Smorgasbord: August looms

A chart from one of my recent sessions

Teacher evaluation is about relationships and learning, not about scores

Long ago, I co-wrote a policy paper advocating for a teacher evaluation system that acknowledges that evaluation is a conversation that requires the context of a professional learning community, with input not only from the administration, but furthermore one’s peers.

While a pre and post-conference is included in most current eval systems, the reality is that the focus is on 1) compliance (paperwork), 2) the stakes/consequences attached to that paperwork, and 3) the demands of a very subjective rubric, rather than on the practices and content that will move learning forward for students.

So it should come as no surprise that few teachers are rated poorly by their principals. These systems have become all about summative evaluation, rather than formative feedback, and thus have lost sight of the real purpose of the system in the first place — to improve teacher practice and student learning. Effective principals will use the system to have those conversations — but they won’t rate their teachers poorly on paper unless they are intent on pushing them out the building.

Principals Are Loath to Give Teachers Bad Ratings, Ed Week

Research shows: Elect Democrats to fight segregated schools

Partisan tensions between individualism/choice and systems/regulation in action.

Want to reduce racial segregation? Elect a Democrat to school board, study says, Chalkbeat NY

Andy Rotherham argues against safe spaces

“. . . challenging people to become bigger than themselves is at its core an act of respect and love. Shielding them from challenge, especially in their most formative years, is fundamentally deeply disrespectful to them and their education.”

He’s talking about higher ed. But this also applies–arguably, even more importantly–in K-12.

Challenge Students, Don’t Shield Them,” US News

John King and Arne Duncan plead for sanity in regulations to protect students

“Protecting students and taxpayers shouldn’t be a partisan political issue.”

It shouldn’t. Unfortunately, however–in our country, in these times–it is.

Trump administration is putting profits over students, The Hill

The Problem with Robot Teachers

“I . . . worry that we’re slowly evolving toward a system where the affluent get that kind of education and the poor get automated schooling.”

Are The Robots Coming? Is The K-12 Sector Allergic To Accountability? Cheating In DC, College Access, David Harris Goes TEDx, Claudio Sanchez On ESSA, Jeff Walker On Systems Entrepreneurs, Curbing Eliteness, Cow Horse, More!, Eduwonk

A middle school in the South Bronx harnesses the power of testing & practice

This Bronx school is applying what we know from decades of research: repeated quizzing and practice of key skills and concepts, spaced out over time, transfers learning into long-term memory.

Kudos to MS 343. When you think about just how much of an outlier this approach is, it’s pretty disturbing. Most schools do not have a coherent and systematic approach to what they teach, nor consider how they are reinforcing what is most essential to learn across grades and classrooms.

Why this Bronx middle school believes in second — and third — chances, Chalkbeat NY

Speaking of practice, here’s 10 teaching techniques worth practicing

This is a useful list of a few pedagogical methods worth spending time mastering from UK educator Tom Sherrington, which are based on Deans for Impact’s advice for deliberate practice.

Ten teaching techniques to practise – deliberately., Teacherhead.com

NYCDOE is pressing ATRs into schools

Dan Weisberg writes an op-ed in The 74 against the move, claiming that “Principals would go back to hiding vacancies and would justifiably argue that they can’t be held accountable for student learning if they don’t get to pick their teams.”

His claim appears to be justified, as a recent Chalkbeat article reports:

“I’m going to make sure my school doesn’t have a vacancy,” said one Bronx principal who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the topic. “I’m not going to post a vacancy if someone will place an ATR there. I’ll be as strategic as I can and figure out another way.”

I think Weisberg’s suggestion makes much more sense: set a time limit on how long someone can be in the ATR pool.

Weisberg: Paying Teachers Not to Teach Is Absurd — but Reviving NYC’s ‘Dance of the Lemons’ Hurts Kids, The 74

New York City principals balk at plan to place teachers in their schools; some vow to get around it, Chalkbeat NY

Randi Weingarten calls Devos’s brand of choice what it is — but what is her union doing to fight segregation?

I think Weingarten is pointing out an inconvenient truth by calling vouchers a “polite form of segregation,” given their history and the folks that most typically foam at the mouth over them.

But I do wonder what exactly she and her union are doing to fight segregated schools. Public schools are doing plenty on their own to contribute to segregation without any consideration of charters nor vouchers.

TEACHERS UNION CHIEF: SCHOOL CHOICE ROOTED IN SEGREGATION, AP News

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My current views on testing, in answer to my past views on testing

While up in Albany a few weeks ago, I was interviewed by someone from NYSED about what I might say to parents who are considering “opting out” their child from state testing. You can view the video here*.

