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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Teacher Paul Karrer Writes A Letter To President Obama: "Your Race To The Top is Killing The Wrong Guys"

A Letter to My President - The One I Voted For

February 1, 2011

Dear President Obama:

I mean this with all respect. I’m on my knees here, and there’s a knife in my back, and the prints on it kinda match yours. I think you don’t get it.

Your Race to the Top is killing the wrong guys. You’re hitting the good guys with friendly fire. I’m teaching in a barrio in California. I had 32 kids in my class last year. I love them to tears. They’re 5th graders. That means they’re 10 years old, mostly. Six of them were 11 because they were retained. Five more were in special education, and two more should have been. I stopped using the word “parents” with my kids because so many of them don’t have them. Amanda’s mom died in October. She lives with her 30-year-old brother. (A thousand blessings on him.) Seven kids live with their “Grams,” six with their dads. A few rotate between parents. So “parents” is out as a descriptor.

Here’s the kicker: Fifty percent of my students have set foot in a jail or prison to visit a family member.

Do you and your secretary of education, Arne Duncan, understand the significance of that? I’m afraid not. It’s not bad teaching that got things to the current state of affairs. It’s pure, raw poverty. We don’t teach in failing schools. We teach in failing communities. It’s called the ZIP Code Quandary. If the kids live in a wealthy ZIP code, they have high scores; if they live in a ZIP code that’s entombed with poverty, guess how they do?

We also have massive teacher turnover at my school. Now, we have no money. We haven’t had an art or music teacher in 10 years. We have a nurse twice a week. And because of the No Child Left Behind Act, struggling public schools like mine are held to impossible standards and punished brutally when they don’t meet them. Did you know that 100 percent of our students have to be on grade level, or else we could face oversight by an outside agency? That’s like saying you have to achieve 100 percent of your policy objectives every year.

It’s not bad teaching that got things to the current state of affairs. It’s pure, raw poverty.

You lived in Indonesia, so you know what conditions are like in the rest of the world. President Obama, I swear that conditions in my school are akin to those in the third world. We had a test when I taught in the Peace Corps. We had to describe a glass filled to the middle. (We were supposed to say it was half full.) Too many of my kids don’t even have the glass!

Next, gangs. Gangs eat my kids, their parents, and the neighborhood. One of my former students stuffed an AK47 down his pants at a local bank and was shot dead by the police. Another one of my favorites has been incarcerated since he was 13. He’ll be 27 in November. I’ve been writing to him for 10 years and visiting him in the maximum-security section of Salinas Valley State Prison.

Do you get that it’s tough here? Charter schools and voucher schools aren’t the solution. They are an excuse not to fix the real issues. You promised us so much. And you want to give us merit pay? Anyway, I think we really need to talk. Oh, and can you pull the knife out while you’re standing behind me? It really hurts.

Sincerely yours,

Paul Karrer
Fifth grade teacher at Castroville Elementary School
North Monterey County, CA

The NYC Department of Education Will Audit Their Schools For Cheating On Test Scores

How lovely. As soon as scores for school tests become suspect, the fox - oops, I mean Cathie Black, Shael Polakow-Sharansky and her coworkers - send in other foxes to the hen house. This sounds to me like we should call in Norm Scott with his video camera, and other reporters, to set up cameras outside schools where 60%+ passed the regents with a score of 65 and take pictures of the shredded documents that will be on the sidewalk soon.

What is at all confusing about principals demanding that teachers scrub test scores or else, and give them their students' Regents to grade! Commissioner Steiner says this procedure is "not ideal".

Betsy Combier

February 18, 2011
Shael Polakow-Suransky

City to Toughen Auditing of School Test Scores

New York City school officials said Friday that they would introduce a new, rigorous system of auditing the test scores, grading practices and graduation rates of the public high schools, appearing to acknowledge rising concerns that some schools might be manipulating the statistics they are judged by.

