Let me put that in perspective – a scandal-ridden investment firm that made billions in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan bought one of standardized testing’s big four and then added the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test to its arsenal.
This almost certainly means the cost of state testing is going to increase since the providers of the tests are shrinking.
“It used to be if you put out a [Request for Proposal] RFP for state assessment, you get five, six, 10 bidders,” said Scott Marion, executive director of the Center for Assessment. “Now you’re lucky to get three. When you’re doing that, there’s maybe not as much expertise and certainly the cost will go up” (emphasis mine).
You can just imagine how this will affect the marketplace.
NWEA serves about 10,000 school districts and HMH estimates it works with more than 50 million students and 4 million educators in 150 countries, according to a press release about the proposed acquisition.
After all, if these sorts of assessments can be gamed by increased access to materials created by the same corporate entities that create and grade the tests, are we really assessing knowledge? Aren’t we just giving students a score based on how many books and software packages their districts bought from the parent company? Is that really education?
Then in February of 2022, New York-based private-equity firm Veritas Capital acquired HMH at a price of $21 per share, or about $2.8 Billion. And under Veritas, HMH acquired NWEA and the two companies will work together to do many of the things that HMH used to do by itself – like a golden dragon perched atop the standardized testing treasure trove.
All for the benefit of Veritas Capital.
Make no mistake, the investment firm wouldn’t have become involved if it couldn’t make a profit off the situation. That’s what it does – through scandal after scandal.
Founded in 1992 by the late investment banker Robert McKeon (who died by suicide after mounting improprieties came to light), Veritas Capital began its life buying up government contractors and forming close ties with former senior government officials. Of the company’s many defense-related investments, the most infamous was its 2005 purchase of DynCorp International, a shady company involved in the US’s Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
In 2006, the firm acquired MZM Inc., an intelligence contractor, which was investigated for providing bribes to Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., in exchange for help obtaining Pentagon contracts.
Throughout its history, Veritas has fostered close ties to government officials. Campaign finance records show executives at the investment firm have given over $100,000 to various politicians, mostly Republicans. In 2014, Veritas paid Bill Clinton $250,000 for a speech.
The New York Times reported in 2001 that numerous retired generals were on Veritas’ payroll and the company used such ties to the Pentagon and frequent appearances in the media to boost Veritas-owned military contractors, including DynCorp.
Musallam focuses on technology companies like HMH that operate in sectors dominated by the US federal government such as standardized testing. After all, the only reason public schools throughout the country have to give these assessments is federal law. It’s a captive market paid for by tax dollars.
The non-profit chain of 13 schools based in Pittsburgh, Pa, boasts high academics, safe campuses and certified teachers.
At least, that’s what its advertising blitz proclaims from every grocery store cart, newspaper page, radio announcement and billboard. Which just goes to show that anyone will tout your virtues if you pay them enough money – taxpayer money, that is.
Take Propel McKeesport – the franchise located in my own neighborhood.
The percentage of students achieving proficiency in math was 7% (which is lower than the Pennsylvania state average of 38%) for the 2020-21 school year. The percentage of students achieving proficiency in reading was 34% (which is lower than the Pennsylvania state average of 55%) for the 2020-21 school year.
Moreover, test scores in both subjects were higher at the McKeesport Area School District, the local authentic public school – 17% higher in math and 3.5% higher in reading at the elementary level and 6% higher in math and 2% higher in reading at the middle school level. Propel McKeesport does not teach beyond 8th grade.
So what exactly is Propel celebrating?
Maybe it’s the fact that its McKeesport location achieved these standardized test scores while teaching an intensely racially segregated student body – 86% minority (mostly Black). By comparison, the authentic public schools range from 52-71% minority students (mostly Black).
I’m not sure that’s much of a victory. Wasn’t one of the major tenants of the civil rights movement having racially integrated schools – that doing so would help students of color achieve academically because resources couldn’t be horded away from them?
In 2015, two teenagers at Propel Braddock Hills High School were arrested after one allegedly tried to sell guns to another in a bathroom during the school day. Two guns were recovered by police and the students were taken into custody on campus. The rest of the students were placed on lockdown until police cleared the area.
For Propel it is unclear exactly how members are chosen for its corporate board, but it is difficult for parents and community members to be appointed.
According to an article in Public Source, individuals can only become board members if they are already members of the “Friends of Propel,” but the charter chain did not provide information on this group or how its members are selected.
When it comes to class size, most Propel schools report having student-to-teacher ratios slightly smaller or the same as at neighborhood authentic public schools. But who knows? There’s no way to tell whether classes may actually be larger.
