<![CDATA[EmpowerED Georgia - Home]]>Sun, 30 Aug 2015 14:54:51 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[Teacher evaluations at the schools that Obama, Duncan picked for their kids]]>Sun, 30 Aug 2015 17:37:49 GMThttp://www.empoweredga.org/home/teacher-evaluations-at-the-schools-that-obama-duncan-picked-for-their-kids
A question occurred to Schechter recently when he was preparing testimony to give before the Massachusetts Board of Education, which will soon hold hearings on whether to base teacher evaluations on students’ standardized test scores — and if so, to what extent.

The question was: How do the schools serving the children of President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan handle this important school reform issue? He decided to find out.

The issue of linking a teacher’s salary and pay to how well students do on a standardized test has come to dominate the national education debate.

With the Obama administration’s support, more states are passing laws to connect teacher pay and test scores, even though experts on assessment say it is a bad idea.

The tests being used today were not designed to evaluate teachers (and they don’t do a good job of assessing students, either).

Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/teacher-evaluations-at-the-schools-that-obama-duncan-picked-for-their-kids/2011/04/15/AF1S1cwD_story.html?postshare=7991440757262555
We don’t tie teacher pay to test scores because we don’t believe them to be a reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness.
-- Statement from the schools that Obama and Duncan picked for their kids
<![CDATA[Should schools follow competitive or cooperative models? Can they be both?]]>Sun, 31 May 2015 01:22:11 GMThttp://www.empoweredga.org/home/should-schools-follow-competitive-or-cooperative-models-can-they-be-both
by Peter Smagorinsky, professor at the University of Georgia

I used to play a lot of basketball when my body was younger. One court where I played every night was at the local high school gym, which could be divided into two so that two full-court games could be played simultaneously. One court was dedicated to the older, more serious, and more skilled players; the other was for younger players of lesser talent.

I was good enough for the high-intensity court, which used the “winners” system in which the winning team got to play the next game against a new pickup team. Often, teams had to wait several games to get back on the court, which placed a high value on winning once you got a chance to play. Losing teams might have to wait a half-hour or more just to get another shot.
If power corrupts, then systems that make power a central aspect of participation produce corruption among its members, with coercion from the top often producing unethical conduct all the way down. Just ask the Atlanta teachers headed to prison on racketeering charges for 5-20 years.
-- Peter Smagorinsky
His message was clear: If I wanted to be good, I shouldn’t play against weak competition. And he was right: the better the competition, the better I got at the game. I might dominate the secondary court’s lesser players, but in doing so I cut corners and got sloppy because I could get away with mistakes and still succeed. On the main court, I might be an average player, but in doing so became a better player. The competition is what made the difference.

My point is not to boast of my long-atrophied basketball skills. Among the many great divides in public opinion is the question of whether or not schools should be competitive. To some people, school should be a training ground for the life beyond.

Given that capitalist societies like the U.S. are fundamentally competitive, they see schooling that does not pit people against one another as antithetical to core American values. Students must thus compete academically and socially for goods, as they will later do for salaries, promotions, and other rewards of productive life in our economy, and do so in every aspect of their educations.

Others see competition as the root of much evil. Competition breeds corruption, as evidenced by cheating scandals great (APS test score changing) and small (kids taking cellphone shots of exam questions for their friends). Kids cheat on tests, teachers run student work through Turnitin.com and other plagiarism software programs, schools fudge their test score data, administrators get awards and bonuses for bogus scores, and so on. When winning is the point, the rules are optional as long as no one’s looking.

If power corrupts, then systems that make power a central aspect of participation produce corruption among its members, with coercion from the top often producing unethical conduct all the way down. Just ask the Atlanta teachers headed to prison on racketeering charges for 5-20 years.

I think that both of these possibilities — that competition brings out excellence and that competition breeds corruption — can be true at the same time. But part of the problem with the public debate about the value of competition (and the discussion within academia) is that people tend to load all their marbles into one of these pockets but not the other.

I don’t see the question as being whether competition is good or bad, or that competition should either permeate the schooling experience or be absent from it altogether. The question, I think, is better framed as one of when competition is appropriate, and when it is counterproductive.

As I said at the beginning, I think that for people who undertake an activity in order to get better at it, a competitive environment can provide models of successful performance and opportunities to participate that bring out the best in one’s efforts and lead to long-term improvement. Competition under such conditions can be a very good element of participation.