The move comes as the city and the state have sought to raise standards to better prepare students for college and careers, and as mounting evidence has cast doubt on whether even the current standards are being met.

In at least the past two years, an unusually large number of students have obtained exactly the minimum score needed to pass state Regents exams, which are often graded by their regular teachers. City officials say the anomaly existed even before Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took control of the city’s schools in 2003.

In an e-mail sent Friday to high school principals, Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s chief academic officer, said that auditors would look at how schools awarded course credits, graded Regents exams and tallied graduation figures in determining which schools to audit.

In a departure, the auditor general of the department, Brian Fleischer, is to oversee the new audits, to ensure greater independence. Previous audits were conducted case by case by the same office that develops the accountability practices.

“Ultimately, we want to have confidence, for ourselves, and for the public, in the data we use to measure schools,” Mr. Fleischer said. The new audit procedures, he said, “will be much more data-driven and systematic.”

About 60 high schools will be selected for the first round of audits, based on whether their data showed suspicious patterns, like sudden rises in scores, he said. Allegations of misconduct would be referred to the special commissioner of investigation for city schools. In the first year, however, the emphasis will be on providing guidance and training to schools so that employees understand what is expected.

Despite the increased scrutiny, Mr. Polakow-Suransky has said he does not believe there is widespread cheating. He said last week that the city aggressively investigated the “tiny handful of cases” where there were allegations. On the question of Regents scoring, a process determined by the state, he said, “We feel an obligation to work on this issue, despite the fact that they are not our tests.”

But observers of the school system, including those who have been skeptical of rising test scores and graduation rates, said officials seemed to acknowledge issues with some of the data.

“It seems to me that the D.O.E. is realizing that they have a credibility problem with their numbers and they’re trying to address that,” said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York, which has questioned whether some schools tally dropouts incorrectly to help graduation rates.

Officials said that they started working on toughening auditing procedures more than a year ago, but that in recent months they approached the issue with greater urgency.

The state comptroller recently completed a review of the city’s graduation rates, which has not yet been released to the public, though it has been submitted to city officials for their response.

The city had already begun investigating grading at the school that had the highest score on the department’s annual report cards, the Theatre Arts Production Company High School in the Bronx. Its teacher handbook indicated that failing grades were only for students who never went to class.

And an analysis by The New York Times found that on the English and history Regents exams in the past two years, students in the city’s public high schools were roughly five times as likely to score 65, the passing grade, or slightly above it than to score just below it.

Statisticians say that such a difference is out of line with the smooth scoring curve that should normally result. A recent report in The Wall Street Journal came to a similar conclusion.

Even on the algebra exam, where there are no essays, 8,451 students got grades of exactly 65, while only 7,145 students combined ended up with a score of 61, 62, 63 or 64.

Regents exams are graded by teachers within schools, and teachers are not barred from grading their own students. While the practice is controversial, some say it is appropriate to give students the benefit of the doubt.

There is ambiguity in grading essays, and even in mathematics tests, in which extra points can be given for students’ showing their work.

At one Queens high school, the number of students scoring 65 to 69 last year in the five most popular Regents exams — integrated algebra, global history, biology, English and United States history — was more than five times the number who scored 60 to 64.

“If you have a kid with a 64, you want to look at the paper again to give the kid an even chance,” said the school’s principal, who spoke only on condition that her name, and the name of her school, not be published. “We’re not talking about changing the grade where the kid got it wrong to make it right.”

David M. Steiner, the state education commissioner, acknowledged in an interview in January that the state had known for years of the spikes in scoring patterns.

The department has made some changes, like required training for teacher-scorers, and it is phasing in computer scoring for multiple-choice questions.

But of the practice of teachers’ grading their students’ exams, Dr. Steiner said, “obviously, it’s not ideal.”

The state, he said, was focused on building the next generation of exams, to come into use in three to five years, which may be completely graded by computer.

Amanda Cox, Robert Gebeloff and Fernanda Santos contributed reporting