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Really? There’s a teacher shortage. “Now a warning?”

Now A Warning There was that memorable moment in “Death Becomes Her” (1992) —

“Glamorous musical star Madeline Ashton’s (Meryl Streep) incredulous response to Lisle Von Rhuman’s (Isabella Rosselini): “But first, a warning…” after Madeline has already drunk the potion: “NOW a warning?!”; the jaw-dropping, award-winning visual effects used to comic effect, including the “backwards walk” when Madeline’s head is rotated 180 (and later 360) degrees, and her shocked cry: “My ass! I can see my ass!” [Filmsite.org]

And now the chair of the Nevada State Board of Education can see a teacher shortage in Clark County.

“Never has Elaine Wynn, president of the Nevada State Board of Education, felt so alarmed in her job as she did after hearing details of the Clark County School District’s teacher shortage.

During a board meeting Thursday, the former casino company executive and longtime philanthropist told district officials that she would clean house at any private business with such a “horrific” human resources crisis.” [LVRJ]

Before I get out my hankie – there is nothing new about a shortage of qualified teachers.  The problem is that it’s getting worse.  [WaPo]  Not sure? Take a gander at pages 95-98 of the Department of Education’s list of shortage areas in Nevada. (pdf)  Further, it’s not like we haven’t figured out why this is happening:

“What’s going on? Pretty much the same thing as in Arizona, Kansas and other states where teachers are fleeing: a combination of under-resourced schools, the loss of job protections, unfair teacher evaluation methods, an increase in the amount of mandated standardized testing and the loss of professional autonomy.” [WaPo]

That pretty well sums it up. Interestingly enough, most of the proposed “solutions” to the shortage don’t address any of the problems listed above.  First, there is the turnover rate factor – we can offer alternative licensure, up to almost allowing anyone who can fog a mirror and work for minimal wages to be employed in a classroom. However, if they don’t stay there then that’s not really a solution.

Secondly, even if the turnover rate is relatively low (as in Clark County) having people stay isn’t the solution if they can’t be recruited in the first place.   Let’s review: If salaries are lower in public education – especially in secondary specialties – and student loans are becoming more burdensome, then why would we expect a person to select education instead of electrical engineering?  Or, an elementary education major instead of business management? [DB] [DB] [DB] Add under-resourced schools, evaluations based on standardized test scores, the loss of professional autonomy, and taking a huge chunk of the day to do little but Test Prep – and what did we expect?

Recruitment/Turnover and Trends

A comprehensive study by the CPRE (pdf) updated in 2014, listed seven trends “transforming” the teaching force. Abbreviated, they describe a force which is (1) larger, with a high percentage of the increase involved in special education; (2) grayer, as in aging but not to such an extent as to cause shortages; (3) greener, with more rookies in classrooms; (4) more female; (5) more diverse; (6) consistent in academic ability, and disturbingly (7) less stable, less likely to remain in the profession. Of first year teachers who left vacancies in their wake, 20.8% resulted from school staffing action; 35.4% for personal or family reasons; 38.9% to pursue another job; and, a hefty 45.3% because of dissatisfaction.  Among the factors related to dissatisfaction: school and working conditions, low salaries, lack of classroom resources, student misbehavior, accountability issues, lack of opportunities for development, lack of input into decision making, and factors related to school leadership.

Solutions That Don’t Match The Problems

School “reform” is a popular topic on the hustings, but all too often it appears that the solution doesn’t match the problems incurred by our school systems.

(1) Punishing Poverty and Paucity.  Consider for a moment a district or school which has a high percentage of “at risk” students, and the usual paucity of funding for school resources.  What’s the next step?  We read newspaper articles and listen to broadcasts telling us about the FAILURE of the West Moose Tail School District! Then, the next higher governmental entity swoops in to “take over” the school(s) in order to reorganize and apply various reforms.   The “failure,” of course, is to make “adequate yearly progress” whatever that might mean, and the meanings vary among the states.

