September 14, 2007

Miller is a Whiny Bitch

As NCLB reauthorization looks less and less likely, George Miller has taken to crying in his beer over at Edweek.

The Bush administration appears to be taking the position that the current law is better than the confused mess that Miller is proposing and Miller doesn't like that.

Miller's Edweek piece bemoans the fact that there exists some current loopholes in the current version of NCLB that need to be closed. His current proposal aims to close those loopholes. That's a good thing with which few would disagree. But, Miller fails to mention that his proposal opens up a slew of new loopholes that suburban school districts will use to drive a truck through, making a mockery out of NCLB's accountability scheme, albeit a flawed scheme. It's these new loopholes that are putting the kibosh on Miller's dream of reauthorization.

By the end of the piece, it gets so bad that Miller actually shoots himself in the foot while trying to spin his crappy proposal:

What we need is a smarter system of accountability. For example, our discussion draft would allow states to assess school performance on more than just reading and math tests. All over the country, teachers, parents, and other stakeholders believe we should be measuring schools more fairly and comprehensively. I agree with them. If we keep a strong focus on student progress in reading and math, but also allow additional indicators to play a role, we can have a richer, better understanding of what’s really happening inside our schools.

In the first sentence Miller answers his own question why his proposal isn't likely to be adopted. It's not smart. It's dumb and kowtows to special interests.

Then he gives us one good example of why his proposal isn't a "smarter system of accountability." Under Miller's proposal, schools can use "additional indicators" in addition to math and reading scores. The catch is that these indicators can only help a school, not count against it. It won't take long for schools to devise some subjective "indicator" that allows them to skirt accountability. Some might call this a loophole. A large loophole.

Miller is taking away loopholes with one hand, and giving us a slew of new ones with the other. The net result is less accountability. And, that's why even the lefty editors of many big Newspapers have turned against him.

Update: Super-blogger Alexander Russo is jealous that he sold his independence for a paycheck and is now under Edweek's corporate jackboot.

Update II: Sherman Dorn piles on. I point out in the comments that Sherman has a glass house problem. Actually, he has two of them.

Update III: Fat cat labor-monopolist, Leo Casey, engages in a little substance-free name calling over at Edwize will trying to dismiss my argument. Nice try, Leo.


Anonymous said...

Consider this:

Just maybe NCLB does need changing. Bush likes to stick to his original game plan no matter how badly his team is losing.(the Iraq disaster)

I agree that the data exposed by NCLB has been good but we have not figured out what to do with the data. That is the issue for me.

I myself would send it to all the college profs and ask them to figure out how to develop better instruction. We need to work together to find solutions.

And if NCLB drives schools to even poorer instruction(all the test taking practice) maybe something needs to be changed.

In my district all curriculum is mandated from above. All teachers get pacing schedules down to the page numbers of the books for each day in math and reading.

We have bench mark testing every six weeks. We take the Terra Nova's and the state PSSA tests. We take a ton of tests. We spend a ton of time practicing for the tests. We no longer go on field trips, we will get too far behind. We got rid of recess. We hardly take time to go to the bathroom. We work from the ringing of morning school bell to the closing bell.

We look at data at every single staff meeting.

Has balanced literacy gone away?


You want to keep NCLB around. Yippee. It surely is creating a wonderful work environment. Nothing like punishing schools and teachers to inspire better work. I don't think successful companies work on this principal. Good companies team build and try to make their employees part of the solution. Seems to me we are all working hard and yet no one feels like they belong to any team that really cares about kids. We are all too busy trying to move our data.

btw, Kozol is right about one thing. Bright college grads are turned off by all the testing in schools. I have a nephew, graduated from a top private university, student taught in a public school 3rd grade and was so sick of all the test prep and the mandated curriculum he went to private schools to teach.

Anonymous said...


Please don't take offense, but your post makes it seem like you don't "get it."

You are being driven to get results, and it is not the same as "being punished."

Being punished would be having your pay docked.

Have you ever worked outside of education?

People focus on results in free markets where they must perform.

Sales people must look at their sales numbers.

