"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Can You Find the Statute Mandating Student Compliance?

A parent in the Cape Girardeau School District asked if she could opt her child out of MAP testing. According to DESE, the answer was students may not be excused from the collective testing. Here is the story from KFVS:

According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the test is a must.

"Based on No Child Left Behind, opting out of the MAP test is not an option," said Pat Fanger, assistant superintendent for Cape Girardeau Public Schools.

Accessing the DESE website under "MAP Test Information for Parents", here is the only information I could find about the testing mandates:

What is the Outstanding Schools Act?

The MAP assessments are required under Senate Bill 380, often referred to as the "Outstanding Schools Act," the state school-reform law enacted in legislature in 1993. This bill required the State Board of Education to adopt no more than 75 academic performance standards, which established the knowledge, skills and competencies necessary for students to "successfully advance through the public elementary and secondary education system of this state; lead to or qualify a student for high school graduation; and prepare students for postsecondary education or the workplace or both." These "Show-Me Standards" are guides to what students should be able to know and to do. There are 40 knowledge standards and 33 performance standards.

Linking onto the "Outstanding Schools Act", I can't find any language mandating Missouri students to take the MAP test. The legislation directs DESE in ITS legal requirements but I can't find legislation directing parents to make their child accountable to the school for this test.

Check out the No Child Left Behind website also listed on the DESE site and try to find the language which mandates students take the MAP test. I can't find that mandate or legislation in there either.

Do you think Debbie Jaco of Cape Girardeau will be put in jail if her daughter is not available for the MAP testing? Can DESE produce the specific legislation that states a taxpayer is legally mandated as a public school parent to force his/her child to take a test that doesn't determine whether he/she passes or fails a subject or a school year?

If you have the specific legislation either from the state or federal government with this mandate as it relates to individual students, please let us know. Reread this sentence again:

"Based on No Child Left Behind, opting out of the MAP test is not an option," said Pat Fanger, assistant superintendent for Cape Girardeau Public Schools.

Opting out of the MAP test may not be an option for schools, but as of now, I cannot find language which is directed to individual students.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Autonomy vs Acquiescing: A Tale of Two Superintendents. One Requests Map Test Waivers, One Requests Common Curriculum

This is an article about the Springfield District requesting to opt out its students from the MAP testing, and instead, replace it with Performance Series Examinations. The superintendent (Dr. Norman Ridder) believes this alternate set of tests gives quicker response which allows more immediate feedback for classroom teachers.

We wrote yesterday about Federal Government control over states and districts in educational mandates and spending. Springfield's superintendent must go to the state who then must file a waiver and wait for a decision from the Department of Education. If the DOE turns down the waiver, then the district must administer the MAP. Even if Ridder and DESE believe an alternate test would work better for a district, they basically have no power over the decision of the Federal level. (Just asking: Where in the Constitution is the Federal Government given authority over the states in educational decisions?) How much more obvious does it need to be to taxpayers and legislators that local control does not exist in education?

What does DESE think about the waiver idea? According to the Commissioner:

Springfield’s system gets a favorable opinion from one of the state’s top education officials. Chris Nicastro, commissioner of education for DESE, called the MAP a “snapshot” test that doesn’t provide results in a timely manner. “If you find out something isn’t working, you want to know that right away so that you can make the change immediately,” Nicastro said during a Springfield appearance Tuesday. “You don’t wait until your end of year report to say that something didn’t work 10, 11 or 12 months ago. If you did, your business would be in trouble and your board of directors would probably be on your back. “In education, that’s kind of what we’ve got. So I think we need to talk more about an assessment system that really informs instruction and gives us the kind of real-time information we need to make adjustments.”

The Joplin School District does not want to follow Springfield's lead; Joplin Superintendent Huff believes the MAP is sufficient:

C.J. Huff, superintendent of the Joplin School District, said the district will likely keep using the MAP because it helps the district gauge how its students perform when compared to other districts.

Testing decisions should be under a superintendent's purview. One aspect of education traditionally left to districts under state law is curriculum decisions. What is surprising are Huff's following statements regarding curriculum based on Arne Duncan's statements about education:

“This law has created dozens of ways for schools to fail and very few ways to help them succeed,” Duncan told Congress this week. “We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk.”

Huff said that preliminary buzz over what such a new law would look like would be to develop a nationwide set of curriculum standards upon which tests could be based.
Currently, every state has its own set of standards. But Huff said a consortium of different states is forming to come up with a common core curriculum.

