Monthly Archives: June 2016

Is college a bad investment or the American Dream for low-income students?

I was itching to pick apart a Boston Globe piece by Neil Swidey that was excerpted in Edushyster (aka Jennifer Berkshire) because it seemed to suggest that college wasn’t a good investment for low-income students. College isn’t that great equalizer that we make it out to be, but is a kind of an engine, widening the divide. It ends up helping the… Read more →

Why do suburban Mass teachers want to block school choice for the state’s poorest children?

It is hard to look at photos splashed all over social media with mostly white teachers who work in the suburbs, smiling, while they protest what would ensure that more disadvantaged children get the education that they deserve—the education that these teachers would most assuredly demand for their own children.   “But giving parents in underperforming districts more opportunity to… Read more →

Massachusetts once had the best state test in the country. Will it again?

The Hechinger Report, news story, 6-7-2016

The MCAS has long been considered one of the nation’s best tests at assessing student performance. But the shift to the Common Core State Standards meant it would have to go. The PAARC tests, used in states such as Illinois and New Jersey since 2015, were supposed to be even better. Not the joy-killing machines ruining childhood, as so many critics have portrayed standardized tests, but true measures of whether children were learning the key skills they would need as grown-ups: how to think critically, solve problems, make a convincing argument, and write a coherent paragraph.

Instead, the uproar over testing has only gotten louder. The increased difficulty of PARCC and other Common Core-aligned exams sent pass rates plummeting, while teacher evaluations linked to scores have fueled union-led fights, including those now unfolding in Massachusetts. And the continued use of multiple-choice questions has parents, teachers, and kids questioning whether the new tests could be much better than what they were replacing.

Amid the controversy, the Massachusetts Board of Education decided last fall to create an MCAS/PARCC hybrid unique to this state. Officials and educators are optimistic that by retaining control over the test, they will help preserve Massachusetts’s spot at the top of the US educational pack.

The Pension Pac-Man: Still Eating Away at Teacher Salaries

Teacherpensions.org, commentary, 6-14-2016

Last month “The Pension Pac-Man: How Pension Debt Eats Away at Teacher Salaries” was released, which used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to show that, like the proverbial Pac-Man, the rapidly rising costs of teacher retirement and insurance benefits are gobbling up funds that could be spent on salaries. The BLS released new data for 2016 last week, and the trends are all in the wrong direction:

  • Since 1994, teacher salaries have not kept up with inflation, but total teacher compensation has. That’s because benefit costs are rising much faster than inflation and eating up larger and larger shares of teacher compensation. As a share of total compensation, teacher salaries have never been lower. For the average teacher, their salary is only 68.8 percent of their total compensation; benefits consume the remainder.
  • Retirement costs tend to be higher in the public sector, but retirement costs for teachers remain much higher than for any other profession, including other public-sector workers. As a percentage of their total compensation package, teacher retirement benefits eat up more than twice as much as other workers (10.9 versus 5.1 percent).

Debunking the Myths Behind ‘The Math Myth’

The Atlantic, commentary, 6-13-2016

A political scientist recently argued that teaching people anything beyond arithmetic is useless, and that requiring algebra in high school drives the country’s dropout rates. Here’s why he’s wrong.

When the political scientist Andrew Hacker published The Math Myth and Other STEM Delusions earlier this year, he didn’t break the internet. But he certainly stirred up the math establishment in arguing that anything more complicated than arithmetic is useless to most people, that requiring algebra in high school is an obstacle that drives the country’s dropout rates, and that the Common Core’s approach to math, which calls for more complex math like trigonometry, is a mistake.

As a journalist who has made math education her beat for a while now, I have been fascinated by the whole debacle, in part because many of Hacker’s arguments are more than a century old.

While I agreed with him that for many, failing a math course can derail them from college, never mind graduation, he lost me when he insisted struggling students shouldn’t have to bother with more abstract math. The teenaged me would have rejoiced outwardly at no longer being forced to deal with functions—but inwardly, it would have been the confirmation of my groundless fears: Sorry, you’re too stupid to even try this.

This summer, ask your bored child: Was last school year too easy or too hard?

Summer vacation is now in full swing, but the new school year will soon be upon us, and the hard work of our students, teachers, and parents will begin anew.  Parents, of course, hope what is being offered in the classrooms will seem quite the exciting adventure for their children. However, if after only a few days or few weeks… Read more →

Parents to receive easier-to-read reports on Smarter Balanced test scores

EdSource, 6-7-2016

Parents across California will soon find out how their children performed on Smarter Balanced tests aligned with Common Core standards in math and English language arts.

A key change this year is that the score reports show student progress from last year to this year. The reports will include simplified text and easier-to­-read graphics than last year, according to new samples approved by the state. Parents should receive their children’s reports during the summer. This is earlier than last year, when some parents didn’t receive their children’s score reports in the mail until October or November, said Celia Jaffe, vice president of education for the California PTA.

The tests were first administered last year as part of the state’s California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP testing system. Each spring, more than 3 million students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 take the Smarter Balanced assessments.

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