Arne Duncan and NCLB; Public Education Needs a Break from Both

One of the big complaints about NCLB was that it gave the federal government a much larger role in public education beyond mere oversight and reporting.  It gave them a very big stick to use on districts and states.  (Bringing in RTtT was more the carrot but I'll bet it felt very much like a stick sometimes to states who got those funds.)

This federal Big Brother idea made people on the right AND on the left unhappy. That's quite the trick for one law.

The one usefulness of NCLB was that it forced districts to account for every - single - student.  As they should.  But trying to fit all these students - ELL, Sped, homeless - into the same testing box with everyone else was never going to work.

But what everyone should understand about public education over, say the last 15 years, is very much like the old Billy Crystal routine where he imitated Ricardo Montalban and said, "It's not how you feel, it's how you look and you look mahvelous."

There is an awful lot of PowerPoint and meetings and initiatives and goal-setting and rubric-making and then, it usually goes very, very quiet.  There are long titles after people's names and we call employees "human capital" instead of "human resources" (which is what employees are if you are a humane person and not a corporate person).

Meaning, a lot of fluff and not much else.  My perception, after all these years, is that many people at the top in education want to burnish their resume and will run at the first failure to the next big thing.  Or, if they are like Arne Duncan, the person AT the top, will just ignore the warning signs.

This needs to stop.
I have done several speeches about public education to Dems.  I have told them that local control IS everything.  I don't have a problem with national standards.  I wouldn't even have a problem with ONE national test (which we do have in NAEP).

But when you bookend those standards with tests, then you narrow the curriculum.

When you tell districts how many kids to test and how often, you take away the understanding of both state and district about their populations.  You waste time and money and really, only feed the testing industry.

So where are we today?  Three articles on NCLB and Arne Duncan are worthy reading.

First there is the article by Leonie Haimson, leader of Class Size Matters and Student Privacy Matters, writes here about the Every Child Achieves Act.  I know Leonie to be one of the hardest-working public education advocates in the country.  She has tracked the changes to NCLB (which is now ECAA or Every Child Achieves Act) and here's her assessment.

She thinks it should be supported despite the heavy support - financial support - for charter schools without increasing accountability.  That is a hard stance for me to support.  I do think that many states, like Ohio, are tired of being burned and hoodwinked by charters and states may start really clamping down.  But, just like the testing industry, the charter school industry is massive and wants to get bigger.

It would also still require annual testing for 3-8 plus one year of high school (but there is an amendment out there that would make it one year in elementary, one year in middle and one year in high school - that's the Tester amendment).

But she also says this:

Yet ECAA still represents a critical step forward, because it places an absolute ban on the federal government intervening in the decision-making of states and districts as to how to judge schools, evaluate teachers or implement standards. In particular, it expressly bars the feds from requiring or even incentivizing states to adopt any particular set of standards, as Duncan has done with the Common Core, through his Race to the Top grants and NCLB waivers.

It would also bar the feds from requiring that teachers be judged by student test scores, which is not only statistically unreliable according to most experts, but also damaging to the quality of education kids receive, by narrowing the curriculum and encouraging test prep to the exclusion of all else. The bill would prevent the feds from imposing any particular school improvement strategy or mandating which schools need improvement – now based simplistically on test scores, no matter what the challenges faced by these schools or the inappropriateness of the measure. Finally, the bill would prevent the feds from withholding funds from states that allow parents to opt out of testing, as Duncan most recently threatened to do to the state of Oregon.

But with or without the Tester amendment, ECAA would release the stranglehold that the federal government currently has on our schools, and would allow each of us to work for more sane and positive policies in our respective states and districts. For this reason alone, it deserves the support of every parent and teacher who cares about finally moving towards a more humane, and evidence-based set of practices in our public schools.  

Then there was this more-than-sympathetic article in the Washington Post about poor little Arne Duncan.

I always think it's a bad idea to bring friends (or relatives) into your work.  But after his first election,  Obama just had to bring his best friend from Chicago to Washington, D.C. and install him as Secretary of Education.  And then Obama left him to his own devices and boy, didn't Duncan take that mandate and run with it.

Arne Duncan is not a bad guy and he's bright.  But he has done very little good for public education in our country.

Duncan faces a political backlash that threatens to undercut his power and erase some of his most influential work. The bipartisan warmth he enjoyed on Capitol Hill has yielded to critics from the left and the right, including an odd alliance between tea party conservatives and the teachers unions. This week, both houses of Congress began debating legislation that would seriously dial back the education secretary’s legal authority; the Senate began Tuesday and the House approved a bill Wednesday. 

“The question is not whether we’re going to put handcuffs on Arne Duncan,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky of Third Way, a centrist think tank. “The question is how many handcuffs.” 

The conflict has made Duncan “radioactive,” said Jeffrey Henig, professor of political science and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. “He’s reduced, in terms of what he can realistically accomplish in the time he has left.” 

His wife and children have already left Washington to go back to their lives in Chicago (and yes, his children will go back to the private school that Duncan went to and that Obama's kids attended).   That private school has a 10:1 student-teacher ratio and naturally, does not have to follow Common Core or take a SBAC or PARCC test.

As a second article, in Salon, that criticizes the Washington Post profile says,  Duncan seemed to run on talking points, no matter what.  It's called, "Washington Post writes the most embarrassing, awful profile of Arne Duncan ever, completely misses the point." The subtitle was, "Arne Duncan has been a monumental flop as education secretary. Why is the Washington Post drinking his Kool-Aid? 

