Category Archives: Education

Hyper Education

Pearl River     The President says, open the schools.  Actually, he doesn’t have any power over opening the schools, so it’s more bully-boy posturing and threatening backed up by Betsey DeVos prattling along the same lines, while neither of them are lifting a finger to help finance what it is projected to take for school districts to make returning safe for teachers and students.  Teachers seem divided over the question.  Many are over 50 years old and worry about their own susceptibility.  Others are torn between online teaching and their own childcare responsibilities.  Districts understand that the digital divide and the less effective online offerings will exacerbate the inequality gaps that already exist in education.  There’s really no question that we need schools to be open for the kids, for the parents, for the economy, for a million good reasons, but there’s also no question that we need to be ready to roll, and we clearly are not.

All of these questions came up in a curious way, as I talked to Amherst Professor Pawan Dhingra about not just reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, but education on steroids, as he discusses in his book Hyper Education:  Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior are not Enough.  He had studied families and their children in what are seen as some of the better public-school systems in the USA, and while visiting with many of them found some interesting and disturbing undercurrents fueling hyper education.

One was the pernicious impact of neoliberalism that has leeched into parental school evaluations.  Schools are seen as not performing well enough to guarantee stable, well-paying jobs and under neoliberalism’s depleted and uneven funding have transferred that responsibility to parents and private systems, ironically not necessarily in the worst schools, but in the best.  Tutoring systems in math, science, spelling, and general education are booming businesses with thousands of locations around the country and growing.  The IEP or individual educational plan, mandated under federal law for special needs students, including those who are gifted, has become a footnote in the process rather than the path intended.

Another contradiction Professor Dhingra found centered not surprisingly on race.  Where Indian-American and Chinese-American students have flourished competitively through hyper education priorities, rationalizations are often created to dial down their achievements and intensity to maintain the historic place of white students in the hierarchy, rather than developing equitable programs to move everyone forward.  Ethnic parents similarly create racial rationales over the choices white parents make about sports and education.

In the time of pandemic, even having more resources to access hyper education won’t be enough with schools closed.  At the same time, talking to Professor Dhingra on Wade’s World, it was clear the gaps would lengthen, perhaps permanently, if real progress isn’t made as soon as possible.


The Rigged Scoring on School Testing

Little Rock       If the process of test scoring isn’t a national issue yet, it’s going to be.  Fire fights have erupted in community after community at all levels, because there is no consensus on either the tests or what they measure.   New York City is being hammered for testing that has increased segregation in its schools, maintaining what an ACORN report labeled years ago as “secret apartheid.”  The College Board group that runs SATs that most colleges and universities use to evaluate applicants retreated from an “adversity” measure after withering parental complaints about assigning a number to neighborhood, environment, and other conditions as part of the score.  Locally, testing under the largely discredited No Child Left Behind regime and now the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act has been used to justify school takeovers by states to usher in privatization and charters in New Orleans and Little Rock with the fight be waged in earnest now in Houston as well.

To the degree that the test scores have become the “be all and end all” for school districts and the students, are they really the objective measures that many might presume them to be?  Evidence from Louisiana indicates that fingers are pressed on the scale at every turn.  I need to quickly add that I’m not talking about the systemic corruption that the testing paradigm has introduced into the educational system.  The testing not only perverts the education of students but also encourages competition on that basis between schools within a district and districts with each other and makes or breaks careers of principals and administrators encouraging cheating.  School after school in New Orleans and Louisiana have had to change management, fire or force resignations for test cheating scandals by adults, not students.

I’m talking about the way the scoring itself has been manipulated to protect jobs above, rather than education for students below.  As reported in the New Orleans Advocate / Times-Picayune on the current lack of progress in the New Orleans charterized system:

By 2025, as part of Louisiana’s overall plan, the state will designate an A-rated school as one in which students are proficient in literacy and math skills. That will be shown when they get a mastery or advanced — rather than basic — score on state assessments. The other levels, in descending order, are approaching basic and unsatisfactory.

As the state rolls out these growth metrics each year, officials will try to assess whether students are on track to get a score of mastery by eighth grade, if the student is in elementary or middle school, and by 10th grade if the student is in high school.

Each student is then given a target score each year to try and achieve. If they meet their target — which can be a small increase in points — they will get an A for growth.

If they don’t meet their target, they can still earn points for scoring higher than their peers. They are compared based on historical LEAP performance, economically disadvantaged status, English-learner status, disability type, discipline and attendance, according to state officials.

For students who are already very high-performing, the label can mean simply that they maintained high scores, even if they didn’t actually show growth.

The growth metric will make up 25% of an elementary or middle school’s overall performance score and 12.5% of a high school’s overall score.

Let this sink in.  One quarter to one-eight of the test results for a student will not be on educational achievement whatsoever but on what most favorably would be call subjective standards, which might be positive or negative for the student, but would likely be in the self-interest of the school and its administrators in padding the numbers for their own sake.  Furthermore, progress will be measured not against an objective standard, but relative to year-to-year “improvement.”

This doesn’t even count the way the local district and the state fudge the overall numbers by taking the charter away from operators that are low performing or caught in scandals which effectively erases their low scores and the impact on the overall district’s number.  The new operator is also given a grace period on scores for a couple of years so they don’t count either, and might end up with them bounced out, too.  Theoretically, it might be possible for a student to be trapped in a low-performing, failing charter school, and never have their scores impact the overall if this merry-go-round of miseducation and unaccountability were cycled throughout a child’s entire time in elementary or middle school.

Measurements are important for accountability, but in education, just like everything else, they have to be fair and objective, and in this case, in the students’ interest, or they are worse than wrong, they are criminal and life-damaging.