Sunday, October 30, 2005

Are Teachers at Odds Over Prop. 74?

By LAUSD Teachers Larry Caballero and Tony Mendoza
From Column Left - Los Cerritos Community News- October 28, 2005

We were both surprised by Sunday's Los Angeles TIMES front page story entitled "Prop. 74 Has Some Teachers at Odds."

Apparently, there are some teachers in California who support it while the overwhelming majority of public school teachers do not. According to the story, teachers "are nervously wondering who among them will lose their jobs". If 74 passes, it would supposedly lengthen probationary periods for teachers and ease the rules for firing poor-performing veteran instructors.

The story also mentions how 74 "could rid California schools of ineffective instructors who curse at students, or talk on cell phones and show the movie Legally Blonde during class."

Frankly, we don't understand why some teachers are not opposed to 74 since it is a poorly drafted initiative which will not do anything to improve education in the classroom. It will also make it harder to remove poor teachers because schools must first find a qualified teacher to replace the one they want removed.

Even State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said, "The governor won't improve education with his half-baked ideas" since 74 will only make teaching less attractive in our state.

It's amazing to read that some teachers even believe that without 74, lazy and incompetent teachers will continue to teach in our classrooms. The reality, of course, is that very little good will come out of this proposition for several reasons.

First of all, the local school site administrator already can remove a poor teacher by simply documenting the infractions and by allowing the teacher a certain period of time to improve. If the teacher does not, then he's removed from the classroom.

The problem is not unqualified teachers as much as it is lazy administrators who don't do their jobs. It's like blaming the illegal immigrant who crosses over the border for wanting a job, but we don't blame the employer who hires the immigrant.

As for these teachers remaining in the classroom, we can assure you as veteran teachers that very few poor teacher survive very long in the classroom. No, they are not removed by the administrator, they choose to leave after their students confront them, and they will.

We're sure you remember when you were a young parent raising your small children. If you don't keep them occupied and busy doing something which is relevant, they will make your lives miserable with their behavior. It's the same in the classroom.

Teachers who are disrespectful to students or show movies every day hardly exist in today's classroom. The students would not tolerate it. Even one of the few teachers who support 74 had to admit that teaching "is really a draining kind of job. You
put so much of your heart and soul into it. I am exhausted every day."

At least, we agree with her on that, but to think that Proposition 74 is the answer is wrong. In order to improve our public schools, we need a state legislature and the community to work with the teachers and administrators.

Using ways to divide us all will not strengthen our public schools. This proposition will only cause more qualified people to leave teaching or not to enter the profession in the first place.

Vote NO on Proposition 74.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The S(H)MO Model--Post-Script

The closing keynote address at the ATP "Innovations in Testing" conference was delivered by Wally Amos, of chocolate chip cookie fame. I had seen him standing among the exhibits that morning at breakfast wearing a watermelon-styled, crushed velvet pimp hat with matching shoes. He stepped to the stage tootling on a kazoo which, as he pointed out, was also decorated by watermelon decals--all in the spirit, he said, of reclaiming the watermelon for himself as a black person. He'd made millions, lost millions, made millions again. Anyone can. It's all about attitude.

Strange that we have no tests right now to reward "attitude" as an achievement itself. In fact, according to Professional Learning Community literature published by NES, factors such as "morale" are overestimated in many discussions of school improvement. I had hoped, in light of his humanistic optimism, Amos would present a more holistic view of "test innovation." I thought he'd maybe talk about the need for more library funding, for deeper "print environments" in classrooms and homes. But the thing was, he was addressing for-profit distance managers of education. He could gloss the idea of literacy as a self-evident principle (we're all for kids and adults reading, right?). In this way, he underscored the rhetoric and self-image of ATP, an organization, you remember, dedicated to protecting and defending the interests of testing, in all shapes and forms.

