Why I somewhat agree with ETFO’s negative position on standardized testing

Pencil on school test. Click for Peter Greene's article on Huff Post.

Pencil on school test. Click for Peter Greene’s article on Huff Post.

Who benefits the most from standardized testing? Certainly, in Ontario, the EQAO agency which conducts the testing benefits to the tune of millions and millions of taxpayer dollars a year. Another beneficiary is the Fraser Institute that provides annual “reports” on how schools rank. As well, some schools and municipalities benefit when schools in their areas have averages that are higher than the norm — resulting in some parents actually relocating to those communities.

However, contrary to the Fraser Institute’s “key academic indicators of school performance” (on page 5 in the above link), their reports are empty of specifics. Here, for example is what some of those so-called indicators look like.

1. average level of achievement on the grade- 3 EQAO assessment in reading
2. average level of achievement on the grade- 3 EQAO assessment in writing; and
3. average level of achievement on the grade- 3 EQAO assessment in mathematics.

Now, exactly where are the “academic” or “learning objectives” in the indicators? Do the test results indicate, for example, that students were able to identify words in text — which is the first “fluency” phase of reading? Or, in terms of comprehension, do the test results prove that students in Grade 3 were able to identify the main idea in a paragraph? Or, in the average level of achievement in math, were the Grade 3’s able to add and subtract in three columns?

In other words, while the Fraser Institute’s Report indicates there are four standards used by EQAO (e.g., levels one to four), their indicators actually indicate nothing.

There is so much more to a school than cold, static, standardized test results. There are academic subjects such as social studies, history and science. There is also phys ed and extra-curricular activities, such as chess clubs, bands, art clubs, basketball, volleyball and baseball. In all those instances, children are learning new things, as well as how to get along with others and how to cope in the world.

Plus, let’s not forget there are opportunities for parents to volunteer and get to know their child’s teachers and what goes on in their child’s school day to day.

I frequently hear non-teachers talking about the entitlement attitude of today’s teachers. That too bothers me and I say so regularly. However, how many parents, in the midst of such complaining, will also tell you that they like and appreciate their own children’s teachers?

In the U.S., under President Obama, teachers have been fired for low standardized test results that measure so little of what students are actually learning. As Peter Greene says in his Huff Post column: “What about identifying schools that need help? Is the data used to help those schools? Not unless by ‘help’ you mean ‘close’ or ‘take over’ or ‘strip of resources so students can go to a charter instead.’ Our [the U.S.] current system does not identify schools for help; it identifies schools for punishment.”

Anyway, check out this video and list of reasons the Ontario elementary teachers union (ETFO) recommends a random sampling approach, as opposed to 100% standardized participation in the various grades affected. It is why I somewhat agree with their complaints about EQAO standardized testing. There really are other methods of evaluation that would be more helpful to parents.

Fraser Report re basing “teacher pay” on student outcomes not realistic!

While it may not be a popular notion for me to suggest elementary and secondary teachers should NOT be paid merit pay on the basis of student success, I am going to do so anyway because the subject comes up every couple of years.

Today was no exception. Ken Moore, who operates a blog called Metanoodle, seems to think establishing teacher excellence would be a relatively easy process. As he wrote in a post this morning: “Why aren’t tests of student learning the track to better pay? There are good teachers everywhere but what evidence that college and promotion produced them?”

Well, for one thing, in terms of evidence, teacher graduates receive their licencing certification from their professional college just as is the case with other professional bodies.

In other words, they passed the requirements leading to that certification which, contrary to the opinion of some, can be quite rigorous (e.g., in some cases, a four year university degree that included a final year studying all aspects of teaching and learning and 8 – 12 weeks of practice under the supervision of a practicing teacher.)

Apparently Moore’s comments were related to the latest Fraser Review of the Literature Report — which “recommends new policies that will potentially enhance the impact that teachers and school administrators have on the academic achievement of public school students.”

Now let’s look at that final statement again — the impact teachers and administrators have on student achievement. No where does it question what the impact student ability and attitude might have on their academic achievement. Teaching is an act between two human beings. Each has a duty to the end result. I mean, teachers cannot simply open a child’s head and pour in knowledge and skills.