The obvious question is: Progress toward what? And the usual answer is higher standardized test scores.  Granted test scores are easy to digest, but before swallowing them as a significant indicator of what is going on in a particular school the cautionary tale of Mission High School in San Francisco, CA is in order. [MJ]  The emphasis on test scores creates its own bias – we pay attention to what we can quantify and ignore most of the rest, including classroom work, homework, grading, classroom examinations, the opinions of students and parent, and the school’s relationship to the community.

The default technocratic response is to blame the staff, then offer such reforms as charterization, massive staff layoffs, administrative replacements, and  curriculum changes.  There are issues within these One Size Fits All solutions.  Not the least of the issues is, as the Mission High School example offers us, whether we’re using a relevant definition of “failure.”  In the backwash of all the attention paid to the formulaic news about school failure, based on reports of test results, there is little attention paid to the conclusion of the 2012 Brookings Study (pdf) which reported there is no correlation between testing standards and student achievement.

The disconnect is also related to political rhetoric, of the kind in which critics of public education speak of “tossing good money after bad.”  This talking point is exceptionally handy for shielding the speaker from actually having to explain (1) how we measure success, (2) how we allocate resources between and among schools, and (3) how we analyze the performance of students by any other metric than standardized test scores.   For public education critics, the purpose of test scores is to punish poverty and paucity, not to identify where additional resources might be allocated to their best advantage.

(2) It costs money to be a teacher.  How to recruit the next generation of teachers?  Perhaps it might be a bit easier IF student loans weren’t such a financial burden on young people fresh out of college.  It might have been helpful if Republican members of the U.S. Senate hadn’t blocked S. 2432, a bill to allow those with student loans to refinance them. [TheHill]  And, also helpful if the Republican version of a student loan bill wasn’t a handout to the bank-based loan system. [TP]

It could also be helpful if local school boards weren’t trying to shave pennies at teachers’ expense for health insurance, and other benefits. [C&L]  And, if teacher retirement programs were defined benefit plans instead of less satisfactory defined contribution plans, hybrid plans, or other manifestations of financial industry subsidization.

We might also consider that “Capitalism Works.” If we want more young people to enter the field then money talks.  Teach Biology or enter one of the health care professions? Teach Algebra or enter into one of the  tech fields? Teach Business or enter finance? Teach in an elementary school or go into marketing?  Guess which will ultimately pay more?

“Solutions” which eventually created a down-draft in teacher pay and compensation packages is exactly the opposite of what common sense (and the free market) say will generate greater interest in the profession.

(3) R-E-S-P-E-C-T  is not just a song in Aretha’s repertoire.  What did teachers say were the causes of their dissatisfaction? Once more: school and working conditions, low salaries, lack of classroom resources, student misbehavior, accountability issues, lack of opportunities for development, lack of input into decision making, and factors related to school leadership. If we remove the money elements, there’s “accountability,” “lack of input into decision making, and school leadership.”

Let’s assume the old saw is correct, “10% of the students will cause 90% of the problems.”  How does the school administration handle disciplinary cases? There’s always the “pipeline” solution, it’s easier to suspend and even expel than to find the resources to deal with troubled youngsters.  However, that “solution” doesn’t do much more than to shuffle the youngster into another setting wherein he or she becomes someone else’s problem.  How many elementary schools in the country have full time counselors? Full time social workers? Access to full time psychologists? How many school districts have fully funded alternative education programs?  Again, if the “solution” is “removal,” then we’re not dealing with students, we’re dealing in statistics.

“Lack of opportunity for development?” Classroom teaching is one of the few professions in which in order to move up a person has to move out.  The “merit pay” solution might be effective IF the salaries were what they should be in the first place.   And, even “merit pay” gets tied to things which are not necessarily  indicative of quality teaching – again, test scores.  Perhaps instead of tossing bird seed into a grain silo we concentrated on how we organize our schools, how we utilize the experience and skills of exceptional teachers to mentor and advise the rookies?  How about if we gave classroom teachers more access to the decision making process about community relations? Budgeting priorities? Disciplinary and counseling options?