Playing sports is one activity in school in which students voluntarily join a competitive situation.

Spectators expect that the competition will produce viewable performances that provide cathartic experiences of success and fulfillment for the winners, and occasionally the losers in valiant efforts.

Game performances are only part of the process of competing to improve. Although Alan Iverson might disagree, Hall of Fame player Ed Macauley summed up the importance of competing in practice: “When you are not practicing, remember, someone somewhere is practicing, and when you meet him he will win.”

Those who argue against schools as sites of competition tend to speak on behalf of collaboration and cooperation over antagonism. Cooperative learning, for instance, tends to involve working in groups for problem-solving, without pitting one group against the other. The emphasis is on students generating ideas in search of a solution to a given problem or challenge.

Even the oft-invoked business accountability model relies on group problem-solving. Here, for instance, the business model is values-driven, with communication, cooperation, and coordination comprising three of the four values of organizational life, even as business competition is assumed to be the primary driver of individual conduct.

The debate about competitiveness versus cooperation, I would argue, should not be about making a forced choice between two polar positions. Rather, the discussion should center on where in the educational system each produces the most desirable results. Note that they are not mutually exclusive, for basketball teams need to function cohesively in order to compete effectively against opponents.

If you’re looking for a rule book here on when to compete and when to cooperate, you’re asking the wrong person. Instead, ask the teachers who know their students well and can make informed judgments on how to structure learning activities to promote students’ growth in their disciplines and at the age levels they are teaching.

Just don’t expect them to decide that it’s either one or the other, with no middle ground.

This article was originally posted on the AJC's Get Schooled blog.
<![CDATA[[VIDEO] The problems with our current standardized testing system]]>Sun, 17 May 2015 18:15:37 GMThttp://www.empoweredga.org/home/video-the-problems-with-our-current-standardized-testing-system
<![CDATA[A sincere ‘thank you’ to Georgia’s public school teachers]]>Sun, 17 May 2015 01:50:51 GMThttp://www.empoweredga.org/home/a-sincere-thank-you-to-georgias-public-school-teachers
Dear public school teachers in Georgia:

Congratulations on surviving another year in the classroom.

As you take a moment to catch your breath and enjoy a brief respite before you start the process all over again, I hope you will reflect on the good you do, the impact you have on young people, your ability to make a difference. Yours isn’t a job. It is a calling.

Many years ago, I was part of an advisory board at the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia. The board members were pre-eminent in their field: Newspaper publishers, editors, a network television president, the head of one of the nation’s largest advertising agencies and business leaders from across the country.

At the end of one of the meetings, the discussion got around to school teachers. It turned out that each person in the room could name at least one teacher that had been influential in their life and could recite why. I never forgot that experience. That is when I realized that teachers are sculptors. Only you don’t work with clay, you shape future generations.
I realized that teachers are sculptors. Only you don’t work with clay, you shape future generations.
-- Dick Yabrough
I don’t know where public education got off track. I suspect it was along about the time that our society went haywire and lost respect for authority, as well as a lot of our core values. Maybe it was Watergate. Maybe it was Vietnam. Maybe we just woke up one day and decided that those who entertain us like athletes and actors are more important than those who protect us and educate us.

We ignore the fact that schools merely reflect the societal issues that surround them. Yet, we expect you to shut the schoolhouse door and lock out poverty, apathy, abuse and a lack of family structure and somehow magically teach a hungry child from a broken home how to conjugate verbs.

Society may be beyond repair, but I am hoping we can mend public education in Georgia. I am a member of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission that has been tasked with the responsibility of looking at all facets of public education from funding to teacher recruitment and retention to “school choice.”

I don’t know if I can make much of a difference — I’m still trying to understand all the acronyms.

As exciting as the possibilities are that the Education Reform Commission might be able to overhaul and improve public education in Georgia, including the opportunity to keep the best teachers in the classroom, I believe it is safe to say that you don’t have a lot of faith that we can do it right.

I don’t blame you for feeling that way. We haven’t always walked our educational talk in this state.

Georgia has had more high-sounding education commissions, studies, task forces and blue-ribbon committees than a yard dog has fleas and not much to show for it. Gov. Deal says it is going to be different this time around. I have taken him at his word.

In the meantime, I remind you that the next general elections are a year away. That is when you can expect our intrepid public servants to once again wax eloquently about the fact that their mother/brother/sister/cousin was a school teacher and how they feel your pain and how hard they are working for you and blah, blah, blah.

