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First of all, happy September everyone!  It’s my favorite month for a variety of reasons, weather prime among them. 

I like the idea of “things I posed elsewhere” and am stealing it this morning (and perhaps forever).  Below is a little ditty I wrote as an online comment to the Journal’s obit story on the SBA published this morning.  Many might feel writing comments to the Journal is about the lowest form of Internet life possible, and you might be right.  Still, I do discern a real exchange of ideas there and am strangely optimistic that the conversation there can rise above “Liberals suck, no you suck!” 

I am incurably optimistic that way;  funny how we cynics are really the most optimistic among us.

Anyway, here’s ya go:

Good to see the Journal and the public, via this newspaper, starting to get some depth in terms of coverage/analysis of standardized testing. Still, there’s one continued piece of the narrative which is going unexamined. In this story, the narrative continues like this:

“As for the slight decline in the overall proficiency rate during the Martinez administration, Skandera said that was due to the students who were taking the SBAs on computers.
When excluding those students, the percentage of students scoring at grade level in reading increased 0.8 percentage points over the past four years. In math, the percentage of students scoring at grade level grew by 0.9 percentage points.”

This assertion has been unchallenged here and elsewhere, despite the fact the PED has not presented the data supporting it. All we have is a spreadsheet column in this past year’s SBA number of the percentage of students taking the test via computer. There’s no direct breakdown of how those computer-based test-takers did.

Here’s that link.

All you can really tell in this regard from the spreadsheet is that computer-based testing in 2014 was largely a small-district phenomenon, Farmington aside. Cherry-picking the numbers, and the students who constitute those numbers, only helps to provide an excuse to PED for this year’s lousy scores, while also vaguely foreshadowing next year’s excuse when, supposedly, 100% of NM students will be taking PARCC online.

Until PED stops using the numbers simply to benefit their own narrative, we as teachers, parents and students will be left in the dark on what’s really happening here. Interestingly, whenever PED is pushed for information beyond their narrative, they get defensive and squawk as Mr. Behrens does here about “defenders of status quo.”

Nobody is “status quo,” Mr. Behrens. EVERYBODY wants the standardized testing system to evolve past the current status quo, one in which PED cherry-picks release of data in order to dictate the narrative and vilifies anyone, particularly teachers and administrators, who question its methods and/or release of data.

Until everyone is presented a fuller, clearer picture of what’s going on, Mr. Behrens, you and PED will continue to get logical, thoughtful questions, respond to them in shrill defensiveness and further drive a spike between those providing/receiving education in New Mexico and your increasingly, and unnecessarily, self-alienated state agency. The act is getting old, PED. Real old.

Old people, like your humble blogger, will often speak of “the pendulum.”  We speak of it to the point where young people have another very good reason never to put up with listening to old people.  But we oldsters can’t help it, for we’ve seen “the pendulum” swing back and forth too many times.

The K-12 standardized testing pendulum inched away from its further position (let’s call it to the right) the other day when our good friend, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, was noted as saying the following:

“I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools – oxygen that is needed for a healthy transition to higher standards, improved systems for data, better aligned assessments, teacher professional development, evaluation and support and more,” Duncan said at the Jefferson Academy Middle School in Washington.

Duncan said there is a recognized and growing concern that the quantity of required testing is troubling, in some cases repetitive or “not sufficiently helpful for instruction.” He said the department will work through the fall to reduce over-testing.

“Too much testing can rob school buildings of joy, and cause unnecessary stress,” Duncan said.

Taken on its face, those comments are a darn big swing (to the Left, I suppose, although it gets REAL confusing in terms of direction these days).  Sec. Duncan is basically copping to the accusation that standardized testing and tying tests to teacher evaluations is out of control.  The person singly most important in making this happen is admitting it’s all “not sufficiently helpful for instruction.”

We old people can quickly spot a pendulum moving back to center and, eventually, just about as far away from center toward the other horizon.  We can’t spot much;  we can’t see too good in general, but we can see that pendulum.  As one who attended a circular elementary school with no walls between classrooms (thus allowing for excellent long-range viewing of 16 mm films in “classes” several “classrooms” away), it’s pretty easy to see we’re about ten years away from “open classrooms” again (with “SSR” and “Honor Cards” sure to follow).

Still, Duncan’s in a bit of a pendular pickle, so to speak. He’s admitting that standardized testing is out of control, but is still banging away with the standardized testing stick tied to the federal funding carrot.  Washington State and now Oklahoma have had their NCLB “waiver” taken away, Washington simply because of its failure to do exactly what Duncan faults in his quotes above:  tying testing to teacher evaluations.