How about instead of announcing the Failure of West Moose Tail, and then imploding the whole institution, we ASK the people directly involved what needs to be done to improve the school’s performance on more than just standardized test scores, instead of simply firing the lot and hauling in a new batch of the graying, the greener, the females, the diverse, and the likely to leave in five years?  This “solution” doesn’t change much except the identification cards of the people who are supposed to be in the building.

Perhaps instead of doing the politically expedient, the economically parsimonious, and the socially conformative – we actually tried to find solutions to fit the problems?  Then, just maybe, we wouldn’t have to keep repeating, “Now, a warning?”

*Previous Posts: The Numbers Game Part II, The Merit Pay Mirage,  (note the discussion of the Ladue School District (MO) and merit pay criteria) The Ultimate Game, February 20, 2011. The Wrong Answer Can Always Be Found, April 10, 2011.  “Silver Bullets at Moving Targets” April 3, 2011.

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The Something For Nothing Crowd in the Nevada Assembly

Nevada Legislature And Nevada’s Assembled Wisdom totters on:

“Remember what happened yesterday. Just after the Senate’s grandiose SB 252 floor vote, the Assembly devolved into pure “TEA” powered madness with constant recesses, shouting matches over those recesses, a floor fight over blatantly unconstitutional bill language, mind-numbing flip-flopping over outrageously discriminatory legislation, and an epic freakout over online sales tax. Are you scared yet? Ralston and others clearly are.” [LTN]

Why are we not surprised?  The bill now goes to the Assembly, in which the ideologically pure (sort of) and constitutionally correct (rarely) will have a whack at the funding for Governor Sandoval’s budget.

“The scariest prospect is that with a third of the session left, the biggest issue before the state has been left in the hands of a body populated by some GOP members who don’t understand policy, who don’t live on the same planet the rest of us do and who are the most embarrassing legislators the state has ever seen.” [Ralston/RGJ]

For those keeping score, Steve Sebelius provided a handy list of the good, the bad, the ugly, and the almost comprehensible measures before said Assembled Wisdom this season. It’s a handy reference.  … Which gets us to the Something For Nothing Crowd.

Consider this release from the Assembly Policy Committee, and its spokesperson Assemblywoman Michele Fiore (R-Bundyville):

“With all due respect, much of the governor’s proposal is based on the mistaken idea that the way to fix public education in Nevada is to pump more taxpayer dollars into the existing failed system rather than dramatically reforming that system and providing far more school choice to Nevada parents, including the financial assistance necessary to exercise that choice for low-to-moderate income families.

“That said, the unemployment rate in Nevada remains, as Bill Anderson of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation put it last week, ‘stubbornly high’ at 7.1 percent.  As such, the last thing the Legislature should be doing is taking money out of the private sector, where it’s needed to create jobs, and transferring it to the public sector so that government can continue to spend beyond its means.

“Conservatives in the Nevada State Assembly cannot and will not support  SB252 as passed out of the Senate today.”

Let us Parse. First, nothing good ever happens after someone begins with “with all due respect.”  Thence to the heart of the matter – the old privatization refrain, which goes back to the 1874 Kalamazoo Case.

“Kalamazoo Union High School, which many believed to be a necessity for bridging the gap from common school to university, operated with some minor opposition, until 1873. In January of that year, three prominent Kalamazoo property owners filed a suit intended to prevent the school board from funding the high school with tax money. They argued that the 1859 state law had been violated when the high school was established without a vote of the taxpayers. Charles E. Stuart, a former United States Senator from Michigan, along with Theodore P. Sheldon and Henry Brees, initiated the suit. At the time, it was believed to be a “friendly” suit intended to settle the issue legally in favor of the school. However, Stuart’s comments to the Kalamazoo Board of Education years after the suit had been settled, suggest that he and his companions sincerely resented the tax burden that the public high school placed on them. Stuart, like many others of his time, believed that a common school education was sufficient for anyone, and anything beyond that should be paid for privately.” [KPL]

The School Board prevailed in the 1874 litigation, and thus we have public funding for education k-12. [MLive]  The fact that if a school board is charged with administering a k-12 system then it must have the funding to do so raises the second portion of the argument – the part concerning the level of that financial support.