Factory workers must look at their defects.

Doctors must look at whether their patients live or die.

I will never forget a friend of mine telling me about a retired social studies teacher he hired.

The former teacher quit after getting his first performance review. It was a fairly good review, but the former teacher said he simply couldn't handle the stress of having his performance measured.

Kathy, I think you and your coworkers who are complaining about how hard you are all working to ensure your students have the very minimal reading and math skills needed to perform well on standardized tests are going through something similar.

You complain that you must "look at data at every single staff meeting."

That's a pretty standard practice in any well run operation.

Anonymous said...

Kathy, Now really. You don't have recess at your school? I have a hard time believing that.

Anonymous said...


First of all I have a hard time talking to someone who does not use his or her name.

Schools get punished who fail to meet AYP by having federal funds taken away. This is what I meant by punished.

If you are working hard and things are failing, why give these schools less money? Makes no sense to me.

Hey, I have no trouble with looking at data. I did say it was a good thing in one of my posts. It did reveal big weaknesses. PSSA tests and the Terra Nova tests are thoroughly examined in my district. Bench mark testing is thoroughly examined. But where is it getting us? The changes made have only produced small gains.

My district added after school tutoring, summer school, a standardized curriculum and other changes because of data. However numbers only creep up slowly. We bought expensive packages like the Voyager reading program to help kids in the after school program. This program was tossed when data did not change and another one was bought. I think everyone would say this is madness. No examination of instruction.

The real change must be in instruction and so far the data has not forced this. My district also bought an expensive program, Fast ForWord. All kids with IEP's had to got through the program. This was madness. The data so far is not producing any real thinking, only reacting. If we were thinking then all kids with IEP's would not be doing FFW.

This is what I mean by data not getting us anywhere. For now it is only increasing our costs. We don't know what to do with the data to produce real gains.

I won't even get into my feelings about what all these tests are really testing. Also add in the useless data from reading DRA tests and DIBELS testing. The school data we have is not as useful and transparent as whether salesman Joe sold enough widgets this week or the patient died. Also we can always fall back on environment, IQ, the kids are disabled etc. etc. etc. Our testing and its usefulness is a whole other blog.

I look at my reading data everyday with my students. It makes sense and guides my instruction. It relates directly to my instruction.

The PSSA test and Terra Nova test does not relate directly to the classroom instruction. Teachers cannot see the test results and by that I mean every single question on every single student. Kids cannot see them. I think it was Cal on one blog who stated that kids should see the tests so they know what they did wrong or right. He is 100% correct.

And yes recess was removed as soon as NCLB was started. We needed 90 minute reading blocks so recess had to go. Kids get about 15 minutes after they eat lunch to run around and then back to the room.

The first graders I work with start school as 8:30 and work till 12:05. No recess, no scheduled bathroom break, no snack break, nothing. The teacher has too much work to do.

Just trying to get kids out of the classroom for my reading tutoring is very hard. Teacher cannot spare 20 minutes from the balanced literacy pace of guided reading, worksheets, phonics lesson, centers, and this and that and on and on.

Hey have you ever been in a school?

Anonymous said...

The data so far is not producing any real thinking, only reacting.

Kathy, ed school faculty were warned 15 years ago about what could go wrong; apparently they weren't listening--or have you seen professional development that reliably addresses issues identified by the available data (ROTFL?)

Anyway, bet this isn't in your nearest ed school library:

Dr. Deming Talks to Educators (Five Tape Series)

Tape 3 (Second Half) Tampering (55 minutes)

Dr. Deming conducts the Funnel Experiment, an exercise that demonstrates the harmful effects of taking a corrective action on the system in response to variation in results, when the variation in results is produced by the system itself.

KDeRosa said...

Kathy, how long do you think it'll take for your district to look hard enough at the data to figure out it's picked the wrong curriculum? Ultimately, that's the problem. All the data collection in the world can't save a school from bad curricular choices.

Eric, I'm sure no school has ever heard of Deming.

Anonymous said...