He did present two dolls he's designed, shaped like cookies and named Chip and Cookie, and he talked about how he was using them to promote literacy. But the happy-clappy tenor of the presentation--given what Jonathan Kozol and many other researchers have described as the tragically "unfulfilled promise" of Brown v. Board of Education--ultimately parroted a traditional defense of existing privilege and the status quo, a contemporary enactment of God's in his heaven, / All's right with the world!

The hall was filled with most of the seven hundred ATP attendees, mostly white faces, as Amos sang, read, played with his dolls, and talked. After three days dedicated to seminars about all manner of performance assessment--including panels on "legally defensible" testing, ATP beltway lobbying and test legislation, and the need for standardization from pre-K through college to the workforce as a religiously ultimate destiny--I couldn't help but feel Amos' speech in the back of my throat and the pit of my guts: here was yet another level of "performance" being assessed. I've since learned that the kazoo routine is one of his signatures, whether he's speaking at a graduation or accepting an award for his work promoting literacy.

(You can view actual video footage by clicking this link and downloading from Real Player:

Amos didn't talk about triumphing over childhood under Jim Crow laws, or the amazing fact that literacy tests to preclude voting were banned during his lifetime, in 1965. In fact, the narrative of his success pretty much began and ended in terms of business. A friendly woman next to me nudged my elbow. "What a positive message," she said, shaking her head. "What a positive message."

Here was a sad kind of minstrelsy, conjuring moments from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man: a performance not just for whites, but for power.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

No Child Left Behind--by Part-Time Instruction

Serendipity strikes. I was looking this morning for the latest statistics on teachers who leave public schools and came up with a bonus: On the White House webpages devoted to education, I discovered George Bush's plan for an "Adjunct Teacher Corps." If you know adjunct instructors at the community college or university level, or if you've ever taught an "extended day," you know how the system can deeply sever overtaxed academic programs and staff. It's a business-style bandaid approach in lieu of reducing class sizes or investing in full-time instructors (with salary and benefits)--instructors who will be emotionally and practically attached to the workings of the school.

You'll note that the teacher degree statistics used to justify the adjunct program are math and science statistics--suggesting a need to bring more professionals from the business community into the classroom. Apparently, we already have plenty of working writers and artists in the schools. (And our kids do enough writing and reading already?)

As if fulltime teacher status wasn't low enough already, adjunct teachers in K-12 schools will have the least job security--and will be least likely to speak up. Bush's plan aspires to manage education the way Wal-Mart manages its stores. I guess we shouldn't be surprised.

Check out the website at:

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cubicle Training?

This morning on public radio, reps from the Massachusetts 2020 Foundation talked about their program increasing the 6-hour school day to 8-hours--even if it costs recess. To be fair, the foundation argues that current inequities in schools can't be rectified within the "antiquated" 6-hour schedule (notice the appeal to a vague notion of social justice?), and that all students need more exposure to the arts. Still, it's difficult to ignore the fact that the new schedule more closely resembles the workday. One has to ask whose purposes are best served by two more hours of standardization.

Read how it's all about "coaching" achievement of "the American Dream" on the 2020 Foundation website:

Monday, October 24, 2005

The S(H)MO Model--Part Five

The 2005 ATP "Innovations in Testing" conference provided glimpses of the latest in curriculum and testing technology, straight from the industry professionals who research, develop, design and sell it.

At a table during luncheon the first day, I found myself with representatives from the Buros Center for Testing and--I'm serious--the Institute for Mental Measurement at the University of Nebraska. Two senior faculty had brought along two star grad students in psychometrics, who were both trying to pump me up to enter the field. "The demand is so great," one told me. "I've already been guaranteed a job. This is very common now. The money is incredibly good." (Little did he know: I was just one of those "teacher" people--unqualified, as Lee Jones of Riverside Publishing would say, to write her own test items.)

Setting aside my objections about relying solely on automated testing to evaluate individual learning--and individual people--I thought about how the wave of national demand might in fact be making it increasingly difficult to find highly qualified people to design the tests teachers are required to implement. (Forget the "highly qualified" teacher: what about the "highly qualified" psychometrician?)