However, individual attention is even harder to verify.
Most schools focus on more individual attention these days.
Unfortunately, the network provides very little detailed information about its curriculum.
So this claim by Propel is a way of bragging that the network doesn’t have to have certified and qualified teachers, but it does so anyway.
Unfortunately, it is definitively false.
According to those US News and World Report spotlights that the charter school network likes to highlight, several Propel schools do not have all certified teachers. For instance, Propel McKeesport only has 92% full-time certified teachers, Propel Homestead only has 94%, Propel Pitcairn only has 96%, etc.
So does Propel have 100% Certified and Qualified Teachers? Absolutely not.
Award Winning Arts Programs
Kudos to Propel for recognizing that arts are an important part of the curriculum. Or at least using it as a selling point on its advertisements. However, without details of its curriculum submitted to the state and verifiable by audit, there is nothing to back this claim up factually.
In fact, on Propel’s own Website, the only reference I see to awards for art is a brief mention in its after-school program which they label as “award-winning.”
What award did it win? The ‘Propel Presents Itself with an Award’ Award? Is there anything more substantial to this claim?
Certainly every school should have a dress code, but can’t students express themselves freely anymore? I just don’t see why emulating the worst qualities of private schools is a great thing – especially when it adds an unnecessary cost for parents.
Charter schools are funded with public tax dollars. So, yes, you don’t have to pay a tuition to attend. However, you do have to pay for extras like school uniforms.
In fact, overcoming the unpopularity of charter schools because of the increased expense for taxpayers is cited by Droz Marketing – the company that made all those glossy Propel advertisements – on its Website portfolio as an obstacle the company had to overcome to sell Propel to the masses.
Which brings us back to the beginning.
Does Propel go beyond the facts in its claims for itself?
Many businesses do that these days. And make no mistake – Propel IS a business. If it can cut a corner or find a loophole to put more money in operators’ pockets, it will.
However, let me end with what may be the most telling indicator of what it is like at Propel’s charter schools.
indeed.com is a Website workers use to decide if they should apply at a given job site. Employees anonymously review their current place of employment to let prospective job applicants know what it is like there and if they should consider seeking a job there.
First Grade Teacher (Former Employee) – McKeesport, PA – April 15, 2022 I worked at Propel McKeesport for 9 days before I realized it would negatively affect my mental health greatly if I stayed. Everything about the school was chaotic and unorganized. There is so much asked of the teachers, and they are given little to no support in the process. The people that are put in place to act as supports are spread so thin, that you aren’t able to receive the support necessary. I would have to get to work early and stay late in order to get all of my tasks done. I had no time for my personal life, and I was constantly overwhelmed. Leaving was the best decision I could’ve made for myself and my well being. Pros Higher than average starting pay for new teachers, healthcare benefits Cons Unorganized, consuming, little support/structure
Elementary School Teacher (Former Employee) – Hazelwood, PA – February 3, 2022 My time at Propel Hazelwood was the worst experience I have ever had in a professional setting. The principal, at the time, had all sorts of big ideas, and no clue how to make them actionable. Behavior was managed through a failed token economy… so I’m sure you can imagine what behavior looked like. But good news, they’ll just fire you before you qualify for benefits, and trick the next poor sap. For reference, I was the 3rd of 5 teachers to go through that position in 2 years.
In summary, I hope you line up a therapist before you sign your soul away to Propel. I know I needed one. Pros There were no pros. I can’t even make one up. Cons Pitiful everything. People, leadership, attitudes, slogans, curriculum (or lack there of). Run away… fast.