Enter the Something For Nothing Crowd.  What else explains the phrase: “fix public education in Nevada is to pump more taxpayer dollars into the existing failed system rather than dramatically reforming…?” This statement assumes (1) the current level of funding is adequate, or perhaps less is necessary; (2) the schools are failing with the present level of funding and therefore no additional funding is desireable; and, (3) the system needs to be “fixed.”

None of these assumptions can be asserted without challenge.  The first problem is the general issue of the Disappearing Dollars often cited by conservatives. The notion of “pumping in” dollars infers that the dollars are a measure of educational support in themselves.  The concept is a great leap to a highly ideologically framed conclusion.  No. money doesn’t solve educational issues but it does purchase: The services of highly qualified personnel, specialists, aides and assistants, and administrators; school physical facilities, books, libraries, equipment, supplies, etc. 

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Something For Nothing Crowd is channeling the spirit of Charles E. Stuart from the 19th century – if a family wants a better education for their children they should pay for it themselves.  Witness: “dramatically reforming that system and providing far more school choice to Nevada parents, including the financial assistance necessary to exercise that choice for low-to-moderate income families.”   The translation is fairly simple.  School choice equates to a voucher system for attendance at private schools. and “far more schools” usually equates to the establishment of private charter operations.

We’ve touched on the rationales for this thinking before:

“The K-12 schools are “failing” and therefore we should augment the resources for privatization in the form of charter or private schools.  This contention is most often wrapped in “parental choice” camouflage covering.  That the proposed choice doesn’t exist in many rural communities, or that the proposed choice is extremely limited in urban ones, doesn’t enter into the discussion often enough.  Nor is it observed often enough that school voucher programs are a way to siphon off public funds for public schools and channel the money to private ones. [DB 2012]

In addition to the questionable rational for the conservative philosophy as it pertains to public education, there’s the problem of educational standards. What’s “failing?”

The most common measurement of “educational attainment” and the one most often cited by conservatives is standardized test scores.  Standardized testing has its uses.  However, placing them at the center of the argument is to risk overemphasizing their usefulness:

“We can stipulate that most tests manufactured for use in public schools by major publishing houses are statistically reliable and generally statistically valid. What we cannot say with any statistical certainty is whether or not we are measuring what we value in public education.” [DB 2011]

We appear “not to test well” and there may be some valid reasons for that, such as the generally low salaries for teachers, “Teacher salaries have a huge impact when it comes to attracting good instructors. The innovative, smart, highly skilled people you want teaching your kids aren’t exactly in love with the idea of making $38,000 per year (the average for first-year high school teachers) when they could go somewhere else and earn more while doing less.” [ABC]

Or perhaps we should place greater emphasis on early childhood education: “

The OECD found in a separate study that 15-year-olds who had attended at least a year of preschool performed better on reading tests than kids who had not, even when socioeconomic factors were taken into account.  The U.S. spends more on preschool than other countries but money doesn’t do any good unless kids are enrolled, and the U.S. lags on that measure.” [ABC]

The ASCD offers an enlightening summation:

“For several important reasons, standardized achievement tests should not be used to judge the quality of education. The overarching reason that students’ scores on these tests do not provide an accurate index of educational effectiveness is that any inference about educational quality made on the basis of students’ standardized achievement test performances is apt to be invalid.

Employing standardized achievement tests to ascertain educational quality is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon. Tablespoons have a different measurement mission than indicating how hot or cold something is. Standardized achievement tests have a different measurement mission than indicating how good or bad a school is. Standardized achievement tests should be used to make the comparative interpretations that they were intended to provide. They should not be used to judge educational quality.”

Even if we do apply standardized test score to measure “temperature with a tablespoon” there’s no guarantee that the privatized or charter schools will achieve better results.