As in any industry, overconsumption of a product does not necessarily guarantee that the manufacturing process will protect quality to meet demand. In fact, inflated demand and frenetic production increase the probability of error. Right now I'm only talking about test design. You may remember the gentleman from Thompson Prometric, who said he could "curl my hair" with stories about industry complicity in designing poor (or marginally ethical) workplace test instruments. But this doesn't include test administration, data management, and score reporting. How many times has your district mixed up test booklets, miscopied items, called committees to re-word in-house assessments, tried to re-route data that was mis-crunched the first time around? How many times have you asked yourself: Given the errors and inconsistencies I can see without looking very hard, what else is underneath? Why would conscientious teachers be labeled "defiant" or "insubordinate" (even by union leadership) if they questioned the instrument itself--or refused to administer it?

Consider: I saw one demonstration of cutting edge teacher certification assessments now used in England. In what's called "simulation" testing, would-be teachers must prove themselves competent in the domains of spelling, using statistics, word-processing, spreadsheets, database management, PowerPoint, email and Internet maneuvers. The keyboard literally tracks and logs the number and order of steps chosen to complete each task and then determines the level of teacher efficiency. This final threshold for UK certification reminds me of temp-worker tests I took between jobs in college. The emphasis on simple clerical skills (what Susan Ohanian has called "paraprofessional" skills) indicates that there's decreasing expectation for teachers to ask questions, innovate, or create. The consumer model demands obedience from teachers. And here's the rhetorical trope: The more obedient you are, the more you'll be praised for being an active and creative participant!

Mingling through poster sessions in the hotel lobby between breakout workshops, I found a vast range of quality and polish. Some companies, such as Promissor, Thomson, and Pearson, used top-of-the-line electronic equipment to display their products. A few showcased research presentations were simply PowerPoint print-outs tacked on boards. One woman, who worked in Florida teacher certification testing, handed out packets. She told me that in the previous year, thirty-five thousand tests had been ordered for teacher certification--but that the actual demand had been one hundred thousand. She said that the state was having problems keeping up with the demand. That they were trying to move toward automated essay scoring by scanning teachers’ handwritten texts into computers.

I found three companies pushing automated essay scoring for students: Pearson VUE (with KAT, Knowledge Assessment Technology), ETS Pulliam (Criterion Online), and Vantage Learning (Intellimetric). Company spokesmen emphasized that typing was the key to making this most efficient in classrooms, but when I asked how companies dealt with essays when computers weren’t available, say, or writing in the primary grade levels, I got this interesting tidbit: Handwritten essays can be shipped overnight to India, where they are transcribed at very low cost--with automated scores still returning to the teacher within a day! (Such transcription work was undoubtedly performed by some of the non-PhD caste in India, though Bill Gates had made no reference to this in his speech.) When I expressed doubt, one salesman at Vantage seemed so proud he had to insist. “It sounds inefficient,” he said. “But it’s affordable and it works. You’d be surprised.”

The buy-in for English teachers seems obvious: test corporations can reduce your grading workload. But there’s something else, too. If teacher workload can be reduced by automation, why decrease class size? New brands of “Teachnology” can reduce inefficiency by streamlining the human teachers and students out of each other’s way. For example, eInstruction was demonstrating its current line of Classroom Performance Systems Technology (CPS) programs. Individual students use remote control devices to answer banks of multiple choice questions on the internet. (Note: Ownership of these massive “question banks,” by the way, is a very big deal for ATP.)

With CPS remotes, teachers can employ LCD displays, PowerPoint and SmartBoards to broadcast formative “assessment practices” on classroom screens while the students click their responses. Then the computer--not the teacher--selects successive questions based on the group’s aggregate results for each item. Every time the class responds to an item, the screen can display a bar graph and percentage of collective results. Instant, outcome-based feedback! (Or: lots of trees but no forest.)