Teacher (Former Employee) – McKeesport, PA – September 3, 2021 Propel McKeesport cannot keep their staff members. They have so many open positions because their lesson plan template is 6 pages long, and the work pile-up is more than loving your scholars. The wonderful scholars don’t get a chance to love who you are because you (if you are not a favorite) are swamped with work. The job is a nightmare. Pros There is not one pro I can think of. Cons Flooded with work. Lies and says it is “Propel-Wide”
Janitor (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – January 3, 2022
Hr treats you bad Teachers treat you bad You are less then nothing to everyone even your bosses Never work for Braddock propel worst school I’ve seen Pros Nothing Cons You will be treated like you are worthless
Teacher (Former Employee) – Braddock Hills, PA – September 27, 2021 Wow. It sounds good from the outside but is terrible in the inside. High school students were out of control. Administration offered little help. The parents were just as aggressive as their children. The teachers will throw anyone under the bus as soon as possible. Pros Great pay. Amazing benefits. Stellar retirement and health insurance. Cons Terribly behaved students, aggressive parents, woke and offended staff
Educator (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – May 21, 2021 Even though I went in knowing the hours would be long and the school year would be longer, I was not prepared for the lack of work life balance. I have worked with Propel for 3 years and I will say that it is all consuming. I have been expected to not only do my job during building hours, but outside of work as well. This would be fine if it was occasional, but especially during COVID, it has become constant. Not only is the work never ending, but in my buildng we are not given adequate time to eat (25 minutes) or plan (50 minutes, but this time is often taken up by meetings almost daily). On top of limited planning time and expectations that never seem to stop coming, many of us have been forced into taking on additional, unpaid roles that we did not ask or agree to, and “no thank you” is not accepted as an answer. The district struggles to employee substitutes, so teachers are often expected to split classes when other grade level members are out. This has resulted in 30+ students in classrooms during non-COVID times, with one educator. Pros Good benefits, reasonable pay for the area, great curriculum Cons Short breaks, underqualified building administration, limited support
Teacher (Current Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – January 13, 2021 Propel staff does care a lot about the students, but it doesn’t feel like those who are higher up care as much about them. Having a CEO/Superintendent may be the reason for this. Pros Dedicated cohorts Cons Work-life balance off
teacher (Former Employee) – Montour, PA – July 24, 2020 There was always a feeling of being watched in a critical way throughout the day. Administration was constantly evaluating teacher performance in the classroom which created a negative work environment. When a student became disruptive in the classroom administrators were difficult to locate. If an administrator did come to the classroom he/she would coddle the student with candy or a fun activity before returning him/her to the classroom. Needless to say the disruptive behavior would continue within an hour. Positive effective leadership was nonexistent.
Accounting Manager (Former Employee) – Pittsburgh, PA – March 4, 2020 Did not get the job I was hired to do. Turnover was high. Cannot speak to majority of the the issues that I had due to a clause in my severance package.
Educator (Former Employee) – Pitcairn, PA – February 3, 2020 Challenging work environment, burn out is high, little support from administration. Propel varies from building to building, but overall its sounds great in theory and in their “plans”, but they’re not able to carry out what they promise to students or staff.
Pros: Let me start by saying, the students are amazing! The parents can be challenging but they truly want what’s best for their children. Cons: If you aren’t LIKED by the superintendent and assistant superintendent your days with Propel are numbered. From the onset, I was deceived by this organization. I spent 4-months interviewing for a High School principal position. I was offered the position of high school principal only to find out I would be a K-8 principal. This was the first red flag of many. Unfortunately, I wasn’t well liked therefore I received very little of what I needed to effectively lead the school. Instead, I got the unhelpful support they thought I needed and none of which I requested. By Feb. I had lost both my APs – one by choice and the other by force. In March I was given a replacement AP that wasn’t a good fit. Work-life balance does NOT exist at Propel Charter Schools. On average, I worked 12 -14-hour days. Sadly, this is the norm for principals in this network. If you are considering Propel for a position as a school administrator, I would not recommend it.
Teacher (Former Employee) – Hazelwood, PA – September 18, 2019
The staff is wonderful and very supportive. However, the students there are very disrespectful, rude, and have major problems with authority. As a teacher walking into the classroom, they refuse to listen, talk over you, cuss you, and not a lot is done about it.
Propel is not ran like a school, it is ran like a business. They do not give the students a fighting chance for a bright future. They are more worried about the name ‘propel’ than anything. The work-life balance is awful. They expect way too much of your own time and when they don’t get it, you are looked down on for it. They create cliques and if you are not in the clique, consider yourself gone. They place you wherever they want, certified or not, and will watch you fail. There is lack of help and support from the administration. The only decent people around are your co-workers. I would never recommend this as a work environment nor for parents to send their kids there. No learning takes place. You constantly deal with behavior problems while the children who want to learn are put on the back burner. They change rules half way into the school year and fudge their data. At the rate they are going, they will never compare to peers across the state for PSSAs due to behavior issues and poor management. Not to mention, your lunch is 20 minutes so I hope you can eat fast and 9X out of 10, your planning time to taken away from you for meetings! Be prepared for meetings!!!
There was little time to be able to practice individualized teaching practices and spend time working with students. Leaders were only focused on enrollment and test scores, and did not focus on the important needs of the child. Work/Home life balance did not exist, as emails and texts were sent at 9:00 PM at night. Money is the number one focus, and for a school system, it was not what was expected.
Teaching children, benefits and compensation
Bad work/home life balance
Like this post? You might want to consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. This helps me continue to keep the blog going and get on with this difficult and challenging work.