Ouch.  To whit:

First, regarding Americans’ supposed acceptance of charter schools, let’s be clear that because surveys show people generally have a favorable opinion of charter schools, that does not mean most people consider them “an alternative.” The main conclusion of most polling data about charter schools is that most people don’t know what the hell they are. After all, only 6 percent of the nation’s school children attend charter schools, and vast swaths of the country are still relatively charter-free.

Second, it’s true that more teachers than ever before are having student test scores used in their performance evaluations. But Layton’s own contention that teachers “expect” this is refuted in her own reporting that Washington state “rejected Duncan’s requirement that it use student test results to evaluate teachers, which experts increasingly say is not a reliable way to identify good and bad teachers.”

Last, while Duncan was instrumental in pressuring states to adopt new Common Core State Standards, there’s not really any evidence the standards are “more demanding” than what states already had.  

Arne's true persona?

When education journalist Valerie Strauss watched Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart try to have a conversation with Arne Duncan, she observed on her blog at The Washington Post, “The effort was an exercise in the futility of conversing with someone who won’t deviate from his talking points.”

It’s really hard to reconcile this image of a caring and considerate Arne Duncan with the same man who called his critics “armchair pundits” and said education historian Diane Ravitch, a critic of his, “is in denial and she is insulting all of the hardworking teachers, principals and students all across the country.”

This is the man, after all, who derided parents who dared criticize his imposed testing regime as “white suburban moms.”

The Washington Post article said he was a good listener but there's not much evidence to back that up.

But more serious than these personal interactions, Duncan’s tendency to ignore critics, regardless of their stature, was a significant reason why his policies ultimately failed.

When the Obama administration introduced its “Education Blueprint” in 2010, research experts at the National Education Policy Center immediately warned the policies guiding the Department of Education were poorly grounded in research or not based on any objective studies at all. Later in his tenure, Duncan was warned numerous times that using student test scores to evaluate teachers was inaccurate and unfair, yet he persisted in ignoring these warnings. Every time experienced educators challenged Duncan to question his agenda and reconsider policy directions, he responded by … continuing down the same course.

I give Diane Ravitch the last word:

This deafness to expertise, more than any of his deficiencies, is likely why, as Ravitch concludes in here response to Layton’s piece, 
“It will take years to recover from the damage that Arne Duncan’s policies have inflicted on public education. He exceeded the authority of his office to promote a failed agenda, one that had no evidence behind it. The next president and the next Secretary of Education will have an enormous job to do to restore our nation’s public education system from the damage done.”


n said…
Interesting times . . . the juxtaposition of states' rights vs. Federal control. Confederate flag? States' rights? And states are taking down the flag for the most part finally on their own. But at what cost? Education should be states' rights but has come more and more under Federal control. Purse strings and all. It makes me want to go back to an emphasis on states' right I think. I am for national standards but states can determine how they want to get there. A caller on Hartmann referred back to the time when citizens would call themselves "Ohioans" or "South Carolinians" because they thought of themselves as part of a state which had a great deal of autonomy rather than part of a nation. Things have changed . . . for the better?

We are an awfully big country. I see some similarities between the size of the US and the size of the school district as they relate to inefficiency and even corruption/self interests. And I see similarities to Europe since it fused economies . . . did I say that right?

I think small and local are better. I wish we could return to a time without trade agreements, tariffs, everything local and small government. Having said that, I'm a far-left progressive. Is that possible? Dan, can you set me straight?
Anonymous said…
Finally the U.S. Congress and the WA legislators are moving in a somewhat rational direction.

".... bar the feds from requiring that teachers be judged by student test scores, which is not only statistically unreliable according to most experts, but also damaging to the quality of education kids receive, by narrowing the curriculum and encouraging test prep to the exclusion of all else."

At the same SPS Board meeting that (Carla Santorno's favorite) Everyday Math was adopted, so was the use of student test scores to evaluate SPS teachers. This is yet another example of the Seattle Education Association failing to represent teachers and thereby damaging the quality of education kids receive.

The Common Core State Standards for math are a huge step in the wrong direction.
See the thoughts of Tom Loveless =>
Implementing Common Core: The problem of instructional time

One particular aspect of the Common Core math standards—the treatment of standard algorithms in whole number arithmetic will lead some teachers to waste instructional time.

One should also be aware of problems that arise from the inefficient distribution of time. Time is a limited resource that teachers deploy in the production of learning.

In regard to whole numbers
The 1997 California Framework for Mathematics required that students know the standard algorithms for all four operations—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division by the end of third grade.

"The value of standard algorithms is that they are efficient and packed with mathematics. Once students have mastered single-digit operations and the meaning of place value, the standard algorithms reveal to students that they can take procedures that they already know work well with one- and two-digit numbers, and by applying them over and over again, solve problems with large numbers."

The CCSS-M places the standard for knowing the standard algorithms of addition and subtraction in fourth grade. Placing the standard for the division algorithm in sixth grade. This placing mastery of standard algorithms for dealing with whole numbers this late in elementary schools then leaves insufficient time for covering and mastering the mathematics of fractions, decimals, percents, geometry, and other topics that should be completed by 7th or 8th grade.

The Geometry Standards for high school are also deficient.

There are a number of things that need correcting in WA State and in the SPS. Getting rid of Common Core and SBAC testing would be excellent next steps.

