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NCLB Outrages

Cal Fed Teachers says No to RTTT

Ohanian Comment: The first paragraph is a stunner. Using the moral theory of Do what it takes to get the money, this union statement says,in effect, "We're fine with local boards rating teachers by standardized test scores, so give us our money!"

Your union dollars at work, California teachers.

I realize that the ploy here is to bring this teacher evaluation fight to local districts to fight one by one. Let's hope at that point the California Federation of Teachers will fight hard against using standardized test scores for such a purpose. Just remember: Al Shanker, king of Standardistos, still lives. And if you doubt this, try attending a national convention.

The California Federation of Teachers argues that "A transition to high-quality international standards and assessment is a noble goal." I invoke the classic New Yorker cartoon (Dec. 8, 1928) for which E. B. White supplied the caption.

Smiling mother: "It's broccoli, dear."
Scowling child: "I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it."

State or international standards? I say they're standards and I say to hell with them.

Later the California Federation of Teachers statement says, "We are extremely disappointed."

So am I. Hot air is hot air no matter whence the source.

To: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
From: Marty Hittelman, President, California Federation of Teachers
Re: "Race to the Top"

Linking of Student Data

The Secretary of Education is proposing that a state must not have any legal, statutory, or regulatory barriers to linking data on student achievement or student growth to teachers and principals for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation. California does have a law that provides a "firewall" between student scores and the evaluation of teachers at the state level but not at the local level. It prohibits, at the state level, the use of data to evaluate individual teachers. California also has collective bargaining at the local level and all decisions regarding teacher and principal evaluation are made at the local district level. Thus California has no restrictions on the use of such data at the local level, where it matters, for such evaluations. As a consequence, California should be judged to be in compliance with this requirement.

We believe that student achievement and student growth data may be worthwhile tools in helping to improve school instruction when the data instruments contain information that is useful to the teacher. We do not believe that current standardized tests being administered as part of the No Child Left Behind meet that criteria.

In addition, there is no evidence, at this point, to indicate that wholesale adoption of such a regime makes educational sense. We have serious concerns about the validity and reliability of linking student achievement data with individual teachers, especially for the high stakes uses outlined within this notice of proposed priorities. The federal government should not be imposing such requirements on local school districts or states - especially in light of the fact that such testing is not widely accepted as beneficial in the educational community. We recognize that such linking is popular with many politicians and editorial writers but that is no reason to impose such requirements at the federal level.

It is imperative that any state data systems that include unique educator and student identifiers, and link these identifiers via achievement data, protect student as well as educator privacy rights.

Finally, summative decisions about teacher evaluation, teacher pay, and teacher benefits must be made at the local school district level, and where collective bargaining laws exist, bargained at the local level.

We believe that the weighting of the individual components of the evaluation plan should be subject to comment.

Standards and Assessments

California has committed to improving the quality of its standards by participating in a consortium of States that is working toward jointly developing and adopting, by June 2010, a common set of K-12 standards. We know that California has among the highest standards in the country. However, we do not believe that the federal government should require that states participate in this exercise in order to receive federal funds.

When national standards are developed, states should then be encouraged to address them. Any such standards-base system must include proven methods of helping improve instruction. They should be detailed and explicit and build on knowledge and skills previously acquired as students move through the education system. They must be rooted firmly in research and include subject matter content specific enough to lead to a knowledge-rich curriculum that can be mastered during the school year. These standards must pay attention to both content and skills, and must be grade-by-grade for K-8 and by course at the high school level. Assessments should provide information on how well the system and/or students are doing and indicate where changes in instructional strategies and resources are necessary if we are to improve learning for all children. They must be aligned to the standards and curriculum, valid, reliable, and used for the purposes for which they were designed. They must address more than quick answer math and reading skills and include a broad-based humanities centered curriculum.

Accountability for student achievement must address all relevant parties responsible for student achievement. This includes state requirements and adequate funding including funds for educator professional development and new teacher mentoring.