Watching and listening to Mr. Duncan tap-dance his way through this inconsistency in coming weeks/months will be great fun for old and young educational professionals alike.  Youngsters, when you hear Mr. Duncan, or his inevitable replacement starts talking about using one of these:

 

ICI-TOOLvt_tachistoscope-w

you’ll know the pendulum is back to good ‘ol 1972, again.  The McGuffey Readers are probably not far behind/ahead.

 

Have a good weekend, everybody.

 

Warning:  Some fans of Michael J. Fox’s early work might be offended by this blogpost.  But have you seen the movie?

About one billion years ago in Internet time, there was a so-so novel turned into an utterly awful movie starring Michael J. Fox.  Bright Lights, Big City is/was young, unafraid and only slight terrible in its pretentiousness.  Then somebody decided that Michael J. Fox should play the lead in the movie version.

And that gets us to Apple Computers, Pearson and the Los Angeles Unified School District.  For the big city school district that is LA has taken the brash idea of “a computer for every student” and almost, only inches away now, made it a reality.   Yet there are problems, as noted in today’s New York Times.   The District is suspending its contract with Apple.  Attacks are being made on a bidding process that has left Pearson providing digital curriculum.

It’s the same scenario playing out in just about every district and state education office around the country.  Corporations, Apple and Pearson prime among them, are getting contracts of all sizes to create online standardized tests, curriculum and other bright blinkin’ lights o’ the Internet, as schools desperately try to stay relevant and keep test scores up.  What’s more, it is the lobbying efforts by corporations such as Apple and Pearson that is driving much of the push for not only the computer/Internet, but the testing itself.

Preying on the “Johnny can’t read; sky is falling” mantra now in place (and forgetting that many, many Johnnies couldn’t read in earlier decades as well), TechNTesting companies (TNT) are achieving “vertical integration,” providing both the cause (ongoing proof that Johnny can’t read via standardized test scores) and purported solution:  Technology (cue Jazz Hands!).  Besides, Tech/blinkin’ bright lights/drugs/Kiefer Sutherland (Fox character’s bad influence side-kick) are KEWL!!!11!!  Right kids?  We are “down” with what’s “steezy, yo!”

What’s this got to do with Michael J. Fox and “Bright Lights, Big City” you might ask.  Well, if you’ve had the misfortune to see the film, Fox is horribly, horribly miscast as a young club-hopping horn-dog falling into substance abuse.  If you read a bit of backstory on the movie, pretty much EVERYBODY involved in making the movie knew that Fox, now a bigger and bigger star via “Family Ties,” was horribly miscast.  Fox had no more business playing a club-hopping horn-dog than Pearson Education has in putting “education” in the title of its TechNTesting subsidiary.  Fox is wretched in the film;  Pearson and Apple are beyond wretched at providing Johnny can’t read solutions.

In short, here’s a more precise picture of how the current corporatizing of education is like “Bright Light, Big City”

  • TechNTesting is like the cocaine
  • “Johnny can’t read” is like the empty void and addictive qualities of the mind that makes cocaine seem like a good life-choice
  • Michael J. Fox is like the Los Angeles Unified School District and every other district/state education office in the country
  • Kiefer Sutherland is like Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation (trust me, if you go frame-by-frame, it’s unmistakable)
  • A billion dollars for TechNTesting in LA is like a lot of money

On some gut level, everyone in K-12 education today knows something is wrong here.  That somebody is taking advantage of us and leading us to some form of cocaine addiction, rehab and memories of being in a very bad movie.  But we can’t stop, because we don’t what to do.  And Apple/Pearson and TechNTesting Inc. are here to “help,” just like that guy on the other side of the fence outside the middle school selling bags.  Little bags at first…

 

Remember that “job fair” Albuquerque Public Schools held last month, and how the general feeling was that it was a success and everything was just about normal?  Remember when APS Public Information Officer Monica Armenta was quoted in the following paragraph by KOB?

Armenta said there’s more jobs to fill this upcoming school year than last, but not by much. The reason? It could be anything, like teachers retiring. “It’s not unusual to have a lot of turn over,” said Armenta.

Remember that?  Well, here’s a look at the current, 8.24.14, openings from the APS Jobs Page:

APS jobs 8.24.14For those not wishing to click on my state-of-the-art Paint cropping work above (or break out the magnifying glass), it shows 288 total openings, including 97 in Special Education and 70 in Elementary.