NAEP testing can inform us of where WA students sit in regard to the nation's schools.

It is time for major revisions in High School graduation requirements from Olympia legislators and perhaps Randy Dorn.

-- Dan Dempsey
Garfield Mom said…
Billy Crystal's Fernando character was inspired by Fernando Lamas, not Ricardo Montalban. :)

I believe in national standards with local decisions about how to reach them. Too much state/local control leads to teaching creationism and denying history. Consider this Alabama history book from the 70s, which offers insight into how it is that some people in the US can believe that slavery wasn't so bad:
Anonymous said…
Why Graduation requirements in Math need to be changed.

1. One size does not fit all.

2. Requiring all students to be college-ready is unrealistic.

3. The education of students should be based on the need of the student.

4. Applying relevant data reveals that mandating courses in Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II as a graduation requirement for all students in neither reasonable or advisable.

The data from 2013 spring 8th grade MSP math for the State
percent of students scoring at level 1 Well Below Standard

25.7% All
45.3% Black
38.7% Hispanic
48.7% American Indian / Alaska native
37.0% Pacific Islanders
12.0% Asians
20.8% White
37.4% Low Income

Few few students who are well below standard in grade 8 are able to successfully master Algebra II while in high school. Why is this required for high school graduation? Is this a plan to frustrate many students and several teachers?
It often lowers the quality of the classes. It encourages easy grading to help students meet an unrealistic standard.

There should be more than one type of diploma awarded.
The possible math courses and performance required are listed below.
Are there other subject area courses that need requirement modification?

Those students who complete at least two years of math and can pass an Algebra assessment would be eligible for a "General" diploma.

Those students who complete math through Algebra II and meet GPA requirement in core academic courses and pass an Algebra assessment would be eligible for a "College Ready" diploma.

In 2010 there were 75,655 8th graders tested & 19,257 scored at level 1
Of that cohort in 2014 4,268 were enrolled in Algebra and 2,425 were tested as seniors with Algebra I EoC and 516 met standard (21%)

Of that original 8th grade cohort as seniors in 2014 => 1968 were enrolled in Geometry and 1238 tested and 179 met standard (14.5%)

Students need to be aware of what skills are needed by them for their career plan rather forcing them to meet a one-size fits-all diploma requirement.

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
Garfield Mom wrote:

Too much state/local control leads to teaching creationism and denying history.

I do not see this in Washington, California, or Massachusetts. Do you?

Look at the copyrighted Common Core State Standards ... is this what you are looking for?

As a Washington resident I see a national standard as a top down dictate that we as Washingtonians have no hope of modifying. It is hard enough trying to get our Olympia legislators to act in a rational fashion ... WA DC rational? No Way. More of Arne Duncan?

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
Seriously Dan. Nobody gives a crap about MSP. It is a test that is obsolete, even if you love it. Maybe that's why the scores are what they are. And sure, maybe there's some value in multi-tiered diploma. But, I don't think anybody would care about that either. That is really the relevant data. There's just not a lot of value in having a bunch of different types of degrees, beyond what is currently available. You want a superty-duper high school diploma? Get an IB degree. It's already available. Algebra 2 isn't actually required - so you can go the easy route too, already, today. You can take a state approved alternative. BHS, as one example, has several alternatives to Algebra 2 - including Financial Algebra and statistics. Don't like Algebra 2, take Finanacial Algebra. So, you really can rest easy on this one. Trust me, I know!

FAlgebra Enrollee
Anonymous said…
FAlgebra Enrollee,

Wrote: " Nobody gives a crap about MSP. It is a test that is obsolete, even if you love it. Maybe that's why the scores are what they are."

So what test of Mathematical skill do you find appropriate for measuring Mathematical skill of 8th graders?

NAEP shows this for Massachusetts & WA 8th grade students:
Percent proficient or better by year

.......2003.. 2005..2007.. 2009.. 2011.. 2013
WA ... 32 .... 36 ... 36 .... 39 ... 40 ... 42

MA ... 38 .... 43 ... 51 .... 52 ... 51 ... 55

NAEP shows this for Massachusetts & WA 8th grade students:
Percent at or above basic by year

.......2003.. 2005..2007.. 2009.. 2011.. 2013
WA ... 72 .... 75 ... 75 .... 78 ... 77 ... 79

MA ... 76 .... 80 ... 85 .... 85 ... 86 ... 86

NAEP percent Below basic by ethnicity in 2013 in 8th grade Math
41% WA Black

35% WA Hispanic

15% WA White

21% ALL

I think the NAEP data supports the MSP data as reasonably accurate in assessing the Math skill of WA 8th graders. The likely answer about MSP scores as to "why the scores are what they are" is because those MSP scores accurately measure math skills.


I not not think that the current direction of WA State math schooling provides appropriate and adequate instruction for students entering high school with well below the standard skills in mathematics. The Collection of Evidence was an attempt to skirt this reality as has been grade inflation, watering down course content, and OSPI lowering cut scores.

The legislature in HB 2214 eliminates the Collection of Evidence
and introduces a requirement for those who can not pass the Math testing requirement for graduation with passing a full year rigorous math course senior year.
(B) A course shall be deemed rigorous if it is at a higher course level than the student's most recent coursework in the content area in which the student received a passing grade of C or higher, or its equivalent.

It is way past time to do a much better job of educating and supporting struggling students.

