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Teacher oversees students taking a test.
Earlier in the month, a Brooklyn school principal wrote a New York Times op-ed protesting the gag order that testing company Pearson has put on teachers and administrators to prevent them discussing the content of the company's new Common Core tests. According to Elizabeth Phillips, the test does "a poor job of testing reading comprehension," and:
In general terms, the tests were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards. The questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous. Children as young as 8 were asked several questions that required rereading four different paragraphs and then deciding which one of those paragraphs best connected to a fifth paragraph. There was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts. There was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting. And the tests were too long; none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes.
But she can't get more specific than that, because of the gag order. Now, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has written a letter to Pearson's top executives protesting this lack of transparency and sent two top AFT staffers to London to attend Pearson's annual shareholder meeting to underscore the point. She writes:
These gag orders and the lack of transparency are fueling the growing distrust and backlash among parents, students and educators in the United States about whether the current testing protocols and testing fixation is in the best interests of children. When parents aren’t allowed to know what is on their children’s tests, and when educators have no voice in how assessments are created and are forbidden from raising legitimate concerns about these assessments’ quality or talking to parents about these concerns, you not only increase distrust of testing but also deny children the rich learning experience they deserve. [...]

If Pearson is going to remain competitive in the educational support and testing business, the company must listen to and respond to the concerns of educators like Elizabeth Phillips who report that the company has ignored extensive feedback.
Parents, students and teachers need assessments that accurately measure student performance through questions that are grade-appropriate and aligned with state standards—especially since standardized tests have increasingly life-altering consequences for students and teachers. By including gag orders in contracts, Pearson is silencing the very stakeholders the company needs to engage with. Poll after poll makes clear that parents overwhelmingly trust educators over all others to do what is best for their children; educators’ voices, concerns and input should be included in the creation and application of these assessments.

This is big business: Pearson has a $32 million contract with New York state alone.

Continue reading for more of the week's education and labor news.

A fair day's wage

  • Guitar Center announces pay hike following employee organizing.
  • Philanthropist, labor law violator, and all-around terrible human being Daniel Straus has subpoenaed the personal email of two NYU law students after they organized criticism of his labor practices. Daniel Straus, by the way, is an NYU law school trustee.
  • It's a full-on work stoppage on Mt. Everest:
    Scores of mountaineers were departing Mount Everest on Thursday after Nepalese officials failed to break an impasse with anguished Sherpa guides who want to halt climbing following last week’s devastating avalanche.

    A meeting at Everest base camp between Sherpas and Nepalese government officials ended with no change in the Sherpas’ position: Most don’t want to scale the mountain this year out of respect for the 16 guides who were buried under the snow and ice Friday, and because of fears of more avalanches.

  • Private prisons: Bad, or the worst?
    The FBI has launched an investigation into the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) over the way it runs an Idaho prison that has such a reputation for violence that inmates dub it "Gladiator School."

    The Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA has operated Idaho's largest prison for more than a decade, but last year, CCA officials acknowledged it had understaffed the Idaho Correctional Center by thousands of hours in violation of the state contract. CCA also said employees falsified reports to cover up the vacancies. The announcement came after an Associated Press investigation showed CCA sometimes listed guards as working 48 hours straight to meet minimum staffing requirements.

  • One year after Bangladesh's Rana Plaza tragedy, has anything changed? and Battling for a safer Bangladesh.
  • Building trades unions may be flirting with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, but that's not where most unions are:

  • The Mine Safety and Health Administration is fighting black lung by issuing a new rule on coal dust exposure.
  • JetBlue pilots just went union. Voted overwhelmingly to join the Air Line Pilots Association, per @AFLCIO


  • Education Secretary Arne Duncan has withdrawn Washington's No Child Left Behind waiver because the state didn't implement a bad idea that's a proven failure.
  • "This is huge," Diane Ravitch says of the news that the NCAA won't accept credits from 24 K12 Inc. cyber-charter schools:
    All of these virtual schools are highly profitable. The K12 corporation, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, receives full tuition for each student; the district loses the tuition, and the student gets a computer and textbooks. K12 is known to have a high dropout rate and low graduation rates.

    This is the first time that a major accrediting body has rejected the education offered by K12 and declared that its credits were unacceptable.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 10:55 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Only thing Peason will respond to (16+ / 0-)

    is a lawsuit, and it would probably have to be a lawsuit filed based on someone breaking the confidentiality clause and being fired or otherwise disciplined. I support the efforts of the educators and union organizers, but Pearson clearly feels inoculated from their objections. And in the case of NY State they clearly are being aided and abetted by Gov. Cuomo whose sympathies clearly lie with the reformer/profiteers.

