Asking the Question: What Is the Purpose of Public Education in a Democracy?

Today’s blogger is Aaron Samuel Zimmerman, an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education at Texas Tech University, whose recently published article Democratic Teacher Education: Preserving Public Education as a Public Good in an Era of Neoliberalismappears in the special issue of The Educational Forum on educator activism in politically polarized times. In that article, he argues that teacher educators play an essential role in preserving public education as a public good.

In your opinion, what is the purpose of public education?

  • To prepare students with the skills they need for the workforce?
  • To provide students with credentials that will facilitate their social mobility?
  • To cultivate the virtues that students need in order to participate as active citizens within a democracy?

Americans tend to hold multiple (and sometimes conflicting) priorities when it comes to public education (Labaree, 2011). We tend to believe that public schools can prepare students for democratic participation while simultaneously preparing students with the knowledge, skills, and credentials they need to advance in a capitalist economy. When we examine the current state of public schools in our country, however, we disturbingly find that schools tend to function almost exclusively as private businesses catering to consumers rather than as public institutions committed to preserving the public good (Ravitch, 2014).

I understand this to be just one more symptom of neoliberalism, the political and economic ideology that places a premium on privatization and self-interest. At this point, the influence of neoliberalism in our country is so prevalent that we are hardly even aware that it consistently shapes our values and decision-making (Giroux, 2008). One need look no farther than Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—and, before her, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—to see the way in which neoliberal values have crept into public education. Parents are treated as customers, schools are positioned as businesses producing a product, and students are taught how to become diligent workers (and faithful consumers) in a capitalist economy.

Sadly, teacher education tends to perpetuate neoliberal ideology. Most teacher education programs (both university-based programs as well as alternative routes to teacher certification) focus on helping teacher candidates learn how to raise student test scores (Kumashiro, 2010). Indeed, teacher quality is often measured by standardized test scores (Harris & Sass, 2011); but, unless teacher educators actively challenge this paradigm, early-career teachers will enter the profession assuming that high scores on standardized tests represent the ultimate goal of public education.

Of course, this is not to say that we should never measure student achievement or teacher quality through standardized tests. Public education in our nation, however, is in danger of being completely overtaken by this neoliberal logic. Teachers in public schools do more than help students achieve a credential; public school teachers also play a formative role in sustaining democracy by cultivating the virtuous dispositions required for democratic participation (dispositions such as open-mindedness, honesty, imagination, and generosity; see Huber-Warring & Warring, 2006). Our country’s democracy will suffer if teachers and teacher educators do not actively defend public education’s democratic purpose. We need to remind ourselves that public education can do so much more than provide students with degrees, grades, and GPAs. Public education has the potential—and, perhaps, the responsibility—to nurture democratic citizens.

Therefore, I would like to ask teachers and teacher educators the following questions:

  • What do you believe is the purpose of public education?
  • Do you actively pose this question to the aspiring teachers whom you mentor?
  • Do you pose this question to the members in the communities whom you serve?
  • What are ways that we can collectively invite teachers, students, and, indeed, all citizens to reimagine the role that public education can play in our democracy?

I titled this blog entry “Asking the Question” because, indeed, asking the question is half the battle. If we do not actively ask ourselves questions about the purpose of public education, other people will answer the questions for us . . . and those answers are likely to be justified only by a profit margin.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the special issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through August 31, 2018.

References
Giroux, H. A. (2008). Against the terror of neoliberalism: Politics beyond the age of greed. New York, NY: Paradigm.
Harris, D. N., & Sass, T. R. (2011). Teacher training, teacher quality and student achievement. Journal of Public Economics, 95(7–8), 798–812.
Huber-Warring, T., & Warring, D. F. (2006). Are you teaching for democracy? Developing dispositions, promoting democratic practice, and embracing social justice and diversity. Action in Teacher Education, 28(2), 38–52.
Kumashiro, K. K. (2010). Seeing the bigger picture: Troubling movements to end teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1–2), 56–65.
Labaree, D. F. (2011). Consuming the public school. Educational Theory, 61(4), 381–394.
Ravitch, D. (2014). Reign of error: The hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to America’s public schools. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

 

Welcome to the KDP Public Policy Committee Blog

What is our mission?
Kappa Delta Pi established the Public Policy Committee several years ago with the purpose of creating “a forum to communicate and exchange educational policy issues that advance the field of education in a reflective manner in order to sustain professional opportunities, advancement, and growth for educators, and success for students.”