DeRosa states:

how long do you think it'll take for your district to look hard enough at the data to figure out it's picked the wrong curriculum?

Will never happen. CEO just left the district so we are starting all over again. Until something happens to make folks understand the pitfalls of balanced literacy we are just spinning our wheels. I see no happy ending to this story in my lifetime.

Anonymous said...

Eric, I'm sure no school has ever heard of Deming.

Ken, surely you have your negative thinking cap on! :-)

If your speculation were so, certainly Paul Houston of NSBA would have introduced his NCLB-II testimony with:

"We are the national association for school system leaders and I am here representing the nearly 13,000 public school superintendents who are too unfamiliar with 21st century organizational practices to adequately serve the nation's children."

In addition, Supreme Court amicus briefs filed by associations of school administrators, principals, and board members would disclose their de facto boycott of globally recognized quality principles.

Are you suggesting, Ken, that these folks simply let America's schoolchildren suffer cost-effectively addressable educational inadequacies while they craft their appeals for additional funding? That they aren't doing the absolute best they can with the available resources? That they betray the very students and teachers they purport to support? And that parents and teachers haven't noticed?

While I can't speak to (the breathtaking inanity of?) Pennsylvania ed schools, here's something from U Maryland that speaks to the application of Deming in education which Ohio leverages.

NCLB and Continuous School Improvement, Willis D. Hawley:

"Deming's ideas became the moorings of Total Quality Management (TQM) and hundreds of schools, pushed by local businesses and the National Alliance for Business, sought to implement TQM. The work of Peter Senge (1990), influenced by Deming, captured the attention of educators and books and publications began to appear that linked continuous improvement to school characteristics that enabled schools to be 'learning organizations' of continuous improvement."

Montgomery County Maryland schools have also won their state's Baldrige-based quality award. Aren't those the schools (especially the 4 Baldrige-winning districts) that educators refer to when they suggest NCLB-II accounability be modelled after the nation's most successful districts?

Anonymous said...

Paul Houston of NSBA
Ooops. Paul Houston of American Association of School Administrators.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous comments allow unvarnished truths to be presented.

You are free to ignore them. But since you did not, I'll answer your last question directly: I have worked in more than one public school.

I assume from your answer that you have not worked outside of education.

I would strongly encourage you to consider leaving the classroom for a while and working in successful private sector company. You seem to have a lots of negative feelings about your work environment.

Also. I think if you did work in a well run business, we would be able to have a more productive conversation. You are clearly in a system that does not work well. You would benefit from being part of one that gets results. One fundamental you would almost certainly be exposed to is how obsessed well managed companies are with measurement data.

But for now, let me respond to your other points:

1)When you say schools that do not make AYP have funds "taken away"--where do you get this idea?

Funds are not taken away from children in schools that do not reach AYP under NCLB.

Teachers in schools that do not reach AYP should, perhaps,receive less compensation than those in schools that make AYP. But this still would not be a "punishment."

Schools and teachers do not have a "right" to funding or to their students. This entitlement philosophy is upsetting to those of us who care about the education of children.

2) The instructional system your district is using sounds like a real mess. This is typical.

But the focus on data is a good first step for improving instruction. Spending more time on reading also makes a lot of sense.

You say that DIBELS data is "useless" and not "transparent" like sales numbers. In fact, DIBELS data is very useful and very like sales numbers. If you ever manage a sales force, you will find that the remedy for poor sales is rarely obvious.

I do completely agree with your point that improving instruction requires much more than simply obsessing over test data.

Anonymous said...


When you watch kid after kid failing to learn to read because of the incorrect instruction you get pretty mad. Not easy to see kids lives screwed up day after day.

It does not have to be this way yet it does not change. So far I have not been able to convince fellow teachers on the merits of explicit reading instruction. Surely you have heard of the reading wars.

DIBELS testing in first grade is useless and time consuming. The letter naming test has nothing to do with reading, segmenting is spelling skill and the nonsense word reading is useless because of the way it is graded. Kids can just say each sound and get points. The nonsense test is trying to find out if the kids can decode and read unknown words yet they get credit for just saying the sounds. If you need this test to find out if a child has learned his short vowels and can read unknown words something is wrong with your reading instruction.