It was amusing that we conference attendees used the CPS remotes to complete evaluations for presentations, because over the course of three days, various people would step up to a microphone somewhere and remind us to “make sure you return the CPS that you picked up by mistake.” Here was a crowd of professional adults and the CPS units were still getting lost, pilfered, and probably broken. I thought: What if these people were teaching five sections of seventh graders every day?

That is, I suppose, an imaginative, funny, and frankly inefficient question.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

An Argument for Tenure

Note the following recent development as an example of why public school teachers have fought so hard to keep tenure--clearly, it's not just about maintaining a "job for life." (This woman was fired for a job she used to have!)

Anti-abortion mother got teacher ousted

By Todd Milbourn -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Saturday, October 22, 2005
Story appeared on Page A1 of The Bee

The mother of a Loretto High School student obtained photographs that exposed a drama teacher as a former Planned Parenthood volunteer, a revelation that led to the teacher's firing last week. It wasn't the first time Wynette Sills raised her anti-abortion views on the all-female, private Catholic campus.

Sills, who leads anti-abortion rallies outside Sacramento-area Planned Parenthood offices three times a week, complained to school administrators last year about a classroom presentation on domestic violence, said Gail Erlandson, a theology teacher for 11 years at Loretto.

Finish complete article at The Sacramento Bee:

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The S(H)MO Model--Part Four

The morning I dressed for the first day of the ATP "Innovations of Testing" conference in Scottsdale, my husband and I had the television tuned to C-SPAN. There, in a re-broadcast from just a few days earlier, Bill Gates was addressing the National Governors' Association at their annual meeting. I recalled that only three weeks before that, George Bush had delivered the first State of the Union Address for his second term, where he lauded the "success" of No Child Left Behind, the positive results of testing, and articulated his mission to "demand better results from our high schools."

With perfect rhetorical symmetry, Gates railed against the failure of public high schools, noting that the U.S. ranks 16th among industrialized countries with its graduation rate of 73%. (Gates did not clarify differences in total enrollment or sheer numbers of graduates. A few examples at the top of the list, though Gates did not include names: Denmark has 100% graduation, Norway's a close second at 97%, and Germany comes in third at 93%. Discuss.)

Even as Gates conceded, "I'm not here to pose as an education expert," he followed by saying, "I head a corporation and a foundation." Then he proceeded to elaborate on his observations about specific campuses and key lingo of the test-to-success program. Gates lamented the U.S.'s lack of science PhDs compared to those in India and China, without clarifying the longstanding socio-economic stratification in those countries. He took time to promote his own private foundation's recent financial investments in American schools. One of his most interesting critiques was that only privileged students were studying Algebra II in high school, while poor, minority others were stuck learning to balance a checkbook. (I've seen plenty of AP calculus students who would benefit from practical clues about managing money--and watching for corporate scams--but that's an aside for now.) Variations of Gates' speech were published in national newspapers the following week (the LA Times printed one version March 1).

The evangelical terminology and its business agenda makes a kind of perfect wallpaper--you barely notice it. You take it for granted. When someone as rich as Gates talks about education, glosses over a phrase like "improve schools" or "settle for nothing less," it's easy to see how people figure, "He must have better things to do. So he must really care."

The timing of the ATP conference after such perfect prepping was hard to miss. This became more than a gut impression once the conference began. The keynote speaker, Gaston Caperton, new President of the College Board and former Governor of South Carolina, referred to the same talking points Gates did. Caperton mentioned that he was just coming from the NGA conference, and sometimes he didn't even cite Gates. The same was true when one speaker from Pearson Assessments addressed the general assembly as part of a panel called "Titans of Testing."

