What’s Ahead in 2015

What kind of year can we expect for public education? I’ve been reading some of the predictions, and most focus on Washington, perhaps because the pundits think that’s where the action is. While predictions are almost always wrong and made to be forgotten, the process can remind us of our goals and values, not a bad thing.

Let’s begin with Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s predictions. He made four, according to Alyson Klein of Education Week. They’re non-controversial, and all in the category of ‘more.’ 1) At least 60,000 more kids will attend quality preschool; 2) 600 more colleges, companies and organizations will commit to help thousands more students get ready for college; 3) 10,000,000 more students will get access to high speed internet; and 4) more students will graduate high school as the percentage climbs above 80. These are admirable resolutions, wonderful goals to aim for.

Counting and measuring was the original federal role in public education. We know our schools are resegregating, for example, because of the Department’s Office of Civil Rights, which, under the strong leadership of Catherine Lhamon, is pushing to wake us up to this national embarrassment.

No predictions from the Secretary about quality, just quantity. Wouldn’t you love to know if he thinks that the in-classroom experiences of most of our kids will be significantly improved in 2015 because of the Common Core State Standards? But he wisely stays away from that.

Nor does the Secretary wade into deep or controversial waters. Will more states walk away from the Common Core and the associated tests? Will more parents join the opt-out movement and keep their children home on testing days? Will more teachers refuse to administer standardized tests? Will more politicians, foundation leaders and others back away from what is called ‘test-based accountability, using scores to judge teachers? Will more parents choose to homeschool their children?

All of those predictions are out there, naturally, from pundits on the left, right and center.

Rather than make predictions, I offer a wish/hope list for 2015: Ten wishes in all.

It’s my hope that Lamar Alexander in the Senate and John Kline in the House will make progress on the reauthorization of ESEA, because the current law, No Child Left Behind, expired years ago but remains in force. That bizarre situation has given the Secretary of Education the power to grant waivers to NCLB’s more onerous provisions, which he has granted to states that have been willing to hew to the Administration’s own reform policies.

I hope that Washington has now, finally, learned the fundamental lesson of NCLB, which is, simply put, “Washington cannot run American public education.” Many learned that during the Bush Administration, but not the Obama Administration. Those folks apparently drew a different conclusion: “Maybe Bush can’t run public education, but we can!” Well, they can’t.

I wish the Secretary would back away from his commitment to tying test scores to judgments about teachers, but that’s not likely to happen. In fact, his choices for Under Secretary (Ted Mitchell, who comes from the market-based education sector) and Special Advisor (former New York State Commissioner John King) suggest that Mr. Duncan is doubling down, not seeking common ground.

It is my fervent wish that the good people within the charter school world will police their own, because it’s increasingly clear that the ‘movement’ is being hijacked by profiteers and other ne’er-do-wells who are in it for the money. If the good folks continue to do very little, charter schools will become another failed experiment. It’s disingenuous for education’s leaders and politicians to say they “support good charters and oppose bad ones” and then do nothing about the loopholes that allow for-profit and not-for-profit charter operators to looti the public treasury.

I hope that the educational approach known as ‘social and emotional learning’ attracts more public support, some new champions, and maybe even a name that doesn’t sound so soft and squishy.

I wish that educators who are using technology just to get test scores up would leave the profession. “Drill and kill” deserves to die. Technology allows students to be producers of knowledge, not just consumers and regurgitators. We owe it to our kids to get it right.

Related to that wish, I hope that the idea of giving students more control over their own learning spreads. When students use technology to do original work, they almost always end up collaborating, a key piece of ‘social and emotional learning.’

I wish that no one ever again use the word ‘rigor’ when talking about education. “Challenging” is good; “rigorous” is bad. Let’s agree to leave rigor where it belongs, with “rigor mortis” and other harsh and unyielding stuff.

I wish that the critics of testing and ‘test-based accountability’ would get together with their opponents and agree on some fair, effective and efficient ways of evaluating teachers. Just being against something isn’t enough, in my book, and teachers deserve to be fairly evaluated.

I wish that we would figure out how to make it harder to become a teacher but easier to be one. Right now a lot of our policies and rhetoric are making it downright unpleasant to be a teacher. Let’s raise entry level standards and improve training, but then we need to make sure teachers are free to teach.

How will we remember 2015? Will it be “The Year of the Common Core” or “The Year of Opting Out”? There are other possibilities: “The Year Preschool Took Off,” “The Year College Students and Parents Said ‘No Mas’,” and “The Year of Blended Learning.”

