Betsy DeVos and God’s Plan for Schools

BOSTON — At the rightmost edge of the Christian conservative movement, there are those who dream of turning the United States into a Christian republic subject to “biblical laws.” In the unlikely figure of Donald J. Trump, they hope to have found their greatest champion yet. He wasn’t “our preferred candidate,” the Christian nationalist David Barton said in June, but he could be “God’s candidate.”

Consider the president-elect’s first move on public education. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the nation, says that he was Mr. Trump’s first pick for secretary of education. Liberty University teaches creationism alongside evolution.

When Mr. Falwell declined, President-elect Trump offered the cabinet position to Betsy DeVos. In most news coverage, Ms. DeVos is depicted as a member of the Republican donor class and a leading advocate of school vouchers programs.

That is true enough, but it doesn’t begin to describe the broader conservative agenda she’s been associated with.

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Boston Globe op-ed by Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment

This letter seems very sensible!

WE APPLAUD the effort, led by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, to look beyond test scores when measuring school performance (“More criteria sought to judge schools,”Metro, Dec. 6). As James Vaznis notes in his article, indicators such as “school climate” tell us a great deal about the education students are receiving. Yet for the past two decades, such measures have been overlooked in favor of what Vaznis terms “a laser-like focus on standardized test scores.” In addition to fostering a narrow view of quality, this approach has promoted negative views of diverse schools, because of the strong link between test scores and variables such as family income.

Given the state’s track record on this matter, we hope that the public does not merely allow the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to prescribe new school quality measures. Our group, the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment, is engaged in similar work. Unlike the state, however, we are not afraid of “radical changes to the accountability system.” Nor are we committed to the act of ranking schools. We have lived under the testing regime for nearly a quarter century.

Now it’s time to learn from our mistakes, reorienting data systems to provide fair and comprehensive information that engages communities, empowers educators, and supports students.

Jack Schneider, director of research

Salah Khelfaoui, cochair

Erik Fearing, cochair

Massachusetts Consortium

for Innovative Education Assessment


Schneider is an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross, Khelfaoui is the Lowell superintendent of schools, and Fearing is president of the Revere Teachers Association.


webinar tomorrow! “Is There a Link Between Standardized Tests and Improved Learning?”

rassroots Education

Schott Foundation's 
25th Anniversary Celebration Webinar Series:

Bursting the Bubbles: Is There a Link Between Standardized Tests and Improved Learning?
Friday, December 9 at 2:00pm EST

SVP Today

High-stakes tests became a centerpiece of education reform under No Child Left Behind: countless fill-in-the-bubble sheets that could impact everything from a student's academic placement and a teacher’s employment to school climate and whether their school will be closed. But what’s the origin of standardized testing? What does the research show? What can standardized tests truly measure, and how are policymakers (mis)using them?

Meanwhile, across the country students are walking out, parents are opting their children out, and teachers are refusing to administer these exams. A cross-sector movement has emerged to challenge test-heavy approaches to education reform. Our two webinar guests will examine both the tests themselves and the communities mobilizing against them. They will point toward better ways to assess how well public schools are educating our children and what a child-centric — not test-centric — classroom looks like. Finally, we’ll discuss opportunities under Every Student Succeeds Act to enrich student learning and improve equity.

Our featured speakers will include:

Jesse Hagopian, history teacher, commentator, and organizer
Dr. Monty Neill, FairTest Executive Director
Dr. John H. Jackson, Schott Foundation President & CEO (Moderator)

Jesse Hagopian teaches history at Garfield High School in Seattle. The recipient of many awards, including “Secondary School Teacher of Year” in 2013, Hagopian helped organize the MAP test boycott that began at Garfield High School, quickly spread to several other Seattle Schools, and helped ignite a national movement against the abuses of standardized testing. He is a prolific writer on not only education issues but the larger world of social justice, particularly the Black Lives Matter movement. His commentary has been featured on TV and in print across the nation. Earlier this year Hagopian established the Black Education Matters Student Activist Award, a scholarship award for young organizers making a difference in their communities. He earned a Master’s degree in teaching at the University of Washington.

Dr. Monty Neill is Executive Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), and has led FairTest's work on testing in public schools since 1987. He has initiated national and state coalitions of education, civil rights, religious, disability and parent organizations to work toward fundamental change in the assessment of students and in accountability policies. In October, FairTest released its latest report, Assessment Matters: Constructing Model State Systems to Replace Testing Overkill. The report describes how states can overhaul their assessment systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in a way that minimizes standardized testing and encourages student-focused classroom practices while still giving communities and policymakers useful information to evaluate their schools. Neill has taught and been an administrator in pre-school, high school and college. Neill earned a doctorate at Harvard University’s School of Education.