The problem is one of speed and instant gratification.
Today’s children have a multitude competing for their attention.
Video games, social media, TikTok videos – they haven’t the time to sit down with a book.
Doing so seems like something an old person would do or at least something too hard for them to enjoy.
I remember when I was growing up, my father always read Stephen King paperbacks. I still remember the covers of some of those books. The snarling Saint Bernard of “Cujo.” The empty boy’s face of “The Shining.” And “Night Shift” with its creepy bandaged hand slowly coming unraveled to reveal eyes growing under a knuckle…
I wanted nothing more than to read these books and understand what it was that lurked inside the covers.
But today a lot of novels are eBooks. If they have covers, they aren’t visible in the hands of those reading them. They aren’t left on display on a shelf. They’re nearly invisible.
The very idea of books seems like something beyond the reach of many adolescents.
Luckily there are some classics of young adult literature that rarely disappoint – S. E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders”, Lois Lowery’s “The Giver”, Ellen Raskin’s “The Westing Game”, Louis Sachar’s “Holes”, etc.
Each child has his or her own experience, but it is enhanced by the thoughts and comments of others. Trying to solve the secrets of the society in “The Giver” isn’t just something you do alone – it’s a shared endeavor with your peers. Trying to decide what you’d do in the place of Ponyboy from “The Outsiders” isn’t just an academic thought experiment – it’s a way of expressing your thoughts and values and seeing them reflected, absorbed or enhanced by those around you.
However, this can’t always be done in a group setting. And the teacher can’t be the only person guiding the experience.
Let them choose books from the library and read them silently in class. There can be a culminating assignment like a book report or a book circle at the end of the month, but it has to be driven by individual curiosity.
This is all easier said than done.
Some years the books I pick for my students are a hit. Some years they aren’t.
Things are especially difficult now as we’re just healing from the Covid-19 pandemic. Students are just starting to get back on track and relearn all the social and academic skills they lost in years of quarantine and uncertainty.
I’m finding “The Giver” to be a harder sell this year than in most previous years. Many students want a more immediate and personal story. But some are entranced by the mystery and way the society deals with budding adolescence.
“The Outsiders”, though, is a raging success. My students don’t want to put it down or stop discussing the story. In fact, their enthusiasm is turning into rumors that have spread from grade-to-grade. However, they also aren’t as interested in racing through it toward the end as students from others years have been.
The very idea of sitting down with a book and quietly reading it is entirely alien to some kids. They look around the room or try to sneak their cell phones out of their pockets – anything but turn their eyes to the pages in front of them.
It comes down to (1) finding a book that will interest the individual, and (2) one that they can easily read.
However, I don’t know the entire spectrum of children’s literature as well as a dedicated middle school librarian would. My school used to have one of those and she was brilliant at accomplishing the goal of suggesting books to students. These days, though, we have one librarian for the middle school and high school. That’s just too much ground to cover for any individual. Moreover, when you don’t dedicate your library to reading or research, you lose an incredible resource. There is far too much time when the library is closed for standardized testing or the librarian is asked to teach a class or proctor a study hall.
Right-wingers would much rather make it all a business where the more you pay, the better the education your kids get. There’d be poor quality charter schools for those who can’t afford the entry fee, but the best of everything would be reserved for the kids of the rich and powerful whose parents would use school vouchers to offset some of their tuition at private institutions.
Lawmakers might have to create real policies, a platform, solutions – to actually govern!
So GOP operatives spread hysterical lies about public schools. They call them “government schools” as if that meant some imposed bureaucracy of outsiders and not what it actually does – schools governed by elected members of the community.
And it’s true, according to a 2018 Gallup poll, Americans aged 18 to 29 are almost as positive about socialism (51%) as they are about capitalism (45%).
So on behalf of the right-wing think tank behind the critical race theory brouhaha, transphobic legislation, climate change denial and a host of other regressive causes, Bluey asked DeVos why young people aren’t as firmly championing capitalism as previous generations.
“I recall visiting a classroom not too long ago where one of the teachers was wearing a shirt that said “Find Your Truth,” suggesting that, of course, truth is a very fungible and mutable thing instead of focusing on the fact that there is objective truth and part of learning is actually pursuing that truth.”
This is a rather strange answer. It may be the case that there are absolute truths in the world, but economic theories certainly don’t qualify. In matters of opinion, isn’t it better to tell students the facts and let them think for themselves about their relative virtues?
Tell them capitalism is great. Tell them socialism is terrible. Screw critical thinking.
