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“The Racket With Standardized Test Scores”: Treating Test Scores The Way A Corporation Might Treat Sales Targets Is Wrong

It is time to acknowledge that the fashionable theory of school reform — requiring that pay and job security for teachers, principals and administrators depend on their students’ standardized test scores — is at best a well-intentioned mistake, and at worst nothing but a racket.

I mean that literally. Beverly Hall, the former superintendent of the Atlanta public schools, was indicted on racketeering charges Friday for an alleged cheating scheme that won her more than $500,000 in performance bonuses. Hall, who retired two years ago, is also accused of theft, conspiracy and making false statements. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Also facing criminal charges are 34 teachers and principals who allegedly participated in the cheating, which involved simply erasing students’ wrong answers on test papers and filling in the correct answers.

In 2009, the American Association of School Administrators named Hall “National Superintendent of the Year” for improvement in student achievement that seemed, in retrospect, much too good to be true. On Georgia’s standardized competency test, students in some of Atlanta’s troubled neighborhoods appeared to vault past their counterparts in the wealthy suburbs.

For educators who worked for Hall, bonuses and promotions were based on test scores. “Principals and teachers were frequently told by Beverly Hall and her subordinates that excuses for not meeting targets would not be tolerated,” according to the indictment.

But there was a sure-fire way to meet those targets: After a day of testing, teachers allegedly were told to gather the students’ test sheets and change the answers. Suddenly a failing school would become a model of education reform. The principal and teachers would get bonuses. Hall would get accolades, plus a much bigger bonus. And students — duped into thinking they had mastered material that they hadn’t even begun to grasp — would get the shaft.

State education officials became suspicious. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote probing stories. There seemed to be no way to legitimately explain the dramatic improvement in test scores at some schools in such a short time, or the statistically improbable number of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets. But there was no proof.

Sonny Perdue was Georgia’s governor at the time, and in August 2010 he ordered a blue-ribbon investigation. Hall resigned shortly before the release of the investigators’ report, which alleged that 178 teachers and principals cheated over nearly a decade — and that Hall either knew or should have known. Those findings laid the foundation for Friday’s grand jury indictment.

My Post colleague Valerie Strauss, a veteran education reporter and columnist, wrote Friday that while there have been “dozens” of alleged cheating episodes around the country, only Atlanta’s has been aggressively and thoroughly investigated. “We don’t really know” how extensive the problem is, Strauss wrote, but “what we do know is that these cheating scandals have been a result of test-obsessed school reform.”

In the District of Columbia, for example, there are unanswered questions about an anomalous pattern of wrong-to-right erasures on answer sheets during the reign of famed schools reformer Michelle Rhee, who starred in the documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman’ ” and graced the cover of Time magazine.

Our schools desperately need to be fixed. But creating a situation in which teachers are more likely than students to cheat cannot be the right path.

Standardized achievement tests are a vital tool, but treating test scores the way a corporation might treat sales targets is wrong. Students are not widgets. I totally reject the idea that students from underprivileged neighborhoods cannot learn. Of course they can. But how does it help these students to have their performance on a one-size-fits-all standardized test determine their teachers’ compensation and job security? The clear incentive is for the teacher to focus on test scores rather than actual teaching.

Not every school system will become so mired in an alleged pattern of wrongdoing that officials can be charged under a racketeering statute of the kind usually used to prosecute mobsters. But even absent cheating, the blind obsession with test scores implies that teachers are interchangeable implements of information transfer, rather than caring professionals who know their students as individuals. It reduces students to the leavings of a No. 2 pencil.

School reform cannot be something that ostensibly smart, ostentatiously tough “superstar” superintendents do to a school system and the people who depend on it. Reform has to be something that is done with a community of teachers, students and parents — with honesty and, yes, a bit of old-fashioned humility.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 1, 2013

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Education Reform, Educators | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Victory For The Middle Class”: On Obamacare’s Third Birthday, There Are Already Reasons To Be Grateful

On March 23, 2010, Obamacare — formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — was signed into law by President Obama.

Three years later, the bulk of the first serious attempt at near-universal health care has not yet taken effect. Health marketplaces are still being formed, states are still deciding if they’ll take Medicaid expansion and the subsidies that will help tens of millions of Americans afford health care won’t roll out until January 1, 2014.

Implementing Obamacare won’t be easy, as even some of the biggest fans of the program admit. Expanding Medicare to cover all Americans would have to be an even simpler solution but a complete political impossibility — given that Joe Lieberman (I-CT), whose vote was necessary to pass the law, single-handedly vetoed a provision that would allow 55- to 64-year-olds to buy into Medicare. It’s a compromise solution that uses unpopular provisions — like the individual mandate — to achieve extremely popular results — ending lifetime limits and banning insurance companies from dropping patients once they become sick.

