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Cuomo, King, Pearson, and the Rotten Pineapple: An American Parable of Power

April 21, 2012 Leave a comment

'Pineapple Wallpaper' photo (c) 2006, Ron Mader - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
On this year’s 8th grade English Language Arts (ELA) New Youk State exam, there was a story about a pineapple.

That’s all I knew before reading the papers, because teachers are prohibited from discussing test items:

“To minimize the number of testing irregularities, principals should conduct a review of the test administration procedures prior to each test administration with all faculty and staff that will be involved in the test administration and scoring. In addition, to preserve the integrity of the test materials, advise all staff that they are not to discuss test  questions or other specific test content with each other, with others online via e-mail or listserv, or through any other electronic means.” [Accessed 4/21/2012, on page 5 of the English Language Arts and Mathematics Tests School Administrator’s Manual 2012]

In other words, Pearson and the Department of Education collaborated to ensure that this pineapple story, and other controversial questions like it, would never see the light of day. Not only that, teachers were directed not to discuss the questions with each other, even casually.

Anyone who has ever taught or coached or done other forms of instruction knows that one of the best ways to become a better facilitator is to debrief on student responses to particular tasks and test items. But with secret test questions, engaging in this kind of professional development is criminalized!

Why would New York State criminalize professional development?

On March 20, 2012, Dr. John King announced that he was hiring “Tina Sciocchetti as Executive Director of Test Security and Educator Integrity.” [Accessed 4/21/2012 from the SED web site here.] Further down in this memo, we read, “In her new role, Sciocchetti will also be responsible for overseeing teacher and administrator discipline, including the Department’s enforcement of moral character regulatory provisions that are applied when certified educators are found to have engaged in misconduct, ranging from test integrity violations to inappropriate relationships with students” (emphasis added).

In other words, the person who leaked this exam to the press is being investigated right now and–without whistleblower protection–is in danger of losing his or her job.

This makes me more wary than ever about publicizing teacher results in newspapers and online for everyone to see and interpret. If these are the kinds of questions my students are expected to answer, how can I be confident that Pearson and the NYS Department of Education will be able to draw valid conclusions about my effectiveness as a teacher?

As I prepared to criticize Governor Cuomo for supporting the publication of teacher results in newspapers and online as recently as last month, I was shocked to learn that even he has changed his perspective on this issue.

Cuomo said, “I believe in the case of teachers, the parents’ right to know outweighs the teachers’ right to privacy,” the governor said. “After that, it’s less clear to me. And that’s why I think it warrants conversation.” He’s changed his view that teacher evaluations must be available for anyone and everyone to review and interpret. Now, he’s hedging his bets and leaving open the possibilty that he might be willing to give parents limited access to this data instead.

Anyone who has dealt with Governor Cuomo knows how shocking it is to hear him agree to a “conversation” about anything. He is an effective and ruthless negotiator, and he knows how to get his way.

Why would Cuomo, Arne Duncan, and Bill Gates all agree that it may not be best to make all teacher evaluations public?

Maybe it’s just that they’ve developed a compassionate, collective conscience. Maybe they can’t stomach the abuse leveled at teachers in LA and New York City after test scores were published.

But when there are tens of millions of dollars at stake, maybe there’s something else going on.

David Abrams was the director of assessment in New York for many years. He was released abruptly after releasing an “unauthorized memo” describing longer tests a few months ago. But these longer tests, 90 minutes each, for three days each in math and ELA, are now reality.

Why would Mr. Abrams, long-time director of testing in New York, be forced to resign for telling the truth? I suspect that he has access to information that many, many people in power don’t want going public.

I believe the preponderance of the evidence indicates that something at the (pineapple) root of our No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top’s testing system is rotten. If we can figure out the real reason that David Abrams was driven out, we’ll be closer to uncovering the source of the spoilage.

 

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Categories: Education

Love

April 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Verse 13 is one of the most-loved passages in the whole Bible: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (NIV).

Categories: 1 corinthians, love

School Sucks and Objectivism

April 21, 2012 11 comments

'Present' photo (c) 2009, jayneandd - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Brett Veinotte, a former public school history teacher, produces a thought-provoking podcast called School Sucks.

I’ve listened to his podcast for a couple of years now, and he really challenges me to reflect upon my role as a public school teacher. I appreciate his honesty and intellectual integrity.

My understanding of his perspective is that he believes the non-aggression principle should be our foundational approach to all human interaction.

In his most recent podcast (which comes in at a healthy 2 hours 14 minutes), Brett names three philosophies that could lead humanity on a path to non-aggression: in Ancient Greece, during the Enlightenment, and through Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.

I’d like to discuss why I believe Brett is mistaken in this assertion.

Each of these three philosophies is built upon a foundation of observation and drawing conclusions based upon these observations.

The flaw in this perspective is that there is no such thing as a completely objective person. No one can begin collecting observations without certain preconceived notions.

Just like it is impossible to draw conclusions in a geometry proof without certain non-negotiable givens, it is impossible to draw conclusions about our observations of the world without being influenced by our non-negotiable givens. These are called control beliefs.

I should be clear with my personal bias: I’m a devout Christian and believe that observation supports the story of the Bible.

What Brett has chellenged me to do in this latest podcast is reflect upon the reality that Christian thought has been used as a weapon throughout history to justify all sorts of evil behaviors.

But my concern is that Brett is simply replacing one power structure with another.

Pure observation will never lead us closer to utopia. It will just shift power from people with religious control beliefs to people with objectivist control beliefs.

And as a brief review of Ayn Rand’s life demonstrates, she was not self-consistent in her application of objectivism. When her feelings were hurt as a result of another person’s self-determination life choices, she fought back.

I don’t trust either group implicitly. Neither should Brett. Everyone is selfish, no matter how they try to wrap up their “objective” point-of-view.

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