Friday, October 22, 2010

A report The Moncton Times Didn't Report

A Request to District 2 DEC regarding standardized testing and public ranking

Accountability in Our Public Schools: The Whole Truth...... p. 1

Appendices.............................................................................pp.10 to 41

Please forgive the handwritten parts. I failed writing in grade four. It was the teacher's fault.

Below is a report The Moncton Times had access to, but didn't mention. So I thought I'd include the ten page report here. It's the one I have to the DEC of district 2 - whith one, possibly two, Times reporters sitting in front of me. It's about the changes our schools are being put through - the biggest changes in three centuries of education. They are based on pure greed. And the Moncton Times is a cheerleader.

In the report it did make of the meeting, it spent all of its time blowing up a minor protest, and making it look like a parent revolt. Of some two thousand parents, 20 (that's one-tenth of one percent) showed up for a protest about the closing of Moncton High. That suggests to any reasonable onlooker that 99.9%  of the parents either agree with the superintendant who closed Moncton High or don't give a damn.

But those 20 odds and ends became the whole story for the Times. That's what's called using a newspaper to create a crisis. And, in real journalistic circles, that's considered unethical.

Anyway, here's the report. I covers the origins of the pressure for standardized testing, what it's really all about, who's behind it, and why. It also shows how it damages children - and why it is of no scientific merit at all. In short, it does NOT measure schools or teachers. It's a fraud.  I had to leave out 40 pages of appendices with statistics and sources because I gave away all the copies I had to the DEC. A useful one, though, in on the web - google UNICEF public school ratings. Note also that UNICEF in one of those reports says that standardized tests are invalid for ranking schools or teachers.

Accountability in Our Public Schools: The Whole Truth

Facts And Questions

Let us begin with important news stories of this year you may not have seen in the New Brunswick press – or in most of Canada's press.

1. UNICEF ranks Canada among the top four countries in the developed world for the quality of public education. (The US, including Jeb Bush's home state of Florida ranked 18th of 21.)

2. UNICEF ranks Canada the most educated nation in the world.

3. In making its rankings, UNICEF draws partly on standardized tests. But in doing so, it cautions readers that standardized tests do NOT evaluate the quality of schools or teachers. (In fact, this has been recognized by virtually all social scientists for the last 50 years.) The major factor in a child's success in school exams is the parents – their social class, education, expectations. What standardized tests do, then, is to test the quality of the parents. Are you sure you want to go there?

4. Canada leads the US in completion of secondary schooling.

5. UNICEF research is carried out by leading scholars in education and social sciences from all over the world.

6. UNICEF rates Canadian public schools the second best in the world for science. It rates the US twenty-second.

7. The Atlantic Institute of Marketing Studies is not dedicated to helping children. Read the whole AIMS website. It has all the puffery of a brochure for a new toothpaste. The CEO and director of their teaching project, the man who now effectively controls curriculum throughout the Atlantic provinces, lacks the qualifications to get a teaching job at even the lowest level anywhere in Canada.

That raises questions for the DEC. Why, in seeking advice, did the government of New Brunswick ignore the seventy or so scholars of education in New Brunswick universities? The more than a thousand scholars in Canada? The more than ten thousand in the US? The many tens of thousands all over the world? Why did it go to a marketing institute for advice on education? Why did it act on advice that was proven false over a half century ago? Why is AIMS pushing for an education system designed to deal with a US racial problem – and which hasn't worked even in the US? Why has the New Brunswick press encouraged doubt about the New Brunswick school system and its teacher, when both are among the best in the world? (And ranked there by an organization far bigger and far, far more skilled than AIMS? Why did AIMS, with access to thousands of scholars, invite Jeb Bush – who has never taught, has no training in the field, and who comes from an educational backwater – to speak at an education conference in Moncton? Why was a conference on education attended largely by corporate heavyweights?

Why didn't a single reporter in the whole province ask any of the above questions?

Who Am I to Criticize Anybody?

Well, I'm a tax payer with three children in the District 2 schools.

I am a registered teacher in both New Brunswick and Quebec. I taught for some six years in Montreal public schools. Then I completed a doctorate n history, and taught some 35 years at Concordia University. In most of that period, I was twice daily on radio, hundreds of times interviewed for TV news in Canada, Britain, and the US, and wrote hundreds of newspaper and magazine columns. My major fields of commentary were politics, foreign affairs, and education. I was also a professional speaker who was keynoter at many international and Canadian conferences – including visiting members of the European parliament, Canadian university presidents and senior administrators, a conference of specialists in international law, of private school headmasters,and of the Quebec Teachers' Association. Along the way I won several national and regional awards for best commentary of the year (both in print and on radio).