Yes,  I know I will be accused of being part of the “education-blob”  and therefore biased because I am both a former teacher and teacher educator. Yet, I have also done research on teacher behaviour and student success when I was in private practice operating a reading and learning disabilities clinic. My results suggested that a variety of methods of student evaluation should be used.

So, the very idea that the Fraser Institute’s review of the literature indicates that (according to the Globe and Mail’s analysis) school principals should be able to fire teachers based on student outcomes in order to establish winning teams, is absolutely abhorrent.

What an absolutely cut throat idea for everyone. Schools would become a very nasty place to be that is for sure because an individual principal would have too much power over everyone. And, I have taught in schools where that kind of scenario existed and it was not pleasant.

I mean, we are dealing with human beings here and not processes or products. Is success an extra 2% on standardized test results in reading, having 2 completed science projects or having done better in everyday work than last year?

Will such variables be considered such as a child having after-school tutoring or an older sibling who helped them with their school projects?

Given what I have written lately about Jake Barnett (here and here), readers may wonder how I can be against the system in some ways but not in terms of merit pay.

Well, to my mind, they are completely separate issues. We cannot expect teachers to teach to the needs and talents of each student, while at the same time, to a specific generalized “standardized” test result.

In fact, in my opinion, the two notions are incompatible. Rather, what should happen is that each child’s outcomes be based on a comparison of what they did last semester or last year compared to the present.

Merit pay, on the other hand, or value added compensation as the Fraser Report refers to it, based on standardized test results or GPA scores will have teacher’s teaching to the test and not to the needs of each student.

Plus, there is the issue of compensation equality. While I may be critical of teachers’ unions from time to time, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that when it comes to the establishment of a gender neutral pay scale, they got it right. Opening up that criteria by adding in merit pay based on a principal’s interpretation of student outcomes could adversely affect the gains women in education have made.

In my opinion, then, the crux of the matter is that no matter how many times think tanks like the Fraser Institute recommend teachers be paid based on student success, it is simply not a realistic possibility for some of the reasons I have given.

[…]

Updates

Cross-posted at Jack’s Newswatch.

Well done OECTA! However, entitlement of public teachers’ unions insulting…

Update July 11, 2012:

Christina Blizzard has a column in the Toronto Sun today on the OECTA settlement issue. However, she and others seem to misunderstand how a teacher’s salary grid works.  Blizzard seems to think that when young teachers move up the grid, they are getting a raise. They are not. A raise is an across-the-board percentage increase over so many years which is given to everyone, including those who have reached the top of the grid for both education and years of service (which usually stops at around eleven years).  

Rather, a teacher only moves up the grid for two reasons: (1) they have worked for one more year, which is usually a very small increase, and/or (2) their qualifications have changed.

For example, there are usually four levels on a grid. The first level is to have both an undergraduate and education degree, the second level includes an Honours Degree (fourth year with a minimum of a B average), the third level an Honours Degree and a Additional Qualification Specialist Certificate (e.g., special education or computers in the classroom). The fourth and final level usually include a Master of Education degree over and above the other degrees and certificates.

So, if someone should move from Level One or Two to Four because they finish an M.Ed., that would account for the $7000.00. Otherwise, grid movement is much slower. There is also the issue that in the first year of such a raise, the extra money simply reimburses the many thousands paid in tuition costs — for no other reason than to improve their teaching.

In other words, the OECTA freeze really is a freeze and to suggest it isn’t is not fair to all those teachers who are simply following the rules to upgrade their expertise and qualifications. I mean, it takes several years to complete a Master’s part-time. So, if school boards are going to change grid movement criteria, they should at least grandfather those who have begun the process.

Yes, I will criticize teachers and their entitlement assumptions when I think criticism is due but I will defend when the information provided in the media or blogosphere is incorrect or misleading.

[…]

As everyone who has anything to do with education in Ontario knows by now, the Catholic teacher’s union has come to an agreement with the Province.  What we also know is that the other public school unions, OSSTF and ETFO, and their members, are outraged! In fact, I have been getting into some interesting Twitter debates with fellow educators, over the matter. For example, check out the hashtag #oecta and @SandysEdInfo.

Well, I must commend OECTA for making the decision to compromise in their bargaining with the Province for the sake of the younger teachers, who will now be able to move ahead on the salary grid.