What do you anticipate 2015 will bring for American education? What are your wishes?

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25 thoughts on “What’s Ahead in 2015

  1. May your wishes come true!! I do wonder what phrase you would use to replace social-emotional. When one talks about interactions between people and their feelings is there any way that the descriptor would not be something that sounds flexible? Maybe “responsive” ? But it is not quite broad enough. In any case, give me “soft and squishy” any day over “rigorous”.

    You covered it pretty completely, I would only further define some of them. There are excellent concrete suggestions out there for improving teacher training, and to assess teachers. A big part of desegregating our public schools would be to make them attractive enough to end white flight (small class size, modern facilities, professional staff given time, autonomy and support to plan and create exciting learning opportunities). Another part has to do with creating meaningful work and paying a living wage, so people of all races would have more time to be involved in their children’s education and our communities would not be so economically divided.

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  2. Let the teachers teach with the community support from each other all focused on preparing young people for life .

    If you want to measure something try cocaine deaths, number of diminishing court cases for Youth, diminishing percent of high school students that cheat

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  3. I’d add two wishes:

    I wish all school systems would accept as a key objective the facilitation of the skills of effective learning and effective problem solving, together with the student experiences using them enough to become habitual. No formal education can accomplish the effective learning of current knowledge, acknowledging that that knowledge will continue to expand! Lifelong learning is absolutely required.

    I wish all education would see the importance and value in abandoning the use of textbooks!!!

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  4. End the Game of Schooling. Bury the phrase “school reform.” It is as useless a cliche as “rigor.” Renew and build on the timeless efforts of hundreds of thousands of skilled teachers, past and present, to champion real, authentic learning and assessment. Tap the intrinsic motivation of young people to learn about the real world around them and their place in it. Let the people and places in the community, not the tests and profits of Pearson, permeate the walls of schools. Never allow such matters of lesser importance to dominate matters of greater importance. What is greater? Passion for learning. Passion for teaching. The human spirit.

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  5. My wish is quite simple. I wish that parents value the developmental progress of each of their children and not hold them to a “standard” that intrinsically makes them unequal. Each child is unique. Each human is unique. We cannot make humans standard the way an IT department makes computers standard. Ensuring that each child remains unique is incumbent on more than government, more than institutions like public schools. It means we love our children and want them to be the best they can be. We don’t let them become merely data points that a school superintendent can put on a powerpoint.

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  6. There is a lot of good sense in your list and I wish we had someone with this kind of wisdom as secretary of education. I would add that we need to face up to the completely obvious facts that we are giving the worst schools to African Americans, Latinos, American Indians, immigrants, and poor kids and that thirty years of accountability, sanctions, and charters haven’t made a dent in this inequality (and probably made it even less attractive for teachers and administrators to commit themselves to continuously sanctioned and belittled schools) and the realization that since we must figure out to how to be a successful society with incredible diversity and no racial majority we need to start thinking about that seriously in our education policy and training.

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  7. High school graduation appears to be at an all time high, and many more youngsters are going on to some form of higher education. So despite Dr. Orfield’s assertions above, I think the last 30 years HAVE “made a dent”. There’s plenty of work to do.

    As you know, John, some of us are working 16-18 hour days trying to help strengthen/improve charters. Yes, there is work to be done here but we need to make sure that we’re using a variety of measures, not just standardized test scores and 4 year graduation rates. Things like the Hope Survey and well developed portfolios are areas when many district and charter educators agree.

    John, I wish you had included in your list better accountability for district public schools. There constantly are scandals – like the NYC loss of hundreds of computers, or the Long Island district that refused to admit immigrant students, or the just dismissed Minnesota suburban principal who ran up thousands of dollars of personal expenses on his district credit card…. Why no comment about any of these, or many other district scandals that could be cited?

    Some of charter’s fiercest critics ignore many district scandals but I’m surprise in your ten hopes, you did not include something about them.

    Finally, I’d hope we have more district/charter collaboration in 2015 that produces real gains for youngsters. Here’s an example of something we worked on:

    http://www.twincities.com/opinion/ci_27230018/st-paul-dual-benefits-from-dual-credit-pioneer.htm

    http://www.twincities.com/columnists/ci_27209553/joe-nathan-early-encouraging-results-dual-credit-partnership

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  8. Good points, all, but what Gary Orfield has written about inequality resonates. I would add another wish, that we stop acting as if schools and teachers can solve all the problems of structural inequality, inadequate housing, nutrition and health care. On Twitter someone expressed the wish that politicians would talk to and listen to educators; that’s easy to endorse as well.