I was three times listed in MacLean's University ranking as one of the five most popular teachers at Concordia. Like all of MacLean's rankings (and all of AIMS rankings), that means nothing. I was, however, proud when Quebec public school teachers voted me the province's social studies teacher of the year about 2003.

With my experience of journalism, I know a deliberate smear campaign when I see one. And I have closely followed the very sophisticated smear campaign to discredit New Brunswick public schools and teachers. I also see its similarities to a campaign across Canada and the US.

Private Business and Public Schooling – A Brief History

Public schooling in Canada owes a great deal to Scots Presbyterians. .The Scottish public education was designed for all children, rich and poor. The rich then, who commonly controlled school boards, had an incentive to make sure the schools were good. This became the model for most of Canada.

The exception was Quebec where Catholics maintained a system of private schools, accessible to the financially comfortable, unattainable for most.. The rich still controlled them by sitting on boards and dominating government. But there was no incentive to make sure the public schools were even minimally adequate. (Historically, Quebec Catholic school taxes were far lower than Protestant ones.) The result was to maintain power in the hands of the elite. For example, every premier but one in the history of Quebec has been a private school graduate. (And the one exception attended private school, but failed.)

By the 1960s, it was obvious the Quebec Catholic school system was a social, educational, and economic disaster. That's why it was remodelled after the Protestant system in the Quiet Revolution. However, private schools remained the schools for the rich, and were able to continue getting substantial subsidies.

With the rapid industrialization of the 1850s, schools were adapted to produce reliable labour, with each class modelled on the demands and schedules of the factory floor. That's why lateness became a serious offence, often punished with staying after school, with suspension, and even with strapping. The factory demanded promptness, order, structure, obedience. So began a century and more of classrooms with six rows, each row straight, the teacher's desk in the command position, and bells to change functions. Learning was based heavily on rote learning (memorization) of standardized texts, with exams based on the rote learning. Only gradually, as teachers became more highly trained and as educational research expanded, was it understood that such a system robotized more than it educated.

By the 1950s, social scientists around the world had come to general agreement. Rote learning was a waste of time. It was a shallow form of learning that did nothing to develop judgement or critical powers; and it was usually forgotten soon after the test.

They, and teachers, came to general agreement on another point at about the same time. A student's success in school was only partly determined by the school or the teacher. It was more, much more, determined by the social status, education, and expectations of the parents. A standardized test is worthless as a test of schools or teachers. It is really a test of parents. Rich kids do well on standardized tests. Poor ones don't.

Children in most provinces read better than children in New Brunswick. Naturally. That's because New Brunswick parents don't read much, In fact, they have a stunningly high rate of functional illiteracy.

Children are not simply parts on an assembly line. Parts on an assembly line are standard in every respect. One steering wheel on an assembly line is exactly like all the other steering wheels. But children are humans. They don't come in standardized shapes or types or values. Standardized tests, then, tell us more about the parents than they do about the teachers. I learned that by my own public school experience.

I grew up in a Montreal district then rated one of the five, poorest districts in Canada. I still remember all eighteen children in my first grade class. Not one, including me, would finish high school. We weren't stupid. Finishing high school simply wasn't on the radar of poor families. University was a word that meant something that was not of our world, and could not be of our world.

When I went to high school, it was to a school that drew in children from a wide social range. (Two of my predecessors were the working class Oscar Peterson and the very upper class Christopher Plummer). I was lucky enough to make it into the A class, the smart kids. There, I was astonished to meet classmates who thought of a BA as a minimal goal, with most already thinking of graduate degrees. Some were rich kids. They came from families which accepted university as normal. Others were a poor as me, but Jewish.

They came from a Judaic tradition that placed a high value on learning. Years later, I became friendly with Mordecai Richler; and I mentioned this to him. He grinned. “When I began kindergarten”, he said, “My mother walked me to school every day. I didn't know it; but in her mind, this was pre-med school.”.

Alas! It was too late for me. I failed grade 10, and was failing grade 11when the principal advised me to leave. I got a job as an office boy for Bell Telephone, pitied by the friends I had known at school. But I was a success story in my home neighbourhood. I had a job, a steady job. And I wore clean clothes to work. And came home with clean hands.