It is a fiction that students rise to meet the level of expectation. This will not happen without adequate support and a realistic proven instructional programs. The CCSS-M will not improve the k-8 math much if at all. Loveless points out why and early adopting CCSS states confirm this result.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data rather than labeling the data as crap.

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
So what test of Mathematical skill do you find appropriate for measuring Mathematical skill of 8th graders?

What ever test their families and teachers think appropriate, including no test at all, or assessments by the professional teachers at the kid's school. They are actually education professionals, right? How about school choice - for assessment?

I don't think it relevant in any way, that MA is a few percentage points ahead of WA on yet another assessment. So what? WA has higher SAT scores. Guess that's what WA cares about. Tests are designed to create failures, and they do!

To improve a system.... we don't need more tests that we never look at, and we don't need more blog posts listing out what's already available. Isn't it obvious nobody actually wishes to improve the system?

Currently, there are already several approved courses which are not the COE, which can be taken as a third year of math. I like the availability of financial algebra as a third math class. As mentioned above. Kids can take this even if they've passed an EOC. Nathan Hale has a two year version of algebra 1. Another great idea for students struggling with math. The math status of the 11th grade SBAC, remains to be seen. If legislative history is any precedent, here's what will happen: Tons of kids will fail the SBAC math portion in 3 years, the first year it's required for graduation. The legislators will change the testing requirement. Classes will crop up which students can pass. Or the current offerings will expand. Not a crisis.

The only real problem is the diversion of resources to assessment.

Charlie Mas said…
The problem, which is not limited to public education, is that political decisions are being driven by commercial interests. I suppose it has always been like this, and I suppose there are times and places when it has been worse, but it is really bad right now.

Commercial interests have FAR too much influence over elected officials and they got FAR too much of that influence by writing checks. Worst of all, they are using that influence to further enrich themselves. It has long been true that corporations' greatest return on investment has come from lobbying than from building new factories or research and development. With tens of thousands spent on buying influence with lawmakers, they can get tens of millions in tax relief or contracts.

Recently, those commercial interests have discovered the vast sums spent on public education and they want their cut. So we see a string of decisions by elected officials that direct education money to those commercial interests - in opposition to the public interest. And why?

Because the commercial interests wield greater influence over the elected officials than the public who elects them and whose interests they are supposed to represent. That's the problem at the root of all of this. This problem isn't just in education, it's just new to education.

It is the commercial interests who are funding the smear campaign against teachers, who are working to de-professionalize teaching, who are funding the testing mania, who are promoting privitization, who are behind every effort to change education without improving it.
Anonymous said…
HERE is the sneak peak at WA State SBAC results.

Note the large variation between 2014 and 2015. Was the almost uniformly large improvement at each grade level (except 11th grade math) in both Math and English Language Arts produced by a change in cut scores?

Passing the SBAC is going to be the coming high school graduation standard.
Unless legislators change the plan.

SBAC Grade 11 passing
2014 ELA 41% Math 33%
2015 ELA 62% Math 29%

Checking those cohorts by 8th grade pass rates shows
WASL 2009 Reading 67.5% Math 69.3%
MSP. 2010 Reading 50.8% Math 51.5%

Look below for grade level ELA passing percent improvement in just one year
3 53 38 15
4 55 41 14
5 58 44 14
6 55 41 14
7 58 38 20
8 58 41 17

Look below for grade level Math passing percent improvement in just one year
3 57 39 18
4 54 37 17
5 48 33 15
6 46 33 13
7 49 33 16
8 48 32 16

Is the SBAC ready for prime time?
The legislators and OSPI thinks so.
Likely each was greatly influenced by NCLB and Arne Duncan.

As Melissa wrote: Enough of this.

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
Charlie and FAE have both pointed out that there is no organized plan to improve instruction. Quite a system we are stuck in.

In 2010 the legislators of WA state bought into CCSS and SBAC before these were developed. Buying the pig in a poke based on RttT dollars and Arne Duncan happy talk.

What is needed is an organized improvement plan; but that would require intelligent leadership.
So sad.

-- Dan Dempsey

Anonymous said…
Instead of an organized improvement plan formulated by intelligently applying relevant data we have ..... as Charlie wrote:

"commercial interests ... funding the smear campaign against teachers, who are working to de-professionalize teaching, who are funding the testing mania, who are promoting privitization, who are behind every effort to change education without improving it."

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
The testing mania - was really started with our university system, which has always required standardized testing for admission. The testing industry started here. These tests have been repeatedly shown not to predict college performance. And, they are subject to bias, test prep issues (eg. inaccuracy), etc. This has really driven the test-prep industry, and it has been somewhat supported by parents. Parents of course want their kids to be "college ready", and they see the college requiring admission testing. What better way to prepare than to create more and more standardized test-prep in grade school? And of course this deprofessionalizes teachers, as it de-emphasizes educational content. If we want to kill testing mania - universities need to be on board.

n said…
How would you assess a student's readiness for university? Decades ago, the SAT was pretty much the only standardized assessment I remember taking ever. I considered it important and seriously answered each question. It informed me of strengths I didn't know I had. It bolstered my confidence and even altered my own sense of my academic potential.

Would you assess college readiness? Does readiness matter?
n said…
I'm not disagreeing about the rest of your "testing mania" comment at all. I agree, it has all gone too far.