They must think we fell off the education turnip truck. We all know that once they are re-elected it is back to business as usual, which includes promoting private school tuition tax breaks, cozying up to for-profit charter school management companies, messing with curriculum while home-schooling their own kids and trying to fix a teacher retirement system that doesn’t seem to be broken. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for you to flunk a few of them at the ballot box when the opportunity arises.

In spite of all of the obstacles we throw in your way, you soldier on. While we are eager to point out the failures in public education, no one seems to focus on all the young people you have inspired to bigger and better things and who will one day sit in a meeting as I witnessed those many years ago at the Grady College and talk about how you made a difference in their lives and why.

That is why you do what you do. You make a difference. A big difference. Thank you for your efforts. Enjoy the break. You have earned it.
<![CDATA[A Yelp for teachers]]>Tue, 21 Apr 2015 00:30:15 GMThttp://www.empoweredga.org/home/a-yelp-for-teachersYahoo! News | Let’s have a discussion this week about transparency and accountability. No, I’m not talking about Hillary Clinton and the server that lives in her attic. I’m talking instead about teachers’ unions and their fight to keep classroom evaluations secret.

In exurban Loudoun County, Va., about a half hour’s drive from Washington, a parent named Brian Davison is suing the state because it won’t release the ratings that public school teachers get based on the test scores of their students. The Washington Post reports that the Virginia suit is part of a growing national debate over new, data-based ratings in the classroom.

The question Davison and other parents are asking is why the schools won’t share these numerical evaluations with us. The question that occurs to me, though, is exactly the reverse. Isn’t it time that parents shared their own evaluations with everyone else?

Read more:
<![CDATA[Florida Student Speaks Out on Standardized Testing]]>Thu, 09 Apr 2015 23:42:24 GMThttp://www.empoweredga.org/home/florida-student-speaks-out-on-standardized-testing
<![CDATA[AP: 11 former Atlanta educators convicted in cheating scandal]]>Sat, 04 Apr 2015 01:12:41 GMThttp://www.empoweredga.org/home/ap-11-former-atlanta-educators-convicted-in-cheating-scandal
In one of the biggest cheating scandals of its kind in the U.S., 11 former Atlanta public school educators were convicted Wednesday of racketeering for their role in a scheme to inflate students' scores on standardized exams. The defendants, including teachers, a principal and other administrators, were accused of falsifying test results to collect bonuses or keep their jobs in the 50,000-student Atlanta school system. A 12th defendant, a teacher, was acquitted of all charges by the jury.

The racketeering charges carry up to 20 years in prison. Most of the defendants will be sentenced April 8.

Read more:

Hall insisted she was innocent. But educators said she was among higher-ups pressuring them to inflate students' scores to show gains in achievement and meet federal benchmarks that would unlock extra funding.
<![CDATA[Video: Vouchers Divert $ from Public Schools]]>Sun, 29 Mar 2015 00:51:00 GMThttp://www.empoweredga.org/home/video-vouchers-divert-from-public-schoolsThe Southern Education Foundation has conducted extensive research regarding Georgia's Tax Credit Scholarship (Voucher) program and the number of minority students attending public schools.
<![CDATA[Pro-Charter Advocacy Group Seeks to Turn the Classroom into a Political Machine]]>Fri, 27 Mar 2015 17:40:12 GMThttp://www.empoweredga.org/home/pro-charter-advocacy-group-seeks-to-turn-the-classroom-into-a-political-machine
EmpowerED Georgia Exclusive | Imagine if traditional public school students were given an assignment to write letters in support of their public schools to their legislators telling them about the negative impact of budget cuts. Imagine the thousands of letters and emails state officials would receive talking about increased class sizes, shortened school calendars, and limited course offerings.

Most Georgians (and legislators) would support students getting engaged in the political process but not at the expense of taxpayer dollars and precious instructional time.

Though sympathetic to the cause, there would be public outcry that teachers would pressure their students through class assignments or even grades.

In an email, a pro-charter advocacy group...asks charter school students to reach out to their legislators...this effort crosses ethical boundaries
In an email, a pro-charter advocacy group advised charter school teachers and administrators to “rally” from March 23rd – 27th and asks “charter school students to reach out to their legislators and tell them, in their own words, why charter schools matter.”