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    • John, I share your support of Gary Orfield’s comments. My number 1 wish is that this country, starting with the President, would understand and affirm that our democracy cannot survive without access to quality public education for every child.

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  9. My wish for our children and their education is the Secertary of Education leave the post and someone be appointed who has experience in education. Too many of the decisions about our system are made by non-educators. George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy pushed NCLB into the law. It may have been a good idea, but it’s implimentation was not based on learning and creative thinking. It became based on testing and accountability. It attracted commercial testing companies into the system. Education became about money, not about our children. Charter schools, the same scenario. The idea of allowing the community and school, the parents and teachers, to have input into the operation of the system would work in Public Schools, too. But, it never had a chance. The for-profit schools jumped in and Charter Schools became about money, not about educating our children. It is time to turn our schools over to the true educators, the teachers in the class. Give them a chance they have never really had. That is my second, and more important, wish.

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  10. Frank – Many of the people most deeply involved in charters are educators – including the “teacher led” charters.

    There are plenty of scandals in district schools where people interested in making money have ripped off the public. I agree with John that this is a problem with some charters.

    I wonder why John and others who’ve posted here don’t also decry the scandals, for example, in NYC where hundreds of computers are missing, or in Long Island, where a district refused to admit immigrant students, or Seattle or Woodbury Minnesota, where thousands of dollars was stolen from district public schools.

    Is stealing ok from district but wrong in charters? of course not.

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    • Joe, I have long felt the charter concept was great. The original concept does give teachers considerable input into the system, something often lacking in public schools because of state imposition. I think that freedom should be given to public schools, too. At one point, several years ago, I reviewed a for profit charter school in New York City. It was like a prison for the children and teachers both in terms of locked doors, but also a locked in curriculum which didn’t meet the needs of the children. Decidedly worse than any public school I have ever taught in or visited.

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  11. My wish is to banish the notion that business principles apply to education. The principles such as competition, profit motive, merit pay, etc. These have been tried and applied time and time again only to fail miserably time and time again. These principles don’t benefit students or educators.

    Research has shown it, both empirical and experimental.

    If I can have a second wish it would be to have the educators be recognized as the experts in the field. Just because you have made a lot of money doing something shouldn’t make you and expert in how to run a school or evaluate teachers.

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  12. With all due respect you are missing well founded reasons for resistance to tests and have even conveyed this wish in ways that imply teachers dislike the tests merely because they do not want to be evaluated . It has been my experience that teachers want to be evaluated to improve in the same way they evaluate students so they can improve as teachers . Not all evaluation is test bound, in fact , the best evaluation is not usually an exam or test at all , least of all a standardized multiple choice mess . Where are your wishes to end cultural bias, test bank questions that are often misaligned with grade level standards and conditions that find students crammed in a gym without ventilation for long mornings during a week long ordeal they all really hate . They are not the only ones. Really it is incomprehensible to me that anyone involved in education politics who reports on issues in public education can miss the ASA findings on VAM which do indeed give reason for pause .
    While there is no way teachers in high poverty schools can compete with with suburban teachers where parents speak English , have an education and share cultural values that support academic growth, students have no buy in. You never hear they cheated because they do not care about the test . To punish teachers because they choose to confront challenges like poverty in schools where they are most needed smacks of racism and sabotage since the schools getting closed are the ones serving poor students of color. Coupled with the charter school boom andinherent segregation , tests conspire against students who are not white , and their teachers too.
    Recent data from state education banks reflect a huge drop in the number of black teachers who are fired like thousand in LA where tenure is an urban legend that still persist despite the 9000+ senior staff who were purged and ruined because rform hates to pay well for its lowly labor . Given the checkered past of some education reforners at the head of the rabid pack , it is hard to escape insidious implications as an exodus if baby boomers vest in retirements that can cost over a million dollars over teacher in LA where that money was misused , the CBA short sighted and Union leaders are, like Randi Weingarten, compromised.

    With test scores also compromised by rampant cheating in 36 states, there is absolutely no integrity in the data , which is confirmed by an exchange ARNE had with a sharp reporter who asked him about the trial of Atlanta superintendent accused of instigating and intimidating teachers and administrators to bring up test scores , I think her name is Beverly Hall . Like DUNCAN , Deasy, and a large number of superintends in America’s urban districts , she is the product of Eli Broad’s school leadership academy which is NOT credentialed and recruits business PEOPLE and other private sector types to manage schools with some rather draconian and destructive practices .