BTW, I learned from another poster on this blog how to put my name into the "anonymous" field at the top. Use the Name/URL field and your chosen identifier will magically show at the top of your post.
Patrick said…
FAE, however the problem for college admissions that the college board tests helped is that some high schools will give Bs to anyone with a pulse, many don't offer challenging courses. The college board tests give at least one measure that's consistent across districts. That being said, from a couple of tests in high school to half a dozen tests every year from kindergarten on is just insanity.
Lynn said…

I think Charlie's on the right track here. Kids were taking the SAT long before the standardized testing mania took over our K-12 schools.

In my case SAT scores were a much better predictor of college grades than my high school GPA.

The SAT does predict success in college—not perfectly, but relatively well, especially given that it takes just a few hours to administer. And, unlike a “complex portrait” of a student’s life, it can be scored in an objective way. (In a recent New York Times op-ed, the University of New Hampshire psychologist John D. Mayer aptly described the SAT’s validity as an “astonishing achievement.”) In a study published in Psychological Science, University of Minnesota researchers Paul Sackett, Nathan Kuncel, and their colleagues investigated the relationship between SAT scores and college grades in a very large sample: nearly 150,000 students from 110 colleges and universities. SAT scores predicted first-year college GPA about as well as high school grades did, and the best prediction was achieved by considering both factors. Botstein, Boylan, and Kolbert are either unaware of this directly relevant, easily accessible, and widely disseminated empirical evidence, or they have decided to ignore it and base their claims on intuition and anecdote—or perhaps on their beliefs about the way the world should be rather than the way it is.
n said…

Ten Signs Your Child Is in a Failing School District

This is the situation currently at my school regarding our principal:

5. The message is tightly controlled, eliminating constructive criticism- At one time, the top administrators in public school districts were invariably educators who worked their way through the system, spending years in the classroom before going into administration. Nowadays, many top administrators have only spent three years or less in the classroom and are more like CEOs and executive vice presidents than educators. This had led to a culture shift with an overemphasis on public relations... When administrators surround themselves with yes-men and strictly control the message...

The above speaks to our principal's leadership style. I eliminated more general statements about administration at the district level. The entire list(excepting #7) is SPS in a nutshell. I think Seattle does have an active parent/community although I'm not sure administration really pays much attention.
n said…
Great article about Duncan in response to a Washington Post profile here:

Anonymous said…
FAE incorrectly wrote:

So what? WA has higher SAT scores (than Massachusetts). Guess that's what WA cares about.

Not true. Not true in SAT Math, Critical Reading, or Writing, even though Massachusetts has a participation rate 21% greater than Washington's participation rate.

In 2014 SAT data shows:

Participation rate MA 84.1% :: WA 63.1%
(MA tests a significantly larger portion of student population than WA)

Average Math Score on SAT in 2014
MA 531 :: WA 518

Critical Reading
MA 516 :: WA 510

MA 509 :: WA 491

MA 1556 :: WA 1519

Massachusetts put in place improved standards for new teachers in an effort to improve its teaching core (this requires passing tests - I know this as my third son began teaching in MA after moving there from WA).

Massachusetts put in place improved standards.

A ballot question is likely coming to dump CCSS and return to MA standards.

"Anti-Common Core advocates with ties to Central Massachusetts have announced they're starting an initiative ballot question campaign to throw out the federal educational standards the state incorporated five years ago.

Worcester resident Donna Colorio, founder and leader of the Common Core Forum advocacy group, said in a press release Wednesday she will be chairwoman of the End Common Core Massachusetts ballot question effort. Supporters hope to put the question to voters in next year’s general election. Their ultimate goal is to return to the state’s standards prior to adopting the Common Core in 2010."

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
n, thanks for the link to the Salon article by Jeff Bryant.

Duncan's surrounding himself with those who agree is quite common in education circles. It is a club founded on alignment of philosophical beliefs not data -- beliefs get you into this club -- remember not to intelligently apply data or you can not join.

When the WA Legislature was considering making Advanced Algebra a graduation requirement, Senator Joe Zarelli asked a math teacher from Chief Leschi Tribal Schools if making credit in Algebra II a graduation requirement was a reasonable course of action. She assured him that it was. Students would be able to do Advanced Algebra.

Reality Check !!! She got a job at OSPI the year following her testimony.

Here are the pass rates on the Year 1 Algebra EoC at Chief Leschi for all students by year:

All Grades EOC Math 1
Year School
2010-11 EOC M1 27.69%
2011-12 EOC M1 12.80%
2012-13 EOC M1 16.10%
2013-14 EOC M1 23.00%

Few of these kids can do Algebra. In 2012-2013 Out of 124 kids tested 20 passed (9 were in 8th grade)

And here are the 8th grade Math pass rates:

8th Grade Math
Year School
2005-06 WASL 23.30%
2006-07 WASL 17.00%
2007-08 WASL 12.00%
2008-09 WASL 7.50%
2009-10 MSP <5.00%
2010-11 MSP 8.30%
2011-12 MSP 5.90%
2012-13 MSP 15.69% 57 tested and 18 passed (best year of last 7 years)

In 2012-2013 63% of students were well below standard in 8th grade Math

So she stated that an Algebra II graduation requirement is appropriate for all students and only months later gets a job at OSPI. Based on what data did she have such a belief? But these are the "Happy Thinking" beliefs required to be part of the OSPI math decision making team.

The Good News in Math at Chief Leschi is that in 2012-2013
18 8th graders took the Algebra EoC and 9 passed - Hooray!!