A few other highlights from proponents of the managed care model of education:
  • "Teachers are not trained to use formative assessments and change teaching on the fly, teachers are not qualified to write their own items...Districts are turning to test publishers for input on formative assessments to prepare them for high stakes tests...Test corporations need to be uncompromising in teacher training for use of benchmark assessments." (Lee Jones, President, Riverside Publishing)
  • "We need to acknowledge the similarities of our various textbooks--there's not that much difference [among company textbook products]...If teachers buy in [to focused study guides, shared plans and other data] they might be able to test less--because formative tests are more integrated [into curriculum]." (Steve Kromer, VP and General Manager, Pearson Educational Measurement)
  • "I'm not an expert in the field--I bring the business point of view...Formative assessments will replace teacher tests. Turning data into knowlege is key. We need to provide flexibility to non-expert users, be a facilitator of change without becoming the enemy--really reach out to unions, etc." (Jeff Galt, Harcourt Assessment)
  • "People are turning to testing corporations and not the textbook companies for tests and formative assessments...Our Natural Language Processing technology can help scan millions of sentences to choose for reading assessments...Professional development and consulting are integral parts of our offerings, but "data driven" decision-making scares teachers...Teachers teach because they love children, and data is noise. They should teach to standards, not in the same way they always have, but it's not test prep. Tests should be tied to textbooks, assessments, and standards." (John Oswald, Senior VP and General Manager, ETS Elementary and Secondary Education)
It's important to emphasize again that all the discussion about "teachers" and "classrooms" was uni-directional--from "us" to "them." The image of teachers as incompetent, scared of numbers, and incapable of vision was easy to perpetuate inside the "in-crowd." Our absence was noted, but was as moot as it was mute. They pressed on, unchallenged--no doubt comforted by their well-established and promoted national political and corporate agenda.

[Conclusion next week...]

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Red Ribbon Weak

It's worth asking: Would your school board be this gentle if one of its longtime overworked, lonely teachers had "a dependency problem"?

Maybe there's hope for the least of us.

DUI Charges Filed Against Superintendent
CHECKPOINT: Susan J. Rainey was arrested on I-215 after having dinner with neighbors.

08:05 AM PDT on Wednesday, September 28, 2005
By SARAH BURGE / The Press-Enterprise

Misdemeanor DUI charges have been filed against Susan J. Rainey, 58, superintendent of the Riverside Unified School District, following a Labor Day weekend traffic stop on Interstate 215.

Officer Ron Thatcher, of the California Highway Patrol, said the drunken driving charges were filed with Riverside County's Southwest Justice Center on Friday.

Thatcher said Rainey was stopped about 10 p.m. Sept. 2 while driving south on I-215 south of Newport Road, and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Attempts to reach Rainey on Tuesday by phone were unsuccessful. Riverside Unified board president Maxine Frost said Rainey decided to take 30 days leave. Frost said the superintendent is getting professional help for a "dependency problem." Frost said the board supports Rainey's decision and praised the work she has done as superintendent.

"We're looking forward to her return in October," Frost said.

In the meantime, Frost said, Deputy Superintendent Michael Fine will be the acting superintendent. Frost said Rainey was stopped at a sobriety checkpoint that diverted all of the southbound freeway traffic. Rainey was on her way to her vacation home in Oceanside after having dinner with her neighbors, Frost said.

"She said it was a bad decision and she shouldn't have done it," Frost said. "She's been alone," Frost said, pointing out that Rainey's husband died recently.

"She's been working especially hard in the last year," Frost said. "Too hard."

Rainey is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 7.