    When he heard her name, Duncan was pleased to gush over her amazing test scores lHe said he wished all iof finals followed her lead. THE GAINS ARE preposterous, by the way. The reporter reminded him that she was about to stand trial for cheating, which cost teachers involved dearly. Sadly, the teachers who blew the whistle on this were fired and forgotten . I susoect Hall, who has cancer will never answer for this . Duncan was not remotely interested in the cheating involved as he continues to insist she is remarkable . She cheated bullied to get million dollars in bonuses . That tells me he is not very smart.
    There is, ironically, no critical thinking or creativity involved in tests he loves which are formative not summative ; the limited scope of their insights and margins of error in terms of rating teachers is so inadequate, it is shiftless to use tests like these . There are formulas and tricks I saw Asian students use in a school I worked for— this is key to their success; while these Chinese children are studious. and part of a culture that emphasizes academic success ( though not for the sake of well rounded children who can develop fully in an arts based education , they are pushed by pride, power and that coat hanger parents beat some with) . Conditioned at early age to be test taking dynamos while many Latino parents do not value school as much, the Asians test taking skill is an advantage Latinos lack.
    Cultural concerns are no longer viable after a take over orchestrated by LA EducaRAT$ ? They are always churning up a new test , new plans and changes in programs at least once a year. We hardly have time to master the latest innovation and the next one is on, This is costly and it conspires against students and their teachers while enriching unethical corporate entities like PEARSON .
    The fact that dominant narratives defer to officials and administration tends to illustrate stringent class lines and anytime one is among the high powered well dressed educRAT$ the divide is very wide and wanton . Most of the, fled classrooms as soon as they had tenure and the right credential which is not necessary if you know the right people. This is a class war , which is why we see few closures in burbs if any; however to facilitate these segregation goals the reforners are reconstituting many campuses as they let charters assume space and gobble up resources
    So to review , tests are flawed and that makes evaluations flawed. They are inaccurate ,inadequate .
    As many note , evaluating teachers usung kid ‘s scores is a recipe for disaster . The are too many no shows , they nap or make a skull and cross bones outof the bubbles in the packet . More concerning is the fact that there are so many in need of extensive remediation Yet a teacher with
    9 th grade students is accountable to raw data and scores that are not compared to the last ones in order to determine actual growth. Instead they are scooped up whole and flung at her . Like poop, Suddenly social promotion , lazy and or sneaky reformers smear the teacher for their policies and the shortfalls of children’s education before they’re in her care.
    The absurd addition of teachers who are not evaluated because their subjects are no in tests who are now being made accountable to arbitrary skills and kids they do not know is an element that echoes my assertion that the tests are not being rejected without viable reasons; as your post demonstrates, teachers are rejected , robbed not given a voice or opinion while their expertise is negated . Yet they are expected by you to suck it up and sort it out , which men’s tge gave surrender The tests make a lot money ,disrupt true learning to serve the reform purpose which is to destroy public education so they can privatize and go full throttle with this free market free for all . There’s already an educaton industrial complex worth trillions and growing with impositions like common core which is a mess that is stressing kids out and proving to be problematic as parents grow disenchanted with 70% failure, no art, no music , no recess, and math equations that make your head spin. The fact that it became a national joke, replaces literature with non fiction passages and obtuse context questions while kindergarten is confronting 3rd grade standards makes me wonder who is accountable for that ?

    When does John Deasy answer for his abuses and scams ? what about Michele RHEE? She Shares Deasy’s autocratic style and hypocrisy . Both malign teachers with relish and embellish events or lie about them to twist things so they get what they want . They exploit students and fear Have they been evaluated and faced accountability ? Both are guilty of concealing sexual abuse , intimidating witnesses ( felony) , and are likely connected to misappropriated funds .
    They can lie with impunity, cheat and even be self-described civil rights leaders. Thanks to media meat muppets who will posture and pose them in just the right ways so they can point to the praise and juked data to prop up their egos because they have proof on the page .

    That is the standard of evidence Judge Treu points to in his weak and disturbing Vergara ruling . But these things will not hold up anymore than test data . So go ahead, Mr. Merrow, cozy up to the hypocrites and appease the billionaire bullies to get your funding. Whatever you do with it , you will never rise above the lies . You’re destroying good people who are teachers , hurting their students and helping criminals with big bucks rob the public of more than their schools . Public education is the corner stone of democracy and these reforners are deficating all over it ! l agree. teachers need evaluations. But they have to be fair and fruitful to their practices . What about School officials? How about Bill Gates with his experiments in classrooms, he treats like a petri disH!?

