edge off the olders relations with one another and their teachers. Any data to back that up? Or other reasons that might work?

I now teach at a small private college with a "right to try" policy. Anybody with the high school diploma or equivalent who can afford the tuition, regardless of standardized test scores, can get in.I have noticed that age, particularly among males, seems to be the best indicator of student success. Those in their 30s do the best because they are motivated, have a well-developed work ethic, and are flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances and technology.Those who do not do well are the students in their 20s, and those over 40. The younger students are largely those who a) did not excel academically in high school and were rejected from larger schools with admission standards or b) are not prepared for the fact that college is harder than high school. Many of the younger students come from low-income or rural families where education was valued less than practical ability. These students are often very combative and resentful that "useless" classes in liberal arts are required for their profession.Those over 40 can usually do the work, but are easily discouraged by the fact that school has changed so much. They are also most likely to have been laid off, and they realize that hiring favors younger people who will work for less money and fewer benefits.My kid, 15, has shown some interested in joining the Coast Guard immediately out of high school, a move I have encouraged. I see too many 18-year-old freshmen who are way too interested in frats, beer, and getting laid (sorry, but there it is) for the next four years to pay attention to their studies.

I would like to recommend the Monday March 28, 2011 Common article by Stan Karp called "Rethinking Schools". In brief it is privitazing of a social good, supported by billions of dollars to be made--socializing the risks while taking profits--We are using market reforms to create a less expensive, less secure and less experienced teaching force. Charter schools started as a community-based reform are not the same a hedge fund managers who invest in charter schools because they see an opportunity to trun a profit or because they want to privatize one the last public institutions we have left. (like the plan to privitize social security and currently our mercenary armies). Our current Fedearl education policy of test and punish is failing. We use test score to move decisions aout teaching and learning away from classrooms, schools and districts to state and federal bureaucracies. Then test scores proclaim schools a failure, transform the teaching profession and increase the authority of mayors and managers while decreasing the power of educatiors. And it is ALWYS the poor that are scapegoated and short changed in this system. This is funded not only by federal policy now but by testing coporations and even grants from the rich foundations like Gates. As a physician for over 40 years I've seen health care access pritivized so that our health care system is the most unequal and with the poorest measures of public health statistics of all the industrial nations, so obscene profits are made by drug and insurance companies and private hospitals, while the goverment agenicies fund the NIH and do basic reasearch. So we will begin to miss the intellectual infrastructure of scientific medical advances as everything is prvitised. You turn a human good into just business model---have no regulartory authority, and get what the USA has now in health care. I sugest the website for Physicians National Health Plan (PNHP) Our leaders in this on going effort to improve access to good health care were arrested at the Senate Finance committee designing our new health care legislation--but the lobbyists for private hospitals, private insurance companies--the corporate interest were given "a seat at the table" Not the physicians and nurses! same thing in happening in education. No teachers please, just the finance folks to craft legislataion. Please read Stan Karp on "Rethinking Schools" that traces the history of how the public good of public education developed and is now dying in this 21st century. So many public goods are being destroyed as we wage three wars and squabble over pennies for just 2011.

Mary Margaret, it is a very thought-provoking article. The link is here. (It's sometimes hard to navigate that site).

Irene, to answer your question, I'll say this: It is my personal opinion that education will not be solved until poverty is solved. That's not to say we should throw our hands up in exasperation and give up. No. Education ameliorates poverty, and it helps a few (very few) bright kids to be economically mobile. But systemic poverty - 1/5 of all New Yorkers are poor - is the albatross that hovers over every aspect of our civic life, and managerial gimcrackery in schools isn't going to do anything about it.

Politicians, bureaucrats and educrats are not going to make things better. Absolute separation of school and state is a prerequisite for progress.

I agree with Mr. Jacobs that the poverty impact solution is a necesary precondition.But as the Oped in todays's NYT Week in RFeview points out, the quality of the debate currently makes moving ahead seem highly suspect(Sounds like Congress on the budget or the Hieracrhy planning on evangelizing.)