Both, the development and implementation of such a system must include the participation of representatives of teacher organizations. It must be informed by teachers' experience and not driven by political or pundit beliefs. It must be research based and provide teaching and learning conditions that foster student achievement. Any process for developing "national standards" should be transparent and include the involvement of classroom teachers. Simply providing an opportunity for "teacher input" is not enough.

The selection criteria give priority to states that adopt the standards developed by a multistate consortium. But standards alone are not enough. Adoption of the standards should be accompanied by the above necessary supporting components.

The June 2010 date for adopting the new standards is overly ambitious and does not appear to build in sufficient time to properly develop grade-by-grade common state standards and the necessary supporting components described here. States will need to substitute the new standards for their current standards, then work to align and publish the needed textbooks. States would need to implement professional development for teachers. This will take years and be expensive. In light of California's budget problems, the cost may be prohibitive.

Developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments

One criteria advanced is whether the State has demonstrated a commitment to improving the quality of its assessments by participating in a consortium of States that is working toward jointly developing and implementing common, high-quality assessments aligned with the consortium's common set of K-12 standards that are internationally benchmarked and that build toward college and career readiness by the time of high school graduation. We do not believe that this should be used as a criteria for judgment. It is simply a misuse of federal power. If states wish to participate, that is all to the good. To force them to with a threat or withholding resources is not a productive avenue.

Supporting transition to enhanced standards and high-quality assessments is another requirement. A transition to high-quality international standards and assessment is a noble goal. It should not be a criteria for federal money designed to seek new experiments. States should seek to align college entrance requirements with the new assessments; find new ways to disseminate proven materials; move from standards and information into implementation at the local level. They should be judged after they do it, not before they have developed best practices.

Criterion (A)(3) lists what state or LEA activities might include in order to successfully implement the use of enhanced standards. Given that teachers will be primarily responsible for ensuring successful implementation of the standards, the CFT recommends that teacher unions be involved in the development

We should be prioritizing the following specific strategies that we believe translate the standards into classroom practice: content-rich, sequenced curriculum and aligned assessments; standards-based guides for teachers that provide essential background knowledge; model lesson plans that new teachers could teach from and more experienced teachers could draw from as they see fit; pre-service teacher education and in-service professional development that prepare teachers to teach the specific content for which they are responsible; and textbooks that are focused on the standards.

Data Systems to Support Instruction

The scoring includes a goal of fully implementing a statewide longitudinal data system. This should not be part of the requirements, especially in a state like California whose budget does not even provide funding for the basics of education. Data collection serves no purpose when the State has underfunded education to the extent that California has. First we need to address teaching, then validating. Data should be available to teachers in a timely manner so that it can be used with current students. Decision making based on data would be a welcome change from the politically motivated and naive opinions of current policy makers (including the President and the Secretary of Education). We need the current administration to live up to its stated policy of making policy based on research not on personal beliefs. Data use must be required to comply with the privacy rights of educational workers and students.

We welcome instructional improvement systems that provide teachers, principals, and administrators with the information they need to inform and improve their instructional practices, decision-making, and overall effectiveness. We are still waiting for the studies that validate such “improvement” systems. We are concerned that researchers have adequate respect for our privacy laws and that these rights are strongly enforced.

Regarding data, the CFT supports the use of reliable and predictive data to improve schools and to inform instruction. In order to ensure that this happens, the criteria should specify that these data should come from multiple sources, including a variety of measures of student learning and contextual factors, not from one state test. Likewise, in order to improve instruction, the criteria should include professional development for teachers and principals on interpreting and using student achievement data gathered from multiple indicators. Furthermore, in order to truly promote the use of data to improve instruction, data must be accessible to educators in a timely fashion, and educators must be provided time to analyze the data and develop future lesson plans based on that data, preferably in collaboration with other teachers.

Additionally, we recommend, as stated before, that criterion (B)(2) stipulate that state use and management of education data must protect student and educator privacy and must protect personal information from accidental or intentional release to unauthorized persons and from intentional or accidental use for unauthorized purposes.

