A public talk given to the Domestic Decisions community lecture series at the Shephard's Center of Indianapolis. Comments welcome. LINK: http://indianapolis.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=51&clip_id=10532
A public talk given to the Domestic Decisions community lecture series at the Shephard's Center of Indianapolis. Comments welcome. LINK: http://indianapolis.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=51&clip_id=10532
Pat Payne from Indianapolis Public Schools interviews Dr. Azure Smiley and Dr. Robert Helfenbein about their article in Multicultural Perspectives on the Ruby Payne Effect on pre-service and in-service teachers.
An interesting, detailed report here on one school and their efforts to get at "deep learning" under the constraints of high-stakes testing. Comments anyone?
Watch School District Uses Project Based Learning Over Testing on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.
A long post that is worth a read here on the rise and influence of Pearson and corporate influence in education reform. Take pause, friends. Take pause but feel free to share and post comments here. Thoughts?
The Pearson Monopoly Jennifer Job, UNC Chapel Hill
If you haven’t heard of Pearson, perhaps you have heard of one of the publishers they own, like Adobe, Scott Foresman, Penguin, Longman, Wharton, Harcourt, Puffin, Prentice Hall, or Allyn & Bacon (among others). If you haven’t heard of Pearson, perhaps you have heard of one of their tests, like the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Stanford Achievement Test, the Millar Analogy Test, or the G.E.D. Or their data systems, like PowerSchool and SASI. 
In a little over a decade, Pearson has practically taken over education as we know it. Currently, it is the largest educational assessment company in the U.S. Twenty-five states use them as their only source of large-scale testing, and they give and mark over a billion multiple choice
tests every year. They are one of the largest suppliers of textbooks, especially as they look to acquire Random House this year. Their British imprint EdExcel is the largest examination board in the UK to be held in non-government hands.
Pearson has realized that education is big business. Last year, they did 2.6 billion pounds of business, with a profit of 500 million pounds (close to a billion dollars). And business is looking up, which I will return to in a minute. First, I want to talk about the vicious cycle that Pearson drives through education.
Pearson’s first big jump was acquiring Harcourt’s testing arm in 2008, taking Harcourt’s 40% market share and parlaying it into controlling more than half of all assessments taking place that year. At this point, Pearson began to coordinate all of the textbook imprints it owns (as one of the three biggest textbook publishers in the U.S.) with its tests, completing its own equation of
curriculum and assessment. It was just a matter of locking down their territory and growing it.
To grow into the multibillion-dollar corporation they are today, Pearson blurs every line among for profit, nonprofit, and government systems. They have prominently partnered with University of Phoenix, whose parent company’s CEO also sits on the board of Teach for America. They acquired
America’s Choice, which partners with the Lumina, Broad, and Walton Foundations. The Chief Education Advisor for Pearson is Sir Michael Barber, a lobbyist who pushes for free-market
reforms to education. And the list of executives and partnerships goes on.
What are some of the benefits of these partnerships? Pearson’s advocates for education reform were instrumental in the development of the Race to the Top initiative, from which they have benefitted
in numerous ways. For example, Race to the Top requires significant data accumulation, and thus Pearson partnered with the Gates Foundation to be the ones to store the data. Pearson also is a key partner of the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State Schools Officers. When the plan for the Common Core Standards was hatched, Pearson paid to fly the policymakers to Singapore for luxurious “education” trips to promote the educational methods they promote. 
As a result of their work with the NGA, the Common Core Standards and Race to the Top assessment requirements for those standards work heavily in Pearson’s favor. It doesn’t matter that Stephen
Krashen found that 53% of educators oppose the Common Core—nearly every state has adopted it anyway, and they encourage a 20-fold increase in the number of tests given every age from preschool to grade 12.  Tests that will be administered by Pearson.