The future would show I had one advantage. I read well and often. That advantage came from my parents. There were always books in the house. My father visited the used book store, and brought me home a book or two every Saturday. Because I could read, I could understand, and I could write. In the end, I would catch up because of the example set by my parents. It's the parents who are the most important factor in educational success.

The Origins and Importance of Public Schools

In the seventeenth century, Presbyterianism, unlike Anglicanism or Catholicism of the time, required its adherents to read The Bible themselves rather than to rely on church dogma. Having read it, they were expected to discuss it, and come to their own conclusions about its meaning. This meant all children had to be able to attend school to learn how to read and make judgements.

Scotland, though a small country and a poor one, soon produced a rich stream of scholars, scientists, economists, business leaders and political leaders – far out of proportion to its size. Modern capitalism was developed largely by Scots. It is no accident that Scots were the prime minsters of Canada from1867 to 1891. The first bank in Canada was founded by Scots. The first president of the CPR was a Scot. The Scottish presence in both Canada and the US has been powerfully influential.

They brought with them their faith in public schooling with the rich, in keeping with Scottish practice, sending their own children to the same school system as the poor. That was notable in Montreal in the days of its economic dominance of Canada. Since the Scots were a high proportion of the businessmen, since the businessmen were prominent in Protestant school boards, and had their own children in public schools, they had a stake in making sure the Protestant public schools were good.

Democracy rapidly developed in the years following public schooling. That's because literacy, judgement, awareness of events are essential to democracy.

Indeed, public schooling in modern history has been the foundation of virtually all progress, political and economic, in the world. So why do we feel it imperative to change a system which has been arguably the most effective institution of the last three centuries?

An Impact of Depression and War on Government and Business

The 1930s depression made it essential for governments to intervene far more than they ever had in the economy and in social services. Canada's pioneering prime minister in this regard was the Conservative, R.B.Bennett whose platform of 1935 was notable for its proposed expansion of the role of govenment.

Mackenzie King's Liberals who succeeded Bennet were not so enthusiastic. Then came 1939.

The The First World War had proved and an uncontrolled economy in wartime was a disaster – creating shortages, inefficiencies, soaring inflation, poverty and enormous national debt. Like it or not, King was forced to initiate government conttrol even down to how much sugar I could have on my stale bread cereal.

To everyone's surprise, controls were widely popular as the average Canadian was better off than at any time in history. In the first Canadian gallup poll, taken in the middle of the war, King was shocked to see the social democratic CCF party up to the old parties in support. That's why the Liberals continued (as slowly as possible) to develop social programmes after the war.

Even civil servants rose to admiration for their skill in handing the war economy. Well into the 1950s, major corporations were sending promising executives to Ottawa to study civil service methods. (How soon some people forget!)


Business enthusiasm for government soon vanished as it saw government spending being diverted from private profit to public need. The spread of medicare in Canada, and the highly organized resistance to it in the US are prime examples. But education, growing so rapidly at all levels after 1945, soon took its place as a target for business anxiety.

The problem for private business, especially for very large corporations, was to find a way to influence public opinion, particularly through the news media. The answer was the think tank.

It was not a new idea. .A think tank is simply a group of people doing research to offer advice on a problem. Think tanks have existed since the beginning of human existence. Monasteries were think tanks. So were courtiers. Universities are think tanks, with more think tanks within them. Think tank was a word that sounded could. It created an impression of knowledge and expertize. Such emotive words were to become a staple of the new think tanks.

They gave themselves impressive sounding names, usually including the word “institute”. Hired hands were tarted up with titles like “Senior Fellow of Education Studies”. They established prestigious sounding awards to give to each other. They even adopted a new morality.

The writing of Ayn Rand, such as “Atlas Shrugged”, invented the new morality, a morality that turned every major religion in the world on its head. Do not do unto others as you want them to do unto you. Forget the poor and the sick. Helping them just causes more problems. Forget your responsibility to society. Don't give to others. Think only of yourself. Be greedy. Greed is good. Everyone would be better off if each person did everything out of self-interest.

At last, there was a philosophy that made being rich and greedy moral. That sat well with the new think tanks that wanted to denigrate government, social concerns, and social programmes of all kinds. And wanted to elevate the abilities of private interests to solve all problems.