#1 Ms. Baldwin, Pres. Obama's children will have high enough SAT scores to go to any college they choose because education is highly regarded in their household. Pres. Obama and his wife and her family are proof of that. Both girls will get very high scores as did their parents.#2 After teaching in NYC public middle school and high school for 25 years, I am of the opinion that class size is very important and class size is low in schools where parents are active. Most middle class schools in NYC are excellent. The schools in the poor neighborhoods reflect the society in which they exist. Poor nutrition, parents working long hours for low pay, children having children,drug and alcohol abuse all contribute to putting a 6 year old behind the eight ball by the time he reaches the 1st. grade. It is too bad "Headstart" was scaled back. It should have been expanded. It really helped to make up for the lack of preparation at home.#3 Testing is big business. Don't expect it to go away any time soon.

Both girls will get very high scores as did their parents.If one can predict the future SAT performance of a 10-year-old child one has never met, based solely upon speculation about her parents whom one likewise has never met, then we'd have to agree that the SAT must be worthless or at best unnecessary.

President Obama is very smart and so is his wife. It's not a leap of the imagination to assume that their two daughters will inherit the brains and do exceptionally well in school as did the parents.

"the SAT must be worthless or at best unnecessary"Yes and yes. :)

If only the release of Black was the end of school reform! America is so conflicted over school reform it has lost its way. Ironically it is an international PISA test which proves the point. While other advanced countries are raising their scores America's is falling. And if this threads first commentator were to look at the educational systems of those countries he/she (j.a.m.) would discovered that it was the godless public system that is getting them there.As America's refusal to address the systemic inequalities within its society rises, driven by the peoples acceptance of unrestrained and/or regulated capitalism and its parallel failure to maintain a balance between government for the common good and the capitalist impulse so too does the correspondence in declining PISA scores proceed in tandem. Until America wakes up to the fact that its failure to sustain its once great public school system through public taxation, based on a trust between teacher, parent and child, and held in trust for all three through their elected representatives the sacred covenant which has underscored its public education system will not be restored and it will continue to decline.

Boy I wish we had 15 minutes to edit after you post like at Linkedin! For one that should be unregulated not regulated capitalism....sigh!

Anyone who hasn't should read the NYT Magazine cover piece on a middle school in New York City (Brooklyn, I think). Regarding SATs: you actually do not know how Sasha and Malia Obama are going to do on their SATs. Chances are they will do well not because their father is himself college educted or president, but because they are on a well-honed path to try to achieve what the SAT measures. And really, when you think about it, that's why the situation is so sad: it really doesn't take THAT much to launch a child onto a path where they can minimally achieve enough to have options for their future. Frankly, my guess is that most public school settings could meet that standard, except that they also need to deal with disruptive and sometimes dangerous students. The monomaniacal focus on every HS graduate attending college is extremely misguided, in my view, but apart from that, the obstacles to success have virtually nothing to do with teachers or teachers' unions. At the margins they are impediments, but they are no more than little streams you have to walk over versus the rivers and oceans that are standing between their students and success.

Regarding SATs - Some schools - not very many and very few among the so-called best state schools and liberal arts colleges (sy the top 100) -- offer SAT optional admission. Irene is correct that SATs are still extremely important. What is most important, however, is if your kid is a full-pay students. College presidents and admissions counelors are being more honest in admitting that full pay kids have the upperhand in admissions. As one college president said in The New York Times, "it has never been a better time to be a full-pay student." By the way, needs-blind admission? Doesn't really exist anymore no matter what they tell you.Finally, SAT prep is a cottage industry and pricey. Students (like the Obama kids) at toney private schools begin SAT prep in middle school. They hire tutors and take extra classes. They will have high SAT scores becuase they are smart and have been trained to take the test.Meanwhile, education needs an overhaul. But the appointment of Cathie Black was ridiculous and bound to fail. Not evey student should attend college. Many should be sent to learn trades - - construction, plumbing, electrical work. Kids who have no academic bent and who dislike school go to lesser branches of state colleges where they barely pass as they are essentially illiterate and have no critical thinking skills. They go into debt for this and then graduate" with nothing but debt and no job other than a minimum wage job (which they could have ahd without the debt and the diploma). We set them up to fail and saddle them with debt in a misguided notion that education is for everyone. It is not. Nor is education superior to learning a trade. That is also a lie.