The email goes on to hide student lobbying behind the veil of academic enrichment by stating “this project combines social studies, language arts and technology.”

Clearly, this effort is more about promoting charters than our children. This effort crosses ethical boundaries and erodes the trust between teacher and student by inviting politics right into the classroom.

<![CDATA[School testing still not making the grade]]>Tue, 24 Mar 2015 23:51:40 GMThttp://www.empoweredga.org/home/school-testing-still-not-making-the-grade
by Michael Moore | In a few weeks, much of the nation and Georgia will commence student testing. Where exactly are we nationally and where are we particularly in Georgia with its new testing program the Georgia Milestones Assessments? Are we ready?

Here’s what we know so far.

Georgia’s Milestones exam is provided by McGraw Hill, the company that also published the CRCT and our high school graduation tests, and has provided Georgia’s tests for the last nine years (since 2006). Georgia entered into a contract with McGraw Hill after dropping out of the PARCC Consortium. We dropped out of the PARCC Consortium because we thought the price per student was too high.
"strongly urge departing from test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities."
Open Letter to Congress by 500 education researchers around the country
To my knowledge, this testing contract was not open for bidding. McGraw Hill also makes the tests for Smarter Balanced, the other testing consortium, supplying testing for 18 other states.

In late May, the DOE awarded a five-year, $107.58 million contract to CTB/McGraw-Hill to develop the new system. The electronic delivery will be phased in over a five-year period.

Federal law mandates 17 annual tests: seven in math and seven in reading for grades 3-9, and one reading and one math test for high school students and a writing test. These tests are in addition to the NAEP tests in reading and math.

If your district has bought into the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) program, add at least three more tests to the yearly total.

How effective are all these new tests? According to U.S. Education Secretary Arnie Duncan, these will be a leap forward in terms of testing ... the next generation he says is Smarter Balanced and PARCC. However, according to testing experts, that’s not what has happened. Design constraints as well as money problems have contributed to a result that is far less than being a game-changer in public education.

According to Linda Darling Hammond, the new exams are less sophisticated in assessing deeper learning as compared to some exams already in use. In a report issued in 2013 by the Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education, one of the original ideas behind the exams was that most students in the United States would be taking them, allowing for legitimate comparisons of student achievement from state to state.

That notion has collapsed. A number of states have pulled out of the testing regimes, especially from the PARCC consortium, which had 26 member states in 2010 but now has fewer than a dozen. Fifty-three percent of all U.S. students will be taking some test other than PARCC or Smarter Balanced. Common isn’t so common any more.

We may not know what the Milestones test will be like but we do know it will be harder. According to Melissa Fincher, deputy superintendent of testing and accountability for the Georgia Department of Education (GDOE), when compared to the CRCT and the End of Course Tests in high school, scores will likely plunge initially as students become accustomed to the higher bar and rigor. Gone are the tests composed completely of multiple-choice answers; they will be replaced by a combination of multiple choice, short answers and essays.

Graduating seniors may have cause for concern since a waiver is in place this year, districts must still determine what will replace the Milestones scores. State law requires an annual assessment to count for 20 percent of final grades in tested subjects in high school, and many courses had factored that in prior to the waiver.

Scott Muri, deputy superintendent of academics for the Fulton County school system, said this year poses a challenge. “The state requires 20 percent and we’re not going to have that number from Milestones this year.” Tested subjects will be using alternative assessments this year in lieu of the Milestones score. Add in McGraw Hill’s acuity tests, which are versions of its Milestones tests given at intervals, usually nine weeks, and there’s a whole lot of testing going on.

Recently, more than 500 education researchers around the country signed an open letter to Congress and the Obama administration about how the No Child Left Behind law should be rewritten, saying that they “strongly urge departing from test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities.”

The testing juggernaut is far more imposing than we ever thought it was under No Child Left Behind. Pearson and McGraw Hill wield enormous influence over American education. They write the textbooks and tests that drive instruction in public schools across the nation.

Their software grades student essays, tracks student behavior and creates inordinate amounts of student data. Their companies dominate the teacher education textbook field, administer teacher licensing exams and coach teachers once they’re in the classroom. They operate networks of online public schools.

There is, though, a mounting anti-testing backlash that may influence the attempt by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Testing will be at the forefront of the reauthorization. This may be one of the last chances to curb the testing frenzy.

Article: http://savannahnow.com/column/2015-03-23/michael-moore-school-testing-still-not-making-grade