And despite the emphasis of Race To the Top and Common Core on state-led education initiatives,
in reality, Pearson does not produce different texts and tests for different states. As Texas is one of its oldest and largest customers, and many of the states that are adopting Pearson materials are “red states,” they make sure that the materials they provide will pass muster with those particular school boards. Then they recycle the same material for other states.  This tilts curriculum in obviously ways, with US History coverage leaning decidedly right wing, but also in less obvious ways. Light was shed on these changes with a recent Pearson reading comprehension test administered to eighth graders. This was the first such test for several states that had recently adopted Pearson’s materials, including New York, which was previously known for its rigorous reading comprehension topic. This year, the passage was a story called “The Pineapple and the Hare,” which was an adaptation of another story that went so awry the original author disavowed the new version. Students complained that the story was childish and that it was confusing what the test makers were trying to convey
by using it. Parents in other states lodged the same complaints. But New York state doesn’t seem to care—not only will Pearson continue to provide a large portion of New York’s tests, but they are contracted to run New York’s teacher licensure process beginning in 2014.
How Pearson got into New York’s teacher licensure program can probably be attributed to another one of its higher-powered partners—Susan Fuhrman, president of Teachers College. Not only is Fuhrman the head of one of the most prestigious teacher education schools in America, but she now
holds the title of “Non-Executive Independent Director of Pearson PLC” and has received almost one million dollars in stock and fees to date. So it is really not surprising that Pearson has its foot in the door to make decisions about who will hold NY Teaching Licenses.
Stanford was responsible for designing the edTPA (Teacher Performance Assessment), but they did so with, quote, considerable seed money from Pearson from the beginning of the project. The edTPA
relies on evaluation of two ten-minute videos of the candidate’s teaching and the responses to a written examination. Supposedly, the scorers are retired teachers who receive $75 per evaluation (although, many of us applied to Pearson to be scorers, and not one person from UNC was chosen to my knowledge). And to prove validity of the edTPA, the Education Development Center, a non-profit in Waltham, Mass, performed a field test across five states. The Education Development Center is funded by Pearson.
The insidiousness of Pearson’s tentacles’ reaching across education would be enough to set off alarms in the community. Huge corporations and conglomerates own stock in Pearson, including the Libyan
Investment Authority, owned by Gaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam, who owns 3% of the company. The Koch brothers have connection to Pearson, as does Teach For America. And the more Pearson acts, the fewer choices we have over education in our towns and cities. Pearson just bought a large online charter school consortium that opened across America, and they now own the G.E.D. for students who drop out altogether. And when a company called Boundless Learning tried to offer free and alternative textbooks to create a choice for students, Pearson partnered with Cengage and MacMillan to not only sue the company out of existence, but also the venture capitalists that funded it.
States are beginning to rely on Pearson not only for materials, but also for the actual data that drives them to make crucial decisions in student learning and teacher retention. There is an assumed validity to these materials that is never proven and now, never challenged. Ironically, the free-market argument has paved the way for a system with no competition. Scores from Pearson tests are used in value-added measurements. Scores from the edTPA are used in hiring and firing decisions. As Rob Lytle, an education consultant, said,“If new standards are as rigorous as advertised, a huge number of schools will suddenly look really bad…they’ll want help, quick. And private, for-profit vendors selling lesson plans, educational software, and student assessments will be right there
to provide it.” It is no longer a piece of the puzzle we can afford to ignore.
Teachers are heroes, not villains, and it’s time to stop demonizing them.
It has become fashionable to blame all of society’s manifold sins and wickedness on “teachers unions,” as if it were possible to separate these supposedly evil organizations from the dedicated public servants who belong to them. News flash: Collective bargaining is not the problem, and taking that right away from teachers will not fix the schools.
It is true that teachers in Chicago have dug in their heels against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s demands for “reform,” some of which are not unreasonable. I’d dig in, too, if I were constantly being lectured by self-righteous crusaders whose knowledge of the inner-city schools crisis comes from a Hollywood movie.