Researchers at Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes looked at test data from charter schools in 26 states and the District and found that 25 percent of charters outperformed traditional public schools in reading while 29 percent of charters delivered stronger results in math. That marked an improvement over a similar 2009 study by the same research team.

But 56 percent of the charters produced no significant difference in reading and 19 percent had worse results than traditional public schools. In math, 40 percent produced no significant difference and 31 percent were significantly worse than regular public schools. [WaPo]

So, we have the Something For Nothing Crowd in the Nevada Assembly decrying the essence of the Governor’s budget for education with all the old clichés from time gone by, and the tautological statement that if an underfunded school is failing the way to make it better is to further cut its funding.

We can only hope that after the tempers, the tantrums, the protestations, the gnashing of teeth, and the rending of cloth the membership of the Nevada Assembly will manage some form of civility and citizenship, and recognize another time honored statement – You Get What You Pay For.

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Hutchison, Schools, and Reforms: A questionable mixture

Hutchison Mark Hutchison, Republican candidate for Lt. Governor has a message for public schools – and it’s not all that supportive. Yes, he wants more funding for schools, BUT there are some ropes attached:

“As for students, they should be able to read at grade level or higher by the time they’re in third grade.

For teachers, he said it should be easier to fire bad ones and hire those just out of college or in the “Teaching for America” program that sends the best and brightest to schools that need help.

And parents should be given a choice between sending their children to public schools of government-subsidized private schools to encourage competition.”  [LVRJ]

Read and Heed: Okay, having kids read at grade level is fine, and a worthy goal. However, perhaps the first thing we ought to note is that third grade isn’t the big hurdle. It’s the 4th one.  In most school curricula reading changes during the 4th grade. 

First grade is about the mechanics if you will, how to decode those printy things on the pages. Second grade is still pretty much reading for the sake of  knowing how to read.  And, two years isn’t all that long to introduce phonology (sound units), morphology (word formation), syntax (sentence structure), sematics (relationship between language and meaning), orthology (fancy name for spelling), and “pragmatics” (choosing the best word.)  [Ed.gov pdf]  We also know from the research that children have different vocabulary levels associated with socioeconomic levels, with youngsters from professional families coming to school with an average 1100 word oral vocabulary, those from working class families average about 700 words, and those coming from disadvantaged households having about 500 words. [Ed.gov pdf]

Third maintains and reinforces the flow.  Nevada tests little readers in the 3rd grade using passages about 300  to 500 words long, and measures things like knowledge of prefixes and suffixes, and reading comprehension items like “themes.” 

Then the scene changes, during the 4th grade it’s not just reading to understand the words being read, and the story being told;  it’s reading to learn.   Here comes the notorious 4th Grade Slump. Along with this, enter the Curriculum Debate, especially with the advocates of phonics and other mechanics of reading. Vocabulary development is crucial. “Understanding key words that support the main idea or theme and details that contribute shades of meaning further enhance comprehension to create a richer experience. This association is reflected in the results that show that on average students who performed well on the vocabulary questions also performed well in reading comprehension.”  [NAEP]

Now, think back to the numbers given above.  Some kids will start school with a vocabulary of 1100 words mastered, some will show up with a vocabulary half that – and then there are all the youngsters in between. So, what are we measuring in the 3rd grade?  This is the point at which we’d be better served by looking  locally rather than globally at the testing results. For example, which is a better question? (A) How well do Nevada children score on reading/vocabulary tests in comparison with children in other states? or (B) How much progress has Student X made in vocabulary development and reading skills from the end of the 1st grade to the end of the 3rd?