“We’re not getting an apples to apples comparison,” Huff said. “We all need to get on the same page and grow and learn from another.” (emphasis added)

Apparently Superintendent Huff wants to share a common core curriculum...not just common core standards or assessments, but a common core curriculum. Last time I researched this issue, a common curriculum was illegal and individual school districts were given the freedom to set their own curricula. How can a superintendent support a common curriculum when it is illegal?

One superintendent wants to practice district autonomy in MAP testing and another superintendent wants to jump on the bandwagon of a nationalized common curriculum. When did the control of the Federal government become so invasive that districts have to ask for permission to ask if it can use a particular test? Conversely, when did some superintendents believe (and accept) that the Federal Government has the legal authority to set curriculum frameworks which lead to a nationalized curriculum?

Tomorrow: do parents have the legal authority to opt their child out of MAP testing? Or do they need a waiver from the Federal Government as well?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

MAP Testing: "It's the Most Terrible Time of the Year"...(with Apologies to Andy Williams)

HO! HO! HO! It's MAP testing time in Missouri. From what I've learned by reading and listening to those involved with testing, it is a dreaded time of the year for school districts due to the high stakes of students not performing well. The stakes won't affect the students in their school records but results can make a huge difference in districts in terms of funding. To highlight some of the problems with this type of testing, I took a bit of liberty with the lyrics from "It's the Most Wonderful time of the Year". Here is Andy Williams singing the song on youtube. Play it while following along with our version about the dreaded MAP testing every spring:

It's the most terrible time of the year
With the kids all stressed out
And the teachers burned out
There's no one in good cheer
It's the most terrible time of the year

It's the most-most stressful season of all
With those bubbles to fill
With your pencil so near
Anxiety calls!
It's the most-most stressful season of all

There are instructions imparted
And students imploding
And tears all around the class
There are scary test questions
And stories to study
And answers the kids might not know

It's the most terrible time of the year
There are test preparations
All hearts will be pounding
When testing comes near
It's the most terrible time of the year

The results from the testing
Based on subset groupings
Determines the funding for schools
If the kids don't perform
The school flunks, it's a pity
It's AYP regs, don't you know?

It's the most terrible time of the year
There is much consternation
From districts awaiting
Results of the tests
It's the most terrible time
It's the most terrible time
It's the most terrible time....of the year

Opting out of MAP testing in various states is a hot topic in Education on the internet. We'll be talking about MAP testing requirements in Missouri the next several days. We'll try to determine if in fact your child is legally required to take the test.

Do you know the purpose of the test? The MAP test is used to determine how the school is performing. Results of the test will not determine if your child advances the next grade or not. Results of the test will not determine any additional services you child may or may not receive. Results of the tests are broken down into subgroup testing to determine how subgroups (Asian/Pacific Islands, Black, Hispanic, American Indian, White, Other/Non Response, Free/Reduced Lunch, IEP, LEP) score. If one subgroup in a school fails, the whole school fails. And what does failure mean? If a school does not show improvement over a specified period of time, the school can become unaccredited and lose funding.

The MAP testing creates stress for students, teachers and administrators. Why do schools have to undergo such an ordeal? MAP scores allegedly determine how students are performing and money can be withheld based on results. I am receiving conflicting information if your child is legally required to take the MAP testing in Missouri. It is clearer in other states if students are required to show up or are allowed to opt out, and students in other states are not showing up for MAP testing this year.

Can you keep your child home this year so he/she won't have to undergo testing that makes no difference for your child individually but harms the collective group because of federal mandates in "No Child Left Behind"? Call DESE at 573.751.4212 and ask the department these questions:
  • Do "No Child Left Behind" mandates legally require students to take MAP tests?
  • If such a mandate exists, can DESE produce the specific clause?
  • Is there a specific clause that does not allow parents to opt out?
  • If such a clause denying opt out exists, can DESE produce the clause?
If DESE cannot produce the requested information and you do not feel the necessity to make your child take these tests which have no impact on his/her report card, you need to decide on your next course of action. Parents in Missouri and other states are beginning to question whether the MAP testing has become more of a bullying tactic to make AYP goals for a school to satisfy the Department of Education rules based on no legislation to back up this tactic.

Tomorrow we'll be writing about a Missouri school district that has filed to exempt itself from MAP testing. Apparently it's had enough of experiencing "the most terrible time of the year".