Suzanne and others, having JUST gone through this with my daughter, it amazes me what kind of absolute statements are made about college admissions. 1. There are need blind schools -- there is actually a list somewhere, so you can look it up. Is it the majority? No. But it's most of the ones that a lot of parents dream about getting their kids into. 2. There are a lot of REALLY GOOD schools that make the SAT optional and some of these also overlap with the need blind admissions policies. 3. In case it hadn't occurred to you, colleges are actually pretty aware of the advantage students at schools like Sidwell Friends have -- that's why they make all kinds of adjustments, such as, putting kids from "that pool" in a selection pool by themselves -- that is, to some extent, "like" children are competing against each other. This is the demographic selection process that makes people who spend thousands in private school tuition to give their kids the best possible chance so resent, when their own child is bested by the star lacrosse player who didn't do QUITE as well academically . . . and they know Yale (or whatever) isn't taking more than one or at most two from that school.As a mother whose son attended Sasha and Malia's former school (the Lab School run by the U of C), told me, the competition to get into an Ivy League school from that private school was brutally intense -- no college would normally consider admitting more than student per year. Indeed, if you keep abreast of the education news in NYC, there is considerable anxiety at a number of private and tony public district schools because "their kids" haven't been getting into top notch schools at quite the rate they had become accustomed to -- yes, because those schools are branching out and trying to be more inclusive. It's a rat race, I guess, but more than anything, it tests your values. Having goals helps to keep it in perspective. But Suzanne, I totally agree with your last paragraph. It's always a shock to some of us college graduates but there are actually people who do not aspire to hold the kind of "good" job that we do, working in an office. They deserve to have a high school education that serves them and the public at large better than it currently does. They certainly don't deserve the enforced penury that comes with ill-judged college programs.

The NYT magazine article on 223 in the Bronx underscored the problem of poverty, resources, parental involvement, teacher connection, and more.NYC, by placing charter schols in poor areas, may be doing what the Church (rightly or wrongly) used to do for involved parents but is now closing shop on to some degree.That's why Gonzalez in trying to reinvent for the poverty folks who can't opt in to charters; he represents maybe a hope - but you see what he's facing.Whether every kid can go to college or not, we've got to keep working on better aspiration by our young and better care by our adults , instead of just easy "standardized' quantifiable answers.

"It is my personal opinion that education will not be solved until poverty is solved. Thats not to say we should throw our hands up in exasperation and give up. No. Education ameliorates poverty, and it helps a few (very few) bright kids to be economically mobile. But systemic poverty 1/5 of all New Yorkers are poor is the albatross that hovers over every aspect of our civic life, and managerial gimcrackery in schools isnt going to do anything about it."Thomas, thanks, based on my own experience as a teacher, I would have to agree.

As I tried to say in a general way Thomas and Jim are addressing the real problem. It is wider than poverty however. America's schools are failing because the gap exists in direct proportion to the growing inequality between the richest 1% and the rest of the population. As America's wealth distribution comes more and more to look like that of a third world country, and it is and has been since the days of Reagan, the crisis in education has been and will only continue to increased. The countries with the highest PISA scores are those with the flattest income distribution curve. Quite frankly without an increased dose of socialism along the pattern present in Europe, America's education system is only going to get worse. Talking about SAT's, and Charters etc. isn't going to fix education. Having governments tell corporations to but out would be a good start.

I just noticed j.a.m.'s totally ignorant of the facts call for a total separation of Church and State. On the contrary, the American model of separation has become so total that it is now part of the problem. This is one of the great myths about American education. And once again America simply fails miserably to look beyond its own borders and to study the experience of other nations, just as democratic as it is, to see that in those countries with a multi-faith approach to funding public education, the whole public education system of a nation can be enriched. This is one place competition can actually occur.Such nations have a national or state curriculum, mandatory inclusion in a teachers union and common national or state level teacher certification programs. What they don't have is corporations and religious communities trying to use fake charter systems to break unions so as to reduce the cost of taxpayer supported education. The result in the USA is privatization or should I say the commodification of education. Regrettably it has reached a point in the USA where those who pay do not want to pay for public education too so the Nation continues the slow drift to a two tired education system, again akin to that found in third world countries.Countries with schools of faith fully or partially paid for from the public purse in no particular order are Australia, New Zealand, The UK, Ireland, Holland, Germany and Canada to name but a few. None of them are any more threatened by a state religion than is the USA. In fact I would go so far as to say that extreme forms of Christianity are a greater threat to a just society in the USA than they are in the aforementioned list. Folks your just not talking about the reality of what is happening around you. It is time you woke up to just how badly duped you have been taken by the confluence of a whole slew of forces. So j.a.m. take that j.a.b. (john albert borst)

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