The Bad News is that
35 10th graders took the Algebra EoC and less than 5 % passed. (( Guess Algebra II may not be great for these kids as they can not do Algebra I. ))

-- Dan Dempsey
Jan said…
Have to say -- I think the MA vs WA stuff is pulling the conversation off point. I have been vaguely aware for years that MA had better scores, in general, than WA -- and that in fact they have the best scores in the nation. While that might be one "data point" for ed policy makers truly interesting in improving education ("Gee, what is MA maybe doing that we can adopt here?"), that is really all it is good for. WA scores have been what they have been -- plenty of room for improvement, but obviously not a devastating educational failure -- as witnessed by the thousands of WA kids who successfully applied to, were accepted by, and graduated from the nation's colleges -- including our fair share of the most exclusive ones.

Were there "spot problems?" Of course. Ask Cliff Mass and other science/math professors about the problems with el-hi math curriculum. Ask parents about the weak (until high school) science courses. Ask anyone who teaches English about the weaknesses of readers/writers workshop. But we had good teachers, smart kids, and generally engaged parents -- so it all worked. And it would have been great had we been able to spend our time and money on fixing the "spot problems" rather than defending against a wholesale attack on the entire ediface of public ed.

In terms of testing, we simply need to stop spending money buying (from private companies) so much useless test material and related technology. The SAT has been out there "forever." Is it perfect? No, but there are also many ways to get to and through college without it (the ACT, community college with a transfer, colleges who didn't require it OR the ACT, etc.) Also it is a four hour test -- taken ONCE (unless you want to take it more times). AND -- the exam questions are the same for everyone -- and it generally lacks the "bad/tricky/ambiguous/more-than-one-answer" question problem that plagues SBAC (much less stupit stuff like the hare and the pineapple debacle). That is so many light years from SBAC/Amplify/PARCC tests.

There is no reason why, as FAE notes, that we should not largely (or totally) leave testing protocols to the teachers (they do in private schools, and it works just fine). If we are worried that there are some schools or districts so overwhelmed by lack of resources (time, parents, money, space, etc.) that we really DO have to keep some tabs on how kids are progressing -- so we can intervene before 11th or 12th grade -- then as others have suggested -- administer the ITBS in 4th grade, something similar to the MSP in 7th grade, and the PSAT in 10th grade. In each case, it still gives you at least a year (before a child leaves a school level), to remediate problems. The tests are relatively cheap, sufficiently tested (with respect to reliability, etc.) that we don't have the concerns with them that we do with SBAC and PARCC, and don't rely so heavily on technology. To the extent they are "biased" -- and there is evidence that the SAT at least is -- we have had years of data to establish what those biases are and how to adjust for them. They are all offered by different companies -- so there is not one big corporation (read, Pearson) with outsized influence on policy makers.

Then, we can go back (to where I thought we were when MGJ first arrived on the scene and these shenanigans really started in Seattle) to figuring out what our problems REALLY are and how to fix them, and where to find the resources to do so.

Ed Reform has turned into the Iraq war of education. Billions and billions spent, and countless lives adversely affected -- all for something that was a lie straight out of the gate.

Anonymous said…
Jan wrote:

"Ed Reform has turned into the Iraq war of education. Billions and billions spent, and countless lives adversely affected -- all for something that was a lie straight out of the gate." (and continues to be so)

WA's NAEP results while worse than MA's likely still put WA at around #10 in the nation. Not too shabby for a state spending less than the national average per student and with class sizes among the largest in the nation. Some amazing teaching must be going on.

Teachers would certainly be better off, if the WEA and SEA actually represented them. So why did school funding come down to McCleary v State? (powerful unions did not bring about that situation of inadequately funded schools or did they?)

What is up with the Washington Policy Center?

Why has the Gates Foundation wormed its way into so many organizations with $$$ or founded even more ed organizations?

Why does Patty Murray's NCLB correction look like the Charter School booster bill?

Yet so many in the public are concerned over the power of the Teachers' Unions ... the leaders of those Unions that backed Common Core.

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
Would you assess college readiness? Does readiness matter?

Good question about readiness. My feeling is that schools, including colleges, need to be ready for students, not the other way around. Cliff Mas was way off base. He should accommodate students instead of students accommodating him. Our universities are publicly funded institutions. UW ain't Harvard. He made no case for any changes in math, and was simply an ideologue. If there needs to be an introductory meteorology class, before his advanced one, then so be it. If everyone is going to be going to college, then college will need to change. There's room for high fliers, and low fliers. There are different types of college, and different paths through college. Math professors have always complained about math proficiency. Always. My father was a math professor at a major state university in the 60s, the complaint was essentially the same as it is now. What does it mean? It means math teachers complain about students, and they wish they had different ones. Dan, you can quibble over test results all you like. It just doesn't matter. WA state students do pretty well on the tests that matter. But, the resource drain on the tests that are legislated needs to stop.

Patrick said…
I strongly disagree, FAE. UW isn't Harvard, but we should still expect undergrads to understand what they were supposed to have learned in Algebra 1, and again in review in Geometry, and again in Algebra 2. Algebra 2 is required for UW admission. It takes a year to teach Algebra 1, and Professor Mass's intro meteorology class is over in one quarter. At UW, students are paying to be taught college-level subjects; if they pay UW tuition to learn high school math they are wasting their money and the time of the rest of the class and the professor.