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What have we accomplished?
Since its inception, the KDP Public Policy Committee has hosted a series of webinars that inform the general membership about advocacy and education-related policy issues. The committee also has published several scholarly papers titled “Reasoned Voice” to inform and guide members when advocating.

voiceWhat are we currently doing?
This fall, the KDP Public Policy Committee launched a voter registration campaign. The goals of the campaign are to educate members about the four parties’ education platforms (listed in alphabetical order – Democratic, Green, Libertarian, and Republican) and to encourage members to vote in the upcoming presidential election on Tuesday, November 8. To date, KDP members have received two emails about the parties’ positions on standardized testing and financing a college degree. Three more emails are forthcoming in the next few weeks.

What can you do?
We invite you to follow our blog between now and the upcoming elections on November 8. We will publish a series of postings that will help KDP members to become more informed voters.

After the elections are over, we will turn our attention to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Between now and then, we are asking KDP members to share what’s happening in your district and state regarding ESSA. We want to know! Please email your comments to membership@kdp.org.

Sincerely,
Nathan Bond, Chair of the KDP Public Policy Committee

Test Use and Abuse

Tienken_KDPStandardized test results play an important role in the education landscape today. The results from state-mandated standardized tests are used to make multiple determinations and interpretations about teachers, school administrators, students, and school quality. In most cases, state education bureaucrats use the results from one mandated standardized test in mathematics and one test in English language arts for multiple purposes to meet the various Race To The Top grant and No Child Left Behind waiver reporting requirements for teacher and principal effectiveness as well as college and career readiness for students.

The results from the state-mandated high school mathematics test in Grade 11 could be used to make determinations about (a) the effectiveness of the high school principal, (b) the effectiveness of the high school math teachers, (c) the quality of the school district’s mathematics program, (d) whether a Grade 11 student is college ready, (e) whether that student is career ready, (f) a student’s strengths and weaknesses in math, (g) Grade 12 course placements for that student, and (h) whether the student can graduate high school. That is eight determinations made totally or in part from one test score.

If the test results have not been validated for making multiple determinations, then the decisions made about educators, students, schools, and school districts that are based on the results could be flawed.

A current example includes the use of state test results to rank schools and school districts and to reward and punish them. As I elaborate upon in Education Policy Perils: Tackling the Tough Issues, results from state standardized tests can be predicted with a great deal of accuracy at the school and district levels, using only community demographic data. Some school and district educators are needlessly critiqued, replaced, or put on corrective action while others receive praise, all based on test results that have not been validated for making those types of determinations.

The seventh edition of the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing contains 12 categories of standards and provides specific guidance on topics that include appropriate test design, development, validity, and use of standardized tests and results (AERA, APA, & NCME, 2014). Standard 1.0 states, “Clear articulation of each intended test score interpretation for a specified use should be set forth, and appropriate validity evidence in support of each intended interpretation should be provided” (AERA et al., 2014, p. 23). Standard 1.1 expands on this guidance: “No test permits interpretations that are valid for all purposes or in all situations. Each recommended interpretation for a given use requires validation” (AERA et al., 2014, p. 23). Standard 1.1 further recommends, “A rationale should be presented for each intended interpretation of test scores for a given use, together with a summary of the evidence and theory bearing on the intended interpretation” (AERA et al., 2014, p. 23).

For example, using a standardized test administered in Grade 3 to determine college and career readiness would potentially require a validation period of 8 years for the college readiness determination and longer for career readiness validation. College readiness and career readiness are two different determinations and require two separate validations of the test results to make those determinations. Similarly, one might argue for more evidence of validity in the case where an elementary school principal receives an ineffective rating based on school standardized test scores while the majority of her teachers are rated effective via the same test results.

The authors of the standards present specific cautions about using results from standardized tests for multiple purposes in educational settings like P–12 public schools. A test designed to measure the effectiveness of a school principal may not be valid for measuring the effectiveness of a classroom teacher. The authors state clearly, “No one test will serve all purposes equally well” (AERA et al., 2014, p. 195).

Users of standardized test results should attempt to confirm the results for groups and individuals by obtaining multiple forms of data about those groups or individuals. Data from various sources should be triangulated so that a decision is not made based only upon the results from a single state-mandated standardized test.