Great Teachers and Leaders

Alternative routes to teaching are fine but they must be designed so that well prepared teachers are produced. Administrators, including principals, should have prior teaching experience before being allowed to become school administrators. Research demonstrates that high teacher turnover is costly and detrimental to student achievement. Therefore, alternative certification programs should prepare teachers who want to build a successful career in the teaching profession, not just a two-year mission (as in Teach for America). While the pathways to teaching may look different, the results should be the same: effective teachers who remain in the profession for more than a couple of years and can facilitate student academic success.

Any evidence on schools should include the retention rate of teachers (including those for charter schools and alternatively certified candidates from different programs).

The definition of alternative certification routes should ensure that all teacher preparation programs, traditional or alternative, emphasize both subject matter knowledge and pedagogy, provide a meaningful and realistic clinical experience, and institute rigorous and relevant exit and licensure exams. The definition of alternative certification routes should include all components necessary to ensure that these programs provide prospective teachers with the skills and resources they need to take on the challenges they will face in their classrooms.

"Merit" Pay and Evaluations

Any requirement to pay teachers based on student test scores should not be included in any federal or state provision. This approach is highly controversial in the field of education and is not at the level of a standard that is well accepted in the profession. It should not be imposed from above. If local unions and school districts wish to negotiate such provision, that should be their decision. Any federal or state mandate on such policy is simply bad policy. It is just this type of "we know what is best for you" attitude that comes from on-high that helped us to oppose the last president of the United States. We hoped that we would not find it repeated in the Obama administration. As one of our members, fourth grade teacher Valerie Davisson, wrote, "It is not that teachers do not want to be held accountable or work hard, and it is insulting to insinuate that by dangling a few dollars in front of them, that they will somehow work harder and teach better. The fundamental reason that 'student outcomes' should not be used to determine teacher worth and pay, is that there is no way to apply them meaningfully and fairly." Davisson teaches in the Newport Mesa School District.

We believe in rigorous and transparent procedures for awarding tenure and for removing tenured and untenured teachers and principals after they have proven to be unsuccessful and had ample opportunities to improve. The CFT believes that to truly improve teaching quality and student achievement, we must focus on both high standards of practice for teachers and valid evidence of student achievement. Any evaluation system must consider the weight it gives to the evidence of teaching practice and student achievement. For example, an evaluation system that values student achievement data considerably more than good teaching practices will result in undesirable practices such as narrowing of the curriculum to tested subjects, excessive test preparation, and focusing on “bubble” students. Conversely, a system that does not focus sufficiently on student learning cannot make crucial connections between teaching and learning.

The core issue in this entire discussion should be how student progress and the teacher’s contribution. We believe that any measure of such progress and contribution be transparent and rigorous. We do not believe that standardized assessments should be the predominant factor in teacher evaluation systems. The limitations of current testing instruments to capture the full range of learning as well as the instability of value-added measures is evident to anyone who has actually studied the issue (not just read their local newspaper). Research has so far shown that those value-added models that have been developed to date provide measures of student learning that vary enormously from year to year, especially for individual teachers, and even more so for teachers in small classes and small schools. Reasons for the annual instability should be easily understood by persons who have experience in actually teaching students: substantial statistical "noise" in both the pre- and post-test years from small sample size, test measurement error, sampling error, and changes in the classroom and school environment outside the teacher’s control; testing periods that include two teachers—but the results attributed to only one teacher—when tests are administered before the end of the school year; non-random assignment of students to teachers including the practice of assigning the "best" teachers or the newest teachers to the hardest to reach students or assigning the best performing students to a teacher and then grading him or her on percentage increases; rapid turnovers in student populations; and the failure in some value added models to include student background and the fade out of prior teacher effects during summer break. There is also the obvious problem of judging improvements when students are taking a course such as biology or chemistry where there are no beginning levels of knowledge in the subject.

