Friday, November 27, 2015

Blogo: An Easy-to-Use Blogging App for the Mac

I have waited quite some time for a blogging app for my Mac. I’ve used several, but my personal favorite is Blogo. Blogo provides Mac users with a simple interface. (See below.) It also provides all the features one would expect from a blogging platform as well. It is extremely easy to use, Some of Blogo’s most useful features include:
  • Easy photo editing
  • Post previews while writing
  • Manage blog comments
  • Syncs with Evernote
  • Use with multiple blogs
  • Write blog posts while offline
  • Compatible with both Blogger, WordPress, and Medium
Blogo Interface

For more information about Blogo, the Blogging App for Mac, check out their web site here. By the way, I haven’t received any compensation for this post. This is truly my favorite Mac Blogging app.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Chief State School Officers Continue to Believe We Can Test Our Way to Equity

Somehow I am not surprised at all that the Council of Chief State School Officers still believe that we can “test our way to school equity.” They still believe if we “just get the tests right” and hold those teachers’ noses to the grindstones, then “Poof” all our students will receive an equal education. They met and pledged their allegiance to the “Accountability Doctrine” recently in a Council of Chief State School Officers policy forum in Charlotte, North Carolina. (See Ed Weeks Article “State Chiefs Pledge to Continue Focus on Accountability.”) What they don’t seem to get that we had at least 15 years of “Accountability and Testing” and schools are no more equitable, in fact, there’s evidence that they are more unequal than ever.

“Our members want to be held accountable,” said Chris Minnich, the executive director of the CCSSO. That’s nice for him to say, coming from a man who has never spent a single day as a teacher in a public school classroom. If you check out this glowing biography from CCSSO, you can see he knows his policy though. Too bad he has no clue about the nuts and bolts of classroom teaching.

That’s the real problem here. It’s not that the accountability is always a bad thing; its that we have people pushing these damaging policy initiatives who are policy wonks, but know nothing about what No Child Left Behind and current Accountability fetishes have done to schools and ultimately to students. We are not going to make our schools equitable by the having the right tests and accountability systems. We are going to address equity by advocating for a society that does not favor those who have over those who do not have.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Accountability and Testing: Distorting Teaching, Learning, and Public Education

To continue my critique of the “accountability and testing regime,” I have been thinking about what the ultimate goals of those whose faith and belief in the promise of standardized testing, statistical technologies, and classroom surveillance are. They have captured the discourse in education and conveniently made unacceptable anything critical anyone else has to say about testing and its high stakes deployment. An educator who questions it is not taken seriously and is deemed out of bounds. Testing and accountability seeks, in a nutshell, to make teaching and learning “measurable, calculable, in order to be controllable."

What does it mean to make teaching and learning “measurable?” It means reducing teaching and learning to “indicators” or “standards” that can simply be determined to be not present or present. It means making teaching and learning into something that can be captured using the available technologies at our disposal, such as teacher observations and standardized testing. Teaching, then, is made measurable by teacher evaluations, and, more recently, using statistical measures such as value-added models, which both result in what is hopefully “objective” and widely accepted as being “true” measures of acceptable teaching and learning, because they happen to be numerical.

As an administrator, I have heard many of my colleagues make the statement, “If it isn’t measurable; it didn’t happen.” That statement captures beautifully the complete faith in testing and measurement that currently exists in education. But it is also a statement of ignorance. Even the best psychometricians will say that “NOT EVERYTHING IN TEACHING AND LEARNING THAT IS WORTHWHILE IS MEASURABLE.” But this faith in “educational measurement” is at the heart of current educational reform, and it is still believed by many educators, politicians, and policymakers to hold the “silver bullet” that will finally make all public education effective. “We just don’t measure enough and measure effectively” is the belief that keeps driving round after round of testing-and-accountability-based reforms” in education. Tests are cheap in comparison to really dealing with the equity issues of healthcare and poverty. With tests and statistical tools, the belief that one can erase these social justice problems, but sadly that is not the case.

For those of us in the schools, those of us in tune with the teachers and students there, we see the results of this: an education system that continues to be distorted and twisted, that ultimately meets the needs of a few, mainly those who can use these “measurable results” to determine their own effectiveness and the effectiveness of their own ideas. An education where test results are still valued over individuals, and any old methodology that results in higher test scores is acceptable. Testing takes precedence over everything else schools do: just look at a state’s testing regulations if you want to see this. In other words, no matter the rhetoric coming from testing and accountability addicts, testing is driving everything in schools, and that’s they way they want it. That keeps them in power and needed.