The problems that afflict public education go far beyond what George W. Bush memorably called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” They go beyond whatever measure of institutional sclerosis may be attributed to tenure, beyond the inevitable cases of burnout, beyond the fact that teachers in some jurisdictions actually earn halfway decent salaries.
The fact is that teachers are being saddled with absurdly high expectations.
Some studies have shown a correlation between student performance and teacher
“effectiveness,” depending how this elusive quality is measured. But there is a
whole body of academic literature proving the stronger correlation between
student performance and a much more important variable: family income.
Yes, I’m talking about poverty. Sorry to be so gauche, but when teachers point out the relationship between income and achievement, they’re not shirking responsibility. They’re just stating an inconvenient truth.
According to figures compiled by the College Board, students from families making more than $200,000 score more than 300 points higher on the SAT, on average, than students from families making less than $20,000 a year. There is, in fact, a clear relationship all the way along the scale: Each increment in higher family income translates into points on the test.
Sean Reardon of Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis concluded in a recent study that the achievement gap between high-income and low-income students is actually widening. It is unclear why this might be happening; maybe it is due to increased income inequality, maybe the
relationship between income and achievement has somehow become stronger, maybe there is some other reason.
Whatever the cause, our society’s answer seems to be: Beat up the teachers.
The brie-and-chablis “reform” movement would have us believe that most of the teachers in low-income, low-performing schools are incompetent — and, by extension, that most of the teachers in upper-crust schools, where students perform well, are paragons of pedagogical virtue.
But some of the most dedicated and talented teachers I’ve ever met were working in “failing” inner-city schools. And yes, in award-winning schools where, as in Lake Wobegon, “all the children are above average,” I’ve met some unimaginative hacks who should never be allowed near a classroom.
It is reasonable to hold teachers accountable for their performance. But it is not reasonable — or, in the end, productive — to hold them accountable for factors that lie far beyond their control. It is fair to insist that teachers approach their jobs with the assumption that every single child, rich or poor,
can succeed. It is not fair to expect teachers to correct all the imbalances and remedy all the pathologies that result from growing inequality in our society.
You didn’t see any of this reality in “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” the 2010 documentary that argued
we should “solve” the education crisis by establishing more charter schools and, of course, stomping the teachers unions. You won’t see it later this month in “Won’t Back Down,” starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal, which argues for “parent trigger” laws designed to produce yet more charter schools and yet more teacher-bashing.
I’ve always considered myself an apostate from liberal orthodoxy on the subject of education. I have no fundamental objection to charter schools, as long as they produce results. I believe in the centrality and primacy of public education, but I believe it’s immoral to tell parents, in effect, “Too bad for your kids, but we’ll fix the schools someday.”
But portraying teachers as villains doesn’t help a single child. Ignoring the reasons for the education gap in this country is no way to close it. And there’s a better way to learn about the crisis than going to the movies. Visit a school
A spring 2012 talk at Indiana University on the current state of education, education reform, and even our contradictory view of teachers themselves. Work spending some time with. Feel free to post a comment in response.
Check out a three-part discussion on "The Public Education Debate" on the television program Consider This: http://liberalarts.iupui.edu/media/videos/. Part One is currently at the top of the list but you'll have to scroll down as new shows are added. Part 2 &3 should be posted soon. If you don't mind clicking back, comments are welcome here. Participants include Dr. Rob Helfenbein- School of Education, Dr. Jason Kelly- Department of History, and Dr. Steve Fox- Department of English
The Mindtrust plan entitled "Creating Opportunity Schools: A Bold Plan to Transform IPS" is and effort at radically restructuring urban education in Indianapolis. It uses New Orleans, Rhee's model in DC, a general school choice logic as a basis to reform city schools. Notably, disbanding the democratically elected school board and shifting to a form of Mayoral control (only the "inner city" district NOT the whole city's schools), the plan is used a starting point in a more general discussion of what's being called the contemporary "education reform movement." As always, comments and critiques are welcome.