The combination of opposition to government power (except, of course, when it was diverted to private interests, like bailing out banks) combined with the new morality is what gave birth to something called neo-conservatism (though it was not new, and had nothing to do with conservatism.) American neo-conservatism attached itself to American patriotism, largely though association with highly fictitious ideas about the American Revolution and American history.

In keeping with that, and with an instinct for emotionally evocative words like “free”, instead of the greedy sounding “private”, the think tanks needed only to find a demand for their ideas. They found it, curiously enough, in the American civil rights movement.

Blacks, seemingly victorious in their struggle for equality in the 1960s, were almost immediately disillusioned by the results, especially in education. Lower achievement for Black students remained the norm..Parents blamed the schools, demanding changes and accountability to the community.

Neo-conservatives immediately recognized the emotive value of “accountabilty to the community”, and added it to their jargon. As well, they launched a campaign to organize schools efficiently, as “free” enterprise would do it – in contrast to all those inefficient civil servants. It would, as all their reports did, advocate contracting the school system out to private (oops, sorry) free contractors.

Almost all news media in Canada and the US swallowed the bait. Any “research report” released by a think tank was readily given prominent space on the op ed page, and often with an approving editorial opposite it. I remember a gem from the Montreal Economic Institute denouncing climate change warnings. It got lavish praise from The Montreal Gazette. Shortly after, I met the author, and asked him whether he had done all the research himself, and what research material he had used.

He had done it all by himself. His research was reading one book by a Danish scientist who is one of a small minority who don't believe climate change is happening. He also read one book on economics – published a hundred and fifty years ago. Oh, he had no training in either science or economics.

This is the man the Gazette hailed for disproving the work of thousands of scientists all over the world. And he did it in less than 800 words.(In this context, it is suggestive to read the gushing home page about the world status of AIMS, and the amazing abilities of its members. The CEO (and chief of the education project) is also an expert on government structure, inter-goverment relations as well as debt reduction and taxation. Move over, Plato and Aristotle.

He seems to have no training or experience at all in education. His own education, while decent enough, would scarcely place him in the company of scholars or scientists. Essentially, he appears to be trained in public administration, perhaps with a couple of statistics courses tossed in. Very nice. But how can one make statistical evaluations of a field of which one knows nothing? This is really a case of the blind men arguing over the shape of an elephant.

There was also a subtle campaign to discredit public schools and teachers. This might consist of the prominent display of stories about laxness of a teacher (in a school hundreds of miles away), rumours of how unions were taking over schools. It didn't matter that the incident might be one in a million. It didn't even matter if it was true. The net effect of publishing these stories as news did the job of alarming parents about their public schools, and denigrating the schools and the teachers. (Stories about paedophiles in private residential schools get much less attention than a public school teacher in Montana who didn't let a little girl go to the bathroom.)

Newspaper and other media owners were important agents in this campaign. Of course. They were often the same people who financed the think tanks.

So it was that the movement spread across the border in the form of Atlantic Institute of Marketing Studies and The Fraser Institute, and dozens of others. Given the wealth and connections of their backers who provide much of the funding for political parties of the right sort, and given their news media entree to the public, it is scarcely surprising that they exert enormous influence on governments.

AIMS now effectively controls the curriculum of New Brunswick public schools. It both sets and evaluates the standardized testing and ranking. That standardizing means standardized curriculum, just as if our children were being put together with identical parts along an assembly line. Teachers have become unskilled workers, all their training and value thrown away.

Does Standardized Testing, Ranking and Education Competition Work Anywhere?

It depends on what you mean by “work”

It works, sort of, in parts of Asia. I taught for some time in Hong Kong where education is highly competitive, right from kindergarten. Showing promise in kindergarten means getting into a more prestigious elementary school,, probably a private one. Doing well there can get you into an even more prestigious high school, almost certainly a private one. That can very well get you into a prestigious university like U of Hong Kong.

Actually, the teaching in any of those schools is not much different from the teaching in any other. The “prestige” is largely a matter of rumour and smart advertising. But prestige is important in Hong Kong. A degree from U of Hong Kong is a guarantee of a high paying job with the assurance of permanence no matter how incompetent one proves to be. A degree from a North American university commands polite respect, but carries the suggestion its holder might not have been good enough to get in to U of Hong Kong.

Why does it work?