Educators in a school could develop a menu of other indicators one could use to make important decisions about students and teachers without using any results from state-mandated standardized tests. They could create a simple matrix with the type of determination to be made listed on the left side of the matrix and all the existing sources of data at hand running along the top of the matrix. Then they would be able to easily identify determinations that lack at least three different types of data. That could help alert educators to the types of assessments they might have to develop in-house. More importantly, the exercise will help educators kick the habit of using results from one test for multiple purposes for which the test was not designed.

Dr. Christopher H. Tienken is an Assistant Professor at Seton Hall University in the College of Education and Human Services, Department of Education Leadership, Management, and Policy. He is a former public school teacher and administrator. He serves as the Academic Editor of the KDP Record.

Excerpt from Tienken, C. H. (2015). Test use and abuse. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 51(4), 155–158. Used with permission.

Standardized Testing: A Disruption To Quality Learning

On October 24th, President Obama released a statement calling for changes in standardized testing in America’s schools. Although the details have yet been released, it is encouraging the Obama Administration acknowledges that standardized testing has overextended its purpose.

As a veteran of public education, such news is profoundly welcomed.  Over the past 20 years, going back to the Clinton Administration and Goals 2000, through the Bush Administration and No Child Left Behind, to the Obama Administration and Race to the Top, public education has increasingly become burdened by the increase of testing. With it came increased scrutiny and accountability on states, local school districts, and individual teachers. Although the results of these initiatives have been mixed, all now agree there is no correlation between increased standardized tests and increased student achievement.

I firmly believe the first step is to eliminate the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balance Assessment. Being an educator in a state that mandated that all districts implement the PARCC test, I can speak directly to the negative impact it created. PARCC is a computer-based assessment. The drain on school district technology resources both in the setting-up phase, which began in January, through the implementation phase, the months of March and May, were profound. The length of the tests, both in March and May were extremely disruptive to school schedules and classroom routines.

Many educators across the state questioned the developmental appropriateness of PARCC, in terms of format, length and difficulty. Although PARCC has announced there will only be one test instead of two in 2016, overall test time has not been decreased significantly. In addition, if the purpose of standardized testing is to inform and improve teaching and learning, PARCC is not the answer.

First round of tests were completed by April 1st and the second round by the end of May.  It is mid November, and my school district just now received the results for our high school students; hardly timely if we are to use the information to improve instruction. We have no idea when elementary will receive the results. Given states can’t agree nationwide what curricular content is worth knowing, and given a growing number of states have opted out of Common Core standards and/or PARCC or Smarter Balance Assessment, more and more educators question the validity or purpose of a “one size fits all” test.

Let’s band together and work with our state legislators and create assessments that reflect what we as states have committed to in terms of standards-based teaching and learning. In addition, at the local level, let’s support individual school districts to develop and utilize assessment practices that align with instruction, provide timely feedback, and create partnerships of learning with teachers and students.

Dr. Vicky Tuskenvicky tusken is the Secondary Curriculum Coordinator for the DeKalb Community Unit School District in Illinois. She also teaches at Northern Illinois University as an Adjunct for the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology, and Foundations.

Teachers, it is time!

President Obama recently published a video (below) calling for changes to testing in American schools. In this three-minute video, he agrees with educators and parents that the current uses of standardized testing are not yielding the results that we want or need. President Obama proposes a new type of assessment that meets three criteria. The new test(s) should:

  1. Assess–in a dignified way–curricular content worth knowing;
  2. Enhance teaching and learning; and
  3. Provide information that will be combined with other assessments to create a complete picture of what a child can do.

We, as educators, have been saying–for a long time–that tests are negatively affecting students, teachers, and schools. At last, legislators at the state and national levels are acknowledging our concerns.

We educators should be extremely happy; however, we should not rest on our laurels because we still have work to do. We need to capitalize on this opportunity and plan an active role in the development of what President Obama calls “smart strategic tests.”

Now is the time for educators to act and lead. We must continue working with legislators at the state and national levels as well as with professional organizations, such as Kappa Delta Pi, to make our ideas known. In my opinion, our recommendations should address the four questions below.