Join the Schott Foundation for an exclusive webinar — part of our 25th anniversary celebration — in which we will discuss how to burst the bubble of the overemphasis on high-stakes standardized testing.

Come with questions, insights, and calls to action during our Q&A session at the end!
Join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #GrassrootsEd and #Schott25

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Could your children’s toys be violating their privacy?

An international coalition of consumer watchdogs says Nuance Communications is violating the privacy of children who play with two toys that use the Burlington company’s speech-recognition software.

The toys, My Friend Cayla and i-Que Intelligent Robot, use Nuance software to answer questions posed by children. But in complaints they expect to file with federal regulators on Tuesday, the consumer groups allege that Nuance is saving recordings of those interactions with children for future use without providing adequate warning to parents, in violation of a 1998 federal law to protect the online privacy of minors.

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How do you judge a school? Mass. looks to expand the criteria

Students in Revere tried the online PARCC test in 2014. Massachusetts officials are looking to broaden the way schools are judged, moving beyond test scores and graduation rates to other measures.

State officials are looking to broaden the way school performances are judged to comply with new federal standards, moving beyond test scores and graduation rates to other measures, such as the atmosphere a school creates and the availability of art, music, and college-level courses.

The goal is to provide the public with a more holistic view of the quality of education at each school in Massachusetts by shining light on areas that get overlooked in a state accountability system that maintains a laser-like focus on standardized test scores.

Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, said his agency has not yet decided how many new measures might be added.

“We want to make sure that collectively the indicators in the system provide more signals than noise,” Chester said. “One concern I have is if we have too many signals, it might not be clear where things are going well and where schools need to buckle down.”

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Mayor Walsh urges “no” on Question 2

Vote ‘no’ on Question 2


AS A FOUNDING board member of the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester, I’m a longtime supporter of Boston’s charter schools. Last year, as mayor, I proposed state legislation to raise the cap on charter school growth while also giving charter schools access to state building funds for the first time.

It may surprise some, then, that I am voting “no” on ballot Question 2 — and urging everyone in the Commonwealth to do the same.

My reasons are clear. Question 2 does not just raise the cap. Over time, it would radically destabilize school governance in Massachusetts — not in any planned way, but by super-sizing an already broken funding system to a scale that would have a disastrous impact on students, their schools, and the cities and towns that fund them.


Constructing Model State Systems to Replace Testing Overkill

Assessment Matters: Constructing Model State Systems to Replace Testing Overkill

This report describes how states can overhaul their assessment systems under the Innovative Assessment pilot program in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  It shows policymakers how to:

  • develop assessment systems that minimize standardized testing;
  • enhance classroom-based, teacher-controlled, student-focused assessing;
  • diminish state and federal micro-control of education;
  • provide tools to markedly improve learning outcomes; and
  • generate sufficient data for evaluating schools in order to provide support and interventions where needed.

This report begins by describing the core components of a model assessment system that meets the requirements of ESSA. It then reports on New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) project. Part III profiles other examples of high-quality performance assessments. The report concludes with a set of principles for assessment systems.

Report Contents: 

Full Report

Preface and Executive Summary 

Part I: A Model Assessment System for High-Quality Learning

Part II: New Hampshire PACE

Part III: Performance Assessment Examples


Vermont tries school evaluations by teams of educators rather than by standardized tests

September 27, 2016

School Inspections Offer a Diagnostic Look at Quality

Aiming to get beyond just spreadsheets and test scores, Vermont and other states experiment with inspections to scope out schools' strengths and weaknesses

Educators have gotten used to poring over spreadsheets filled with test scores to get a sense of their students'—and schools'—strengths and weaknesses.

What they don't often see: feedback from other teachers, administrators, and students who can offer a fresh perspective on where a school stands when it comes to instruction, resources, climate, financial efficiency, and more.

A handful of states—including, recently, Vermont—have worked to change that, using a model borrowed from other countries and known in Great Britain as "school inspections," in which a team of experts or educators visits a school and offers objective feedback on teaching, learning, management and more.

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Pasi Sahlberg on “the germ that kills schools”

Watch Pasi Sahlberg video

Pasi Sahlberg, former director of the Finnish Ministry of Education's Center for International Mobility, author of Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?, will be speaking at Wellesley College at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 13th, in the Diana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Auditorium. This lecture is free and open to the public.

Sahlberg was actively engaged in planning and implementing the Finnish education reforms in the 1990s that have made Finnish schools among the best in the world. At Wellesley College Sahlberg will discuss the importance of teacher professionalism, collective autonomy, and trust, and argue that the most important educational ideas behind Finland’s success are borrowed from American public schools.