Just remember to think like Monica Armenta and Tom Jones.  Just remember all is well, there’s nothing to see here and…

Damn.  Guess I didn’t make the cut with my application for the APS Interim Superintendent job.  Me and apparently five others who unsuccessfully threw our hats, so to speak.  I knew putting “not Winston Brooks” and “will not force employees to clear snow off my driveway” as “Biggest Strengths” was taking a risk.  Answering “Where would you like to be in five years?” with “Watching the APS Central Offices as they are professionally imploded on Livestream from my chateau on the banks of Lake Como” probably didn’t help either.  Well, back to working at my school, I guess.

As for the four finalists (suavely copy/pasted from the Journal):

  • David Atencio, a former Jemez Valley superintendent from 2008 to 2013. He has served in the Laguna Department of Education from 2013 to the present.
  • Diego Gallegos, owner of AMADO Consulting, and a former APS assistant superintendent for school and community support from 2008 to 2012. Before that, he was the APS assistant superintendent for continuous improvement from 2005 to 2008.
  • Veronica Garcia, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. Garcia was the state’s education secretary from 2003 to 2010. From 2010 to 2011, she was CEO and president of Comprehensive Consulting Services. Garcia has also worked in APS, including a stint as Rio Grande High School principal from 1992 to 1995.
  • Brad Winter, APS Chief Operating Officer from 2008 to May 2014 (retired). Prior to becoming COO, Winter also oversaw the district’s master plan, and its maintenance and operations department. He began his career at APS in 1992 as a dean of students at Highland High School.

I have a personal favorite among the four, but that fandom is based on damn little information.  Who is it?  I’ll give you a small hint.  No Y chromosome.  Got it?  Really?  You need another hint?
Have a great weekend, everybody.

My favorite part of the job requirements for Interim APS Superintendent is that they are still requiring the following:

PHYSICAL DEMANDS: The physical demands described here are representative of those that must be met by the incumbent to successfully perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodation:

  • The employee must occasionally lift and move up to 25 pounds in supplies which requires bending, stooping and lifting.
  • The employee must use hands and arms to manipulate objects.
  • The employee must use keyboards, tools and other controls.
  • The employee must sit and stand for long periods of time.
  • The employee must have normal vision and hearing with or without aid.
  • The employee must be able to move about assigned location unaided during the day.”

Because we all know how important lifting 25 pounds is in this job.  I mean, it’s just a given that someone who couldn’t lift 25 pounds couldn’t possibly do a better job than Winston Brooks, Brad Allison, Joey Vigil and other past APS Superintendents.  Stephen Hawking, for example, would be absolutely incapable of doing a better job than the aforementioned past Superintendents.  I apologize for even bringing up this most obvious fact.  *Or should I say “Burly Person’s.”  Dr. Beth Everitt might have been no great shakes, but the last few men in this gig have not exactly edified the position.

 

To be or to opt-out (via this poorly written form): that is the question.

Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer

the soul-crushing boredom of outrageous testing

or to sign forms against a sea of Pearsons

and by opposing end up probably sitting in a room by myself doing word searches.  To opt-out, to sleep in the only little room on campus where there is no testing

for hours;  and by this sleep to say we end

The madness and the millions of dollars spent

on testing instead of actual education – ’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished!  If only I knew what the word “consummation” meant.  To opt-out, to nap

to nap, perchance to protest – ay, there’s the rub

For in that sleep of protest what bad school grades may come

When many have shuffled off this mortal circling of answer “C” (heavy and dark),

Must give us pause.   There’s the respect

That makes calamity of making our teachers put up with the onus of becoming a “D” school (whatever that means).

For who would bear the whips and scorns of Skandera,

The PEDs wrong, the proud Governor’s contumely,

The pangs of despised educators, NCLB’s delay,

The insolence of VAM, and all the crap

That kids, parents and educators have to take these days,

When we can end it all with the filling out of this poorly written

form which does not include the word “bodkin”?  Who would cower before Pearson

But that the dread of something after opting-out,

The Purgatorial state of having no PARCC score in “the system,” puzzles the school counselors

And makes us rather bear testing for hours and hours

Than fly to freedom that we think might involve being put in that especially smelly little room the PE teacher puts the mesh volleyball shirts.

Thus conscience (and fear of bad smells) does make cowards of us all,

And thus the mighty “I hate testing” trash-talking we spout

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of actually having to fill out the poorly written form and turn it in.

And enterprises of great effort in providing this opt-out option turn awry

And end up with us still circling answer “C” (heavy and dark).– Soft you now,

The fair Principal Ophelia!  Old Bat, in thy steel-trap memory,

Be all my sins most definitely remembered.