I wonder what we might think of this in relation to the current rage of evaluating teachers and paying for performance....the lesson? If you want higher performance give folks autonomy, opportunities for mastery, a clear sense of purpose. Educators have been saying this forever but the business-minded reformers can't seem to get their heads around it--ironically, it doesn't work in business either. Thoughts?
By Brian P. Coppola and Yong Zhao
The education systems in China and the United States not only are headed in opposite directions, but are aiming at exactly what the other system is trying to give up. In the United States, through programs such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, as well as calls for more standardization and accountability in higher education, we are embracing the sort of regimented, uniform, standards-based, and test-driven education that has dominated Asian education systems for thousands of years.
What seems to be underappreciated in this country is how actively the Asian systems are trying to embrace the values and outcomes that we appear to be so willing to abandon: specifically, the American penchant for promoting creativity, individualism, innovation, and nonconformity. In other words, for developing and nurturing the diverse talent that can result from an ethos of coloring outside the lines.
In China obstacles still stand in the way of rapid, comprehensive change, obstacles that are tied to the culture's long history of inflexible, standards-based, test-driven education. Nonetheless, teaching for creativity, innovation, and invention are seen there, as throughout the rest of Asia, as the holy grails of the U.S. education system.
Entrepreneurialism is an easy goal, and more than a few professors in China have been known to say that what is needed is the ability to prepare students who are able to generate more intellectual property for their country. And while many parts of the U.S. college system provide the freedom for this, it is predicated on our core understanding that creativity is more or less an inherent trait, and that what we need to do for our students is to get out of their way, and to provide them with the environment and resources in which they can grow.
Fundamentally, the education system in the United States may be no more capable of actively teaching creativity and innovation than the education system in China is; it may well simply be that the system in China has been more systemically effective at suppressing it. Success may be tied as much to what is not done?-avoiding the smothering uniformity of standardization-than to what is done.
In the United States, we certainly matriculate smart high-school students who are as ready to embrace memorization and regurgitation as their Chinese counterparts (although they are not nearly so good at it). In American higher education, however, at least in the highly social and networked institutions where being part of a residential campus community still characterizes the experience, we intentionally mash students together into multiple, diverse settings. We are good at systematically constructing and providing learning environments where students' inherent, and perhaps dormant, creative and inventive skills can flourish.
China is beginning to understand what our real strength has always been: By embracing a broadly divergent array of knowledge and experience, we bring diverse and unexpected perspectives to any problem or situation, allowing us to adapt rapidly to change. By not standardizing anything, we end up being able to handle everything.
People who excel in our education system are comfortable with nonconformity. They understand, challenge, and reject the limits of the status quo, and they take risks. These are not easy things to measure, at least not directly, but the effects of their loss would be beyond tragic for our future. Even so, the loss of these high-value intangibles, which are essential capacities for creativity and innovation, is what the United States risks losing in a close-minded, bean-counting approach to accountability.
An appeal to reject standards and standards-based instruction and testing may seem like an invitation to embrace feel-good mediocrity, yet nothing could be further from the truth. By recognizing and finding value in the core principles of a true liberal-arts education, China is seeking to avoid the inherent problems that have accompanied its historic approach to education-problems that the United States is already in danger of adopting.
Regulation to create uniformity in education results in undesirable outcomes, and these are showing up in our classrooms. Deviation from the norm becomes at least undesirable, if not "the wrong answer." Where once we embraced the free thinker, we now seek to correct that person according to a government-dictated knowledge base. Students and parents will routinely reject time that is spent on enrichment for enrichment's sake, particularly on nonutilitarian skills that do not directly and explicitly train for testing relevance, including programs in reading, music, and the arts.
Learning activities that require long-term investment to create integrated and diverse understanding are rejected in favor of those that can result in short-term gains, quick fixes that can result in high test scores tomorrow, even if that information is effectively forgotten the day after tomorrow.
