"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, July 06, 2007

Why the Spellings Growth Models Still Spell Death for Public Education

Under withering criticism in late 2005, and with formal protests filed in 47 states over the NCLB war against public schools, Spellings and her think-tank thugs started making nice with a PR campaign to project the image of flexibility. The first indicator that her one-size-fits-all big girl panties were not made of steel came when Spellings offered an invitatation to states to develop testing systems based on growth models that use standardized tests to measure individual student achievement over time.

State superintendents had been asking for permission to pursue growth models for some time, as noted in this August 2005 piece from The School Administrator that prematurely celebrated new signs of openness at ED:

. . . .Even back in March 2004, 14 chief state school officers sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education expressing the need to track student growth. Then-Education Secretary Rod Paige responded by stating that No Child Left Behind "must be given a chance to work." He added: "Regrettably, there are some who would prefer to weaken accountability standards, regardless of the children who will be left behind as a result. Let me be very clear, changing the law to satisfy the concerns of the system at the expense of children learning is misguided and wrong."

About a year later, policy watchers and educators everywhere were somewhat surprised by the change in tone. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings expressed a new openness to the possibility of growth models, saying, "We are in the process of convening a working group to find appropriate ways that growth models ... might be used to measure academic achievement. We are open to suggestions on how we can better understand how a state can use a growth model to meet the guiding principles of NCLB."

As of early summer, the membership, operations and transparency of this working group remain foggy. . . .

Well, the fog was blown away in the fall of 2005, when Spellings sent out a letter that made clear her "openness" to growth models. That was the good news for those seeking flexibility. The bad news was worse, however, than the good news was good: Spellings clearly stated that ED, under Bush, would never waver from the impossible goal of 100% proficiency by 2014, even as she formalized the invitation to states to enter a kind of growth model sweepstakes, where a small number of winners would be chosen to participate in developing growth models that, in the end, would be measured against the same impossible target that has been the primary complaint against NCLB since its inception. This is from ED's website:

"A growth model is not a way around accountability standards. It's a way for states that are already raising achievement and following the bright-line principles of the law to strengthen accountability.

"We're open to new ideas, but we're not taking our eye off the ball. There are many different routes for states to take, but they all must begin with a commitment to annual assessment and disaggregation of data. And they all must lead to closing the achievement gap and every student reaching grade level by 2014. This is good policy for all students and we must stick with it."

This week the last two winners were announced, Alaska and Arizona, and the annoucement came at a critical juncture in Spellings' on-going PR campaign aimed at projecting flexibility where there is none. For regardless of which labyrinthine statistical models is purchased to "measure growth," there is one mark that everyone has to measure up to by 2014. That remains 100 percent proficiency--ALL students at grade level regardless of where they started:
"There are many different routes for states to take, but they all must begin with a commitment to annual assessment and disaggregation of data. And, they all must lead to closing the achievement gap and every student reaching grade level by 2014. We are open to new ideas, but when it comes to accountability, we are not taking our eye off the ball.
And today right on cue, the New York Times has its own Page One story on "growth models" that conveniently fails to mention this fact, an unalterable fact that, nonetheless, remains the linchpin in the unwavering goal of the Bushies to privatize America's public schools. That goal cannot be reached without a continuing supply of guaranteed failures.

And if the Times just fails to mention the rigidity in Maggie's flexibility campaign, the Chicago Tribune, in an editorial that could have been written by Rod Paige (yes, it's that bad), goes out of its way to mislead on this phony flexibility issue:
Under a "growth model" for measuring student gains, a state evaluates how far each child progresses each year. If schools post sufficient student gains, they can meet the NCLB requirement of Adequate Yearly Progress.
In the final analysis, these gains must adhere to a schedule that is unachievable. What this growth model talk represents is a new diversionary lie that fits neatly inside the bigger one entitled No Child Left Behind. The fact that the mainstream media has bought this new part of the big NCLB lie simply underscores their ignorance, laziness, and complicity in perpetuating a Bush plan that remains hellbent on diverting attention from the needs of parents, teachers, and children in schools and communities ravaged by the poverty we continue to ignore, as we now shift our focus in even closer on growing test scores. In the meantime, the poverty gap remains the achievement gap.

1 comment:

  1. Jim, I hear your sentiments and totally agree. I think what is even worse that the advent of growth models is that it perpetuates the ever growing distance between they those who should helping public schools and the LEARNING of INDIVIDUAL STUDENTS. I am so peaved over this new statistical trend. As an educational researcher, I unfortunately have lost all faith in our compensatory education system. We know what material students should learn, how to teach/learn it, which students are struggling and how help to students if they are struggling - for how long now? Now the Feds and SEAs' plan to waste hundreds of millions of more tax dollars on a statistical formula? We have already blown too much money on tests (which are poor measures), randomized field trials (which don't focus on the intervention itself), and now this growth model/value-added farce! Please keep up your advocacy Jim. I just feel that those who should be the smartest people in the education field are actually the dumbest.