    •  And a Union Organizer on the Premises.. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slowbutsure, ER Doc, dewtx

      As soon as Monday. Escorted by a team of lawyers and a couple of National Guardsmen and a US Federal Marshal.

      Figures don't lie, but liars do figure-Mark Twain

      by OregonOak on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 11:47:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  why is the state of new york contracting a UK Co., (0+ / 0-)

      to design/print the state's Common Core tests? why aren't they working with a US company?

    •  they're too big to sue (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      quill, cocinero, dewtx, zitherhamster, SGA

      Oh, the Pineapple People.  I could go on and on about my experiences with them until I had a stroke, but one incident stands out.

      We had a close reading PD given by our resident Pineapple Person.  It was an essay about reflections on 9-11.   I asked the guy if Pearson had obtained permission to use it.  he just kind of smirked and said he got it off the internet.  blatant!

      We teachers have to worry about copyright violation all the time, but I guess if you're a multi-billion dollar educational publishing empire, you're too big to sue.

      (They also use Molecular Workbench modules --developed with a National Science Foundation grant and free for anyone to download -- as part of the teacher resources in their biology e-text package)

      They're so despicable!

      Light is seen through a small hole.

      by houyhnhnm on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 03:02:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Gag orders (11+ / 0-)

    are a complete violation of free speech.

    Anyone ever hear of a gag order on the Koch bros.? Course not, because money can't be stopped from talking, but teachers have to shut up! This sucks.

    A true craftsman will meticulously construct the apparatus of his own demise.

    by onionjim on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 11:12:48 AM PDT

    •  Yes, but the prohibition on interfering with (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      enhydra lutris, HeyMikey, dewtx

      speech is only addressed to agents of government. One of the main motivations behind privatization is the desire to evade these restrictions on governmental agencies. While it can be argued that the distinction is spurious when private corporations are under contract to the public ones, that they are liable to being compliant has to be proved.

      Anyway, elementary education is one of the new flavors of human husbandry. Minors are a convenient target for exploitation because they have no rights under the law. If their parents don't intercede on their behalf, there's no recourse. And then, of course, the payee is a third party, almost impossible to hold accountable.

      by hannah on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 12:04:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  more complex (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      HeyMikey, dewtx, cocinero, Nance

      the "gag order" is in place to protect test security.  It is because states want to test using mid to late 20th century technology, and parents want easy enough tests so their students will succeed.  The 'gag order' on production tested are common.  The College Board does it, to the point of insisting that students do not discuss it's tests, or they can cancel the scores.  Most states will publish released tests at least every few years that can be disseminated and discussed.

      The reason this is bad because it is security through obscurity which in the general case does not work.  The reason we use it, as said, is because we want to give tests as we have for 50 years and parents want a fair and easy test.  In addition, states want to give their own tests, and everyone wants to rank students and teachers which requires a norm referenced standardized test.

      All that is crap.  These tests should assess mastery of the common core.  That is it.  That means that we should have a test bank of several thousand question, possibly developed in cooperation by the states, divided by objectives and level of difficulty. The test should be randomized for each student, so they have no way to know what type of questions they will get.  States can have some control of over some objectives.  Students should not be ranked or graded, but only give a level, for instance, learning, comprehending, mastery, application.  On each test they should be expected to at least match the previous level, that is it.

      This requires a loss of control by teachers and administrators, and a loss of rank by parents. I have seen the problems with loss of rank on the College Board AP exam where parents and student are not happy with just receiving a 1-5 grade.  They want recognition that their kid got 90 or 100% of the question correct, even though the AP exam as an instrument does not make such a statistic meaningful.

  •  We are all becoming unpaid workers for Pearson (18+ / 0-)

    and the other testing companies.  Not only do our children (in being forced to take the tests) and our public employees (the teachers forced to administer the tests) have to work for them (perform the labor of administering and taking the tests) instead of doing activities that might better advance learning; but we, the taxpayers who foot the bill for Pearson's shoddy overpriced merchandise juggernaut, have to do extra work to figure out WTF about the tests, pay a good chunk of money we've worked for to the states and municipalities that adopt the tests (money from our tax dollars, that could have gone toward truly needed improvements and repairs in our schools), and we have to work extra hard with our kids to try to help them handle the stress and confusion of these ridiculous and abusive tests.