Someone on Twitter, “WiffleCardenal,” voiced a critique to me regarding the video, in contrast to things I’ve said in the past on testing. In fact, they even tweeted quotes of my own words! I deeply appreciate that someone out there is actually listening, and willing to take the time and effort to hold me accountable to them. I have elected to respond here, since Twitter isn’t the greatest venue for nuanced discussion, especially at the end of a long day, and I also hate typing things on my phone.

This is in reference to a live chat I did back in 2012 on The Nation‘s website with journalist Dana Goldstein and educator Tara Brancato. Have my views shifted since then? I would say they have in some ways.

You know, honestly, they’re not as terrible as I thought back then. I proctor these tests each year and go through the experience of answering the questions along with my students. The questions are often cognitively demanding and require multiple reappraisals of the text in question. A few of them are duds, certainly, but having tried to write many of my own text-dependent questions since then, I’ve come to appreciate a well-written multiple choice question. Check out this post from Joe Kirby (UK educator) on the rationale for using multiple choice questions for assessment.

Unfortunately, this continues to hold true. In reaction to this, the Center for American Progress recently created a “testing bill of rights” to advocate for better aligning tests with a more meaningful purpose.

This doesn’t mean, however, that I’m opposed to having test scores factor into my own evaluation or my school’s evaluation. When scores are considered over multiple years, I think they can be an important and useful measure of teacher effectiveness. But they are extremely variable, so I would only want them to be considered alongside other data that can provide adequate context.

One of the things I’ve become more aware of over time is that while our testing and evaluation schemes are extremely problematic, if we look at the big picture, accountability and testing do bring transparency to serving populations of students that were traditionally ignored. No Child Left Behind was certainly faulty and overzealous policy — but it also brought attention to holding school districts accountable to serving students with disabilities and other underserved populations based on data. This was entirely new, and it has raised awareness.

This is why the NAACP, the National Disability Rights Network, and other national civil rights groups oppose anti-testing movements.

Yes, I continue to believe this. Test measures are only one source of data that need to be coupled with qualitative observational data and other forms of understanding. Fortunately, I do feel like our focus, at least in NYC, has shifted to better match this understanding.

To give further context on my statements on the NYSED video, I was speaking about how I use testing data, which I do every week when developing IEPs for my students with disabilities. I compile all information I have on a student, including multiple years of state test data, in-house assessment data, such as reading, writing, and math scores, GPA, attendance, psychoeducational evaluations, social histories, etc. When viewed all together, in tandem with teacher observations and student and parent interviews, I find aggregate state testing data useful!

So it’s important to understand I’m not advocating now and never have advocated for a state test score as a singular reference point to judge myself or a student. But when viewed with appropriate context, I do find state testing data to be useful. (More on how I use that to develop IEPs here.)

No, unfortunately. While I do think that test scores should factor into an account of an individual teacher’s effectiveness (only in aggregate and when considered in terms of growth, not proficiency), we’re creating incentives for competition, rather than collaboration.

If I could set the rules for how we use test scores for accountability, I would do something kind of radical: I would hold all grade-level teachers accountable for student scores on literacy tests. And I’d stop labeling them “ELA” tests and call them “literacy” tests. Why? Because if we are honest about what we’re really testing, we’d acknowledge that the knowledge required to understand complex texts comes not solely from ELA, but furthermore from science, social studies, music, art, and so forth. (More on my argument on this here).

Furthermore, I’d try to better level the playing field for all students by requiring test makers to broadcast one year in advance which texts would be tested (not specific passages, just the general title/author). I would allow parents and educators an opportunity to vote on which texts they wanted tested that year as well to make it more reflective of current interests. The reason I would do this is that this would provide an opportunity for all students to build up the requisite vocabulary and background knowledge to access a text. Right now we just give them random texts, as if every child will be bringing equivalent knowledge and vocabulary to them, which is false.

Yes, unfortunately this continues to hold true in too many schools. But this is also why I have been a consistent supporter of Common Core standards, which have become synonymous with testing in some people’s minds. Yet the Common Core standards provided us an opportunity to move away from test prep, because they are fundamentally about building student knowledge and academic vocabulary through engagement with rich and complex texts — this is the exact opposite of test prep!