Making teaching and learning “calculable” is very much akin to making it “measurable.” Making what we do in schools “calculable” is seeking to reduce what we are supposed to be doing to numbers. Somehow, our current system views “numbers” as somehow more objective, therefore superior to other things like judgment or intuition. This desire to make everything “calculable” leads to bizarre decision-making, where outcomes are ridiculously reduced to numerical values, even if those values distort the process and result. Standardized tests do this very well. They can’t measure an “effective essay” for example. Determining whether an essay , or musical composition, or painting is “effective” is by nature a “judgment.” And, whether it is effective in all instances and in all ways is relative. It might be effective at one thing or in one instance, but not another. Rarely are major literary pieces simply “effective for all time” or “in all ways.” The same applies to music, art, and so many other human endeavors. So, in the name of “objectivity,” current testing manics send essays, compositions, and even paintings to “outside” observers to evaluate all in the quest for “objectivity.” But such actions might create a facade of objectivity based on faith, but it completely results in an unfair evaluation of student work. For, who knows better whether a student has progressed than that teacher who has been in the trenches with that student, day after day and seen their incremental growth first-hand. So, the pursuit of making teaching and learning “calculable” is to simply turn it into numerical values or make it have the facade of “objectivity” because the belief is that “numbers don’t lie.” Testing and accountability becomes more about distrust of teachers and their judgments, than really trying to provide an effective education for students. "We can't trust teachers' judgments about students, so must use tests and other outside evaluators," is the rationale.

It is this desire to make teaching and learning both measurable and calculable that leads me to the final goal of accountability and testing as I see it: to make teaching and learning controllable. Policymakers, education reformers, and even politicians all believe they hold the “ultimate vision” of what effective teaching and learning is. They believe, armed with their many contradictory studies on the subject, that they hold the answers. Answers in hand, they seek to control teaching and learning in order to mold it into their image of effectiveness. Through tactics of measurement and calculability based in standardized testing and measurement, they use high stakes decision-making to weed out the “deviant” practices that don’t meet “best practices standards.” The problem lies though with the truth that both teaching and learning is so complex that to reduce it to universal rules of effectiveness ends up distorting it and neutralizing it to simply a “technical knowledge” that anyone can understand, including administrators and policymakers and education reformers who have never spent a day engaging in teaching in classrooms and making decisions about student learning. Teachers, as a result, find themselves engaging in a strangely distorted form of teaching that must jump through the hoops of “best practices” in order to get the “results” desired by this twisted system of education. Teaching the test and test prep are two examples of this distortion. They have become assembly-line workers who “add” knowledge to students as they roll down the assembly-line, and testing with this value-added component is the “quality control mechanism” that drives teachers in the entire system to produce even more “globally competent graduates" that can produce ‘number one test scores’ on international tests such as PISA. Under the testing and accountability regime, teachers are reduced to technicians whose judgement does not count and means nothing. Test results and other “quantitative” measures are hierarchically superior.

In the end, if you wanted to design an education system that turns education into a factory-like system that produces standard results, you couldn’t have done better with that created by our current accountability and testing regime. If you wanted to create a system that transforms and de-professionalizes teaching as a profession, you can’t do much better. In the end, our public education system might ultimately match up to the vision of those who adhere avidly to accountability and testing practices, but I can’t help but wonder whether those teachers in this system find the same level of satisfaction and dedication to students when test results are valued so highly. I also have to wonder what kinds of students such a system of this really produces. Perhaps, that’s what’s desired by accountability and testing advocates: they want students who don’t question; who don’t criticize; who don’t engage in learning deemed irrelevant such as the arts, and learning seen as deviant. They want both students and teachers who “just do their jobs” and not engage in dreams of how things might be different or better.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pursuit of Better Classroom Data: Is It Improvement of Teaching or of Classroom Surveillance?

Perhaps there's a truth here about accountability and testing that we have ignored: the use of standardized testing, value-added models, and growth models in teacher evaluations is all about subjecting the classroom to techniques of surveillance. To put it bluntly, they are spy tactics. Their purpose is to peer into the classroom to see if teachers are teaching the "prescribed" curriculum, and to see if teachers are adhering to the "rules of best practice" as they teach. These surveillance techniques are based on a fundamental mistrust of teachers' professional judgment regarding how they should be teaching and how their students perform.

The current efforts to perfect the evaluation of teachers aren't really just about improving teacher effectiveness: they are about sharpening the gaze into the classroom. They are about making the classroom more visible to those higher up the administrative chain. They are about finding the means to "objectively" determine whether teachers are teaching in the manner prescribed by "best practices" and whether they are teaching only the content that can be subjected to testing.