Yes, there are different types of college, and for students who didn't learn Algebra 1 in high school but still want to take a mathematics-based science, some prep at community college might work for them.
Anonymous said…
Patrick. If a student is truly motivated, and mature (if they were actually an adult), and with decent aptitude, they could learn Algebra 1 in a month. Somehow, these students got into UW. It's pretty selective. They passed all the tests required in their states and countries. They passed all the coursework in high school to the satisfaction of their teachers. They have high SAT scores, relatively. The jumped through WASL's, MSPs, SBAC, MAPs, Amplifies. If Cliff Mas finds these students wanting - then, he needs to do something differently. Right. If they pay UW tuition to learn "high school math", then they may be wasting their money. People have a good idea of their math skills. They know their level of understanding. Isn't it their choice, where to spend their money learning math? It's free on Kahn Academy. No doubt, they could indeed learn it elsewhere cheaper. But, isn't that something we all could say? All of our kids can go to online MIT for practically free. Times they are a changin. And they should.

Jan said…
I think both FAE and Patrick have some good points.

I agree with FAE that a motivated adult student can learn Algebra I in a month (or maybe 6 weeks). Where, and how, that is handled at the university level is a different matter -- but this just is not rocket science. And in fact universities have been figuring out how to "remediate" kids who show up with educational gaps for years -- and we haven't needed SBAC, PARCC, or the plethora of tests (now going all the way down to kindergarten), nor the tens of millions of dollars wasted on them, to do it.

On the other hand, FAE, I disagree with you on the criticism being voice by Cliff Mass and others. It is one thing to say -- fine, not everyone shows up with the entire suite of skills needed for a science major; we need to have resources, and a time line, that will accommodate those who need extra help. But it seems equally valid to me for a professor in the science field to point out, loudly, if vast numbers of kids (who used to arrive prepared) are now showing up in classes unable to do the math necessary to succeed in the course. My father was an engineering professor -- so yes, I understand that many college profs in the sciences are in a constant state of discontent with pre-university math education. But my observation is that the change in math instruction to "discovery math" resulted in a severe drop in math skills -- not in a handful of students -- but in thousands. The kids can't be expected to know if they are not being taught what they need. Some, but not all, parents picked it up -- but were told to be quiet and not interfere because they just didn't know enough to appreciate the new method. The university professors DO know (a) math and (b) what skills are needed to do well in college. They are the EXACT people who SHOULD chime in if they see problems. I think Cliff has done Seattle a great service in alerting average citizens to (and backing up parents on) the fact that the quality of math education in high schools had significantly declined.
Anonymous said…
Jan, students aren't showing up to UW with fewer skills. They're more skilled than ever before. If there were a real drop in skills in math, then indeed, it might be a valid point. But this simply isn't the case. But so far, we're just opining at student outcomes we wish to have, and arguing at ways we think we could have gotten them. The math wars have been around forever. Seriously. 1000s of years. Discovery is just nothing new. And is nothing too radical. If students can't do the course - modify it. People who are supposed to excel - will.

Lynn said…

Do you have data on the math skills of recently admitted UW students in comparison to students who enrolled prior to our switch to discovery math? Or is this a statement of your opinion?
Anonymous said…
Lynne, you can google it and figure out what you need. UW Average Math SAT score in 2011 was 633. Current Math Average SAT score was 645. Hardly a drop in math skills. And, about what you'd expect. AboutCollege lists the range 580-710 for a strong chance of admission.

Anonymous said…
FAE - SAT Math morning session does not test much in the way of college preparatory math skills. In 1964 I scored a 725 on SAT Math morning test and was completely unprepared for College Calculus I.

Professor Wilson was at one time the Math Department Head at Johns Hopkins. On the test of math skills he gave to first year Calculus students he saw a consistent decline on that test as SAT Math scores stayed constant or ticked up over several years.

Friends of Wilson's at Princeton eventually noted similar declines.

These kinds of declining results and the direction pushed by the US Department of Ed prompted the protest letter signed by 200 mathematicians against the US Department of Education's list of 10 Exemplary and Promising math programs.


Dear Secretary Riley:

In early October of 1999, the United States Department of Education endorsed ten K-12 mathematics programs by describing them as "exemplary" or "promising." There are five programs in each category. The "exemplary" programs announced by the Department of Education are:

Cognitive Tutor Algebra
College Preparatory Mathematics (CPM)
Connected Mathematics Program (CMP) -- (Used in Seattle Middle Schools)
Core-Plus Mathematics Project
Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP)
-- (Used from 2006-2010 at Cleveland HS in a disastrous school-wide experiment funded by NSF)

The "promising" programs are:

Everyday Mathematics --( used in Seattle Elementary Schools )
Middle-school Mathematics through Applications Project (MMAP)
Number Power
The University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP)

These mathematics programs are listed and described on the government web site: ( => not active)

The Expert Panel that made the final decisions did not include active research mathematicians. Expert Panel members originally included former NSF Assistant Director, Luther Williams, and former President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Jack Price. A list of current Expert Panel members is given at:

It is not likely that the mainstream views of practicing mathematicians and scientists were shared by those who designed the criteria for selection of "exemplary" and "promising" mathematics curricula. For example, the strong views about arithmetic algorithms expressed by one of the Expert Panel members, Steven Leinwand, are not widely held within the mathematics and scientific communities.