In the United States, we are seeing evidence of an increase in something that the Chinese have long had a name for, and which they can point to and say needs to be rejected: gaofen dineng. This term describes the undesirable situation of "high scores with low ability." It's not a new idea. Researchers in the United States are the ones who have studied this the most, and the correlation between high standardized-test scores and shallower understanding has been documented.
Certainly there are students who will do well for the right reasons; however, the education-research community is clear about what China has known for years: Gaofen dineng can be an outcome that not only relates to a student's limited understanding, but also has an adverse affect on the entire learning environment, including the performance of teachers who lose their spirit, passing on the inevitable standards of uncontested authority and a regression to mediocrity.
The United States needs to think seriously about and then learn from the changes happening in the Chinese education system. In their enthusiasm to understand and emulate our perceived strengths, our Asian colleagues are holding a compellingly interesting mirror up to us, reflecting exactly those things that have given us a pre-eminent position for so long.
In addition, we need to replace our misplaced enthusiasm for test-based content standards with understanding, articulating, and measuring the value-added features of the American character that have served us so well for so long.
Here are a few recommendations for the United States in the context of an emergent and increasingly competitive China:
* Resist any temptation to standardize and overly regulate higher education in the name of accountability. For various reasons, including the low employment rate of college graduates, the fraudulent practices of some for-profit higher-education institutions, and reports of low-quality graduates, there is an increasing effort to impose government regulations and external standards upon colleges. These seemingly responsible actions will inevitably bring more regimentation, standardization, and testing, ruining what has made American higher education the envy of the world-and what Asian countries are eager to emulate.
* Incentivize the teaching profession. Even without the social and non-normative skills gained by students educated in the United States, students entering college in China have an inarguably stupendous knowledge base, and this reflects well on their teachers and the corresponding system of teacher edu?cation. The United States needs to attract more of our best students into teaching. Even in this era of budget austerity, we need creative, strong, visible, compelling, and cost-effectiveways to make the teaching profession more appealing. One drastic measure would be to make primary and secondary teaching an income-tax-free profession.
* Reintegrate the disciplines and teacher education. Schoolteachers in China receive a high level of discipline-centered education. A system of normal schools, long abandoned by the United States, has grown in China into a set of full-fledged universities where science teaching and science research are done together. While the United States will never return to the normal-school system, some way of putting teeth into the requirement for our disciplinary and education faculties to work together on this problem is needed. To this end, we should simply require, as a condition of accreditation, a meaningful collaboration between college disciplinary units (chemistry, physics, and so on) and schools of education in the early identification, recruitment, and preparation of future teachers, including programs for engaging precollege students and putting them on this path.
* Make higher-education partnerships a priority. In a recent editorial, Stanford University's Richard N. Zare suggests approvingly that "we want China to be an ally, not an enemy." To these ends, the United States should create as many bilateral education collaborations as possible with China, in which educators from both sides spend substantial time teaching in each other's classrooms. Direct experience is an uncompromising teacher.
* Do not forget that the slope of a curve has a magnitude as well as a sign. Only 30 years ago, universities in China reopened after a 30-year hiatus in which higher education itself was held in disdain under Mao's rule. Modern China has emerged from an almost completely agrarian society since then. Not only has change happened, but it also continues to happen-rapidly.
As higher education in the United States continues to move toward centralized accountability through a system of standards and testing, which already defines the precollege education system, it risks losing the advantage that it invented. Let's not lose our penchant for questioning the status quo, for valuing and rewarding those who see things differently and have the freedom and opportunity to tell their story, and for embracing the simple act of rebellion that comes from coloring outside the lines.
Brian P. Coppola is a professor of chemistry at the Universityof Michigan at Ann Arbor and associate director of the UM-Peking University Joint Institute. Yong Zhao is associate dean for global education in the College of Education at the University of Oregon.
From The Chronicle of Higher Education, Sunday, February 5, 2012. See http://chronicle.com/article/US-Education-in-Chinese/130669/