Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The @StarLedger, #FakeNews & the #PARCC Propaganda Machine

Years before 'fake news' became a household word, New Jersey's largest newspaper, The Star Ledger started its very own propaganda machine to bash teachers and prop up PARCC testing. 

With the flurry of PARCC testing bills posted in Trenton in the past couple of weeks, the state's largest newspaper and education 'reform' cheerleader has been shaking its pom-pons recently in favor of the deeply flawed test, tossing out wild claims with little evidence to back them up (all emphasis mine):

Phil Murphy has long strained to appease powerful critics of the PARCC, namely the teacher’s union, which prefers we let kids graduate without the kind of tests that hold teachers accountable. 
The idea that an invalid, poorly designed and un-vetted test can hold teachers "accountable" is simply illogical. The Ledger offers no evidence to support this far-fetched claim. Even the Christie administration wasn't so sure it would work because they kept changing the test's percentage of our evaluations seemingly at random.
But we need the PARCC because an A in Millburn is not the same as an A in Camden. We have to ensure that all kids succeed, not just those in affluent districts.
If the Ledger's only measure of success is the number of prestigious colleges and universities a school's students attend, then why aren't they raising a ruckus about all those students in Camden who have been denied rich, deep curriculums in the arts, humanities, foreign languages and technology (like they have in Millburn) because the state decided the best way to 'fix' their schools is to cut their funding, deny public input, silence parents and test the kids to death? That would never, ever happen in Millburn, and no test will ever close that disparity gap.

The PARCC and SBAC (Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium) tests were rolled out to assess student mastery of the Common Core State Standards that, along with carrot-and-stick financial incentives from the Obama administration, were supposed to level the educational playing field across all 50 states. The concept was that a child from New Jersey could move to Oregon and get the same education. Except that education reformers overlooked the fact that the United States is so culturally and economically diverse that a one size fits all education system is not appropriate. Schools in rural Central Oregon serve a very different student population—and have very different state funding—than students in Millburn NJ. Poverty plays a huge role in a child's chances for educational success. But The Ledger doesn't like to talk about that.
The Boston Globe recently tracked 93 local valedictorians and found that one in four failed to earn a college diploma in six years. Their high schools left them woefully underprepared. Some lost their scholarships. Others dropped out in frustration. We have the same problem in New Jersey. At Essex County College in Newark, 85 percent of incoming freshmen need to take remedial math. In 2017, only 13 percent graduated. While social promotion also happens in wealthier districts, those kids have a deeper safety net.  
I am not an education researcher, but from what I read in the Boston Globe study above, grade inflation—not standardized tests—is the main reason those students struggled in college. No educator with a lick of professionalism supports that, but sadly, it does happen, and 'reformers' themselves have been caught in the thick of some of the most controversial as we saw in the Washington, DC and Atlanta testing scandals.

And as for the remedial math and graduation rates at Essex County College, The Ledger assumes the PARCC test will fix those too, despite no mention of how long it had been since those students actually took a high school math class. And the fact that the school has been embroiled in turmoil, turnover and fiscal mismanagement for a few years—which was actually mentioned in the very same link—was apparently overlooked.

But The Star Ledger forges ahead!
This is why we need an objective test. Yet because the PARCC is such a powerful diagnostic tool that can trace a student’s learning problem right down to a particular teacher’s lesson, it ran afoul of the union. 

As Joe Biden would say, "What a load of malarky!" Sometimes I ask myself why I bother to respond to these sophomoric tropes, but as an educator, I believe I have an obligation to facts. And here are a few facts from a post I wrote back in 2016:  

1. The PARCC test is not diagnostic. In order for any test to accomplish this, it must have at least 25 questions per assessed skill. The PARCC does not. Bari Ehrlichson, Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Education, admitted this last year in a panel discussion on the PARCC.

2. The PARCC does not consistently assess grade-level skills. Rider University Professor and reading expert Russ Walsh analyzed some of the sample language arts questions and found many of them to be several grade levels above the tested grade. This is not only unfair to both students and teachers; it is also demoralizing to students. How can anyone be expected to succeed at something when the odds are heavily stacked against them from the start?
3. Research has shown that student designed projects and research are far more effective and meaningful ways for both teachers and students to assess deep learning and understanding. Standardized tests in general are meant to show trends, and as such, PARCC falls far short on the assessment continuum.
4. The American Statistical Association has warned that standardized tests should not be used to assess educator effectiveness because the methods being used are simply not reliable. And with the enormous emphasis now put on data in teaching, teachers should not be evaluated based on a flawed test that provides flawed data.
5. Out of the 24 states originally in the PARCC consortium only seven plus the District of Columbia will be participating in the 2016-2017 testing. This should be a red flag warning to every parent and educator.*
6. PARCC is not a reliable predictor of 'college and career readiness'. Recent research shows that high school GPAs are the most reliable predictor of college success. Yet all across this state—and country—related arts classes that help build those GPAs are being scaled back or eliminated to make way for more Common Core study and PARCC prep.    
7. A recently released study published in the School Superintendent Association's Journal of Scholarship and Practice concluded that a higher percentage of the 2009 New Jersey high school core curriculum content standards in English language arts and math prompted higher-order thinking than the 2010 Common Core State Standards for those same subjects and grade levels. We are dumbing down our students. 
8. The amount of testing students will be subjected to starting with the graduating class of 2020 is not only against current law, it’s just plain cruel. Starting with this class, in order to graduate high school, students will have to take and fail the PARCC not once, not twice, but three times before any real assessment of their academic progress can be used. What educator in their right mind thinks this is best practice?
9. There are big problems with scoring. Officials from PARCC have admitted there are discrepancies in scores between students who took paper and pencil tests vs. those who took the test online, with the former group scoring on average higher than the latter. And, despite PARCC's promise of leveling the playing field for all students in all states, the PARCC consortium states have the option to change their cut scores. This is nuts.
10. The fact that in its recently released report, the Study Commission On The Use Of Student Assessments in New Jersey failed to honor and recognize the hundreds of people who testified against this test, and instead recommended a marketing campaign* to crush the Opt-Out movement and brainwash parents and the general public into thinking it will solve all the world’s problems is proof that this test cannot stand on its own merit and should be thrown out.