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More From DESE on 10X20

In case you didn't catch it at the end of Monday's post, there was a link to DESE's page announcing the Top 10x20 plan. I draw your attention to Douglas Reeve's presentation made to DESE about the state of MO education and where he sees it going. There is also a link to a video of that presentation, in case you have 2 hours to spare and find yourself wanting more information than what is on his slides. Details are always good to know.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Three Hundred and One Down. Where Have We Been and Where Are We Going?

We've just passed the 300th mark for postings! I thought it might be a good time to chronicle what we've blogged about over these few months and how the website came into existence.

Missouri Education Watchdog has officially been on the web since June 2010 when a few people became worried about what they were seeing and reading in the public education arena. Our first red flags were the proposals of Race to the Top in terms of federal mandates to Missouri and local districts. We didn't find anyone in the state writing or talking about Race to the Top. We were concerned about this "contest for educational funding" by Arne Duncan, so we started researching and writing about the Department of Education's plan for public education.

As it played out, we did not receive Race to the Top funding but in essence, we received many of the mandates when our State Board of Education signed onto the Common Core standards in June 2010. We were hopeful the current Republican legislature would address the sovereignty issue and unfunded mandates the standards place on the state and districts. Unfortunately, not one piece of legislation currently addresses these issues. Our legislators have bills addressing open enrollment, vouchers, charter schools, the trigger option, and teacher tenure. Charters, open enrollment, the trigger option and vouchers are considered "school choice" for parents and many conservatives on the state and national levels support this type of legislation.

We have stated many times in this venue we support school choice for parents. However, we have also raised questions about the current legislation about these "choices". With the signing of common core standards, charters can no longer set their own standards. Vouchers to private schools will probably have federal mandates tied to them (it IS government money so those ties are expected), so it is reasonable to believe private and parochial schools will have to adopt common core standards as well. Is this a choice if the new school is under the same mandates as the old school?

The trigger option seems to give power to the parents to close a failing school. But what constitutes a failing school? Is it always the principal and bad teachers? Is it a cultural issue? Do parents support the school and do parents demand excellence and discipline from their children? Will it make a difference to close a school and revamp it by becoming a charter school? Do you think the problems for schools are just because of the teachers and administration? If so, then a trigger option and charters will fit the bill. If however, you believe the problems are more multi-layered, that if the culture does not demand discipline, respect and love for learning, then these "choices" will make little difference for failing students. The government cannot mandate that students learn or parents care to instill values in their students.

Open Enrollment will allow students to attend schools that are not failing. This will necessitate the transportation of students from failing districts (usually from the urban setting) into a suburban setting. As one school superintendent stated about this legislation:

"I'd rather see us try and fix the problem in the student's home district."

Moving away from the pending bills, now let's focus on Common Core Standards. Why is it so important to align schools with common core standards? It has less to do with the standards themselves and more to do with what the standards provide. The standards provide the vehicle through which the Longitudinal Data System can be implemented. What is a longitudinal data system? It is a way to share data about students from state to state AND various federal agencies. We've written about the data sets prepared for your students asking for information such as eye and hair color, family income, voting status and non-school activities. What does this have to do with education?

Well, if you look at the purpose of education to provide the nation's workforce, this type of information is quite important. The equation is upside down. It used to be that when a student graduated from school the STUDENT would look for a job. The documentation we've researched makes it clear the WORKFORCE will now look for the student. And how will industries find the student? Easy. Pull up data from the information stored on your human capital in the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services. Your human capital is viewed in terms of his/her ability to provide a service to the state.

When did this "computerization" of education begin in earnest? Here's an excerpt from the April 5, 2000 Congressional Record speaking to President Clinton's "National Call to Action":

President Clinton has issued a "National Call to Action" to challenge corporations and non-profit organizations to take concrete steps to meet two critical goals: Provide 21st Century Learning Tools for every child in every school. For children to succeed, they need to master basic skills at an early age. The ability to use technology to learn and succeed in the workplace of the 21st century has become a "new basic" - creating a national imperative to ensure that every child is technologically literate. To reach this goal, America needs a comprehensive approach to connect every classroom, provide all students with access to multi-media computers, train teachers to use and integrate technology into the curriculum, and to provide high quality, online content and educational software. (page 4566)

Here we are 11 years later. Many of these plans are being put in place, not by privately funded organizations, but with stimulus funds and state money. Perhaps some of these goals are not objectionable. Being "connected" through technology is valuable in today's world. However, WHAT student data is connected TO and WHY is troublesome. When did it become permissible to ask personal and intrusive information on students under the guise of education so this information could be fed in a repository that would then feed it to different Federal agencies?