This speaks to the problem of making state tests so high stakes, and why we need multiple measures, such as direct observation, to hold schools accountable. It also is the reason for why I would advocate for the seemingly radical measure, as per above, of communicating which texts would be assessed that year so that “test prep” instead would simply be about reading and studying and discussing the rich texts that were selected for that year’s assessment.

Yes, it can be inhumane when a student is several years behind in reading ability or struggles in coping with anxiety and stress.

While computerized testing brings a whole new set of problems, I do believe we should move in this direction, because with computerized testing, we can use adaptive testing that can better scale to meet a student where they are. Otherwise we end up punishing students who are struggling, for whatever reason. Unfortunately, the needs of students with disabilities never seem to be factored into test design except as a final consideration, rather than from the ground up.

But there’s another side to this, too. I think we have to ask ourselves, as a teacher, a school, and a system, how do we prepare all of our students to be able to engage with a challenging text independently? And in what ways are we sequentially building their knowledge and skills and vocabulary in order to prepare them for doing so? It is the failure to do so systematically and adequately that we are failing students who most need those skills and knowledge.

Pearson is out of the picture, in case you didn’t know. I have no idea what Questar tests will be like, though I imagine they will be comparable.

From what I’ve heard, PARCC assessments are far superior to the cheaper assessments NY decided to get from Pearson. I think we get what we pay for, and if we want better test design, we have to be willing to fund them.

Personally, I think if we’re going to just use tests for accountability purposes, then we could make them every 2 or 3 years instead of every year to save money, and they could still continue to be used for that purpose.

What would be awesome is if we could move more towards performance based assessment. There’s a great article on them in the most recent American Educator. This seems like the right direction to go in if we truly interested in assessing the “whole child.”

Well, don’t know if all of this fully says everything I would like to say about testing, but I’m seriously tired after a long week, so this will have to do.

WiffleCardenal, whoever you are, thank you holding me accountable and I welcome continued critical dialogue on these issues.

* This was after a long day of a train ride from NYC and meetings with legislators, so I apologize for my shiny face. Won’t apologize for the winter beard, however. And no, I was not paid for that interview nor given a script. As ever, I speak my own mind (or so I like to think. Certainly let me know if it ever seems like I don’t).

Cuomo Doubles Down on Linear Thinking

“The dunes here are linear, thought to be due to shifting wind directions.”

New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, has decided to double down on a misguided effort to increase the weight of state assessments in a teacher’s evaluation from 20% to 50%.

I’m going to spare you the “corporate reform” and “hedge fund buddies” angle on this; instead, I contend that this single-minded focus on test scores is simply bad strategy.

The focus of this blog has been on teasing out the metaphor of a school as an ecosystem, and elaborating on the theme that managing complex systems requires moving beyond linear thinking.

Here’s a relevant quote from Steve Denning (which we’ve examined before) on the principle of obliquity:

Efforts to impose linear thinking on complex situations have often led have the opposite of what was intended. As a result, the principle of obliquity becomes relevant. Where explicit articulation of a goal will result in the complex environment pushing back in the opposite direction, oblique goals will often be more effective, e.g. the goal of delighting customers may make more money than an explicit goal of making money.

What would be the opposite of what was intended in this situation (if Cuomo gets his way)? Well, if every teacher in the state is conscious that their evaluation is heavily determined by their student’s performance on that state test — then the problems of focusing mostly on ELA and math and shallow skills-driven test-prep will most likely be exacerbated. And kids that most need access to rich literature and knowledge across the domains of history, music, arts, science, and technology will instead continue to be given drivel. And teachers and schools may be more likely to engage in cheating.

I generally assume best intent when assessing the decisions of others. So to be fair to Cuomo, he is pushing for a simplified accountability system because the current system of 20% state, 20% local, and 60% principal observation may lead to the problems of over-testing and inflated scores.

But moving to increase the weight of the state test scores as a leverage over teachers is not the right move to resolve these issues. Instead, this maneuver is much more likely to compound deeper issues, rather than achieve the goal of increasing student and teacher performance.

It would be great if our elected representatives could move beyond linear models when making critical decisions on how to improve our system of education.

On Slavery and School Management

Mark and I began blogging about schools and ecosystems because we were frustrated with the business model of school reform. As we wrote in our original schools and ecosystems manifesto, “applying an industrial-growth model” to school design doesn’t work– at least not for students and teachers. We proposed that viewing schools as ecosystems might help us design more humane and effective educational reforms than those currently on offer.