In addition, student achievement should include evidence of growth in knowledge and skills based on multiple measures. Just as no one measure can evaluate teacher performance, no one measure can or should account for student learning. Noticeably missing from the notice of proposed priorities is evidence of learning by examining student work. This would be a more meaningful way to assess student growth, but would require states and districts to invest resources in the development of a standardized approach to analyzing student work. The cheapest approach (multiple choice tests) are not as valuable as more expensive tests that require reading the students work and evaluating it - which teachers actually routinely do.

It has also been shown through research by the Educational Testing Services and others that only 20% to 30% of student test achievement is based on what happens in the classroom/school. The rest is correlated to what happens in homes and communities. This result has been known since the Coleman report was issued in 1966.

Criterion (C)(2) (and its attendant definitions) does not suggest workable options for evaluating the majority of teachers. Based on the definitions of student achievement and student growth, it is clear that the current draft focuses on at best, 30% of the current teaching force that will have value-added data available.

For non-tested grades and subjects, the examples included in this draft either relate back to "tested grades and subjects" (because for the most part, interim assessments are not available for subjects for which there are not summative assessments, i.e. those already included in "tested grades and subjects" or those with end-of-course exams) or cannot validly be tied to an individual teacher’s instruction.

Criterion (C)(2) would require that for at least 70% of teachers, decisions relating to evaluation, compensation and tenure for individual teachers would be based on factors that in no way can be tied solely to an individual teacher: "rates at which students are on track to graduate from high school, percentage of students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses who take Advanced Placement exams, rates at which students meet goals in individualized education programs."

Given the high stakes attached to teacher evaluation in this proposal, a more thoughtful and research-based approach to including evidence of student achievement from non-tested grades and subjects is needed. As written, criterion (C)(2) encourages the development of additional tests for the current non-tested grades and subjects, and the use of these tests for purposes other than those intended. It is also clear that both educators and the public agree that we do not need more tests. We are concerned with the use of the strictly limited funds for education that currently exists being used to do even more testing. We suggest a prohibition on the development of more tests, especially for kindergarten through second grade, and a requirement that all tests be used only for their intended purposes.

Teacher ratings should take into account indicators other than data on student achievement. These should be developed based on research based standards of practice that define what effective teachers do to facilitate student achievement. A comprehensive teacher evaluation system focused on increasing teacher quality and improving student achievement would ensure that the domain of planning and preparation was accounted for, measured and given weight in the system.

We agree that an improved teacher evaluation system must include the necessary teaching and learning supports as well as professional development for all teachers. Teacher evaluation should truly be about improving the quality of the workforce and student achievement. This can be done by identifying, developing and supporting effective teachers. But effective teachers do not exist within a vacuum; they exist within a school culture and environment that nurtures and develops their talent. Accountability can no longer be focused on teachers alone. All members of the school community—administrators, teachers, parents and school staff—must be held accountable for creating a school environment that promotes teacher and student success. Teachers need resources including the time to collaborate with their colleagues around student achievement data if their students are to be successful. Teachers and students will not thrive in an environment that is not conducive to teaching and learning. Therefore, in order to foster shared responsibility, measures for assessing a school’s teaching and learning environment should be developed and included in a teacher evaluation system.

Because collaboration breeds success, alternative compensation systems that provide schoolwide bonuses should be prioritized, at the local school district level, over those that make individual determinations.

The rules should include language about validity and reliability of evaluation instruments, mandatory training of evaluators, training of teachers in a new evaluation system, including teachers as evaluators, ensuring teacher buy-in. Such rules would increase the likelihood of a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation system aimed at improving teacher quality and student achievement.

Finally, the standard of proof (e.g., regarding accuracy, validity, reliability) of using teacher evaluation and student achievement data for decisions about professional development, compensation, promotion, granting tenure and dismissing teachers must be reasonably high. For high stakes permanent decisions such as granting tenure or dismissing a teacher, you need to ensure that you have an even greater standard of proof so that you have the time and opportunity to overcome the clearly methodological limitations in light of the consequences of these permanent decisions.

