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Posts Tagged ‘Race to the Top’

wayneheadshotby Wayne Au

On the afternoon of Thursday, January 10th, a group of about 15 teachers stood together in the front of room 206 at Garfield High School in Seattle, Washington. News cameras and audio recorders from local media outlets crowded the podium as reporters, students, colleagues, and supporters listened closely. The teachers at Garfield High School were announcing that they had agreed, nearly unanimously, to resist giving the district-mandated computer test known as the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) to their students.

One by one, teachers explained why they had made this decision. Some talked about the wasting of valuable classroom time for a test that is given three times a year. Some talked about the inaccuracy of the test because it wasn’t aligned with grade level content standards. Some talked about how, even though experts at the Northwest Evaluation Association (creators of the MAP) have cautioned against using high-stakes, standardized tests for teacher evaluation, the Seattle Public Schools will be using the MAP test as part of their evaluations anyway.

Some reported that district officials had admitted that the measurement error of the MAP is greater than any of the expected gains at the high school level, rendering the results invalid. Some discussed that, since there were no stakes attached for students, by the time the third MAP test rolled around many students just clicked buttons to get it over with, making the results inaccurate. And all of the teachers stressed that they were interested in doing what is best for the education of their students.

As I stood in the back of the room peering over the shoulders of reporters and between the news camera tripods, I was ecstatic. I am a proud graduate of Garfield High School, class of 1990, and I even returned there as a social studies and language arts teacher for the 2000-2001 school year. When I approached the classroom press conference that afternoon, I was overcome with memories of walking those very same halls as both a teacher and a student—studying Spanish in this room, teaching 9th grade language arts in that room.

I also remembered some of my teachers there, especially Mr. Davis and his powerful African Studies class, and I remembered my own struggle as a teacher to keep that same African Studies class alive in the curriculum [see “Decolonizing the Classroom,” Rethinking Schools, Winter 2008/2009]. And now I was here as a teacher of teachers and researcher of standardized testing, showing support for Garfield teachers, some of whom are personal friends and political allies. I couldn’t have been happier.

Located in the historically African American neighborhood of Seattle known as the Central District, Garfield High School has a long political history. For instance, Garfield was a well-known Seattle hotspot of Black Panther activity in the 1960s and ‘70s. More recently, last year Garfield students walked out en masse and marched to the mayor’s office to protest cuts to public education. And now Garfield teachers have taken the bold step of collectively resisting a district-mandated high-stakes, standardized test.

As news of the Garfield teacher resistance spread (and is spreading), it quickly and rightly became a cause celebre amongst progressive education activists who have been fighting against corporate education reform. People like Diane Ravitch and Brian Jones have been posting about it, and teachers, parents, students, and professors from around the United States and the globe have been expressing their support at the facebook solidarity page. There is now an online petition to sign in support of the Garfield teachers, and teachers from other schools, including Seattle’s Ballard High School, are drafting and signing their own letters of support. Garfield’s student leadership has also lent their support. In the words of student body president Obadiah Stephens-Terry, “We really think our teachers are making the right decision. I know when I took the test, it didn’t seem relevant to what we were studying in class.”

As I watched the press conference one thing I realized is that in their collective resistance, the individual teachers at Garfield framed their resistance in different ways. From their remarks, for some this was a rejection of standardized testing and the corporate education reform agenda more broadly, while for others this was just about an awful test.

In this “big tent” approach, I think the Garfield teachers are sharing at least two important lessons with us:

  1. Effective education activism sometimes means bringing folks together around a specific issue, but doing so in a way that is broad enough to capture a relatively diverse range of viewpoints on that issue; and
  2. However individual Garfield teachers make sense of their protest, within the broader context of the struggles against high-stakes testing and corporate education reform nationwide, this action takes on important symbolic meaning that extends well beyond Garfield, the Central District, and Seattle.