Sadly, it doesn’t seem like that’s the direction education reform will take in New York State anytime soon. In case you hadn’t heard, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to subject public school teachers to be a new evaluation scale wherein student standardized test scores will be the core measure of a teacher’s quality. Cuomo also wants a merit pay system wherein teacher pay would be linked to student test scores.

Merit pay and value-added assessment: these are common proposals from advocates of the business model. Their merits have been roundly debated elsewhere, so our readers likely already have a position on each of these management tools. What you might not know, however, is that both of these common management techniques have their roots in American chattel slavery.

Caitlin C. Rosenthal, a fellow at that hotbed of radicalism known as Harvard Business School, has been researching the connections between modern management and the techniques that slaveowners used to track and improve their slaves’ productivity. Rosenthal has found that having a captive workforce allowed slaveowners to experiment with a wide variety of management techniques. Among these, merit pay:

“This led owners to experiment with ways of increasing the pace of labor, Rosenthal explains, such as holding contests with small cash prizes for those who picked the most cotton, and then requiring the winners to pick that much cotton from there on out. Slave narratives describe how others used the data to calculate punishment, meting out whippings according to how many pounds each picker fell short.

Similar incentive plans reappeared in early twentieth-century factories, with managers dangling the promise of cash rewards if their workers reached certain production levels.”

Slaveowners also pioneered the art of measuring employee value as a function of productivity:

“Starting in the late 1840s, [slave-managing innovator] Thomas Affleck’s account books instructed planters to record depreciation or appreciation of slaves on their annual balance sheet. In 1861, for example, another Mississippi planter priced his 48-year-old foreman, Hercules, at $500; recorded the worth of Middleton, a 26-year-old top-producing field hand, at $1,500; and gave 9-month-old George Washington a value of $150. At the end of the year, he repeated this process, adjusting for changes in health and market prices, and the difference in price was recorded on the final balance sheet.

These account books played a role in reducing slaves to ‘human capital,’ Rosenthal says, allowing owners who were removed from day-to-day operations to see their slaves as assets, as interchangeable units of production in a ledger, instead of as people.”

Much of this is hardly surprising. After all:

“The evolution of modern management is usually associated with good old-fashioned intelligence and ingenuity—’a glorious parade of inventions that goes from textile looms to the computer,’ Rosenthal says. But in reality, it’s much messier than that. Capitalism is not just about the free market; it was also built on the backs of slaves who were literally the opposite of free.

Perhaps I’m being generous, but I’d like to assume that when Cuomo and other business-minded reformers propose using merit pay and value-added assessment of employees, they’re unaware that they’re proposing slaveowner management techniques. Now that this troubling history is out there, let’s hope they’ll reconsider before advocating tools used to build and maintain one of America’s most brutal and repugnant institutions.

Live Chat on Standardized Testing and Ed Reform

Today, May 17th at 5 PM, I invite you to join me on a live chat on standardized testing hosted by The Nation. Reporter Dana Goldstein, an Educators 4 Excellence member, Tara Brancato, and an International Baccalaureate teacher from a high school in the Bronx will be on the panel. This should be an interesting conversation.

As our readers know, Will and I are skeptical of the value of the value-added approach to education reform, and we are critical of the effect of standardized testing on schools.

I look forward to learning from other perspectives on these issues and advocating for a renewed focus on positive, supportive contexts and rich, sequential content in schools.

See you online!

Spring Break and the Circle of Life

Public school teachers (and students) in New York and beyond are on vacation this week. Should we feel guilty about it? More than any aspect of our jobs, the vacation time we teachers receive draws resentful, bitter comments from folks outside the profession.

Having held a variety of other jobs, I definitely appreciate that teachers get more paid time than any other profession I know of. Sometimes, we take trips on these vacations, spending our exorbitant salaries on VIP suites in the finest resorts the French Riviera has to offer.

Sadly, I won’t be visiting the Riviera this week. Aside from writing blog posts, I’ll be catching up on work. I have about 50 pages worth of research papers to grade, a stack of written responses to Act III of Romeo & Juliet, and some lessons to plan.

I’m not complaining; I like most of this work and it’s the job I signed up for. Most teachers I know look forward to some of our vacation time precisely for this reason: we’re so overworked that without the time off, we could never catch up on our grading, planning, and sleep.

Schools, like ecosystems, follow the seasons. Fields and orchards lie fallow for long stretches in between planting and harvesting. These fallow periods aren’t wasted time; they allow ecosystems to regenerate and remain fertile.