Equitable Distribution of Effective Teachers

The limited goal of an equitable distribution of effective teachers needs to be broadened to ensure that all students are taught by a high quality teacher. Criterion (C)(3) refers to plans for the "implementation of incentives and strategiesâ€Â¦" We have found that involuntary transfers are not a solution. Instead, plans should include investments in teacher support and development. This includes teacher preparation, induction and mentoring programs, and innovative, teacher-led peer assistance and review. It also includes addressing the conditions that make attracting and retaining teachers in certain schools persistently difficult, and providing the necessary wrap-around services to low-income students so that teachers can focus on teaching rather than on a student’s medical, dental, and nutritional needs. The best and only real solution is to make hard-to-staff schools desirable places for students to learn and for teachers to teach. School systems need to identify the strategic mix of programs and professional supports to ensure that every school offers a positive environment for students and teachers. The responsibility for securing the resources and supports for this strategic mix must be shared by all stakeholders.

Best Practices for Effective Teachers and Principals

We support the responsible collection and reporting of relevant data so that we can gather best practices about what successful teacher, principal, and district preparation programs do to help prepare effective teachers and principals. However, our serious objections to using student test scores to determine teacher and principal quality as outlined throughout this document also apply to using these test scores to determine the quality of preparation programs.

Finally, we recommend that the teacher of record - no matter his or her certification status - be included in this data collection effort around teacher preparation. Past data collection efforts of this nature have excluded individuals who are in alternative certification programs or who are otherwise not fully certified. All preparation programs should be held accountable.

We agree that data should be available to inform lesson planning and instruction, but are concerned that setting an arbitrary time of 72 hours will lead to the development of low-quality assessments that can be quickly graded and returned to teachers but is of little if any value. Not all data needs to be available to teachers within 72 hours, especially data that will inform professional development opportunities. Rather, the focus should be on both the timeliness of available data as well as the quality of the data. More importantly, a systematic way to include teachers’ input into the effectiveness of the evaluation system must be incorporated. This way, when problems arise such as the timeliness or availability of data to inform instruction, teachers have a way to adjust the system to make it more effective.

Additionally, data must be collected on standards of effective teaching practices. Value-added data in particular tell nothing about why a teacher is effective or ineffective. If the ultimate goal of an evaluation system is to improve teaching practice to foster student achievement and growth then we must collect data on teaching practices. We need to include a variety of evaluation techniques to capture the breadth of effective teaching and professional practice including classroom observations, review of lesson plans, self-assessments, teaching artifacts and portfolio assessments.

Interventions for Struggling Schools

The CFT objects to this priority. States have poor track records in intervening in the management of low-performing schools, especially in high-need urban areas. For the most part, state education agencies simply do not have the capacity or an understanding of local contexts to effect positive changes that will improve schools. State Education Agencies lack the funding, the number of staff or the staff with expertise to intervene in low-performing schools. This was true for most states before the current economic recession; now it is true for nearly all states, including California.

Furthermore, research indicates that it is very difficult to use a strategy that has worked in one district or school in another. In order to be successful, school improvement has to address the particular needs of the school and community. School districts have more capacity to tailor interventions to the particular needs of schools and their community than states do.

Charter Schools

The emphasis on charter schools is misplaced. Recent studies have shown that the great majority of charter schools do about as well as regular public schools with about a third of them doing worse. This is hardly a success story to emulate and impose on the states.

Charters schools may be able to play a role as laboratories for innovation, but that evidence is not yet in. As a consequence, policy edicts to lift charter caps should be weighed against the research on charter school quality. California now has enough charter schools to see if they can actually contribute to providing quality education and new idea development. Charter caps serve as a control on quality. In addition, charter schools should be held accountable for the claims that they make to parents and to the state. It might even be a good idea to develop guidelines that define a rigorous approval process that charter authorizers must follow, including an examination of the educational and financial track record of proposed school operators. We also recommend that when reporting on the extent to which the State has closed or not renewed charter schools, the State should report on the number of schools that have closed for each of the following reasons: academic, financial, low enrollment, or mismanagement. The CFT recommends adding a requirement that addresses the extent to which the public retains an ownership interest in facilities that have been acquired or improved with public funds. If public funds are used for these purposes, the public interest should be protected. In California, we need to look at the conditions of school bond money to determine whether it can legally be used for non-district charter schools.