**Reach Sarah Burge at (951) 368-9642 or

The S(H)MO Model--Part Three

At the 2005 ATP "Innovations in Testing" Conference, I was privy to more goodies than I knew what to do with. When I first checked in, I received the ATP logo conference tote bag, packed with treats above and beyond the giant notebook tidily organized with daily agendas, speaker bios, and corporate sponsor ad-sheets. A few highlights from the tote as well as things I picked up during poster (advertiser) sessions over the three-day period:
  • Blue and orange M&Ms in a sealed baggie, labeled: "You can't manage what you can't measure." (Caveon Data Forensics)
  • A blue luggage tag, inscribed: "College Board: connect to college success, Research and Pyschometrics."
  • A laser pointer: "LaserGrade: Your computer Testing Specialist"
  • A puzzle-shaped piece of chocolate stamped with the Thompson Prometric logo.
  • An Educational Testing Service (ETS) calendar and notepad.
  • A green Performance Testing Council (PTC) button that we were encouraged to wear throughout the conference. (I couldn't bring myself to do this. Most people didn't.)
  • A Thompson Prometric Testing flow-chart map, made into a kraft-wrapped puzzle
  • A dainty box of RecruitMints: The flavor that lasts a lifetime! Your best career investmint! (Measured Progress)
  • A bag of Famous Amos Cookies: "Join us for our closing keynote speaker Wally Amos, 'the face that launched a thousand chips.' " (more on this later)
If there was one theme, it was advertising. Even though three of ATP's four divisions are not directly related to education, it was startling how promotional language used by both business and education corporations fit seamlessly, interchangeably together. When I didn't recognize a particular company name, I often had difficulty discerning at first whether it was in the business of testing kids and schools or employees. The overlap is merely tangible evidence of the Business Roundtable's powerful influence on education policy, something Susan Ohanian has documented for years. I found myself having Professional Learning Community and WASC committee flashbacks.

A few highlights from some of the prominent sponsors:
  • Questionmark Perception: Explore the enclosed CD and get to know the benefits of using effective and interactive assessments throughout the learning process.
  • Professional Examination Service: Delivering Client and Stakeholder Satisfaction
  • The Pearson VUE difference! [...]Biometric processes help authenticate valid test takers from imposters... Truly collaborative customer relationships featuring service excellence...
  • Promissor: Knowledge Beyond Doubt, The Total Solution Provider
  • Thomson Prometric: Enhanced testing capabilities from us. Improved testing solutions for you. Measuring success.
  • ETS Pulliam: Instructional Data Management System, Standards Based Teaching, Learning and Accountability.
  • E-Instruction, Classroom Peformance System (CPS): Successful Training is No Accident.
  • Vantage Learning: Intelligent Technology for Intelligent Decisions, Measuring Success One Student at a Time
  • Integral 7: How Can You Effectively Manage Your Business Without Effectively Managing Your Data?!
  • M2: Research and Psychometric Services: Meaningful Measurement
  • Castle Worldwide, Inc.: Building Relationships, Offering Guidance, Tailoring Solutions.
There was something else equally striking: a co-option of language (or glosses of language) from the humanities and from social justice movements, in order to articulate, promote, and justify test-as-measurement.

In the opening session, the Industrial-Organizational (I.O.) Division chairman gave a talk with an almost "I Have a Dream" tenor. As best I could, I scribbled notes on what I could get verbatim. His speech crescendoed with this point: "I would like to see a qualitative change in how the public views testing, to see testing as the solution not the problem. Testing as the best way to judge who's qualified. There is nothing better than testing to do this. I look forward to the day when a job applicant will be stunned if there is no testing." This speaker emphasized the urgency of lobbying efforts, PR and legal monitoring, and promoting test industry interests to the general public. He also pointed out that the strongest resource of ATP was in fact the I.O. Division itself, needing to lead the drive for change.

So much for on-site vertical teams. I thought about this a lot during the conference. While so many individual teachers were hard at work inside isolated classrooms--convinced by teacher-training workshops that the big picture is too daunting, too overwhelming, too irrelevant, that their day-to-day work with individual kids is the only precious thing that counts--here was a convention of professionals revving massive financial, political and rhetorical engines to drive the entire educational train down the track. These folks spare no expense. They stick to time limits in their meetings. They make no apologies for their interests. They don't whine.

And as long as teachers buy in to doublespeak about "collaboration" and "standards," ATP doesn't need smoke-filled back rooms, either.

[Continued next week...]