Friday, October 03, 2008

Terry Bergeson and the WASL

This thoughtful op-ed by Professor David Marshak appeared in today's PI. He details the evolution of the WASL as guided by Ms. Bergeson. He outlines her early thoughts (as she told them to him) and goals. I thought it was well-done because he calls a tragedy rather than saying she was power-hungry or foolhardy. He also brings in other factors that ended up influencing the WASL.

His analysis:

"As a whole, Bergeson's intended system of academic standards and tests was visionary.

So what went wrong? First, Bergeson failed to adequately manage the construction of the EALRs. There is far too much stuff in the EALRs, certainly more than 50 percent of the curriculum space and probably more than 100 percent, if you actually tried to teach all of it."

"Second, Bergeson failed to develop an effective plan for implementing the WASL in a way that would not privilege some subjects and harm others. By focusing first on reading, writing and math, the WASL system has harmed the teaching of science, social studies and the arts. Listening was tested for a number of years; then it was dropped."

"Third, the implementation of President Bush's No Child Left Behind, a profoundly stupid law that was only passed by the Congress in the hysteria after 9/11, destroyed the creative elements still remaining in Bergeson's plan. Developmentally appropriate timing of tests was out; every-year testing was in. Testing all of the subjects equally was out; only testing reading, math and a little science was in. Helping schools that were struggling was out; punishing educators in schools that were struggling was in."

It's thought-provoking reading.

One aside, education did come up in last night's VP debate. (I don't recall that there was a specific question but I believe Ms. Palin brought it up.) It was great to hear that both candidates are big supporters of public education. Unfortunately, there were absolutely no specifics. She said that teachers should get more money. I found this confusing because many conservatives consider education a local and state-based activity so how would the federal government be involved in paying teachers more? I did go and check both parties websites on this issue.

From McCain's website:

"Public education should be defined as one in which our public support for a child's education follows that child into the school the parent chooses. The school is charged with the responsibility of educating the child, and must have the resources and management authority to deliver on that responsibility. They must also report to the parents and the public on their progress."

So reading that carefully, you see that public education for the McCain campaign is not always going to mean public schools. Indeed it says:

"Choice is the best way to protect children against a failing bureaucracy. But parents must have more control over the money."

This means vouchers and charter schools. I won't argue here the benefits or lack thereof here but I found it odd that vouchers and charter schools are not mentioned on his education page.

I also found this interesting sentence:

"No Child Left Behind has focused our attention on the realities of how students perform against a common standard. "

I am baffled as to what common standard the campaign is referencing unless they mean the 50 common standards for each state.

So here's McCain's plan for teachers:

"John McCain will devote 60 percent of Title II funding for incentive bonuses for high performing teachers to locate in the most challenging educational settings, for teachers to teach subjects like math and science, and for teachers who demonstrate student improvement. Payments will be made directly to teachers. Funds should also be devoted to provide performance bonuses to teachers who raise student achievement and enhance the school-wide learning environment. Principals may also consider other issues in addition to test scores such as peer evaluations, student subgroup improvements, or being removed from the state's "in need of improvement" list."

First, who decides who the high performing teachers are? Second, it seems from the last sentence that principals will decide. That idea is fraught with problems (not that principals wouldn't be a good starting place but man, the kind of problems it could breed).

Here is Obama's education page. Overall, I would say that Obama's education page has more specifics in terms of how he would accomplish what he says he wants to do. He and Senator Biden both support charter schools but not vouchers.

"Reward Teachers: Obama and Biden will promote new and innovative ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them. Districts will be able to design programs that reward accomplished educators who serve as a mentor to new teachers with a salary increase. Districts can reward teachers who work in underserved places like rural areas and inner cities. And if teachers consistently excel in the classroom, that work can be valued and rewarded as well."

Good ideas (if not somewhat vague) along with the following:

"Obama and Biden will create new Teacher Service Scholarships that will cover four years of undergraduate or two years of graduate teacher education, including high-quality alternative programs for mid-career recruits in exchange for teaching for at least four years in a high-need field or location."

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