    That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

    by concernedamerican on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 11:16:22 AM PDT

  •  Common Core teaching the future hive nt (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Join the DeRevolution: We are not trying to take the country, we are trying to take the country back. Get the money out of politics with public financed campaigns so 'Of the People, By the People and For the People' rings true again.

    by fToRrEeEsSt on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 11:20:39 AM PDT

  •  Need more info... (0+ / 0-)

    What does NCAA accreditation mean? I don't follow sports at all.

    What does this mean for students K-12? If an online student (high school) wants to go to college, doesn't the college evaluate his or her high school record?

    If NCAA doesn't accredit these online schools, what is the effect on students?

    •  NCAA accreditation does a few things (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      a2nite, JesseCW, RadGal70, True North

      All student athletes who want to play at Div. I or II schools have to go through the NCAA clearinghouse (that's what they call it). They are also the gatekeepers for the associated scholarship money. The NCAA has certain minimum standards that HS coursework must meet, and apparently these schools don't meet the standard.
      Students from these schools will not be eligible for the money or to play in Div. I or II colleges/universities.

      "If they give you ruled paper, write the other way" Juan Ramon Jimnez

      by Teiresias70 on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 11:40:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Schools must provide (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JesseCW, True North

      proof that they meet academic standards such as course catalog, graduation retirements, academic calendar (number of school days) master schedule (class hours per day) grading keys and policies such as academic honesty and attendance requirements to meet NCAA requirements.  I used to  have to submit the report every year.  

  •  Contracts. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify, allie4fairness, ichibon, JesseCW

    Pearson has a contract.  If they fail to perform, they lose the business.
    The prison company has a contract and has failed to perform.

    Does government not understand the concept of a contract?

    Oregon and Oracle "may" end up in court?

    "Our problem is not that the glass is half empty or half full, but that the 1% claims that it is their glass." ---Stolen from a post on Daily Kos

    by jestbill on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 11:25:01 AM PDT

    •  Oracle needs a Union Organizer at work (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      on Monday. Any volunteers?

      Of course, a couple of State Troopers and a good lawyer will help make the point as well.

      Dont shout. Organize.

      Figures don't lie, but liars do figure-Mark Twain

      by OregonOak on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 11:48:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Common Core played well-intentioned people (5+ / 0-)

    for power and money, quite handily.

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 11:30:50 AM PDT

  •  Being that I haven't been in school since 58, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    houyhnhnm, cocinero, Nance

    my knowledge of modern teaching methods are limited to what I've experienced with my children and grand-children, but this entire for-profit operation seems to be a scam to me.
    It all makes me wonder how we let the corporations get such control over our children's education in the first place.
    What happened to teachers making up the test papers themselves?
    That's the way it was done in my little school, at least.

    Severely Socialist 47283

    by ichibon on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 11:41:21 AM PDT

    •  You would be profoundly shocked (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cocinero, ichibon, Nance, SGA

      I can't even believe what's going on and I've been in the classroom continuously for the last 17 years.  I feel like I've fallen down a rabbit hole every day.

      Light is seen through a small hole.

      by houyhnhnm on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 03:06:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  PS (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I still get away with writing my own tests. I've got three years to go until full retirement.  Then let all the evils that lurk in the mud hatch out. I don't know if i'm going to make it, though.

        Light is seen through a small hole.

        by houyhnhnm on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 03:42:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  It's all about corporate profit. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ichibon, SGA, houyhnhnm

      Corporate online schools are the worst. I wrote a diary 2 years ago about the scam they are perpetrating in IA. It's still going on. Pearson has their fingers in this racket too.

    •  Apparently teachers can't be trusted (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ichibon, Nance, SGA, houyhnhnm

      to make their own tests because they don't really care if their students are learning. Apparently we are just biding our time to collect our fat pensions and we don't give a rat's ass about the kids.  We're just living large on our fat salaries.  Sadly, with 38 years under my belt, I never got that memo.  Here I've been agonizing over students and working my tail off all these years.  It amazes me how people  believe all the rot that's out there about teachers.

      “It is the job of the artist to think outside the boundaries of permissible thought and dare say things that no one else will say."—Howard Zinn

      by musiclady on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 07:24:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Democratize each Workplace of America (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RadGal70, sandblaster, Brown Thrasher

    Lets hear them squeal when every worker in every company and every corporation is mandated by law to have a worker's representative on the boards, management work offices and floors of every job site in the nation.

    That is the German way. Because we told them it had to be when we Occupied Berlin. And the German Constitution mandates worker approved representation on every job decision which affects workers.

    Unionize Pearson, and you will see no more Gag Orders.