However, on Twitter, the provincial OECTA are being called Judases because they have supposedly betrayed their colleagues in OSSTF and ETFO by agreeing to a two-year wage freeze. Two years and you would think the sky is falling. Since younger teachers are still going to get raises per their year’s of service, I assume it is teachers in the mid or later ranks that are upset. However, even suppose you are in your last five years before retiring, how much difference will a freeze make? I mean, teacher’s pensions are indexed, so they would catch up very quickly.  

Certainly, you can expect this kind of thing. I recall when the 1997 strike ended, it was ETFO who buckled first and OECTA was as outraged then as OSSTF and ETFO are now. But, perhaps what bothers me the most is the over-reaction and grandstanding.

  • Collective bargaining is dead!
  • You can never get back what you lose!
  • Asking for concessions is insulting!

Insulting? To whom? What absolute nonsense!

I started teaching in September 1972, exactly 40 years ago. During that four decade period, concessions were made many times. Sometimes it was to help the younger teachers. Sometimes it was to ignore them. For example, in the Board I taught with, sick leave gratuity was frozen years ago but in a way that benefitted those who would retire over the next ten years. Sometimes prep time was bargained away for a salary increase. Other times the other way around.

A year before my husband and I retired, major medical insurance in retirement was cancelled. So, today you have some teachers who have coverage and the rest of us who pay several hundred dollars a month for it. Why? So teachers still in the system could have more prep time.  So, compromise and concessions are nothing new. But, to listen to the whining now, you would think that teachers’ entitlements should never be touched, even when times are tough.

Look, I am not going to be a hypocrite about this. I am retired and very appreciative of my publicly funded pension. (It is reduced because I withdrew some credits when my children were born and I left half way through my career to teach in two university settings). Yet, I am embarrassed at the depth of the entitlement attitude displayed by so many on Twitter.

For heavens sake people, get over yourselves. You are public servants and all that means.  You are no more special than Ontario’s doctors who are taking some major hits.  A bit of humility would go a long way towards some public respect and sympathy.

Whatever, please realize that to the general public, it is your entitled attitude that is insulting.

Update from Yahoo News.

Manitoba teachers’ union want to stop parents taking kids out of sex-ed

Read this National Post news item (H/T JNW). It is a concrete example of progressive neo-Marxists teachers’ union officials trying to tell parents what to think about sex education.

Social engineering wrapped up in a politically correct agenda.

For example, the Post article states: 

“Sex education in Manitoba’s public school curriculum begins in Grade 5 with an introduction to puberty, the reproductive systems, sexual intercourse and sexually transmitted diseases. There is also an exploration of how factors like family, friends, media, social trends and fashion influence sexuality and gender roles.”

The last grade I taught in elementary school, before I moved to the high school level, were Grade 5s. They are wonderful. Still keen and open to new ideas. They are only ten years old! Still innocents. Some mature earlier than others depending on when they were born. Be a January baby and you are almost eleven. It makes a huge difference at that stage.   

So, by all means, teach them parts of the anatomy but specific details about sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted diseases and gender roles? Leave that to at least Grade 8 when the children are 13 going on 14. Because, while some may be ready in Grade 5, others are not.

All are impressionable! 

But, isn’t that the entire point? 

Look, I have no issue with SSM or anything else about sexuality. But, taking away a parent’s right to how they bring up their children?

Which brings the following questions to mind:

Who gave teacher union officials the right to tell parents how they should bring up their children?  

Who elected teachers’ unions officials to the Manitoba Parliament?

Whatever happened to the parents’ and children’s right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — to the freedom of religion?

Would the teachers’ unions treat parents of the Muslim faith the same way they are treating the Christians parents?

And, last but not least: 

Whatever happened to childhood?

Quebec students & Obama partisans prove some teachers indoctrinate rather than educate

Click image for frontpagemag.com

There is now plenty of proof that far too many teachers in both the United States and Canada are not “educating” their students about alternative political viewpoints.

Rather, they are indoctrinating them with a “my way or the highway” one-sided progressive ideology that, over the long term, could actually threaten our right to free speech and political affiliation.   

For example, check out this column by Mark Tapson from FrontPageMag.com and its link to a nine minute video of an unidentified female teacher and her students in a North Carolina high school classroom. (H/T bluecanada.ca)

As a former teacher and teacher educator, I find the video very difficult to listen to, not only because it is hard to follow given the noise in the background but because it is embarrassing. Clearly, the teacher is an Obama supporter which is her personal right. But, it is not her right to be an Obama apologist in her classroom.