If we had a transparent reading system as I use then none of these tests would be necessary. Proper instruction provides the necessary information each time a teacher listens to a child read. I learn what sounds the child knows, can the child blend the sounds, and is the child gaining fluency each time I read with a student.

The fluency test in the first grade DIBELS is also useless. If you can read, you pass, if not you fail. The words in these tests are too hard for kids failing to learn to read with balanced literacy so the teacher learns nothing about her low students. She already knows her good readers can read. The test is a waste of time for them too.

Fix reading and you fix a lot of stuff.

Anonymous said...

I did say that teachers and students can't reliably improve if they can't see the tests.

When students asks me for feedback on their test performance, I don't look at their scores. I turn to the response summary and look at their error patterns. Scores tell me nothing.

No one really questions this, either. Withholding results isn't done in the name of good pedagogy, but because states believe they'll save money.

Anonymous said...


"If we had a transparent reading system as I use then none of these tests would be necessary."

What system is that?

Catherine Johnson said...

The catch is that these indicators can only help a school, not count against it.

that'll work

Catherine Johnson said...

Joking aside, and speaking as a supporter of NCLB, I believe Kathy.

The real change must be in instruction and so far the data has not forced this.

I can't offer an opinion on what needs to be changed in Kathy's district, but I do know that the fairly standard reaction to "bad data" of any kind (including the "bad data" of trying to get your spouse to help with housework, say) is to "do more of the same, only louder."

Michelle Weiner Davis makes this observation in her book Divorce-Busting, and it has stayed with me.

I've told the story of the legendary Columbia medical school professor a few times. This man trained many of our most important medical researchers.

The main lesson he drilled into his extremely capable future research scientists was, "If what you're doing isn't working, try something else."

As far as I can tell, it's human nature to keep trying variants of the same thing, only louder.

That said, I do support NCLB, and I do want my own district to collect and analyze data -- as transparently as possible. (Don't know what battles will be involved there.)

At the moment, I guess the major rationale I have for supporting NCLB-type accountability in an affluent district like my own is simply that the data, to some degree, at least opens up the possibility of seeing that we have a problem.

Anonymous said...

SJ said..

"If we had a transparent reading system as I use then none of these tests would be necessary."

What system is that?

Any good explicit system that systematically teaches the code, then teaches kids to blend that code so that the kids can read the words. All good explicit reading instruction uses 100% decodable text.

Check out the Brits and their use of synthetic phonics. Google Jolly Phonics, Sounds~Write, Dancing Bears or Reading Step by Step and for discussion, the Reading Reform Foundation.

Read Why Our Children Can't Read and What We Can Do About It by Diane McGuinness. She provides review of many USA programs.

In the US check out Reading Mastery(DI), Beginning Reading Instruction(Southwest Regional Laboratory-SWRL-I See Sam), Spalding, and ABCDarian.

There are others but this is a start.

Anonymous said...

Catherin Johnson states:

I can't offer an opinion on what needs to be changed in Kathy's district,

My district is not the exception but the norm. Any district using balanced literacy( 3 cueing system and miscue analysis) will suffer from mal-instruction of many of its students.

In my area every single district falls into this category, suburban and urban. All produce kids who cannot read.

I correspond with teachers from all over the USA, Canada, Australia, England, and teachers teaching kids to read in English in China, Dubai, Japan, and Singapore and all report the exact same story as I tell.

I have tutored kids from fancy private schools, rich suburban districts, Catholic schools, charter schools and city schools. All produce kids who cannot read.

All kids struggling with reading present the exact same way- guessing at words, making many errors, do not know the code and have no idea what to do with multisyllable words.

Schools love balanced literacy. They have no desire to change this instruction. The data shows gains so they will continue even though those gains are small leaving many children not reading.

Anonymous said...

I’m right there with you, Kathy…

Reading system goes into schools

How phonics became easy as a-b-c

Independent Review of the teaching of early reading
Jim Rose
March 2006