We also recommend adding a new criterion (D)(2)(v) to consider the extent to which the state collects data on the student populations served by its charter schools, including students with disabilities, English language learners and low income students and the extent to which charter schools serve student populations comparable to those in non-charter public schools in the areas in which they are located.

Turning around Struggling Schools

Most of the proposals under (D)(3) are not backed by evidence that they work. Before imposing such requirements on states, more research needs to be done on their effectiveness.

The CFT is committed to improving struggling schools. But reforms must be evidence-based. Overall, we believe that the four options offered are too narrow, rigid and preclude the very reforms that have proven to be effective. AFT affiliates have collaborated with local school districts and other partners to address the problems of struggling schools. Based on our experience and evidence and that of the AFT, there are some things that seem to have worked: Standards-based, common curriculum, smaller class sizes, individual and small-group tutoring before/after school day, extended day/year, schoolwide discipline policies, same student populations in redesigned schools, and block scheduling (secondary schools).

We believe that the rules should consider that issues that are important to educators: ongoing, embedded professional development; teacher voice in instructional and school decision-making; common planning time for staff; additional compensation for extended time (pro-rata); early involvement and buy-in with turnaround planning; and peer involvement in staffing selections.

There are four options within (D)(3) that fall under collective bargaining provisions, including staffing, time, evaluation, and compensation. This notice should require that all of these items be locally negotiated by the collective bargaining representative and nothing in these requirements shall be construed to alter or otherwise affect the rights, remedies, and procedures afforded school or school district employees under Federal, State, or local laws (including applicable regulations or court orders) or under the terms of collective bargaining agreements, memoranda of understanding, or other agreements between such employees and their employers. (This is consistent with Section 1116(d) of ESEA.)

Also, the goal in all of these options should be to serve the entire former student population. The school should not be shuttered for a year and then reopened after a full school year has passed because this displaces children and disrupts communities. Any planning year should happen while the students attend their current school, which may be reopened the following year under a different name, under different management, and/or with turnaround elements in place. Any charter school used under the options should have a demonstrated track record of success.

We are opposed to Option 3 as it would displace students and disrupt communities.

We are opposed to any school reform initiative that would displace students and disrupt communities. Option 4 should be available to all schools, not confined to schools for which the other strategies “are not possible.”

Overall Selection Criteria

The CFT commends the inclusion in criterion (E)(3) the demonstration of a commitment of support from the state teachers union, and if applicable, a memorandum of understanding signed by the local teachers union. When the union is an equal partner in the development and implementation of reform, it not only increases leadership and builds professionalism, but it all but guarantees success. When this is not done and programs are imposed on teachers, the opposite has occurred. Perhaps this is at least one instance when President Obama is living up to his promise to work with us, not just impose things on us.

Overall, we are concerned that the definitions of student achievement, effective teacher, and highly effective teacher all rely too heavily on student test scores. We object strongly to the notion that the effectiveness of a school can be validly determined by test scores.

We believe that principals have a role in creating and shaping the conditions conducive to student success. Therefore, we recommend that at minimum, the definition of “effective principals” should include data about staff turnover rates and working conditions data.

We are also concerned with the proposed definition of a "High Need LEA" as it is inconsistent with the actual definition used in Section 14013 (2) of P.L. 111-5, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009. Under this overly-broad definition, districts with a minimum of just one high poverty school would be considered a "High Need LEA". We believe that setting the poverty threshold at such a level undermines the Department's intent to prioritize funding for truly “high need LEAs.”

Consistent with the enabling legislation, “High Need LEA” should be defined as a district that "...(A) that serves not fewer than 10,000 children from families with incomes below the poverty line; or (B) for which not less than 20 percent of the children served by the agency are from families with incomes below the poverty line."