  • Which topics should be assessed?
  • How could these assessments be administered on a large state-wide scale?
  • How will the assessments be graded?
  • How will the results from these assessments be used?

nathan bond (750 x 1050)Please share your thoughts. We educators have complained for years that legislators don’t listen to us, and now that we are being heard, it’s time to share our expertise and insights with them. A great place to discuss these ideas is KDP Global, your member-exclusive online education community provided by Kappa Delta Pi.

Dr. Nathan Bond is a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas State University. He chairs the Public Policy Committee for Kappa Delta Pi.

What’s Trending: Most-Read Articles

Kathie-Jo Arnoff is Director of Publications at Kappa Delta Pi and Managing Editor of the KDP Record.

The RecordKappa Delta Pi publishes its two peer-reviewed journals with partner Routledge/Taylor & Francis, which publishes a total of 263 journals just about education. And, yet, among all the articles published last year, one from each of the KDP journals was in the Class of 2015—a list of the most-read journal articles. If you missed reading those popular pieces, you still can. They are available free of charge through the end of the year. Check them out:

If you’re a KDP member, you may be receiving the quarterly KDP Record as part of your membership. (Only undergrads receive the New Teacher Advocate instead during their first year in KDP.) The KDP Record promotes professional growth in the field of education by providing articles on evidence-based teaching strategies, reviews of current policy initiatives, examples of applied theories, and reports of original research in language that is accessible and practical.

The ForumThe Educational Forum is available by subscription. KDP members get a whopping 75% off the normal price, and that includes access to all 79 years of archived articles. The Forum provides thought-provoking, challenging essays, research reports, and featured works designed to stimulate dialogue in education on a worldwide scale.

Both journals are perfect for helping you keep up with the field, as well as for your research projects. Subscribe today and find out what you’ve been missing!

Some Thoughts on Testing, Disobedience, and Perspective

Carrie Gaffney is the managing editor of The Educational Forum. She spent 12 years as a secondary English teacher and is still active in The National Writing Project and Second Story, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit devoted to bringing creativity to underserved schools. 

There’s a calendar somewhere that denotes July 3 of each year as Disobedience Day. Kind of a cool idea, right? So I thought I’d take the opportunity to write about a specific type of disobedience that’s been of great interest to me lately, and it’s disobedience that’s related to high stakes testing.

It was several years ago when I first heard about the “opt out” movement. All across the country, there are networks of parents joining together to tell schools and districts that too much instructional time is spent on high stakes testing instead of learning. When testing time comes around, they send letters like this one to their school leadership to opt their children out of the test, demanding that their children are instead provided appropriate and relevant instruction on those days.

That level of disobedience might seem pretty radical to some, and in a way it is. But then when you realize that Google can intuit the search term “standardized testing horror stories,” you begin to understand that test prep has been twisted to the point where many parents may feel like there are no other options than to opt out of the test as a way to advocate for the intellectual and mental well-being of their children.

Fortunately for me, where my children attend school (and where I taught as well), the state standardized test is treated as nothing more than what it is: one of many tools to gauge student growth. For my children, the test is a few mildly annoying days where they have to demonstrate learning on a bigger scale. But then everything goes back to normal, and they are once again engaged as inquirers and communicators. That’s the difference, I think, between why I’m still okay with the test versus what parents at other schools feel forced to do when opting out

What makes the test a “horror story” is not the test itself. It’s how much time and attention we give to it leading up to the actual event. It’s how scores from it are used to punish or reward a teacher’s lesson planning, professionalism, and even her teacher preparation program. It’s how districts use it to single out “good” and “bad” teachers, or worse, “good” and “bad” students. Kids have bad days. Sometimes they don’t want to write about a particular topic, or they might not know a word in the title of the story, which could lead to confusion about the story’s theme. These two factors don’t make the child; but they might make or break a child’s test scores.

Which brings me to a different kind of disobedience that’s getting some attention.

In recent months, teachers, principals, and superintendents across the country have begun engaging in disobedience that has people seriously freaked out.

They are publically naming the test for what it is: a test.

Check out this recent article from The Washington Post about a Texas superintendent who wrote a letter to parents telling them that their test results, “should be considered as one of many instruments used to measure your child’s growth, not the end-all of your child’s learning for the year.”

Why, you might wonder, is that so controversial?

Or, on an even deeper level of disturbance to me, why is naming a test for what it is an act that is to be lauded?

How did we get here?