A quarter century of US ‘math wars’ and political partisanship

SAT Math morning scores do not indicate much in regard to preparation for STEM classes in college. Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson pushed the use of ineffective math programs. OSPI sent Greta Bornemann to a Seattle School Board meeting to push Discovery Math for Seattle High Schools ( a program similar to the Interactive Math Program that was such a failure at Cleveland)

-- Dan Dempsey
Jan said…
FAE: the years between 2011 and now are not what I would be looking for -- as "bad math" (whether you call it discovery or something else) began in Seattle schools long before that. And, to get any kind of real read, you would have to get some data as to where (and to what extent) it was rolled out nationally. We were busy avoiding "bad math" teaching methods and texts for years during the 2000s. At any rate, I don't have the band width right now to do that kind of research, and don't know whether it has been done (in an unbiased fashion) by others.

While I guess I disagree with you on whether "group instruction," "self discovery of algorhythms," "discovery methodology," and de-emphasis of mastery in favor of "never mind -- we will sort of cover it all again next year," leads to math success for a lot of kids -- I DO agree with you (sort of) that:
"The only real problem is the diversion of resources to assessment." -- except I would delete "only," and
" Isn't it obvious nobody actually wishes to improve the system?" Again -- my quibble is that "nobody" is too broad. There are LOTS of people (mostly teachers and some school based administrators) who would love to improve the system -- meaning create environments where kids can learn as much as possible, while having a reasonable life while doing so, and wasting as little time and effort as humanly possible on "stupid stuff" (which in my opinion includes all "mandatory" high stakes tests. A mere 25 years ago -- there were NO standardized high stakes tests in Washington schools. None. It is hard to believe that in the intervening 25 years, it has gotten so out of hand.

Anonymous said…
Look. There's no "bad math". There are differences in pedagogy, as has existed for centuries. Yes sorry Jan. Too broad! For affect. Certainly, many teachers and staff wish to improve the system. (But, higher ups have no interest!) And, testing isn't the ONLY problem - there are many others. But testing is a big problem, and it is now dwarfing others.

Dan, In the last thread you argued that SAT matter oh so much in college preparation because that stance dissed math instruction... now you argue the opposite, SAT doesn't matter after all - to also diss math instruction. You can't have it both ways. Tests are either important or they're not important. In reality, math college teachers aren't the expert on students coming into universities. Nor on what they should know. They need to accept them as is. I find barely interesting that they whine about students. They have always whined about students. They write letters. But do they actually use math? Math professors have usually had very little interest in teaching. What real world experience do they have? Not much. Are we supposed to cry because you found Calculus challenging with a high SAT score? That's what happens when you go to college. It's harder! You seem to have been very successful in the end. Your preparation must have been adequate after all.


Anonymous said…
FAE is discounting the problems with discovery math. This fad in math instruction has been devastating to students, as Dan Dempsey has documented for years. An August 2014 Economics of Education Review study showed how bad this type of math was in Quebec, where they moved away from traditional math to constructivism, comparable to what has happened in the U.S. Achievement suffered at every grade and skill level. Other research, such as the Hook studies in Calif., show similar results.

It is criminal to expose students to inadequate conceptual math, leading them into remedial classes in college. Many of these students at UW had good grades and test scores, only to fail at math in college. Cliff Mass and other science and math professors were correct to point out how fundamentally unprepared these students are when they arrive as freshmen.

It is encouraging that Seattle Public Schools finally improved the textbooks in elementary schools. Now they need to improve middle and high school curricula to give students fundamentally sound math instruction.

S parent
Anonymous said…
Is what FAE writes an example of complete "relativism" where very little can be judged objectively?

FAE wrote:

"In reality, math college teachers aren't the expert on students coming into universities. Nor on what they should know. They need to accept them as is." ... huhh??

#1 So lousy math programs in HS are OK?
#2 College Math professors have little idea of what entering students should know.
#3 Does "accept them as is" mean remedial courses are not needed?
#4 Who does know "what math students need to know" for college?

I thought that high school math should prepare those who desired preparation for collegiate mathematics with the preparation for collegiate mathematics (STEM preparation etc.).

In my case the NSF funded SMSG (School Mathematics Study Group) new math books from Yale University Press used my high school for Advanced Algebra, and senior math were very poor. There was a phase from around 1960 through early 1970s where this type of book was used and then later abandoned and for good reason.

After the rise of Core-Plus and other similar reform programs Funded by NSF beginning around 1985 eventually came a realization that those programs did not properly prepare students for collegiate mathematics. Many students found that 4 years of HS Math with Core-Plus did not provide them with the skills necessary to pursue a technical career (unless they were ready to spend 7 years to get a BS). Yet U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley rated Core-Plus highly .... Not because there was any data showing Core-Plus produced good results but rather because CP was philosophically aligned with the ideas that NSF preferred to fund.

"To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data"

From a 2006 study =>
A Study of Core-Plus Students Attending Michigan State University
by Richard O. Hill and Thomas H. Parker

"The ratios rise to the point where Core-Plus students are taking this remedial course at roughly twice the rate of the Control group students."

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
This appears to be a barrage of incorrect statements and incorrect data.

FAE wrote: "I don't think it relevant in any way, that MA is a few percentage points ahead of WA on yet another assessment. So what? WA has higher SAT scores."


"Dan, In the last thread you argued that SAT matter oh so much in college preparation because that stance dissed math instruction... now you argue the opposite, SAT doesn't matter after all - to also diss math instruction. You can't have it both ways. Tests are either important or they're not important. "

The only reason I brought up the morning SAT scores was because FAE incorrectly wrote that WA had higher SAT scores than Massachusetts.

-- Dan Dempsey

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