It works because the social pressure on the student is enormous. It comes from parents, siblings,and from relatives all the way out to the most distant ones. To do less than superior work is to bring down the most crushing sand permanent shame on the whole family – even its very name.

It short, it works there but not here because the environment and values here are different.

But couldn't we adapt it to our environment?

No. It works in producing grades. But it does not work in learning. I leaned that with my first class in Hong Kong.

The students were like none I had ever had before. All were hard working and attentive. Nobody whispered to a neighbour. Nobody was ever absent or late. No assignment was ever late. Once, I casually mentioned I had found a certain article interesting. The next day, I discovered the whole class had read it. We discussed it. So I decided to assign it as their first critical review. That is, they were to write a short essay on the meaning of the article, then make reasoned judgements about the validity of it. A dead silence fell on the room.

Chan Ho Man stood up to speak for all. “Sir, we cannot criticize this article. It was written by a great and respected man. We must study it and memorize it.”

There it was. Standardized test and rankings and competition produce rote learning, useless because it will soon be forgotten. The greater loss is the lack of any useful learning about logic and judgement and understanding. Luckily, with time and patience, I was able to teach them how to make judgements, and a dozen or so of them followed me back to Montreal to do well at Concordia.

The Asian family values and the rote learning had produced harder workers than most of my Canadian students. On the other hand, there was never a Canadian student with a C grade that I had to spend days looking for so I could talk him out of suicide and into a hospital.

Can competition in education work in Canada to at least produce good memorizers?

No. A school of 500 students with an intensive training programme in running might produce ten good runners in a year. Most of t he other 490, sensibly knowing (or thinking) that they cannot be the best as runners, will drop out. That's what happened to me, and most of the kids I began school with.

Standardized testing, ranking,and competition in education will find no support in any serious reseach on education. Indeed, one cannot find even common sense and experience in them. The testing, ranking and competition – and privatization – have nothing to do with research or common sense. They have to do with the destructive philosophy of Ayn Rand, and the self-interest of her adherents.

Summary of the Case Against Standardized Testing and Ranking

Standardized testing is wrong because it is being used to test teachers and schools. That is wrong because it ignores parenting and environment as the major factors in school performance.

Standardized testing is wrong because it encourages rote learning, the lowest and least useful form of learning.

Standardized testing is wrong because it makes teachers into unskilled factory hands, throwing away all the value of their training, experience, and flexibility.

Standardized testing is wrong it makes for a a boring classroom, almost guaranteeing children will conclude, rightly, that school is a waste of time.

Standardized testing is wrong because it is using and harming our children's education simply for private profit. That's as low as child pornography.

Public ranking of schools is wrong because the ranking is, scientifically, a fraud.

Public ranking of schools is wrong because it brings down public humiliation on the students and teachers of the majority of schools who don't make the top level. It's the equivalent of pointing at a poor child and laughing at him in public because his clothes are old and torn. Anyone who has ever been poor will understand that.

Public school ranking is wrong because, under a career hungry administrator, it places impossible demands on teachers to improve grades when many children come from environments that make higher grades impossible.

Public ranking of school is wrong because its using our children as a PR gimmick to promote an ideology based on self-interest and greed. That is worse than wrong. It is immoral. (Sorry, I'm old-fashioned, and didn't like Ayn Rand's books. I think there is a value to morality.)

Why You? Why Me?

Most teachers and administrators know that standardized testing and public ranking are both invalid and damaging. But to publicly oppose them would be professional suicide for anyone employed in the Department of Education. All of us know, too, that most of the news media will be of no help whatever.

We also know that New Brunswick is weak on the concept of public debate. That's why City Council voted to spend 84 million dollars for the city's most urgent need - a hockey rink. When finished, it will become, per capita, the world's most expensive hockey rink. It passed with barely a comment. That's why political campaigns in New Brunswick are essentially contests to see who can produce the cutest slogans.

Those opposed to what AIMS wants have to be in a position to be independent, and with a public presence related to education. Only two such groups spring to mind. One is made up of the DECs. The other is Home and School. I suspect the latter is pretty highly politicized. I'm hoping the former is not.

These are our children. They are being damaged for the private profit of a handful of wealthy people. I am damned if I will allow that to happen to my children. The DEC is my first port of call in this attempt to protect our children from abuse. It will not by any means be my last. But it certainly would be a powerful and honorable gesture for the DEC to take a public position in favour of our children and against their abusers.

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