Similarly, while teacher vacation time may look like a needless luxury to the value-added zealots, it’s restorative for both teachers and students. Whether we’re talking about schools or ecosystems, overwork and exhaustion are destructive forces. I’m grateful to have this week off; my students (and my well being) will be the better for it.

We Are Not Hippies

Currently, public schools are run like single-minded industrial factories. The aim of a school? To produce students that score high on tests. Achievement on tests supposedly translates into higher skilled workers who will contribute to our knowledge economy and keep our nation globally competitive.

But this conception of schools as knowledge factories, producing high achieving students, has resulted in the opposite: according to both our own measurements and international comparisons, our students remain “mediocre,” and the achievement gap between socio-economic groups continues to lengthen. Not to mention the grim statistics on literacy rates, dropouts, and college remediation for those  who even make it that far.

The response to this failure has resulted in a monomaniacal focus on school choice and accountability as saviors of public education, to name a few. But these measures alone will do little.

Will and I have proposed a new model for our public schools. We propose that our schools be perceived as ecosystems, ripe with interconnections, dynamic niches for learning and collaboration, and bountiful opportunities for positive and productive explorations with wider society. Using an ecological lens founded upon natural principles and an ethics of humaneness, equity, and sustainability, we can steer our education reform efforts to focus upon the environments and content that schools deliver, rather than upon the quixotic demand for production of “better” students.

When we discuss our model of schools as ecosystems, we’re talking about man-made, cultivated ecosystems–like a garden or farm. This distinction is an important one to make, because it suggests that we can deliberately cultivate sustainable ecosystems that not only function based upon ecological principles, but that it will produce a ‘high yield’ (translate to ‘higher student achievement’) for our intended purpose.

In other words, we can have our cake and eat it, too. But in order to do so, we require the knowledge and understanding of how to harness and utilize ecological values and principles systemically. This kind of cross-disciplinary work is already being done in other fields, but not much of this kind of work is trickling into public education.

We are not hippies. We strongly believe that viewing our public schools through an ecological lens and designing schools and implementing policies based on our holistic, community steeped model will result in better schools — by any measuring stick.

I believe that the model Will and I are proposing can unite both sides of the great education debate, reformers and activists, business interests and open source enthusiasts, conservative and liberal alike. How? Because I believe that using our model will result in higher performing schools and an education that respects and nurtures the whole child. Simply said, our model will result in better schools.

We want our schools to be better. We believe that we can make them better using the framework that we are suggesting.

Quote of the Day: Teaching in the Sausage Factory

Mark and I must feel particularly nerdy this week, as we’ve gone from Emerson to Ken Wilber in two days. Today I had Marx on my mind and dug out this quote from Chapter 16 of Capital:

“If we may take an example from outside the sphere of production of material objects, a schoolmaster is a productive labourer when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his scholars, he works like a horse to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, does not alter the relation.”

What’s he talking about? Value-added! What’s he saying? Basically, the folks who run the factory don’t care if we’re producing students or sausages; they just want us to do more for less. Anybody out there who works in a public school disagree?

Let Them Eat Test Prep

When we talk about diversity in schools, we usually focus on school populations. We measure diversity by counting off how many races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds are represented in the school community.

Diversity is about more, however, than demographics. If schools are like ecosystems and students are the organisms that inhabit those ecosystems, curriculum is the nutrition that feeds those organisms. A diverse that offers a variety of classes (including offerings in the arts, music, and applied sciences) is a critical element in a healthy school ecosystem.

Writing about the connection between biodiversity and nutrition, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states:

Biodiversity plays a key role in ensuring dietary adequacy, because nutrient contents between foods and among varieties/cultivars/breeds of the same food can differ dramatically. 

In other words, ecosystems that offer a diverse menu of nutrients are healthier than those that offer limited options. The same holds true for school curricula; when students have access to a smorgasbord of subject matter (including arts, music, and elective classes), those students and their schools are healthier and happier. Sadly, the more schools are forced to emphasize test preparation, the less diverse their curricula become.

I taught for a couple of years at a high school where administrators had created a curriculum devoid of elective content. Students took the same four classes (English, Math, History, and Science) all four years of high school, with Spanish, Art, and Drama classes assigned to students purely to meet city or state requirements. The school offered no classes in music, dance, creative writing, or applied sciences. It offered students no choice of classes whatsoever, assigning them to “electives” regardless of their interests or aptitudes. Despite this bland, homogenous curriculum, last year the Department of Education gave this school an “A” rating.