The Heritage Foundation, at least, liked her answer, using it as a template to fund a plethora of stories about public schools – not just leaving the matter up to students to decide – but actually bullying kids into championing communism.
In the text of article, Blair admits he was only “in education” for 4 years, but it seems he was not a full-time classroom teacher for most of that time. According to his Linked-In account, he was a French teacher for 9 months in a school in Portland, Oregon. Before that he was an Extracurricular Aide, an English Language Assistant and Language Immersion Counselor at various schools in the US and France.
His evidence of indoctrination reads like “Kids Say the Darndest Things – Republican Edition.”
For example, he says he asked an elementary school girl if she liked Winston Churchill, and she frowned calling Churchill racist.
That’s right. Whether teachers need to or not, they have to spend at least 45 minutes on it every November.
“We want to make sure that every year folks in Florida, but particularly our students, will learn about the evils of communism. The dictators that have led communist regimes and the hundreds of millions of individuals who suffered and continue to suffer under the weight of this discredited ideology,” DeSantis said, adding that “a lot of young people don’t really know that much” about the political ideology.
At first blush, this may sound like a good idea. More historical knowledge is a good thing, but it’s the context that makes this troubling.
Florida Republicans already have passed a battalion of laws telling educators what they CANNOT teach.
In each case, I encourage my students to think about the problems from the stories, the solutions offered in the narratives and to discuss the matter with classmates. We hold Socratic Seminars and write critical essays. For “The Giver,” students work in groups to create their own utopias – you’d be surprised how many are socialist, though there are also a number of capitalist republics, dictatorships and anarchies. Kids love anarchy.
And I admit it – I encourage my students to think for themselves. I try not to give them my answers – my truths.
In whose interest are we sending our kids to school?
Is it for businesses so that they’ll have the kinds of workers they need?
Is it so that our students’ educations will align with the demands of industry?
Or is it for the children? So they’ll become mature, intelligent adults capable of independent thought and making rational decisions?
Who, after all, is this education for?
I mean our society has jobs that need doing and people need to do those jobs or we won’t survive – but is that really the overriding, predominant impetus behind school? Survival?
Are we primarily helping the economy by subjecting our kids to the classroom? Or are we doing something to benefit THEM?
Is there a value in being educated? A value to the person who has become educated?
Does it provide any advantage to a person to know things? To be able to think about things? To be able to express oneself in writing? To be able to make calculations? To use logic and reason? To know history? To be able to read and comprehend what one’s read? To form an educated opinion on what one’s read? To know and practice the scientific method? To express one’s creativity? To do any of a hundred other things kids learn in school?
Or are we just filling the factories with button pushers to keep smoke spilling out of the chimneys?
It’s more than two decades past the millennium, and I can’t believe I still have to ask such questions.
But I do. Because nearly every day some policymaker, pundit, billionaire or other over-privileged talking head feels free to answer these questions wrong.
Five minutes alone in the dark and the answers are inescapable. But these guys (and it’s usually men) don’t have that kind of time or integrity.
I’m tired of telling them the truth. I’m tired of correcting them. Because they don’t care to be corrected. They have a fixed conception of the world, and understanding the truth about education might make that all come tumbling down.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Socrates is purported to have said that 2,400 years ago.
It’s not exactly news.
What’s the purpose of life if you don’t think about things?
But no matter how much money they have, the plutocrats can’t afford to think about things. And they certainly can’t afford for YOU or your children to think about things.
What would happen if we all went around examining our lives? Would we still submit to being cogs in an economy designed to benefit them and not us?
Would we still show up everyday to jobs we hate for salaries incapable of paying the bills?
Would we still shop constantly to fill the aching void in our hearts, not thinking but just re-enacting the American mantra of consume, Consume, CONSUME!?
Would we still worship the rich like gods regardless of the reality – their immature actions, their crude posturing, their obvious amoral banality?
Would we still pretend that skin color determines character, that nationality determines morality, that sex determines temperament, that biology determines gender, that rationality determines politics?
Would we still vote for one of two prepackaged, preconceived, preprocessed options neither of which will actually do what we know needs done but one of which will hurt us and the other of which will hurt others more or not hurt us worse than we already are?
The answers are obvious. We all know. You don’t need me to tell you.
Just like the purpose of education.
It is the most dangerous thing in the world to the status quo.
Education, learning, thought is a cocoon. And no one knows what will come crawling out after the metamorphosis.
But after reluctantly subjecting my classes to the MAP and being instructed to analyze the results with my colleagues, we noticed this contradiction.
In many cases, scores did not match up with teacher expectations for our students.