The answer to Question A is interesting, and informative for general policy discussions, but ultimately the answer to Question B is a better indicator of instructional success – especially as that 4th Grade Slump looms:

“Suddenly, it’s not good enough to simply sound out words. The child has to make sense of the context in ever more difficult textbooks. Whether or not he (or she) has the motivation, maturity or physical (including brain development) capacity to do that, teachers will now throw more and more sophisticated reading materials at him, along with expectations that he’ll do plenty of reading outside of school hours.” [Keen]

With this  information in mind,  we have to figure out what candidate Hutchison means by “reading at grade level.”  Does he mean that 100% of Nevada’s third graders will score 100% on CRT items covering spelling, common prefixes and suffixes, pragmatics, and vocabulary? Are they to score 100% on basic questions about content and theme?  100% from 100% is indeed laudable, if somewhat unrealistic – and is further from the subject of educational success if we take the view that basing educational policy on the test scores of 8 year olds is taking the easy way out.  The real test is how well the kids can do when faced with the transition from reading to read, and reading to understand short passages and stories, to reading for learning.

Undue Process:  For the 1000th time (or so) Nevada does NOT have teacher tenure.   Not sure about this? Read NRS chapter 391.  Now take a look at the teacher evaluation process; half based on test scores and half based on modeling good instructional practices. [LVSun]   It really isn’t all that hard to fire “bad” teachers.  Every teaching contract is for one year. The only safeguards teachers have is that after completing a probationary period they have access to due process if fired.  Here’s what makes it hard to fire “bad” teachers:

Bad administrators – the ones who don’t adequately document poor instructional techniques, poor classroom management, and inadequate preparation.  These are usually the first to complain that they “can’t” fire Mrs. Sludgepump because of the “union.”  They could, if they’d adequately documented Sludgepump’s slumbers at her desk, but since they didn’t do that the hearing isn’t going to have their desired outcome.   Or, we have the Fill in the Blank Administrator – the one who will hire absolutely anyone to teach almost anything just to get the position filled.  You get what you want, even if it’s not what you want.  Which brings us to Hutchison’s next recommendation.

“It ought to be easier to hire those just out of college or in the Teaching for America program.”

We might assume that Hutchison means anyone, with any degree, just out of college?

The Teach for America program assumes, almost as a point of reference, that currently trained professional teachers are failing, and that highly motivated top tier college students who complete a five week training program will ride in to save the day. Not quite, the internal numbers indicating success are “not up to the standard for research,” and in most cases show TFA personnel are “at least as effective” as non-TFA teachers. That’s a relatively low bar if the initial assumption is that non-TFA teachers are less competent or effective.   [Atlantic] [Rubenstein]

Since a leadership change in 2013 TFA is becoming ever more closely associated with “market based” educational reforms – such as those coming from the often debunked Michelle Rhee et. al.  [Ravitch] [Rubenstein]  Nothing says “Marching with Michelle Rhee” quite so clearly as  catch phrases about making it easier to hire untrained teachers, and ascribing Silver Bullet qualities to TFA, a route to the classroom which seeks to bypass licensing requirements and longer preparation programs.  

This isn’t to argue against those effective, dedicated, and successful TFA teachers out there, many of whom have made teaching a career choice rather than a 2 yr. stint.  However, there is evidence aplenty that teacher retention is more important in low income areas than in upper income level schools in terms of student achievement. [EdUtp] [AEFP pdf] [Harvard 2013 pdf] Interestingly, those TFA teachers who had more Education background or who held Education degrees were the ones most likely to stay in the field – probably a matter of both initial interest and preparation?

Ask one of those non-TFA professionals what improves instruction and most of them will offer answers falling into the categories of (1) lesson plan preparation, (2) classroom management and discipline, (3) continuous student evaluation, and (4) support from parents and administration.  Ask teachers what factors motivate them to stay and most responses will relate to administrative support, collegiality, appropriate in-service professional development, and  school culture. [Harvard 2013 pdf]  Notice that none of these elements  directly relate to norm-referenced or criterion-referenced testing.

And finally, we ought to ask why students at Harvard University have asked its president to cut ties with TFA?  Answer here.

In short, what Mr. Hutchison is proposing is little more than the platitudes of market based educational “reform,” and a preference for the “reforme du jour” Silver Bullet approach to educational improvements.

