Education Week - September 18, 2013 - (Page 28)

28 EDUCATION WEEK n SEPTEMBER 18, 2013 n LETTERS to the EDITOR Researcher: High Test Scores Do Not Lead to Economic Success To the Editor: Commentary author Nancy Hoffman (“What Happens to Finland’s Well-Educated Young People?,”,July 31, 2013) asks an interesting question. Turns out the answer is nothing good: Ms. Hoffman reports an unemployment rate that exceeds 20 percent among postsecondary Finnish youths, compared with 10 percent less for lower-scoring nations, such as Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Up to this point Ms. Hoffman has called attention to some interesting facts, but then she goes off the rails, arguing that Finland fails to provide necessary social support to move kids from school to work. My research has found that the truth is far simpler and more straightforward: High-scoring Finnish students are economic failures because high test scores, contrary to the pervasive myth, have a strong negative correlation with national economic success. If you want to build a successful economy, the last thing you want is high student test scores. To briefly summarize my research on the relationship between test scores and national economic success, I took the first three international tests, given between 1964 and 1980, and looked at how they affected nine different measures of subsequent national economic success in 2005 and 2009. In every case, low test scores beat high scores. While I did not include youth unemployment among the multiple economic-success indicators I looked at over more than 40 years of national economic performance, the results Ms. Hoffman reports—high scores followed by economic disaster in youth unemployment when compared with lower-scoring nations—is fully consistent with my findings that high test scores lead to future national economic failure. Keith Baker Heber City, Utah The author, now retired, was a policy analyst and researcher at the U.S. Department of Education. Ethan Ake Biology Teacher Charter High School for Architecture & Design Philadelphia, Pa. Teacher Questions Governor’s Fiscal Plans for Philadelphia To the Editor: As a Philadelphia public school teacher, I find it difficult to imagine that the plans advocated by Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania are anything but politically motivated under the guise of educational reform (“Fiscal Clouds Swirl Around Philadelphia Schools,”Aug. 21, 2013). Gov. Corbett’s administration is seeking to withhold $45 million in state aid until it sees a new teachers’ contract in the city that makes substantial progress toward achieving fiscal savings. Asking the teachers’ union to make concessions conveniently ignores the fact that the union contract that was set to expire Sept. 1, along with the two previous ones, was approved by the state via its agency in the Philadelphia district, the School Reform Commission. In essence, the state was a principal actor in creating the very drama it is now manipulating for its own ends. Additionally, the district’s anticipated $133 million in concessions from the union seems implausible in light of financial circumstances. Philadelphia public school teachers are already paid less than their suburban peers, and any concessions will ultimately include wage and benefits cuts. Charter school teachers are not immune to these negotiations; they are paid less than their colleagues employed by the city’s school district. The collective bargaining agreement, I would argue, effectively establishes an unofficial teaching wage for the entire city. Moreover, state law mandates that charter school employees receive benefits comparable to those of their district counterparts. The state and the Philadelphia school district often bemoan an inability to find exceptional teachers who can overcome the urban achievement gap. However, their policies seem to fly in the face of basic economics and embody a general hostility toward teachers. The best teachers eschew a volatile environment that includes understaffed and underfunded schools in an unstable school district that pays some of the lowest wages in the region. Now it appears that rather than cultivating sustainability, Harrisburg is more interested in managing the decline of the state’s largest school district. Curriculum by Union Educators Would Make for Better Schools To the Editor: What this country needs is a transformation of the K-12 public school system, because the current system is a disgrace. Our public school systems have been taken over by politicians, policymakers, lawmakers, and the like. These people are not professional educators. In my opinion, a professional educator has a master’s degree in education and 25 years’ experience teaching in our public school system. Under this definition, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is not a professional educator, and I believe he should be replaced by someone who is. Until we establish a union of professional educators charged with the development and maintenance of the K-12 curriculum, standards, and teacher evaluations, we will continue to be ranked as below average in the world by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development through its Program for International Student Assessment. Charles McRae Melbourne, Fla. School-Philanthropy Partnerships Critical When Funding Lags To the Editor: There’s a truth that many lawmakers today know well but are afraid to say out loud: During the next few years, there will be little, if any, additional education funding. So the question becomes, how do we do more with less? One approach that’s working is partnering school districts and summer and after-school providers with local