In about 60-80% of cases, students who had demonstrated high skills in the subject were given scores below the 50th percentile – many below the 25th percentile.
These were kids with average to high grades who the MAP scored as if they were in the bottom half of their peers across the state.
Heck! A third of my students are in the advanced class this year – but the MAP test would tell me most of them need remediation!
If we look at that data dispassionately, there are possible explanations. For one, students may not have taken the test seriously.
And to some degree this is certainly the case. The MAP times student responses and when they are input fast and furious, it stops the test taker until the teacher can unlock the test after warning them against rapid guessing.
However, the sheer number of mislabeled students is far too great to be accounted for in this way. Maybe five of my students got the slow down sloth graphic. Yet so many more were mislabeled as failures despite strong classroom academics.
Nice for them. However, I am not some rube reading this in the paper. I am not examining some spreadsheet for which I have no other data. I am IN the classroom every day observing these very same kids. I’ve been right there for almost an entire grading period of lessons and assessments – formative and summative. I have many strong indications of what these kids can do, what they know and what they don’t know.
I am a Nationally Board Certified Teacher with more than two decades experience. But Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), a testing company out of Portland, Oregon, wants me to believe that after 90 minutes it knows my students better than I do after six weeks!
Time to admit the MAP is a faulty product.
But it’s not just that one standardized test. We find the same disparity with the PSSA and other like assessments.
Nationally, classroom grades are better than these test scores.
By contrast, teacher-created tests are just the opposite. They are designed almost exclusively to assess whether learning has taken place and to what degree. Comparability isn’t really something we do. That’s the province of administrators and other support staff.
The primary job of teaching is just that – the transfer of knowledge, offering opportunities and a conducive environment for students to learn.
You can’t give a person a blood transfusion if you can’t accurately measure how much blood you’re giving her. And comparing how much blood was given to a national average of transfusions is not helpful.
You need to know how much THIS PERSON needs. You need to know what would help her particular needs.
When good students get bad test scores, it invariably means you have a bad test.
She was in her 90s and had been unwell since before COVID. But she was also our matriarch, the point around which so much of our interrelations orbited and met.
After the funeral, I found myself at my uncle’s house somehow tasked with watching over several young cousins who had had just about enough of sitting around quietly in itchy suits and dresses.
To get a moment to myself, I set them a task: go downstairs among the assorted relatives and ask them to tell you a story about Ce Ce. Best story wins.
They went off like an explosion. And when they came back, they each had a touching tale about Ce Ce.
One was about how she defended a niece who wanted to marry someone of another faith. Another story was a fond recollection of the sweet and sour spaghetti sauce she used to make, the recipe of which is lost forever.
I was even surprised to hear some stories I had never known like that after my grandfather died, a semi-famous painter had asked Ce Ce on a date!
When my little cousins’ recitations were done, they were united in one thing – wanting to know who won.
I stumbled. I stammered.
I really had no way of judging such a thing.
They had all brought back such wonderful stories. Who won? We were ALL enriched by hearing them.
And the results of these tests are used to make high stakes decisions about which classes the students can enroll in, which enrichments, field trips or remediation they require, and even how much funding will be given or withheld from the schools and districts where they attend.
Before COVID, students increasingly were taking higher-level courses, and their Grade Point Averages (GPAs) were steadily rising — from an average of 2.68 in 1990 to 2.94 in 2000, 3.0 in 2009, and 3.11 in 2019.
This is true of students from all backgrounds, but disparities still existed. On average, white and Asian students had higher GPAs than Black and Hispanic students. Though girls, overall, had higher GPAs than boys.
However, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), given to a sample of students across the country, test scores during the same period did not show a similar increase. Math and reading scores in 2019 were slightly lower than in 2009 and unchanged from 2005. Science scores haven’t budged since 2009.
It doesn’t take much to show why classroom grades are better at assessing student learning. Compare them with standardized test scores.
Students earn grades based on a wide range of assessments, activities, and behaviors – quizzes, class participation, oral and written reports, group assignments, homework, and in-class work.
Standardized tests, on the other hand, are not assigned on such a multifaceted range of factors. Instead, they are designed to obtain a measure of student proficiency on a specified set of knowledge and skills within limited academic areas, such as mathematics or reading.
Classroom grades are tapestries sown from many patches showing a year’s worth of progress. Standardized tests are at best snapshots of a moment in time.
So the biggest difference isn’t a matter of validity, it is pragmatism. Test scores can be used to rate students from all over the country or the world. They can be used to sort kids into a hierarchy of best to worst. Though why anyone would want to do that is beyond me. The purpose of education is not like the National Football League (NFL). It’s to encourage learning, not competition based on a simulation of learning.
