Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Where Is The Media?

Where is the media? Evaluating teaching is currently all about standardized tests. Standardized tests purport to measure writing yet the computerized bubble sheets don’t even require students to write their names. Where is the media? Standardized tests purport to measure a student’s ability to comprehend and analyze literature. But literary analysis has more than one correct answer. Where is the media?

This was a real CST question I will probably go to jail for telling you. “Which French derived word best fills in the blank? Well excuse me, but when I was teaching my below grade level, limited English speaking 6th grade students to read, it did not occur to me to teach French!

You can test math. Math, at least, is objective. But standardized math tests are as much about language as math. Give kids a data table. According to the data, how many Americans have access to health care? They know tables, data analysis, percents, multiplication, everything, but no one happened to teach the meaning of “access.” And my students certainly don’t have access themselves. Give a simple word problem with various fruits and nuts. What is the total number of nuts? Unfortunately, many students (especially poor, inner-city students) never eat pecans, have never heard of pecans and pecans, if you’ve never had them, sound a little like peaches. Students are judged “below proficient” and their teachers “ineffective” because in their heads students categorize pecans with peaches. (I mean, really. These students can’t even add! Next time I teach addition, I will be sure to feed my students pecans!) This happens over and over and over with standardized tests. Where is the media? Teachers are now going to be evaluated and even fired because they cannot demonstrate growth using standardized tests which largely do not even address what they purport to measure. Where is the media?

Districts like Los Angeles will soon evaluate teachers by measuring “value-added” growth in these standardized tests by using sophisticated computer algorithms. An ever-growing number of states and districts around the country are already there, thanks largely to Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top. There never has been and never will be a computer algorithm that can defy a fundamental law of computer science. Garbage in, garbage out. Where is the media?

Now before I go on, there are some good standardized test questions out there:

  • In 2000, just as No Child Left Behind was being debated in Congress, publishing company Pearson (remember Penguin Classics?) entered the testing business in the United States by purchasing National Computer Systems. How many testing companies have they purchased since then?  (C. Six)
  • In 2002, the year No Child Left Behind was adopted, Pearson posted profits of $293 million. In 2009, Pearson (now largely a conglomerate of testing companies, the largest in the U.S., and increasingly publishing textbooks and test preparation materials in order to teach to its own tests) earned $1.64 billion. How much is the difference? (E. All of the above added together –and then some!)
  • Pearson’s after-tax revenue increased by 45.5 percent in 2009. In what direction are we heading? (D. South)
  • What is the only thing a truly valid standardized test can measure? (I’ll give you the last one too. It’s “B. The Lowest Common Denominator.” Everything is subterfuge, though, because “A” would also be a good answer: “Profits”. That’s the beauty of these tests. You often don’t choose the correct answer. You choose the best answer. So you tell me. Which answer is best?

(No Child Left Behind is not so much a piece of Federal legislation as it is Pearson’s business model. And they are by no means alone! Educational Testing Service (E.T.S.), the largest nonprofit testing organization in the world, enjoys a tax exempt status which allows it to amass vast federal and state tax revenue (tax free, of course) and totally ignore SEC income reporting requirements while paying its executives and governing board immense salaries, to say nothing of its enormous army of lobbyists which (like Pearson) lobby the heck out of federal and state government officials and legislators. Their CEO once stated that E.T.S. “will never be the low bidder on a contract.” E.T.S. now, too, boosts its “nonprofit” profit margins by selling test preparation materials so teachers can better teach its own tests. E.T.S. has virtual monopolies in California, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia and who knows where else? The media certainly doesn’t know or, if they do, they’re not telling.)

The LA Times rates teachers and schools using a garbage in, garbage out algorithm on its website. My students are all poor minorities who have to get up every morning at 5 a.m. to catch the bus. The LA Times categorizes my school as “least effective” and justifies this by listing a supposed six of our twenty teachers using data supposedly going back to 2004. Of those six, one left our school seven years ago. Another attended our school for only a few months four years ago, but never set foot in a classroom. She was a coordinator. A third is a wonderful long term substitute teacher who began just this year and teaches PE.  She has not administered a single test to any of our students (unless you count laps and pushups) and was not even at our school when the LA Times collected its data. A fourth, the only one of the six listed who has been at our school during all these years, is categorized as “less than effective” based on an unspecified sample of just 14 students. A fifth split her time between two schools, so we don’t know which students came from where. Sixteen of our twenty teachers are not listed at all, yet the LA Times rates us anyway through the magic of its algorithms. Where is the media?