    Figures don't lie, but liars do figure-Mark Twain

    by OregonOak on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 11:43:13 AM PDT

    •  The German way might be a start (0+ / 0-)

      but it falls well short of "democracy in the workplace".

      And the problem with the gag order in this case is not its application to Pearson employees, but to state employees - school teachers and administrators NOT employed by Pearson. I am skeptical that unions are a solution - they do not represent democracy in the workplace either, not in any meaningful sense.  Teachers in NY State do have a union, and the union failed completely to prevent the implementation of the gag order.  The objections the union leadership makes now are welcome, but late in coming, just like their new-found concern over CC, which was also non-existent before the great hue and outcry raised by the teachers themselves.

      Real workplace democracy would have engaged the teachers in the construction and implementation of of the standards from the start, rather than forcing it on them as a fait accompli.

      •  Completely Agree. I am one of those teachers. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        solublefish, cocinero, SGA

        But we find that unless the powers that rule are FORCED to accept workers representation, they deem it to be an act of generosity, and they then feel free to disregard the comments, since they themselves were extending the "gift" of input to workers.

        At least, in Germany, the workers are compelled to speak in boardrooms and office meetings and their comments must be accepted and considered. This prevented Germany from being part of the Great Recession, and the first country in our alliance to have green energy at rates above 50 percent. The workers have demanded transparency, daily, and conservation, daily, from the inside of every workplace.

        Allowing people to speak in work matters is not a "gift" from the employer. It is a human right and an obligation of the powerful capital holders to the less powerful working people, who must carry out any decision in the end.

         It is the essence of democracy, which we finally need in America.

        Figures don't lie, but liars do figure-Mark Twain

        by OregonOak on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 12:59:10 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Doesn't surprise me (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Van Buren, cocinero, SGA

    To quote from a comment I made in another post in February:

    The real crime, in my opinion, is how seldom the instruments we are using to evaluate learning are called into question. You hear lots of noise about the quality of teaching, but inquires into the quality of the evaluation systems seem to be drowned out in the din.
    Oregon is, yet again, implementing a new testing program through a new testing company. This has happened several times, which I find interesting that you can compare test scores from year to year, yet it's not the same instrument, and sometimes, not delivered by the same method (computer vs. paper-pencil). Our computer tests change the difficulty of the questions as students get previous questions right or wrong. Oh, the stories I could tell, but I digress.

    The new tests will grade essays by computer - that's right, a machine will "read" and score our children's essays. Although computer grading has shown to correlate with human grading on short essays, where length and vocabulary are the primary factors for success, not necessarily good writing. Long essays, written over many days, which is what Oregon's students will be doing, are another matter.  

    Les Perelamn, director of writing across the curriculum at MIT, notes the the ETS grading system directly contradicts George Orwell's rules of writing, and would have graded Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as poor. In other words, it becomes less about good writing and more about learning to beat the system, which is what standardized testing has become. I have yet to check into the Oregon system, keeping up with the revolving door of testing here is exhausting.

    For more on the ETS system (it's not all bad, but caution is advised):Human vs. machine

    It would be better not to know so many things than to know so many things that are not so. - Felix Okaye

    by eclecticguy on Sat Apr 26, 2014 at 12:32:26 PM PDT

  •  I loathe Common Core (4+ / 0-)

    because (and I've said this here before) a ten-year-old should be learning to learn and explore for the love of learning, not studying day-in, day-out for a one-size-fits-all testing regimen, For that matter, s/he should not be worrying about getting into an Ivy League university and whether s/he will get a good paying job someday.

    (Hell, I didn't even think about those things when I was in college.  I loved learning math, chemistry, and biochemistry, and I did it for that love.  Call me unrealistic--)

    Where does our next generation of innovators and inventors come from, if all we train our kids to do is pass f*cking tests, and wear Walmart Tan like all the other corporate drones?

  •  couldn't the gag order be dealt with (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    with a camera phone and a proxy server?

  •  Pearson may have an interest in failing schools. (0+ / 0-)

    They own Connections Academy, an online alternative to public schools.

  •  NCAA was right to reject credits from K12 Inc. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    K12, Inc. online schools are a scam focused on corporate profit, not learning.

    K12 Inc. was founded in April 2000 by William Bennett (Reagan's Secretary of Education), Michael Milken, and Ronald Packard. Packard is now the CEO. He holds an MBA and is a financial analyst who previously worked for Goldman Sachs in mergers and acquisitions. In 2011, Packard received $5 million in total compensation from the Herndon, VA-based K12 Inc.

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