And there is evidence that classroom grades are more valid than standardized test scores.
However, classroom grades do have predictive value – especially when compared to standardized tests. Students with high grades in high school but middling test scores do better in college than students with higher test scores and lower grades.
Why? Because grades are based on something other than the ability to take one test. They demonstrate a daily commitment to work hard. They are based on 180 days (in Pennsylvania) of classroom endeavors, whereas standardized tests are based on the labor of an afternoon or a few days.
Classroom grades would not have such consistent predictive value if they were nothing but the result of grade inflation or lenient teachers.
In fact, of the two assessments – classroom grades and standardized tests – one is far more essential to the daily learning of students than the other.
We could abolish all standardized testing without any damage to student learning. In fact, the vacuum created by the loss of these high stakes tests would probably result in much less teaching to the test. Days, weeks, months of additional class time would suddenly appear and much more learning would probably take place.
Academic decisions about which classes students can enroll in or what remediation is necessary could just as easily be made based on classroom grades and teacher observations. And funding decisions for schools and districts could be made based on need and equity – not the political football of standardized testing.
However, getting rid of classroom grades would be much more disruptive. Parents and students would have few measures by which to determine if students had learned the material. Teachers would have fewer tools to encourage children to complete assignments. And if only test scores remained, the curriculum would narrow to a degree unheard of – constant, daily test prep with no engagement to ones life, critical thinking or creativity.
To be fair, there are mastery-based learning programs that try to do without grades, but they are much more experimental and require a complete shift in how we view learning. This is a more holistic system that requires students to demonstrate learning at one level before moving ahead to the next. However, it is incredibly labor intensive for teachers and often relies heavily on edtech solutions to make it viable.
I’m not saying this is an impossible system or even taking a stance on its value. But a large scale shift away from classroom grades would be chaotic, confusing and probably a failure without serious support, scaffolding and parental, teacher and student buy-in.
At the end of the day, classroom grades are the best tool we have to determine whether learning has taken place and to what degree. We should do everything we can to change the way policymakers prefer the standardized approach to the personalized one.
‘It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Thus, the urge to quantify student learning seems predicated on the popular maxim: If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
I just didn’t feel right singing things like “Round yon virgin mother and child” and “Christ the savior is born.”
So when we practiced that song, I’d stop singing.
I’d enthusiastically belt out all the other tunes, but I just stood there when it was time for Silent Night.
I didn’t think it would make a difference. There were hundreds of others kids. No one would notice me.
But the choral teacher did.
She pulled me out of line and demanded to know why I wasn’t singing. I told her I was Jewish and didn’t want to sing that song.
She chided me for making everyone else look bad and told me to just move my mouth during the song so it looked like I was singing.
I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want people to even THINK I was singing things I didn’t believe.
It’s not that I really accepted Santa and his reindeer, either, but this was somehow different. I didn’t want my parents to go to the concert and see me participating in this farce. I didn’t want to be forced to go onstage and before everyone profess the opposite of all I had been taught – to declare myself other than what I really was.
But the other kids were right there listening to this whole conversation and giggling. It was yet another way I was being marked as an outsider, as different – so I gave in and did what she demanded.
In retrospect, I now know I could have complained to my parents and gone to the principal and we could have even taken the matter to court like the aforementioned coach.
However, when you’re a little kid in elementary school you usually just listen to what the adults tell you to do. At least I did.
It took me decades to get over it. Really.
Whenever that song would come on the radio or I’d hear it in a department store, I’d get all tense and upset. Like something had been stolen from me.
So it was with some trepidation many years later that I attended my daughter’s first winter concert when she was in elementary school.
It was with some relief that I noticed no holiday songs like Silent Night. They were all pretty secular and even multicultural.
And my daughter goes to the same district I went to as a child.
When we discuss things – as you must in Language Arts – I encourage students to agree OR disagree with me or anyone else. Either option is okay so long as they try to explain why they think the way they do.
We may not have dark money and Christian Nationalists behind us, but until we have a rational Supreme Court to overturn this decision or a Congress with enough guts to codify freedom from religion into law, teachers still have some modicum of power.
We should use it to protect our children.
Like this post? You might want to consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. This helps me continue to keep the blog going and get on with this difficult and challenging work.
A teenage boy in a black trench coat walks down a school hallway.
A young girl abruptly turns a corner and is about to walk past when she stops and notices an oblong shape in his coat.
He pulls out an AR-15 and points it at her head.
She gasps. He smiles.