At the most basic level, the national corporate school reform agenda requires teachers’ compliance. So regardless of individual motives, when a group of teachers collectively and publicly says NO, that represents a fundamental challenge to those pushing that elite agenda. The growing support for Garfield teachers’ resistance to the MAP test is a testament to just how much the collective action of teachers at one school means to the rest of the world.

Having all of the teachers at a school decide to support a boycott of a high-stakes, standardized test is a rare and beautiful thing, one that hasn’t happened since some Chicago teachers did it over a decade ago. That is powerful and inspirational stuff, and as far as I’m concerned, because we don’t yet know the district’s response, the teachers at Garfield are showing a level courage and heroism that I love and admire. Thank you Garfield teachers. You make me proud to be a Garfield Bulldog.

Wayne Au is a Rethinking Schools editor and an Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Washington, Bothell.  

Related Resources:

Testing our Limits,” by Melissa Bollow Tempel. Rethinking Schools, Spring 2012.

CovrPencilsDown120229.3_42Pencils Down: Rethinking High-Stakes Testing and Accountability in Public Schoolsedited by Wayne Au and Melissa Bollow Tempel. 

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The Broad Foundation wants to step on the gas….A recent memo from The Broad Center (TBC) proposes a series of strategic shifts in the foundation’s education programs designed to “accelerate” the pace of “disruptive” and “transformational” change in big city school districts, and create a “go to group” of “the most promising [Broad] Academy graduates, and other education leaders, who are poised to advance the highest-leverage education reform policies on the national landscape.”

Broad Foundation’s plan to expand influence in school reform

by Ken Libby & Stan Karp
Re-posted from The Washington Post Answer Sheet

The Broad Foundation wants to step on the gas.

The California-based foundation, built on the housing and insurance empire of billionaire Eli Broad, has made “transforming K-12 urban public education” a major priority. Its training and placement of top administrators in urban districts across the country and support for charter schools, school turnaroundsmerit pay and other market-based reforms have put it at the center of a polarized national debate about education policy.

A recent memo from The Broad Center (TBC) proposes a series of strategic shifts in the foundation’s education programs designed to “accelerate” the pace of “disruptive” and “transformational” change in big city school districts, and create a “go to group” of “the most promising [Broad] Academy graduates, and other education leaders, who are poised to advance the highest-leverage education reform policies on the national landscape.”

The plans were contained in a March memo for discussion at TBC’s Board of Director’s meeting in April 2012. It was included in documents released to New Jersey’s Education Law Center under the state’s Open Public Records Act. ELC was seeking information on a series of recent Broad Foundation grants to New Jersey’s Department of Education, which is led by Commissioner Chris Cerf, a Broad Academy graduate.

According to the memo, the proposed changes include:

  • Merging The Broad Fellowship for Educational Leaders and The Broad Superintendents Academy. The new academy (dubbed “Academy 2” in the memo) will be called The Broad Leadership Academy to reflect the wider range of positions graduates will seek to fill.
  • Creating a new advocacy group comprised of a “powerful group of the most transformational and proven leaders” who will work to “change the national landscape to make it easier for superintendents to define policy agendas, influence public opinion, coalesce political forces, and advance bold reforms on the ground.

An email from TBC to Cerf describes the proposals as “high level strategies for the Center in 2012-2013 that reflect a significant shift away from a focus on individual leadership development and career paths to an approach that seeks to have greater impact through a stronger focus on transformational leaders, driving people to reform-ready locations, and accelerating reforms across [TBC’s] network.”

Broad Leadership — “Academy 2.0”

The new Leadership Academy will seek to deepen the pool of potential candidates, pulling in more participants from outside the field of education and reducing “the experience level required for entering [the] training program.” The Academy’s revised program of study will aim to prepare leaders for positions beyond the superintendency of districts to include leaders of charter management organizations and state education departments.

Reducing the experience level required for entry into the program is designed to attract candidates with “more entrepreneurial backgrounds” and those who may be further away from assuming district leadership positions. The memo says the shift would allow the program to train future leaders of “systems that may not even exist today.”