So this is where we find ourselves after our first 300 postings. It's not where we thought we would be in the quest for educational information. We were hoping for educational reform that would reclaim state sovereignty and reduce federal control and spending. Instead, this is where we find ourselves in Missouri and from emails received from around the country, others find themselves as well:
  • We are still puzzled why the issue of appointed members of a state board can sign away our state sovereignty doesn't alarm our legislators and spur them to some preemptive action so our science and social studies standards also are not signed away when they are ready for adoption from CCSSO.
  • We are puzzled why legislators aren't screaming when the talk of a "national curriculum" becomes a possible reality.
  • We are puzzled why many states feel the need to focus in on school choice instead of reclaiming local control of schools.
  • We are puzzled why there has been no legislation introduced to stop the incredible loss of privacy for students and their families when these data sets are ready to use in the educational setting.
  • We are puzzled why when constituents are clamoring for a diminished role for the DOE, there is no response from legislators.
We invite you to learn with us as we discover more of the agendas for public education.
  • We will continue to question elected officials on their stance for sovereignty and federal mandates and spending.
  • We will continue to report on school district decisions.
  • We will continue to research national issues as these will impact local districts in terms of standards, assessments, curriculum and costs to taxpayers.
  • We will continue to examine the motives of multi-million dollar campaigns for specific educational agendas. There is a tremendous amount of money to made in education, don't doubt it for a minute. Whenever any organization states "it's for the children", listen with a critical ear. It doesn't matter if this line comes from the left or the right. Money is being made by servicing children by the NEA, the charter schools, virtual schools, software companies, computer companies, public employees, think tanks, lobbyists...and the list goes on and on.
The questions are: Do any of these entities have your child's best interest at heart? Is your child's best interest being superseded by becoming "human capital" for the purpose of supplying nation's workforce?

Monday, March 28, 2011

DESE Announces Top 10 by 20 Goals and Objectives

The devil is in the details, as they say. Missouri’s DESE has made available its 10x20 Education Reform Plan which is the plan to make Missouri one of the top 10 states in the country in terms of education by the year 2020. The goals listed in the plan have an overall positive sound.

GOAL 1: All Missouri students will graduate college and career ready.

GOAL 2: All Missouri children will enter kindergarten prepared to be successful in school.

GOAL 3: Missouri will prepare, develop, and support effective educators.

GOAL 4: The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will improve departmental efficiency and operational effectiveness.

Let’s look at the specific objectives given for each of these goals in order of least concerning first.

Goal 1 OBJECTIVE 1: The percentage of students:

A. Scoring at or above proficient level on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will increase by 1 percentage point at each test administration.

B. Scoring at or above proficient level on state assessments will increase each year to exceed 75% of students in all subgroups by 2020.

C. Scoring at or above the mean of the top 10 states on college and career ready assessments (e.g. ACT, SAT, COMPASS, ASVAB, TSA) will increase annually.

These might be the least controversial objectives. They require the average student to score at the proficient level and set higher benchmarks for subgroups (reduced or free lunch, racial or ethnic subgroups, or ESOL)

OBJECTIVE 2: By 2020, all students will qualify for entrance into post secondary education/training.

Is this meant to match Arne Duncan’s goal of 60% of students going on to post secondary education? Qualifying to go into post secondary education/training is one thing. But note this statement in the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) 5. Among the performance standards and indicators which may be used for reporting purposes on the Annual Performance Report is this:

The percent of students who successfully progress from ninth grade through high school graduation within five (5) years, attend post-secondary education and graduate with either an associate’s degree within three (3) years or a bachelor’s degree within six (6) years.

So on the one hand we will be required only to qualify them to be accepted into college. But we will measure the success of our k-12 school districts by whether their graduates COMPLETE college. I have to wonder, at what point does it become the individual’s responsibility to educate themselves? By college age they are responsible for their own credit score and contractual obligations, but apparently it is still their high school who is responsible for whether or not they graduate college? By the way, the comment period on the MSIP(5) opens April 15th and DESE wants to hear from you.

Goal 3

OBJECTIVE 1: By 2020, all candidates completing preparation programs will be highly by a uniform set of performance data points.