Facing hundreds of thousands of teacher layoffs, a few in the media have recently addressed seniority, last hired/first fired. An anecdotal Teach for America teacher is great. A twenty-year veteran is incompetent. End of story. No one in the profession believes they were a great teacher during their first few years. We had a lot of training, several degrees perhaps, and tried out best, but we were new and didn’t really know what we were doing. It takes at least several years’ experience to develop the art of teaching. The very best are still honing their craft after twenty years of experience. Some are teaching the Teach for America neophytes. There isn’t a study in the world demonstrating new teachers, including Teach for America’s, are more effective than veteran teachers except those studies paid for by Teach for America. Quite the opposite, in fact. Where is the media? Forty percent of Teach for America candidates quit at the end or before the end of their second year. Eighty percent quit after three years just when they are beginning to figure out what they are doing. We are going to lay off our twenty-year veterans in order to keep a small group of well-intentioned rookies who, for better or worse, are going to quit in a year? Where is the media?

Charter schools are the answer. We are dismantling public schools and replacing them with more effective, less expensive charter schools. But 37 percent of charter schools are demonstrably worse than their public school counterparts and 46 percent are no different and certainly no less expensive. The few that are better, like nearly all charter schools, supplement their tax revenue significantly with the generous support of well-meaning billionaire philanthropists using dollars insufficient to extend everywhere, dollars which will disappear when the charter school euphoria evaporates. Charter schools often ignore children with special needs or who speak limited English. They frequently expel low achieving children with discipline problems or simply discourage low performers from attending in the first place. They need not consider children whose parents are too apathetic to fill out an application, sign homework pledges, or are too poor to “volunteer” in the classroom. They largely serve children with the richest, most motivated parents in their communities and still, 83 percent are either no better or worse than public schools. There are only two explanations for the expansion of such an ineffective, inefficient, and elitist system: Ignorance or a political agenda. Billionaire philanthropists for the most part are not ignorant.

The poster boy for charter schools is Geoffrey Canada and his Children’s Zone project in Harlem. Think Waiting for Superman. Geoffrey Canada is a great, great man and I mean that sincerely. He is doing exactly what we need to do to address poverty and the achievement gap in this country. He spends many, many fortunes (one of which he pays to himself) starting at conception to do it.  His “Baby College” provides pre- and post-natal care and more importantly teaches poor parents how to parent. His schools spend $16,000 per student, PLUS the cost of a 4-6 p.m. after-school program, PLUS a full-time chef to provide healthy meals, PLUS the cost of free health and dental care, PLUS most central administrative AND building expenses. All told, he spends between $20,000 and $30,000, if not more, per student per year and he starts at conception. He is able to do an absolutely wonderful job only with majority help from those well-meaning philanthropists as well as corporations like Goldman Sachs. (Ring a bell, anyone? Goldman Sachs?) Because of Geoffrey Canada, everyone says, “Charter schools work.” Ladies and gentlemen, the only way to do what Geoffrey Canada does Nation-wide is to turn the Department of Defense into the Department of Education! Where is the media?

We turn on the TV news in this country and watch a warehouse on fire. We then cut to a live police stakeout. The reporters tell us they have absolutely no idea what is going on. No, wait a minute, they do. The police now have their guns out. Then we see a gorgeous, buxom debutante in a skin-tight miniskirt who spends ten minutes standing in front of a weather map. She smiles adorably at the camera and predicts the sun is going to shine tomorrow in Los Angeles. She explains in depth how it will be 79 degrees in Alhambra but 80 degrees in Arcadia. The beach, we are surprised to learn, will be cooler. We cut to a commercial. We come back, get an in-depth update of Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen (or now Casey Anthony), then go back to the weathergirl who tells us that yes, sure enough, the sun is still shining in LA. After another commercial, we get a sneak peak at Dancing With The Stars and then close with a cute dog that just got its ear pierced. Where is the media?

Cable TV and the Internet increasingly rant as they preach to their choirs. Newspapers and news magazines increasingly look like television. Where is the media?

Meanwhile, public education is being dismantled wholesale in this country. No Child Left Behind has labeled virtually all our inner-city schools as failures and demonized our most courageous teachers, demonized our unions. This summer, NCLB may well label as many as 80 percent of our public schools “in need of improvement.” By 2014 every school in America will be labeled a failure because someone everywhere will not read or do math at grade level on a standardized test. Failure only takes one in 2014. Meanwhile, democracy relies on an effective public education system FOR ALL. Americans need to wake up to the dismantling of public education in this country. But for America to wake up, the media first has to show up. So I ask again: Where is the media?

1 comment:

  1. We are the new media. They have soundbites on the evening news, but we have so much more. Collectively, we speak to the children of America each day. We speak to their parents. If Arne Duncan and his so-called reformers want to go toe to toe we can bring the fury! We got to keep on writing, speaking, singing, shouting, blogging, tweeting & TEACHING!