There will be plenty of time to debate the efficacy of Obamacare — especially with insurance companies enjoying record profits threatening to raise rates in order to justify changes to the law.

But right now we should celebrate the greatest victory for the middle class since Medicare and Medicaid. At its heart, Obamacare is a program that asks the rich and corporations to pay a little more to help working Americans get insurance they can count on, thus lowering the cost of health care for everyone. We already pay for each other’s health coverage, but just in the dumbest possible way — emergency rooms.

Here are five reasons to be grateful for Obamacare, which is already making life better for the middle class.

Obamacare Frees Workers And Entrepreneurs

One of the most popular aspects of Obamacare is that beginning in 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny people coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Because insurance companies had been able to do this, many people avoided going to the doctor for fear of being diagnosed with a disease or condition that would brand them for the rest of their lives. Some stayed in jobs they didn’t want and others didn’t take the leap to start a new business for fear of not being able to get coverage. These changes especially free women — who by federal law can no longer be charged more for care because of their gender — to pursue new opportunities.

Insurance Companies Pay You Back

Insurance companies are required for the first time to prove that they’re spending between 80 and 85 percent of premiums, depending on the size of the company, on actual health care. If companies don’t spend that amount on coverage, they have to return that money to their customers — $1.2 billion was returned in 2012 to self-employed Americans whose insurers didn’t hit the proper ratio.

Millions Of Young People Already Covered

An estimated six million college students are already taking advantage of Obamacare’s provision that lets them stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26. This has led to a record drop in uninsured young people, allowing them to go back to school or pursue graduate degrees without taking on as much student loan debt.

Seniors Spend Less On Drugs

One of the most immediate benefits of Obamacare was the closing of the Medicare D prescription drug “donut hole,” which requires seniors to pay for the coverage gap between their deductible and yearly limit, at which point the plan covers all medication — $6.1 billion in drug coverage has already been distributed to seniors, which leads to the irony that Republicans ran and won in 2010 on saying that Obamacare cuts Medicare when, in fact, benefits for seniors have only increased. All the savings come from reforming the way providers are paid.

The Red States Get To Pay The Blue States Back

When the Supreme Court ruled that the mandate in Obamacare was Constitutional, it also gave states the chance to opt out of the Medicaid expansion that will provide free public health care for those not already on Medicaid, but who earn up to 133 percent of the poverty level. The states that are turning down the expansion, unfortunately, are some of those that need it the most. All of the states that have rejected the federal extra funding — which begins at 100 percent of the cost of the expansion and goes down to 90 percent — are states that generally vote Republican.

You probably know that most red states take in more federal money than they contribute, as Republican policies encourage growth of programs like food stamps. Though Republican governors can reject the benefits of Medicaid expansion, their richest citizens and corporations will still have to pay the taxes. As a result, they won’t be such “takers.”

Unfortunately, the working poor of red states — who earn too much to be on basic Medicaid — will suffer without the health insurance they need. Those on Medicare and Medicaid will likely see fewer doctors who want to accept clients from these programs, as Medicaid expansion was supposed to make up for the cut in reimbursement rates that begins in 2014. And all residents will not enjoy the slowdown in the growth of health care costs that will come from shrinking the number of the uninsured.

For red state governors, it’s a chance to fulfill the prophecies of doom Republicans made when Obamacare passed. But for residents of blue states, it’s a chance to make America’s health care system more equitable, with red states finally paying closer to their fair share.


By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, March 22, 2013; Photo: The Advisory Board Company

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Snob With No Common Sense”: Romney Is Winning Young Voters … For Obama

Why is Barack Obama officially kicking off his presidential campaign this weekend at Virginia Commonwealth University and Ohio State University?

Ohio and Virginia are easy since both are key presidential battleground states. But why start on college campuses? The answer is simple. To win re-election, the president needs the same kind of enthusiasm and support from young people he enjoyed in 2008. The president will have to work very hard to capture the magic of his last campaign. Not coincidentally, the Obama campaign just released a new viral ad called the “The Life of Julia” which depicts the positive impact that Obama policies will have on an American woman as she progresses through her life and career.

Rick Santorum may not recognize the importance of a college degree but most people do. A college degree gives young Americans the chance to compete effectively in a cut throat global economy. Helping young people get a college education is not snobbery, it’s just common sense. Data shows that college grads are less likely to be unemployed and more likely to make good money than people who don’t have degrees.

But the House Republicans want to make it more difficult for young people to compete internationally. Student loan interest rates will double by July 1 unless the GOP gets off its butt. But Republicans in true Darwinian fashion are pitting college students against pregnant women in the struggle for federal aid. But the GOP won’t even consider the idea of eliminating federal tax freebies for their budget buddies, the banksters and billionaires to fund college student loans and preventive healthcare for women. The banksters and billionaires have well-heeled lobbyists and millions of dollars to contribute to GOP campaigns. Pregnant women and college students don’t have anything that matters to Republicans.