In addition to drawing from a larger pool, the memo proposes significant changes to the training program. In the past, roughly two-thirds of Broad Academy training was dedicated to “core knowledge” (e.g. “instruction 101” and “school operations”). The remaining third was divided into “reform priorities” (including “educator effectiveness,” “innovative learning models,” “accountability,” and “school choice”); “reform accelerators” (“change management,” “political navigation/stakeholder management,” “public contributions,” and “communication”); and “systems-level management” (“providing strategic frameworks,” “theory of action,” “applied learning projects”).

The proposed plan greatly reduces the time spent on “core knowledge” of school systems to less than 10% and instead puts much more emphasis on “reform priorities” (40%), “reform accelerators” (30%), and systems-level management (nearly 20%). The shift toward strategies that produce greater political and policy impact is a recurring theme. It is also consistent with Broad’s “approach to investing” as described on its website: “We practice ‘venture philanthropy.’And we expect a return on our investment.”

Additionally, the new program will seek out potential candidates more aligned with TBC’s reform priorities rather than simply candidates looking to improve school districts. Future members of the Academy will be required “to make public contributions tied to their work, with a particular emphasis on [TBC’s] reform agenda.”

The combination of seeking more candidates from outside the field of education and increasing the policy and political focus of the Academy’s curriculum likely means future graduates would be even less familiar with school and classroom realities, and more ideologically aligned with Broad’s priorities.

Post-Superintendency Advocacy Group — “Broad Superstars”

The other major change for TBC is the creation of “a select, invitation-only group that will collaborate to address some of the most pressing challenges facing the education sector, help shape policy agendas, influence public opinion, coalesce political forces, and advance bold reform on the ground.” Comprised of 5-10 active leaders, the group would meet twice a year in Washington, D.C. to “help create a more supportive environment and change the national landscape.” The advocacy group appears to be a high-powered version of “Chiefs for Change,” a collection of state education chiefs pushing for significant changes to state education systems.

Why the changes? — “Take this program to the next level”

The proposed shifts reflect the changing education landscape, which is much different now than it was in the early 2000’s when TBC first began training future district superintendents. While superintendents remain important actors, they are hardly the only CEO-level positions in education. The growth of charter management organizations, a more active role for state departments of education (greatly enhanced by the Race to the Top and NCLB waiver process), and a variety of new non-profit and for-profit companies involved in various aspects of public education have opened up more high-profile (and high-paying) positions in the field. TBC wants their graduates occupying these positions, and establishing a human capital pipeline to fill these positions strengthens and expands Broad’s influence.

Likewise, the creation of “a go-to group for reform leaders” is a sign of the growing emphasis on politicized education advocacy. As Broad looks to make more dramatic changes to K-12 schools, this advocacy becomes an important tool for promoting TBC’s core policies and priorities to a wider audience. School choice, test-based teacher evaluation, charter expansion and business-style management “all favorite policies of TBC and the Broad Foundation”already have robust, phenomenally well-funded advocates at the state and national level and have made dramatic political gains over the past decade. The creation of an organized national voice for the Broad “superstars” of corporate school reform is an effort to consolidate and accelerate these gains.

As the memo boasts, “We have filled more superintendent positions than any other national training program, and remain the only organization recruiting management talent from outside of education. We have over 30 sitting superintendents in large urban systems, as well as state superintendents in four of the most reform-oriented states (Delaware, Rhode Island, Louisiana, and New Jersey). Broad graduates are in the number one or number two seats in the three largest districts in the country (New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago), and lead the newest turnaround systems in Michigan and Tennessee.”

With TBC’s influence already spread far and wide, the Broad Foundation is looking for more.

Ken Libby is a doctoral student at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Stan Karp is a Rethinking Schools editor and  director of the Secondary Reform Project for New Jersey’s Education Law Center.

Related Resources:

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