philanthropies. The beauty of this approach is that with philanthropic support, you can at least expand learning time for the students who need it most—kids from lower-income families who aren’t going to be challenged with summer camp or stimulating family vacations. School districts often ask summer providers for help when they have no additional funds. For example, back in 2012, my organization served around 1,000 scholars attending Winston-Salem/Forsyth County public schools in North Carolina. The district asked what it would take to serve 500 more in 2013. Working together, we COMMENTARY POLICY Education Week takes no editorial positions, but publishes opinion essays and letters from outside contributors in its Commentary section. For information about submitting an essay or letter for review, visit identified additional philanthropic partners in Winston-Salem, secured grants, and served 1,500 students this past summer. Similarly, in Charlotte, one of our programs was located at First Presbyterian Church because members there decided they were going to raise the funds necessary to cover the cost of serving 60 low-income kids from a local public school. Philanthropists are willing to contribute to educational programs when they see an approach that works. Rigorous summer programs can add six months of grade-level achievement in a five-week period, so local and national foundations step up. While I believe that we need more, not less, public investment in education, these are the kinds of relationships that can propel us forward and protect educational equity in a time of austerity. Tiffany Cooper Gueye Chief Executive Officer Building Educated Leaders for Life Boston, Mass. WHAT DO YOU THINK? Write a letter to the editor! Send to: LETTERS SHOULD BE AS BRIEF AS POSSIBLE, WITH A MAXIMUM LENGTH OF 300 WORDS. Encouraging Courage CONTINUED FROM PAGE 32 choose their own final grades, who tried out a no-homework policy to see what would happen, who stopped decorating the classroom by themselves and instead invited the kids to decide collectively how they wanted their classroom to look. I’ve also met administrators who facilitated democratic decisionmaking among the staff instead of merely trying to get “buy in” to decisions they’d already made, who invited teachers to run faculty meetings on a rotating basis rather than controlling all the meetings themselves, who suddenly realized that much of their airy talk about “responsibility,” “citizenship,” “character,” and “motivation” really just amounted to euphemisms for obedience. These days, the greatest barrier to meaningful learn- ing is the standards-and-testing juggernaut—top-down, corporate-style mandates that are squeezing the life out of classrooms. This, therefore, is where courage may be needed most desperately. I’m heartened by teachers—most recently in Seattle, but before them in Colorado, Massachusetts, and Illinois—who have refused on principle to administer standardized tests. (“How can I teach my kids to stand up for what they believe in if I’m not doing that myself?” asked one Chicago test boycotter.) And by the Michigan high school teachers who rejected the reductive focus on numerical “data” in the standard version of “professional learning communities” in favor of a teacher-designed initiative to focus on what students need. And by hundreds of Florida teachers who returned their bonus checks for having produced high test scores. And by the New York superintendent who told me “it’s time for civil disobedience”—and then worked to create an alternative Robbie Lawrence diploma that wouldn’t be based on high-stakes tests. I understand how real fear keeps more of us from doing what we know should be done. I don’t want to blame the victims, or minimize the culpability of those who pass bad laws. But if every educator who understood the damage done by those policies decided to speak out, to organize, to resist, then the policies would soon collapse of their own weight. Many teachers and administrators debate whether to do so, or struggle with whether to respond to students’ interests rather than conform to prescriptive state (or national) standards. They know the risks, but they also realize that Jonathan Kozol was right: “Abject capitulation to unconscionable dictates from incompetent or insecure superiors can be contagious.” It takes courage to stand up to absurdity when all around you people remain comfortably seated. But if we need one more reason to do the right thing, consider this: The kids are watching us, deciding how to live their lives in part by how we’ve chosen to live ours. n

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - September 18, 2013

Education Week - September 18, 2013
Calif. Testing Move Hits Federal Nerve
Teacher-Review Tool: Classroom Portfolios
TFA Educators Found to Boost Math Learning
Assessment Group Sets Accommodations Policy
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Spoken-Word Poets Bring Words to Life for Students
Partnership in Bronx Aims to Build Skills On Behalf of Parents
National-Board Certification to Be Cheaper, Smoother
Iowa District Reimagines the Five-Day School Week
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Consumer Demand for Digital Ed. Games Seen Rising
Blogs of the Week
Ed. Dept., Arizona in Clash Over Waiver
Congress Gears Up for Higher Ed. Law Renewal
Policy Brief
Louisiana Vouchers, Desegregation Case Prove Volatile Mix
House Panelists Question Relevancy of Education Dept. Research
Why the New Teacher Ed. Standards Matter
Unfairly Fired Teachers Deserve Court Protection
A Sandy Hook Parent’s Letter to Teachers
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Encouraging Courage

Education Week - September 18, 2013