I am a part-time college professor and many of the students I taught this semester won’t be back in the fall if House Republicans fail to block the increase in interest rates for college loans. Their absence will be a tragedy for America and our ability to compete in the global economy.

Since Mitt Romney has a degree from Brigham Young University and two degrees from Harvard, he should understand the importance of a college degree. But Mitt Romney doesn’t understand anything that matters to most Americans. Romney advised young people who can’t afford a college education to borrow money from their parents to go to school. Well that’s fine if your dad is as rich as Mitt Romney. But middle class Americans are just barely paying their mortgages and putting food on the table, so lending their kids money for a college education is just a pipe dream and another indication that Richey Romney doesn’t have a clue about the problems of working families.

Romney and other Republicans are doing everything they can to drive the millennial generation of Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 back into the Obama fold. When Barack Obama went on Jimmy Kimmel’s TV show, the GOP ran a TV ad which criticized the president for being “cool.” Since young people like “cool,” the Republicans were simply spending their own money to reinforce the Obama message to the millennials.

It’s just not the Republican position on college loans that is hurting the party. GOP positions on social issues are also keeping young people in the Democratic camp. Millennials are overwhelmingly prochoice and pro-gay marriage. Young people believe that there should be an easy path to citizenship for immigrants and they support the president’s efforts to reform the healthcare system. The religious fundamentalists who dominate Mitt Romney and the GOP scare the living hell out of young people who are suspicious of any kind of religious orthodoxy. According to Morley Winograd and Mike Hais in their book Millennial Makeover, the Republicans will pay an even higher price for their right wing social policies when the growing millennial generation becomes the dominate force in American politics over the next decade.

Republicans feel that the president is too cool for school. But the kids in school will vote again for Barack Obama because of his campaign efforts and because of the help he is getting from Republicans.


By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, May 4, 2012

May 5, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Satisfying The Base”: Why Republicans Can’t Stop Pissing Off Hispanics, Women, And Young People

What are the three demographic groups whose electoral impact is growing fastest? Hispanics, women, and young people. Who are Republicans pissing off the most? Latinos, women, and young people.

It’s almost as if the GOP can’t help itself.

Start with Hispanic voters, whose electoral heft keeps growing as they comprise an ever-larger portion of the electorate. Hispanics now favor President Obama over Romney by more than two to one, according to a recent Pew poll.

The movement of Hispanics into the Democratic camp has been going on for decades. What are Republicans doing to woo them back? Replicating California Republican Governor Pete Wilson’s disastrous support almost twenty years ago for Proposition 187 – which would have screened out undocumented immigrants from public schools, health care, and other social services, and required law-enforcement officials to report any “suspected” illegals. (Wilson, you may remember, lost that year’s election, and California’s Republican Party has never recovered.)

The Arizona law now before the Supreme Court – sponsored by Republicans in the state and copied by Republican legislators and governors in several others – would authorize police to stop anyone looking Hispanic and demand proof of citizenship. It’s nativism disguised as law enforcement.

Romney is trying to distance himself from that law, but it’s not working. That may be because he dubbed it a “model law” during February’s Republican primary debate in Arizona, and because its author (former state senator Russell Pearce, who was ousted in a special election last November largely by angry Hispanic voters) says he’s working closely with Romney advisers.

Hispanics are also reacting to Romney’s attack just a few months ago on GOP rival Texas Governor Rick Perry for supporting in-state tuition at the University of Texas for children of undocumented immigrants. And to Romney’s advocacy of what he calls “self-deportation” – making life so difficult for undocumented immigrants and their families that they choose to leave.

As if all this weren’t enough, the GOP has been pushing voter ID laws all over America, whose obvious aim is to intimidate Hispanic voters so they won’t come to the polls. But they may have the opposite effect – emboldening the vast majority of ethnic Hispanics, who are American citizens, to vote in even greater numbers and lend even more support to Obama and other Democrats.

Or consider women – whose political and economic impact in America continues to grow (women are fast becoming better educated than men and the major breadwinners in American homes). The political gender gap is huge. According to recent polls, women prefer Obama to Romney by over 20 percent.

So what is the GOP doing to woo women back? Attacking them. Last February, House Republicans voted to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. Last May, they unanimously passed the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” banning the District of Columbia from funding abortions for low-income women. (The original version removed all exceptions – rape, incest, and endangerment to a mother’s life – except “forcible” rape.)

Earlier this year Republican legislators in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Idaho, and Alabama pushed bills requiring women seeking abortions to undergo invasive vaginal ultrasound tests (Pennsylvania Republicans even wanted proof such had viewed the images).