When Choice isn’t a Choice?  And then there’s the blatant give-away that Mr. Hutchison isn’t talking about supporting public schools at all. Not really.   Awaiting the next round of public school funding are those who would like nothing better than to get their mitts on the money.  Some of these organizations are relatively effective, some are demonstrably close to criminal.  CPD recently blew the lid off in an expose of “Fraud and Financial Mismanagement in Pennsylvania Charter Schools.”  No one wants to read something like the following conclusion:

“Charter school officials have defrauded at least $30 million intended for Pennsylvania school children since 1997. Yet every year virtually all of the state’s charter schools are found to be financially sound. While the state has complex, multi-layered systems of oversight of the charter system, this history of financial fraud makes it clear that these systems are not effectively detecting or preventing fraud.”

Then there’s Chicago’s dismal history of top down reform.  This doesn’t diminish the expectations of the budding “Charter Industry” whose formula is to use standardized testing to “prove” public schools are failing, then put these schools under unelected authorities and have the authorities replace the public schools with charters. [Nation]

“Thus, what “slum clearance” did for the real-estate industry in the 1960s and ’70s, high-stakes testing will do for the charter industry: wipe away large swaths of public schools, enabling private operators to grow not school by school, but twenty or thirty schools at a time.”  [Nation]

The Bottom Line

And there we have it. Mr. Hutchison’s version of Heaven on Earth:  Third graders who all read at grade level – whatever that might be – and however that might not relate to the development of skills necessary to get beyond the 4th grade slump;  Removing the right to due process when one’s livelihood is threatened; Hiring just about anyone to teach just about anything – ready or not, including from a program with controversial ties to the Market Based Reformers and Goldman Sachs; and Offering up more opportunities for educational entrepreneurs to profit at taxpayer’s expense.

Good enough reasons to support the candidacy of Lucy Flores.

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A Fable of Testing in the Land of Bahl

Once upon a time in the land of Bahl a coterie of influential PooBobs decided that all the Bahl Players would be rewarded on a strictly meritocratic basis using elaborately constructed standardized testing to insure that only the best Bahl Players would be on the best teams.  Kabillions of dollars flowed into the campaign to tell all the citizens of Bahl that the testing of the Bahl Players would yield excellent results.  Soon the citizens of Bahl began to believe the PooBobs, and to question their coaches.  Surely, a coach whose players had the highest standardized test scores should see the best results in the win-loss columns.

So, a decree went throughout the land that the Manufacturers of Standardized Bahl Tests would provide the means by which to measure the Bahl Players.  Players would be tested on the rules of the Bahl Game, on accurate passing, on accurate shooting, on the capacity to block shots, steals, assists, and on the continuity of dribbling.  The citizens of Bahl anxiously awaited the results.

However, when it came the season to actually play the Bahl Games the results didn’t seem to align with the copious promises for success.   Some teams, already including some highly skilled Players, weren’t seen as making adequate progress — and their coaches were questioned.  Why, people asked, with all the success you had last season, can you not make even more progress this season?

Other teams found that the meritocratic system appeared to diminish the Players rather than enhance their contributions.   Only a precious few Players scored high on all the phases of the tests — rules, passing, shooting, blocking, stealing, assisting, and dribbling. More  Bahl Teams found themselves putting Players on the Court who while they achieved relatively  high overall scores on the Manufactured Standardized Tests didn’t blend well as a Team.

One team, whose Players scored well enough in Blocking to assure the management that progress was just around the corner, was so lacking in offensive capability that their winning percentage declined as other Bahl Teams discovered it was all but unnecessary to guard them.  Another squad, highly skilled — as measured by the Manufactured Standardized Testing — was exceptionally proficient in shooting.  However, their games degenerated into mediocrity as other teams noticed that by utilizing a slow-down half court defense the scorers (who couldn’t defend worth a stale pickle on a concession stand hot dog) would be unable to play to their strength.

There were even problems within the teams.  Should a coach play only those Bahl Players who had the highest overall scores?  Should a Player who had a high score on the Manufactured Standardized Test section on shooting, but lower scores on blocking and rules be put on the Court?  What of the Player who scored well above the proficiency level on blocking shots, but well below the level of proficiency on dribbling, should he or she be included on the Bahl Team?