    Is he a better human being than I am because he is filthy rich and hell bent on turning poop into potable water ? Is he and Walton family wage slave owners subject to some kind rating system ? They seem to break laws and dodge taxes with impunity . Please stop perpetuating lies about us . Instead spend a day teaching poor students in Watts or pouring over recorded evidence of RHEEs DC tenure . You want test talk to take place , you should & could very well plan a symposium with all out Socratic discourse and brainstorming that hammers out better ways to do it .
    Instead you put it on teachers. When’s there time for that when we have no class size caps, no support and and our days demand more as our employers pay less?

    Wishes , lies and dreams are the stuff of poetry , something I know about . And there is nothing poetic in your list here . We may need a facilitator , mediation , a court order , but we need somebody who is objective, fair, knowledgeable and proactive. Teachers can’t get a seat at the table unless they take an oath to forsake tenure and join a cult like e4e .

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  13. My wish, by the way , is for Justice and equality that sees those who have broken the law are properly punished while the innocent are afforded apologies and made whole . Because education is a benchmark of democracy we need to protect it better than we are., Everyone deserves due process even those who denied it but above all else education shoukd Shia the right motives, ethical moves and compassion l I wish people were reverent towards children and their right to an education . We now deny opportunities afforded by art, music , vocational options, clean safe schools, adequate resources and qualified teachers who care about them and the village that is raising them . Tests are not doing any of this . Truth is , they are just a tool that serves business. Education is not a business. We should all wish that we and other adults in education are open and always learning so we can collaborate and serve accordingly

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  14. My wish is for:

    LANGUAGE SCHOOL that would be available to all children at birth. By six months of age, babies in language-rich environments have already moved ahead of babies in language-poor environments. Strong early language foundations are necessary to support advanced reading levels. Once oral language testing showed a child had the language development expected of a typical six-year-old, he would move on to:

    LITERACY SCHOOL to learn to decode. The goal of LITERACY SCHOOL would be for students to reach level-nine reading comprehension and advance as far as they choose in math. LITERACY SCHOOL students would read materials that were written at their reading levels and geared to their particular interests. And they would know there was no limit on advancements. Extensive end-of-year reading tests would determine their placements the following year. When a student scored level-nine reading comprehension or above, she would move on to:

    ACADEMIC SCHOOL to elevate her reading level to the college level through the study of basic academic subjects. For instance, if a biology book were written at level nine, all the students in a class using that book would read at level-nine rendering it unnecessary for the teacher to interpret the book to the students in conversational language which may be as low as level-three. Once a student scored above level twelve on an extensive level-twelve reading test comprised of passages from all subject areas, that student would receive THE COLLEGE READING LEVEL CERTIFICATE and leave school with the loftiest career aspirations within reach.

    Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.

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  15. We have always known how to evaluate teachers. It takes other professionals to visit her classroom, know her students and follow their progress throughout the year. What teachers object to is being evaluated on the basis of a two-dollar test that is neither valid nor reliable. Wouldn’t you be?

    Let’s hope 2015 is the year that the public realizes that a two-dollar group test cannot measure the progress of each child in a class as well as the effectiveness of the teacher! Surely we are in a stupid period in American education, led by someone who has never taught. Let this period be over soon!

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  16. Thanks! The problem is reflected in what my grandmother said, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” Question for me is how to insert serious reform methods that work for teaching and learning into schools and classrooms without the burden of government (local, state and federal) obstacles. It’s not about funding, but it is. We would have better teachers if we elevated their status – professionally, economically and culturally. We would have better learning if we shifted the paradigm from teacher-centered to student centered learning. We would have better results if we were more concerned about the process than the product.

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  17. One of your wishes–that critics of test-based reform stop merely being “against” things–has already come true. The Texas High-Performance Schools Consortium has proposed an exhaustive and research-based alternative suite of ideas that eclipse test-based punitive thinking, and they have just released a report to the legislator about the work they’ve been doing: http://www.tasanet.org/cms/lib07/TX01923126/Centricity/Domain/25/thpsc-report.pdf

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  18. John, Most Early Childhood Education professionals don’t have a problem with “social and emotional learning” because we recognize how critical those domains are to building a strong foundation for healthy development from birth onward. However, those who see them as “soft and squishy,” as you do, often say “non-cognitive skills” these days instead. Other alternatives to “social and emotional” are Howard Gardner’s “Interpersonal Intelligence” and “Intrapersonal Intelligence” respectively.

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