In Summary

We do not believe that teaching students to fill in bubbles is a good way to measure student knowledge or to motivate teachers. We believe that it actually harms education when the focus is improving scores on multiple choice standardized tests. Education is much more than "getting the right answer" and an approach that is driven by such a consideration takes the "juice" out of teaching and diminishes the value of creativity, ability to complete a task, and the love of a subject. Such an approach is not a motivator of innovation or the teaching critical thinking skills. Such an approach also leaves out any reasons why to provide exposure to art, music, theater, and physical education. It takes more than the ability to fill in bubbles to be considered an educated person. We thought President Obama understood that. With the proposed requirements of The Race to the Top, we are led to believe that he subscribes to the No Child Left Behind ideology of narrow testing and one size fits all education. We are extremely disappointed.

We are concerned that the Governor and legislators of California will succumb to temptation of increased funding while, at the same time, giving up traditional state and local autonomy in the area of education. We believe that many of the requirements of Race to the Top, if implemented, will turn out to be detrimental to the education of our students. We believe that is unwise for California to accept and for the federal government to impose changes that have not been shown to be productive. It is one thing to try new things, it is another to impose them before they have been shown to work.

Charter Schools

We believe that the heavy hand in favor of charter schools in Race to the Top is misplaced. It is our experience that charter schools are not the answer to improving public schools. Most of them do not do better than regular public schools and many of them do worse. A recent study has shown that only 17 percent of charter schools produced higher academic gains than the traditional public schools and 37 percent did worse. The rest were about the same.

If charter schools are to become labs for new directions they should be required to serve English language learners, students with disabilities, and very low income students. They should be held accountable for academic achievement the same way that our non-traditional public schools are. They should be financially sound and based on the same state standards as those proposed for traditional public schools.

Standardized Testing

We believe that the emphasis on standardized tests is misplaced and destructive. Multiple choice tests in math and reading do not address the real goals of education. Teaching to the test not only narrows the curriculum but tends to destroy any love of learning. When tests drive the curriculum, instruction suffers. It is not fair to teachers, students, and schools to have standardized test scores as the main determinant of teacher and school quality. It is not fair to base high stakes decisions on these test scores. Anyone who has spent much time in the classroom will tell you that one day’s performance in not a valid indicator of a student’s mastery of his or her school year curriculum and growth. That is why educators use ongoing quizes, tests, written assignments, and portfolios to determine how much a student is growing. Not only are children's performances on one standardized test not a valid measure of quality, but it also unfair to determine things like compensation and dismissal based on these test scores. Such an approach will cause some teachers to fight for the easiest group of students to teach in order to maximize pay. This is just not a productive approach.

In addition, it is unclear how the proposal would base teacher evaluation, compensation, promotion and dismissal on standardized tests, when most teachers teach grades and subjects not captured in standardized tests or repeated. We are also concerned that the use of data does not violate student and educator privacy rights.

We are also concerned that the programs are being proposed that have not shown success in turning around schools while proven, school-based programs, are not under consideration. Our experiences indicate that schools improve when teachers are provided relevant professional development, supports such are mentoring and induction, manageable class size adjustments are made, supportive principals are assigned, qualified and trained support staff are assigned, a voice in school-level decisions is present, and the schools are safe places to work. Firing or moving staff has not proven to be a successful solution. It only makes things worse. And, closing a school has the devastating effect of disrupting communities and displacing children. The disruptions weigh most heavily on our minority communities.

Making Progress in Closing the Achievement Gap

Any effort to close the achievement gap in our schools that does not address the conditions that children grow up in is doomed to failure. Schools can only do so much in the time that they work with students. Until this country closes the gaps in job opportunities at a livable wage, health care, and affordable housing, efforts for improvements in the schools will have limited success. In addition, you can develop all the best tests in the world but if you don't improve the conditions in the schools that students and teachers operate in, the test scores will not improve. As the famous farmer said, "Weighing my hog accurately doesn’t help it to grow heavier."

— Marty Hittelman
California Federation of Teachers


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