Should a Bahl Player with an 89% proficiency level in free throws, but only a 10% proficiency rate in Rules, be given playing time in preference to a Player with a 50% proficiency rate in free throws and a 50% proficiency rate in Rules?   And so the controversies continued.

Not only were the controversies created internally, but there were also controversies beyond the practice Courts.  Who was the best coach?  Was the best coach the one whose Players tended to score well in all the phases of the Manufactured Standardized Test?  Or, was the best coach the one whose Players actually won games?  Why was it that some of the best coaches, as measured by the performance of the Bahl Players on the Manufactured Standardized Test, weren’t achieving the expected level of success in the Win-Loss columns?

Why did some coaches persist in putting Bahl Players on the Court who scored only marginal results on the Manufactured Standardized Test, but who appeared to contribute an unmeasurable, and hence unscientific, “spark off the bench?”  Was a coach to be measured by the Win-Loss Column, the results of the Manufactured Standardized Tests, or the employ-ability of his or her Bahl players?

What were the citizens of Bahl to make of the coach whose Players consistently displayed leadership, ingenuity, creativity, and artistry such that they were always employable but who didn’t always achieve proficiency levels on the Manufactured Standardized Tests? Who weren’t always winners as measured by the Win-Loss column?

The questions remained unanswered as the citizens of Bahl listened to the campaigners for the Manufactured Standardized Tests.  The campaigners told them that proficiency could be scientifically measured, and the measurements would correlate to the efficacy of the coaching.  Surely global success was around the next corner.

Thus, coaches began to coach-to-the-test.  Only Bahl Players who demonstrated overall proficiency were included on the playing rosters.  Coaches proudly pointed to the proficiency scores of their Bahl Players, and some Teams advertised their test scores.  Managers put greater pressure on coaches whose Bahl Players were considered insufficiently proficient on the Manufactured Standardized Tests.  More and more  practice time was devoted to preparing for the Manufactured Standardized Tests than was given to preparing for the upcoming Games.

But the fans were not pleased.  Teams scientifically assembled based on the proficiency scores on the Manufactured Standardized Tests weren’t “winning.” Their Bahl Players were very good at taking the Manufactured Standardized Tests, but their performance on the Court was assuredly less than entertaining.

It was soon discovered that some Bahl Players, who were very skilled at taking the Manufactured Standardized Tests, weren’t all that good at actually Playing Bahl.  Indeed, it was perceived that when adverse situations developed on the Courts requiring creativity, ingenuity, and good old fashioned Intestinal Fortitude, some of the teams flopped faster than an Italian Serie A striker in the penalty area.

However, the Kabillions of Dollars continued to flow into the campaign to make Bahl Playing a scientifically measurable human activity, one in which the individual Bahl Players could be evaluated in percentiles, and in which the coaches could be graded based upon the overall achievement of their Players on the Manufactured Standardized Tests.   Owners, managers, and coaches continued to tinker with ways to make their systems conform to the demands of the test taking while still trying to teach the Bahl Game.

But the fans continued to be less than thrilled by the results.  “Be patient,” said the Campaigners for Manufactured Standardized Tests,” All will be well when all the Players score above the proficiency level on all the segments of the examinations. And, all will be perfect when all the Players on all the Teams have improving test scores.”

The fans persisted in looking at the score board, which told them what they already knew — their belovéd teams were composed of Bahl Players who were better at taking the tests than performing on the Courts.  Coaches who enjoyed the Bahl Game were leaving the field — saying that to teach the measurable portions of the Bahl Game was to place undue emphasis on the content of the contest, and not the contest itself.   Fans became anxious.  The improving scores on the examinations weren’t equating to the promised improvement in the Bahl Game.  “Never fear,” said the campaigners for Manufactured Standardized Tests,” There will be a day when all the Bahl Players will be satisfactorily proficient, and then you will see our success.”

And, the campaigners for Manufactured Standardized Tests continued to spend Kabillions to send that very message to the fans, over and over, again, and again.

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