OBJECTIVE 2: By 2020, all educators will meet the definition of highly effective.

Can we see the definition of highly effective? How about the set of performance data points?

Goal 4

OBJECTIVE 1: Annually 90% of plan related activities entered into a project management system will meet or exceed their process and progress measures.

OBJECTIVE 2: By 2020, 100% of Missouri’s school districts will use the Missouri Comprehensive Data System to inform major decisions and improve efficiency.

OBJECTIVE 3: By 2020, 70% of targeted audiences will report being adequately informed about the implementation of the Plan.

Sounds like a good objective, but who is the target audience? How will you know they have been adequately informed? Will there be an assessment?

Now we get to the P20 part of the objectives.

Goal 2

A. The percentage of young children (birth to kindergarten entry) who receive developmental and health screenings will increase by 2% annually.

This should be done by the child’s pediatrician. Will DESE now be in the business of providing doctors to those who can’t afford them in order to meet this objective?

B. The number of parent education visits to families with young children will increase by 2% annually.

Until you reach what percentage? 100%? If the percentage is something lower, what criteria will be used to determine who gets visited? What will they be looking for? If DESE has a vision for what a student “prepared to be successful in school” looks like, wouldn’t it be a good first step to send every new parent home from the hospital with the list of all the things their child will be expected, by the state, to know and be able to do in 5 years?

C. The number of parent education visits to high needs families of young children will increase by 2% annually.

The governor had to strip funding from The Parents As Teachers program, but somehow we are going to find funding to pay for parent education visits to an ever increasing pool of high needs families? Sounds great and may be needed, but how are we going to pay for it?

OBJECTIVE 2: The percentage of early childhood programs for Missouri’s infants, toddlers and preschoolers that meet established quality standards will increase by 2% annually.

Perhaps all these questions are simplistic and their answers so obvious that DESE wouldn’t waste their time responding. The answers probably do exist in some very detailed report and what is posted on their site is just an overview but, can we see the details please?


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Who's Running For Your School Board?

School Board elections are coming up in 9 days in Missouri. Have you figured out who is running in your district? If you're lucky to live in a metropolitan district like St. Louis or Kansas City you can go to the County Election Commission website to find the answer. If you are in one of the smaller counties in MO you may have to call the the County Clerk's office. A phone may be your best bet for getting the information on candidates because, while some of these county election offices have websites, many are not kept up to date and do not list candidates running for local office. Some of them will link you to the Secretary of State website, but if they haven't updated that link recently you may be looking at 2010 campaign results. Even if they do have the link updated, the SOS does not list local election information. They consider that the County Clerk's jobs. Are you getting dizzy yet with the circular links?

You can pretty much write off the local School Board web page for that information as well. Most are happy to provide you with the names of the existing Board members, but do not share who has filed to run against the incumbents. That leaves a lot of people watching their local paper to catch the issue that lists the candidates, usually a week or two before the election.

Then there are the candidates themselves. If you have succeeded in step one and found out who is running, your next hurdle is to find out something about them. Again, the more urban candidate is likely to have a website. Some only have a Facebook page which is great if you only want to read comments from people the candidate has friended. It is safe to assume there will be a skew towards the positive, and it is a little like listening in to the gossip on the party line. How will you know if you have a candidate who is running for school board because he would like to get into politics and someone told him the School Board is a good place to start (this was actually said by one candidate).

You have another option, and that is to go to the Abigail Adams Project for Missouri and look for your district there. AAP's goal is to provide candidate information to the voters. You will notice they have run into similar problems trying to get information from 114 counties for 524 school districts statewide. As a 100% volunteer effort, AAP is limited in what they can accomplish.

They have a questionnaire for candidates that you can see here, but candidates have said they think answering it is a lose-lose proposition. They don't want you to know how many school board meetings they have attended or whether they have met with current school board members. They are free to decline to respond to questions they think need a more nuanced answer, but they would rather duck all questions.

Curriculum issues aside, these people are the ones who write the policy for your district. They are the ones who decide if your district has a zero tolerance policy that can suspend a child with bloodshot eyes because they suspect drug use when in fact his bloodshot eyes came from days of crying after his father was murdered. The school board can decide which topics will be discussed behind closed doors, away from public input and scrutiny. If you have a child in school you owe it to them to know who you are putting on the school board that will have direct impact on their daily lives. You have 9 days so get going.
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