Monday, February 11, 2013

Ken Mitchell's Letter to the Editor November 2012

In the Record article, “Districts wonder if Race to the Top is worth cost,” (November 12, 2012), the reporter references a study conducted by the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents and published by SUNY New Paltz’s Center for Research, Regional Education, and Outreach.

In that study, school districts have not only determined that the cost of the reforms mandated by New York State when it took Race to the Top dollars greatly exceed the money provided to communities already struggling to fund their schools, but that there are profound educational consequences.

There is no significant evidence that supports the new unfunded reforms.  In fact, there is evidence to the contrary.  Using student test scores to evaluate teacher and principal performance appears to be an easy approach for ensuring accountability.  Yet the reality is that there are multiple and constantly-shifting factors that go into the teaching-learning equation.  While the teacher has significant influence, there are too many other elements to make such an evaluation valid and reliable, especially when districts will be basing decisions on just a year or even two years of data.

Multiple national testing experts and organizations, even those in support of some of the reforms, question the use of such testing at this time.  The Lower Hudson Council’s research includes data from the National Education Policy Center and the Center for Education Data and Research that challenge the viability of the use of such data for high-stakes and perhaps career-altering evaluations. 

Most recently, the federal Institute of Education Sciences convened a meeting of the top researchers in the field who are now raising concerns and warning state policy leaders to use caution before rushing to implementation.

New York State taxpayers are funding a costly experiment on student and teacher evaluation, including the new Common Core curriculum which is also not researched-based but merely hypothetical and from which education publishing companies will make extraordinary profits.

A recent study out of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government warns that changes to state standards over the last 20 years have little impact on improving student achievement.
Taxpayers and parents are not being informed that valued programs are being eliminated, curriculum is being narrowed to address test prep, teaching is being transformed into a scripted activity, and students are being unnecessarily over-tested.  Where’s the proof that all of this will work?

The cost to taxpayers is great, but the consequences for over testing children and designing instruction around such tests will be even greater.  The changing world into which our students will be entering will require them to think creatively and critically to solve problems.  Asking them to take an abundance of costly on-line assessments has the potential to stifle this important learning objective. 

Mary-Stephanie Corsones, the assistant superintendent for curriculum in Kingston, noted, “… it may take four years to evaluate to see if it is effective or not.”  There is still much work to be done in preparation.

Not only does the new Common Core curriculum need to be fully implemented before students and teachers should be held accountable for it – if ever, but districts will need to shift precious fiscal resources to upgrade existing technology systems to accommodate on-line assessments. 

All of this takes lots of time and money. Why should New York taxpayers spend another dime unless they can be guaranteed that the cost-benefits of these unfunded mandated reforms will produce results for both the learners and society? Ken Mitchell, Executive CommitteeLower Hudson Council of School SuperintendentsNovember 13, 2012

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