What testing and accountability experts have discovered though, is that tests are imperfect. The image they project of the teachers' performance is at best blurred and opaque. Even with new-fangled "value-added models," seeing teachers' effectiveness is foggy and unreliable. Now, they are seeking other ways to increase classroom surveillance. They are seeking other "spies" which might provide them with a clearer gaze of what's happening in the classroom. What are those new techniques for gazing into classrooms? They are called "student surveys."

Interestingly, student surveys turn students into 25 or 30 pairs of eyes that can report back to administration regarding whether classrooms are conducted in the manner dictated by the laws of "best practices." The student survey becomes another instrument with which the administration and government can sharpen its gaze into the classroom to make sure teachers' conduct adheres to "best practices." Underlying the use of student surveys is the assumption as well that if teachers know that 25 or 30 pairs of eyes are watching that might potentially report deviance back to the administration, those teachers will engage in the expected teaching behaviors. Thus, the control of the classroom becomes more complete.

We need to perhaps realize that the push to ever better classroom data is maybe more about control and transformation of the teaching and the teaching profession into a non-profession where teachers are simply "technicians of learning" whose professional judgment means nothing. The next generation of teachers will not need to exercise professional judgment: they will only need to conduct their classes in the prescribed manner by the "sciences of teaching." The question then becomes, "Are we really producing the kinds of students that our world needs?" Students newly manufactured and stamped with the US Department of Education's approval as being "Globally competent."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What’s the One Thing That Will Fix Public Education? Here’s an Answer for You!

“What’s the one thing that we could so to fix public education?” Lily Eskelsen Garcia answers this question asked by a businessman so effectively. I’ll let the video speak for itself.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Value-Added Models Aren’t Settled Science No Matter What Ed Leaders Say

The American Education Research Association (AERA) has released a new statement about the use of value-added models (VAMs) in educator evaluations and to evaluate educator preparation programs. It is no secret that as an experienced educator of twenty-six years, I do not find VAMs very useful or fair indicators of teacher effectiveness. The results are often only available three or four months into the school year, so even if they were in a useful form that could inform specific classroom instruction, they arrive much too late, at least for first semester students to be of use.

But the AERA clearly points out that using VAMs as indicators of teacher effectiveness are still too deeply flawed to be used in that manner. (See the AERA statement for yourself here.) Many states, including North Carolina, have charged full speed ahead after being blackmailed by the Obama administration into adopting VAMs. This has occurred in spite of concerns over the limitations and flaws with their use.

There is certainly no disagreement from me that there is always room for improvement in teacher effectiveness, but I also think our false faith in the objectivity of value-added models sees these statistical models as some kind of “savior of public education” for which they are not, nor will ever be. Their limitations are too great to be useful for anything except as a small piece of data schools can consider about how their students are doing.

Here’s limitations outlined by the AERA statement:

  • Current state tests are too limited to measure teacher effectiveness, and most were not designed for that purpose anyway. They cover only a limited amount of content teachers teach and they are too imprecise to be used in determining teacher quality. They also only measure grade-level standards so they fail to measure the growth of students above or below those standards.
  • VAM estimates have not been shown to effectively isolate estimates of teacher effectiveness from other school fators or outside of school factors. To expect VAMs to do this entirely is unrealistic and foolhardy.

As usual, the adoption of VAMs illustrates one very bad flaw education leaders and education policy makers have: they adopt what they see as “common sense” measures without conducting critical and empirical explorations about whether the policies will work as they intend them. The history of public education is littered with these actions, and you would think a wise education leader would learn that what just seems “common sense” or “conventional wisdom” is perhaps nothing of the sort.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

What I’ve Been Up To & a Quick Reminder of Our Undying Standardized Testing Fetish in US

I feel a bit obligated to explain why there have been so few posts to The 21st Century Principal blog this year. I am continuing my doctoral work through Appalachian State University, so I’ve spent countless hours reading about the French philosopher Michel Foucault and value-added model research. Now I am sure someone might want to ask what could these two subjects possibly have in common?

Well, I am working on a poststructural analysis of current accountability practices. What I hope to be able to do expose even more of the bizarreness behind our continued fetish with using standardized tests to measure everything in education. Somehow, we in the United States just can’t let go of this “If-it-breathes-let’s-test-it approach to education. The faith that if we somehow are able to find “just the right standards” and the “right tests to measure them,” our students will excel in school in life remains strong, and the United States will be number one in international tests, and all our students will find companies just dying to give them high paying jobs because of their superb test performance. I hope you notice the sarcasm.

I just don’t have the time to write blog posts like I was, but I am still reading and writing and learning. And, I am still just as critical of our accountability and testing fetish as ever.