Republican legislators in Georgia and Arizona passed bills banning most abortions after twenty weeks of pregnancy. The Georgia bill would also require that any abortion after 20 weeks be done in a way to bring the fetus out alive. Republican legislators in Texas have voted to eliminate funding for any women’s healthcare clinic with an affiliation to an abortion provider – even if the affiliation is merely a shared name, employee, or board member.

All told, over 400 Republican bills are pending in state legislatures, attacking womens’ reproductive rights.

But even this doesn’t seem enough for the GOP. Republicans in Wisconsin just repealed a law designed to prevent employers from discriminating against women.

Or, finally, consider students – a significant and growing electoral force, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008. What are Republicans doing to woo them back? Attack them, of course.

Republican Budget Chair Paul Ryan’s budget plan – approved by almost every House Republican and enthusiastically endorsed by Mitt Romney – allows rates on student loans to double on July 1 – from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. That will add an average of $1,000 a year to student debt loads, which already exceed credit-card debt.

House Republicans say America can’t afford the $6 billion a year it would require to keep student loan rates down to where they are now. But that same Republican plan gives wealthy Americans trillions of dollars in tax cuts over the next decade. (Under mounting political pressure, House Republicans have come up with just enough money to keep the loan program going for another year – safely past Election Day – by raiding a fund established for preventive care in the new health-care act.)

Here again, Romney is trying to tiptoe away from the GOP position. He now says he supports keeping student loans where they were. Yet only a few months ago he argued that subsidized student loans were bad because they encouraged colleges to raise their tuition.

How can a political party be so dumb as to piss off Hispanics, women, and young people? Because the core of its base is middle-aged white men – and it doesn’t seem to know how to satisfy its base without at the same time turning off everyone who’s not white, male, and middle-aged.


By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, April 26, 2012

April 29, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Severely Pandering Flip”: The Romney Pivot Is Underway

Today, during an exchange with reporters, Mitt Romney had some nice things to say about Paris. That’s commanding a lot of attention already on Twitter and elsewhere.

But this quote from Romney, in which he offered his support for the push to extend low interest rates on student loans — something Obama has been championing — is far more important:

I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans. There was some concern that would expire halfway through the year. I support extending the temporarily relief on interest rates…in part because of the extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market.

And so the pivot is underway. At his press availability today, Romney had not even been asked about the student loan push — yet he deliberately went out of his way to clarify his support for the extension, anyway.

This would seem to put Romney at odds with Congressional Republicans. Obama has launched an all-out push to get Congress to extend a provision of a 2007 law that is set to expire on July 1st — doubling the interest rate for nearly eight million students each year. Congressional Republicans are expected to oppose it along party lines, arguing that the extension represents a fiscally irresponsible effort to buy the youth vote. But now Romney appears to have come out for it.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for John Boehner, denied that Romney’s position is necessarily at odds with that of House Republicans, telling me that Congressional GOPers are still committeed to finding a way to extend low interest rates. But asked if Republicans supported Obama’s push to extend the law immediately, Steel wouldn’t say.

And Romney’s stance does seem at odds with that of Republicans like Rep. John Kline, the chair of the House education committee, who said recently: “We must now choose between allowing interest rates to rise or piling billions of dollars on the backs of taxpayers.”

Romney laid down a harder line against government help with student loans during the primary. In March, a high school senior from Ohio asked Romney at a town hall meeting what he would do to help students pay for college. Romney replied: “It would be popular for me to stand up and say I’m going to give you government money to pay for your college, but I’m not going to promise that…don’t expect the government to forgive the debt that you take on.”

But the student loan fight is one that seems tailor made for Obama to use against Romney. The GOP candidate claims that instead of favoring government activism to combat inequality, we should simply unshackle the private sector and allow it to create opportunity for everyone. The student loan fight gives Obama and Dems a good way to call the GOP’s “opportunity” bluff,” by asking why Republicans who claim expanding opportunity is the real way to combat inequality refuse to support government action that will facilitate it.

At any rate, at a time when Romney is making an aggressive bid for the youth vote, arguing that Obama is responsible for the unemployment travails of recent college grads, it appears Romney has decided he can’t afford to oppose extending the low interest rates Obama is pushing for right now.

UPDATE: Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith responds:

Mitt Romney continues to make promises that he can’t keep. While he previously endorsed the Ryan budget, which would make deep cuts to Pell Grants and allow student loan rates to double, and last week said that he would gut the Department of Education to pay for his tax plan, today we heard yet another—and contradictory — position from Romney on student loans. As the list of promises Mitt Romney has made to the American people gets longer — from giving $5 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans to claiming that he would balance the budget — the numbers just don’t add up.

The real question is whether Mitt Romney is being honest about his agenda and if so, whether he will come clean about the necessarily painful cuts he would have to make to meet all of his promises.


By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post Plum Line, April 23, 2012

April 24, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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