Specifically, besides demonstrating an almost complete lack of classroom control, the video demonstrates the difference between indoctrinating and educating, especially when the teacher yells “stop” several times when a student argues they should be able to talk about Obama as they do Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, because “Obama is not God.”

Personally, I have no opinions or concerns about Obama one way or the other, although I have written about him several times on this blog in the past, most of it complementary (e.g,. here is my archive). Rather, my concern is with the type of political indoctrination we were witnessing.

Unfortunately, however, that type of “teaching” is not new. In fact, as I have written before, I was witness to such a phenomenon myself in Ontario between 1995 and 1999 when I was employed by a Mike Harris “Progressive Conservative” Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP). The teachers’ unions hate for Premier Harris and his government was over the top and eventually infected everyone in the profession.  

In fact, to this day, the effect of the indoctrination of students attending high school during the Harris years is still felt.  Now in their late 20s and early 30s, many are parents themselves and I read their “Harris ruined Ontario” comments on any blog or mainstream media column about the Harris years. When, in fact, the Harris government kept all their promises and completely turned the Ontario economy around.

Whatever! As the latest Quebec student protests demonstrate, the demonization of politicians we don’t agree with continues. Specifically, Chris Selley writes in today’s National Post, the student protestors in Quebec are now referring to “Liberal” Premier Jean Charest as a fascist. 

A fascist? Talk about magical thinking and hyperbole! Is the Quebec government using death squads to round up protestors, never to be seen again? Of course not. All Charest is doing is raising post-secondary tuition fees to be closer to what they are in the rest of Canada.  There is also the issue that progressive politicians ignore what doesn’t fit their agenda.

Anyway, whatever the examples of indoctrination by teachers or bias by progressive politicians, whether during the late 1990s in Ontario or in North Carolina and Quebec today, the results speak for themselves — free speech is at risk!

As such, I would remind all those with a one-sided political viewpoint, that as far back as Athenian democracy itself, Socrates taught his students the importance of the dialetic — a method of “dialogue between two or more people holding “different” points of view about a subject, who wish to establish the truth of the matter by dialogue and with reasoned arguments.”

A truth we should all remember!

Dr.Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle too political for BC schools?

Courtesy Wikipedia. Click on image.

Update: Charles Adler weights in on educrats and how they are ruining childhood with their politically correct agendas. (H/T Catherine). Where I disagree with Adler is his assuming everyone in the system, or everyone was part of the system at one time, are politically correct educrats. Obviously. I don’t see myself that way or I wouldn’t have written this post. That said, Adler is correct. People need to allow children to be children and use books like Yertle the Turtle to teach lessons, not conformity.   

[…]

You have to know that political correctness has replaced common sense when the Prince Rupert School District in BC considers the children’s Dr. Seuss classic, Yertle the Turtle, to be too political to use, either with students in the classroom, or in BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) materials that might be visible in a teacher’s car.

Now, I may not agree with the actions of either the BC government or the BCTF during and after their recent walk-out, but forbidding union materials in a person’s car sounds like political harassment and bullying to me.

For example, here are a couple of selected quotes from a Globe and Mail article by Wendy Stueck:

“A Prince Rupert elementary teacher has been told a quote from Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle is a political statement that should not be displayed or worn on clothing in her classroom. The teacher included the quote in material she brought to a meeting with management after she received a notice relating to union material visible in her car on school property.”

“The advice is in keeping with a 2011 arbitrator’s decision that found political materials must be kept out of B.C. classrooms, said Dave Stigant, who is acting director of instruction for the Prince Rupert School District and who met with the teacher to discuss what would and wouldn’t run afoul of district standards….”

So, why might Yertle the Turtle be a problem for the BC government or the Prince Rupert School District?  Well, it is a story that uses metaphor to show what oppression and bullying looks like.

In the case in point, Yertle forces his fellow turtles to hold him up, even when the turtles at the bottom are hurting and complaining.  In response he simply tells them to shut up and keep holding him up. Eventually, the bottom turtle burps and they all go flying and Yertle ends up in the mud.

Hmmm. In other words, in B.C. that is exactly how the teachers are feeling and the school district and BC government don’t like it one bit that they are being portrayed as bullies.