I understand why these administrators force-fed their students this cold gruel of a curriculum. High schoolers are tested heavily in Math, Science, English and History, and those test results can make or break a school. Unfortunately, city, state, and federal authorities provide virtually no incentives for schools to offer electives or music classes, even though these are often the classes that make high school worthwhile.

But school reform isn’t about making school worthwhile, meaningful, or enjoyable. Meaning and enjoyment are exactly the kind of fluff that value-added reformers want to eliminate from the classroom. To these folks, after all, education is about conditioning a malleable workforce, not cultivating a healthy citizenry.

Given that set of goals, diverse curricula are certainly not a priority for Michelle Rhee, Melinda Gates, Arne Duncan, and the rest of the value-added vampires. At least, not when they’re dealing with other people’s children. (Their own children, of course, get treated to four-star schools with lots of delicious electives on the menus.) As far as they’re concerned, the poor children of America’s impoverished districts can simply eat the test-prep cake.

On the other hand, those of us who work with children, who seek to educate those children in the hopes a building a strong, functional democracy– we know that children need music the way that daisies need sunlight. We see our students’ hunger for knowledge. We know they need more stimuli, not less. Barry Lopez, a brilliant writer and thinker, argues far more persuasively than I can for exposing people to all available forms of human expression:

Diversity is not, as I had once thought, a characteristic of life. It is, instead, a condition necessary for life. To eliminate diversity would be like eliminating carbon and expecting life to go on. This, I believe, is why even a passing acquaintance with endangered languages or endangered species or endangered cultural traditions brings with it so much anxiety, so much sadness. We know in our tissues that the fewer the differences we encounter in our travels, the more widespread the kingdom of Death has become.

Romney and the Value-Added Vampires

When Mark and I began exploring the concept of schools as ecosystems, we thought we had a pretty great idea. We wanted to replace the current educational reform narrative— which focuses on how schools and teachers can produce “better” students– with one that focuses on how to produce healthy, sustainable educational environments.

Two big assumptions lay beneath this thinking. One, that our readers will agree that cultivating and caring for the natural world is a good idea. Two, that our readers will agree that, like the environment, public education has an intrinsic value.

Of course, many people don’t agree with us. Value-added thinking rests, after all, on the assumption that public schools and their students are intrinsically worthless. They only become valuable when they produce improved test scores.

Similarly, many people agree with Mitt Romney, who believes that the earth has no inherent value. Speaking last month in Nevada, Romney described his confusion about the government’s stake in that state’s national parks, forests, and public lands:

I don’t know the reason that the federal government owns such a large share of Nevada…Unless there’s a valid and legitimate and compelling governmental purpose, I don’t know why the government owns so much of this land.

So I haven’t studied it, what the purpose is of the land…But where government ownership of the land is designed to satisfy, let’s say, the most extreme environmentalists, from keeping a population from developing their coal, their gold, their other resources for the benefit of the state, I would find that to be unacceptable.

Romney’s thinking echoes the value-added educational approach in a few key ways:

1. He hasn’t studied it: In other words, he’s speaking from ignorance. This mirrors the value-added advocates who either ignore or disregard all of the studies and data indicating that their approach doesn’t help schools or students.

2. He wants to destroy the planet: Not surprisingly, the only “legitimate and compelling” purposes that Romney sees for the earth involve incredibly destructive processes like coal and gold mining. These industries have done immeasurable harm to our planet, and much of that harm may be irreparable. Similarly, the value-added folks have shown a remarkable zeal for dismantling schools in cities across the country, doing immeasurable harm to those schools’ students and communities.

3. He thinks we’re idiots: Romney couches his approach to land management in terms of the public good. I’m sure, if asked, he’ll argue that coal and gold mining are industries where workers are treated well, work in safe conditions and earn a fair share of their companies’ profits. Similarly, the value-added zealots talk to parents, teachers, and students like we’re morons, when they even acknowledge our existence.

4. He has no soul: I’m not talking about Romney’s singing here. I’m speaking quite literally: Romney is a vampire. Anyone argues that the earth exists only to be sucked dry for the benefit of a few landowners is a true, old-school villain. Strangely, the value-added vampires are still human enough to recognize some value in our planet, but they think that students and teachers are only worth as much as the test scores they produce.

How do we respond to folks who lack the capacity to see the value of what happens in our schools everyday, unless it’s presented to them as a two-digit number? Who can’t see the value in showing a student how to love Shakespeare, or line drawing, or algebra? Treat them like vampires: expose them and their followers to the light of day until they shrivel up and disappear.