* The PARCC consortium is now down to two states: New Jersey and New Mexico.

In a 2015 interview, Shani Robinson, one of the teachers caught up in the Atlanta cheating scandal had this to say about all that testing:
Who should really be held accountable for cheating the children? Our children have been cheated by those who have willfully torn apart black communities through displacement and gentrification, underfunded and privatized public schools, and then have criminalized black educators for a dysfunctional system that was designed to fail. ... I feel like this case is extremely important because public education is under attack, as we've seen in places where teachers are striking, and the cheating scandal was used to portray public education as a failure and justify privatizing schools.  

Privatizing public schools... that is the story The Star Ledger should be covering.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Super "Bowling For Dollars" — How Politicians & The @NFL Screw Taxpayers

Happy Super Bowl LIII! Today is Georgia taxpayers' day to get screwed! 

Photo credit: Danny Karnik

During the NFC & AFC playoffs, I wrote about the financial train wreck that was Super Bowl XLVIII, played in New Jersey in 2014, and how the NFL and its teams reap all the profits while host cities—and taxpayers—get screwed. Today the train wreck comes to Atlanta. 

The city just opened the shiny, new $1.6 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, paid for by taxpayers, the majority of whom cannot afford a Mercedes Benz; all of whom had no say in how their tax dollars were going to be spent. 

Michael Farren and Anne Philpot, researchers with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, reported on just how much the state will lose not only during the Super Bowl, but for many years to come. This isn't an anomaly. This is what happens when taxpayers subsidize professional sports. This is why 70% of Americans are against this practice.

So sit back with your guacamolé and wings and read their words. All emphasis mine:

Sunday’s Super Bowl, a rematch 17 years in the making, harkens back to a thrilling 2002 title game between Tom Brady’s underdog New England Patriots and the high-flying St. Louis (now-Los Angeles) Rams. 
But the host of this year’s game, Atlanta’s sparkling new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, reminds us of something less thrilling: the $1 billion or so that politicians give away in unnecessary public handouts to professional sports every year. 
The $1.6 billion stadium was underwritten by $248 million in local bonds. Once taxpayers pay those off, they’ll then write the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons an annual check for stadium operations and upkeep. 
Our calculations suggest taxpayers will pay around $1.02 billion over the course of the deal. Combined with $77 million in sales tax rebates, infrastructure investments, and city-provided land, locals could be on the hook for over five times the initial $200 million estimate. 
The story is the same in most other sports cities. And like other sports teams, the Falcons rake in buckets of money: corporate sponsorships ($900 million) and personal seat licenses ($267 million) could have paid for 75 percent of the stadium cost alone, not to mention annual revenue from season ticket sales ($550 to $3,850 per ticket), TV revenue and merchandise licensing ($256 million), stadium concessions, and other events held in the stadium. 
There are only so many tax dollars to go around. Misspending them to enhance sports industry profits means that public services must be cut, taxes have to be higher, or both. 
Atlanta will spend about as much on the stadium as it would cost to employ an additional 300 Atlanta police officers or educate 2,900 public school students for 30 years. 
Perhaps even worse, Americans from coast to coast share the burden. The income that lenders earn on the municipal bonds typically used to finance stadium construction is exempt from federal income taxes. 
That means the rest of us have to pay higher taxes (or see the federal deficit climb even higher) to make up for the shortfall. 
A tax exemption for stadium subsidies may sound like small potatoes, but Brookings Institution researchers estimated the loophole was responsible for $3.7 billion in lost federal revenue between 2000 and 2014. 
Former President Obama tried to end it, as did House Republicans in last year’s tax reform, but the sports industry won each time. 
Lately there have been encouraging examples of taxpayers and principled political leaders standing up to the sports industry. 
Last fall local citizen groups in Austin and Seattle gathered signatures to force public referenda that would require popular votes on future stadium subsidies — which is meaningful, since 70 percent of Americans say they’re against giving money to sports teams. 
Meanwhile, a group of Atlanta taxpayers are challenging another tax exemption. 
Their lawsuit argues that even though the Falcons’ stadium is built on publicly owned land, the fact that the team controls all events and revenue it generates means it should pay local property taxes. That could amount to $700 million over 30 years. 
And in the Washington, D.C. area, Virginia Delegate Michael Webert has for the past two years partnered with Maryland Delegate David Moon and D.C. Council member David Grosso to advance perhaps the best idea of all: an “interstate compact” that would prohibit subsidies for a new Washington Redskins stadium. 
This would prevent their three governments from engaging in a taxpayer-funded bidding war to attract the team. 
If all 50 states were to sign on to a similar agreement, we could permanently end the subsidy war for sports teams. As a bonus, it would eliminate a major reason that leagues restrict the number of teams, so new franchises could expand into more cities. 
Fans may be excited to experience the Super Bowl at Atlanta’s new state-of-the-art facility, but they should remember that the money that subsidizes stadiums could go to much better purposes. Sunday’s spectacle will show yet again that the NFL doesn’t need — or deserve — public money.
We have the money to fully fund public education, pay teachers a living wage, provide universal health insurance, pay for college, raise people out of poverty, and a whole host of other things that will improve the quality of life for millions in the richest country in the history of this planet. 

It's all about priorities.