Well, as my regular readers know, I don’t agree with teachers strikes or work to rule campaigns, but I am definitely getting the feeling that the animosity that BC teacher’s are feeling is a huge problem that no amount of politically correct bullying is going to fix. In fact, it is going to make things even worse.  

Anway, the primary problem is, as I understand it, a decision by the BC Supreme Court that “working conditions were a teacher’s right,” that the BC government refuses to acknowledge. Personally, I disagree with the whole notion, as I have written about before, but that is irrelevant now.

I mean, when BC school districts are calling teachers on the carpet because quotes from a Dr. Seuss classic are “too political,” you know there is a serious breakdown, not only of communication but of respect.  You also have to know there is a serious problem when the BCTF and the government can’t even agree on a mediator.

Solution? Well, either the BC government has to take the BC Supreme Court decision to the federal court for a final resolution, or they have to simply put the “right” back in the collective agreement and get on with providing BC children with the education their parents expect.

However, if the BC government refuses to deal with this “political” situation, in the long term,  it is government officials and their school district administrators that are going to be covered in mud.

Paradigm shift needed by B.C. & Ont. teachers’ unions

Money does not grow on trees. Yet, even as the Globe and Mail headline shouts: “Ontario set to get tough with teachers,” those of us who know better yawn. We have seen this movie far too many times before — the belief that any thought of restraint is an insult to teachers.

Unfortunately, they have learned that lesson by always getting their way. Actually, I know of no time in the forty years I have been involved in, or connected to, public school education when salaries have not increased — even if only marginally. It’s always been upward, never a salary and benefits freeze.  

Ontario Government and Teachers’ Unions

One thing is for sure, Premier Dalton McGuinty, the Education Premier, and his Liberal Government cannot seem to say no to teachers’ unions. Actually, when I come to think of it, they can’t say no to any public sector union. Remember, while communicating wage restraint in public during the spring of 2011, they also signed a secret document giving the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) a wage increase.

And so, as Cary’s Mills’ states in her Globe column: “Meanwhile, the union for public secondary school teachers held a meeting Wednesday evening to discuss the government’s offer, which it denounced as “unacceptable” and “an unprecedented attack on members’ rights.”

The Province of Ontario is broke and yet the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) refer to their offer as an attack on members’ rights. Hello? The current mess the Ontario Liberal Government finds itself in has attacked all our rights, our taxpayers’ rights. So, let’s just skip the political hypocrisy — given that the teachers’ unions spent millions of dollars on advertising to get the McGuinty caucus re-elected in October, 2011. Meaning, they as good as own him now.

BC Government and Teachers’ Unions

In British Columbia (BC), the conflict seems to be a bit different. For a year now, the BC Liberal Government has declined to restore rights taken out of a previous collective agreement (even though they were ordered to do so by the BC Supreme Court). Plus, the BC Government wants to make teaching an essential service — meaning they want to take away the right to strike.

Wow! So, there seems to be some backbone there.  Now, guess how the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) responded? As Wendy Stueck writes, also in the Globe and Mail, they will begin a teacher’s strike on Monday.

How can there be a paradigm shift?

What I am going to suggest is a paradigm shift — a shift in the way teachers’ unions look at demands — in terms of what is possible. Yet, that kind of shift, in BC at this point, is only going to happen if parents refuse to be held hostage. To avoid that, what they need to do is make alternate child care arrangements for their children, for however long a strike or work-to-rule lasts. They can get help from neighbours, relatives or they take vacation time from work. Whatever it takes. Because as long as it is about childcare, the unions are in control, not only of the provincial government, but of families as well.  

The same needs to happen in Ontario because McGuinty knows how angry parents got with Mike Harris in 1997. But Harris was right. There is only so much taxpayers’ money to go around. Ability to pay must mean something. Otherwise, it will be our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will be paying for the raises the teachers receive now. Without a doubt, people who work in the private sector have every reason to be very angry.

[…]

Endnote: I am not going to be a hypocrite. Both my husband and I are retired teachers, although only he has a full pension. Regardless, we both benefitted from positive collective agreements over the years. Meaning, I’m hardly anti-union. But, we are now in a new world. As such, it is my belief that it is long past time that teachers’ unions took a step back from confrontation and became part of the solution. Why? Because, there was a time when people looked up to teachers — something they no longer do.