“Hold it right there, Patrick.” Says a voice behind him.
“Mr. Callahan?” The boy says starting to bring the barrel around.
‘Uh-uh. Stop right there,” says the voice shoving something in the boy’s back.
“I know what you’re thinking,” the teacher continues. “My homeroom teacher, Mr. Callahan, has a gun in his desk. Did he remember to bring it with him to hall duty? Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being it’s a 500 S&W Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?”
Apparently this is how Doug Mastriano thinks school shootings can best be prevented.
Not gun control. Not stopping teens from buying assault weapons. Not keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Instead, arm the teachers. Arm the principals. Put a piece in the hands of Lunch Lady Doris. Maybe even the custodians will be packing heat with a bucket and mop.
This is not the kind of serious proposal Commonwealth residents deserve from a representative of the legislature or executive branch. It’s not the kind of serious proposal you’d expect from a grown adult. Heck. It’s not what you’d expect from a small child still unable to tie his own shoes.
School shootings are not action movie scenarios. They’re not run-and-gun video games. They’re not cops and robbers. They’re real life.
Lest we forget, there were police officers on both the campuses of Robb Elementary School in Texas and Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where shootings cumulatively took the lives of more than 30 students.
According to a 2021 JAMA Network study that looked at 133 school shootings from 1980 to 2019, armed guards did not significantly reduce injuries or deaths during school mass shootings.
In fact, when researchers controlled for location and school characteristic factors, “the rate of deaths was 2.83 times greater in schools with an armed guard present.”
Put simply, school shootings are not rational activities subject to cost benefit analysis from the people contemplating doing them. Would-be shooters do not expect to come out alive. They don’t care if there is armed resistance or not. In fact, the presence of armed resistance only encourages them to bring deadlier weaponry – especially semi-automatic guns.
The few people who thought it was a good idea and said they would gladly bring a gun with them to school are nice people – but they’re the last ones you’d want armed.
Moreover, we have a school resource officer who said he was not in favor of the measure because it would make things tougher for law enforcement responding to a shooting. It would make it that much more unclear who the shooter was and increase the chances of friendly fire.
It’s hardly surprising Mastriano is making such boneheaded proposals.
I try to sleep, I try to rest, but worry and hopelessness settle down on me like a shroud.
If you’re like me, you may need some help getting through it all.
So here’s a list of five things we can do – not just you, but me, too – that hopefully will help us rejuvenate ourselves somewhat in the next few months and set us up for a successful year with our students.
1) Be Present with Friends and Family
Teachers often live in their heads.
We’re always planning a new lesson or thinking about how to help a student or improve something from the year before.
But this is summer break.
It’s time to tune out and turn off.
You’re home and hopefully you can find some time to spend with friends and family.
Just remember to try to be there. Actually be there.
Don’t live in your head. Live in the moment.
Let the present open up in front of you and actually enjoy the things you’re doing.
Our professional lives often demand we sacrifice so much time with our significant others, our kids, and the people we care about. Now is the time to balance the scales and enjoy their company. And nothing else.
This can be easier said than done, but it’s worth a try.
2) Don’t Focus on Things You Can’t Change
There is so much going on in the world, and we’re teachers. We’re problem solvers.
We want to fix broken things, and there is so much broken out there. The news is often not our friend.
I’m not saying to ignore what’s going on. We do so at our peril. But we have to try to put it all in context.
We’re just people – individuals caught in nets of complexity. We can’t solve all these problems ourselves.
It could be a sincerely stupid politician accused with pedophilia and insurrection who thinks taking pot shots at teachers will win him votes from the lowest common denominator.
It could be… so many people.
Take a deep breath and let it go.
You don’t need that baggage weighing you down.
As Nelson Mandela is supposed to have said:
“Having resentment against someone is like drinking poison and thinking it will kill your enemy.”
Leave that behind.
There will be plenty more next year.
4) Don’t Expect Too Much of Yourself
Often our harshest critic is ourselves.
We try so hard to be kind to everyone all year. This summer, be kind to yourself.
It’s break time. You don’t have to clean the whole house top to bottom. You don’t have to finally rearrange the utility drawer or any of a million other things that have been waiting around for you to get to them.
By all means, make those doctor’s appointments you’ve been waiting on. Buy a new pair of shoes. Cut the grass.
But if something doesn’t get done, don’t feel like it’s a failure.
You are allowed to simply do nothing.
Sometimes that’s the best thing we can do.
Be as productive as you want. Sometimes that helps alleviate stress, too – the satisfaction of getting things accomplished.
However, this break is not all about crossing things off your TO DO list.