#Education Week in Review: Krugman, Indiana and Opt-Out

Paul Krugman stands at a podium for a presentation.

Education Week in Review: Krugman slams ‘skills gap,’ and the aftermath of Indiana’s decision

Plus: The opt-out movement rallies, Ravitch is everywhere at once, and falling for another April Fools’ Day prank. It’s been a busy seven days.

What Skills Gap?

The Education Week in Review recaps the biggest stories of the week in education.

Paul Krugman, in his weekly column for the The New York Times, takes a heavy swing at the “skills gap:”

“[T]he belief that America suffers from a severe ‘skills gap’ is one of those things that everyone important knows must be true, because everyone they know says it’s true. It’s a prime example of a zombie idea — an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die. And it does a lot of harm.”

The term skills gap refers to a theoretical gap between what our companies need and what our workers possess, and it’s been gaining ground since 2010. The common refrain is, “Employers just cannot find workers with the skills and experience they need.”

Krugman calls the refrain victim-blaming.

The problem with perpetuating the myth, Krugman argues, is that it shifts our attention away from “the disastrously wrongheaded fiscal policy and inadequate action by the Federal Reserve [that] have crippled the economy.” As part of his argument, Krugman pokes a giant hole in a recent study concluding that 92% of 500 senior executives see a skills gap.

Responses to Krugman’s article were largely positive. Krugman has sufficiently debunked the myth. Bill Gates is partly responsible for the misunderstanding, as evidenced by a speech from last month. Here’s something Krugman failed to mention: the Democrats’ complicity in perpetuating this myth. When “[f]our regional branches of the Federal Reserve and former chairman Ben Bernanke looked into the skills ‘crisis’ [they too] came up empty-handed.” (The reporter who wrote that last one omits her links and fails to include any reference whatsoever to Krugman’s article despite posting two days afterward. Maybe she didn’t see it.)

For an example of skills gap trumpeting — complete with anecdotes and statistics — see Forbes’ “How Can America Narrow The Widening Skills Gap?”

Reactions to Indiana’s Decision

Two students studying in the computer labLast week, Indiana became the first state to withdraw from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The move came in response to criticism from within the state, both of the standards and of the top-down approach. Withdrawal was supposed to appease opponents.

But Indiana Gov. Mike Pence isn’t out of the woods yet.

One problem: the standards in Indiana’s new proposal appear to be not much different from those in CCSS. The Associated Press quoted one analyst, retired University of Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky, who “called the proposal a ‘grand deception.'” She continues: “It makes a fool of the governor. The governor is being embarrassed by his own Department of Education if the final version is too close to Common Core.”

But how much flexibility does Pence’s Department of Education really have? To preserve federal funding the new standards must “meet national and international benchmarks for college and career readiness.” What’s a governor to do after making such a splash? Too close to CCSS and he might be headed the way of former Gov. Bennett, too far and he jeopardizes his federal funding.

One district superintendent fears Indiana will now have to pay to develop a new assessment tool, here’s how the state got into this mess, and the Indianapolis Star hopes “opponents [can] move from protest to constructive proposals.”

Opting Out Gaining Steam?

A number 2 pencil. The opt-out movement vaulted into the national conversation this week with two events that call attention to the beginning of testing season.

First, a primer from MindShift’s Katrina Schwartz:

“The focus on scoring well on standardized tests has wedged educators into a difficult spot. Teachers are concerned that a poor showing on the tests will jeopardize school funding, or even their jobs, and often feel they have to suspend everything else in order to focus on test prep. Putting so much energy into one assessment — one that doesn’t give teachers and students any granular, actionable information — takes resources, time, and energy away from other kinds of rich learning experiences.”

Make sense?

One of the two events was in Denver, the other in New York. The Denver event was organized by United Opt Out (UOO), an organization “dedicated to the elimination of high stakes testing in public education” (website down). Over three days UOO helped teachers, students and activists develop action plans to eliminate testing in their districts.

The New York event was held in Westchester County, a suburb of New York City, and organized by iRefuse. Here’s some of the parent anger leading into that event.

United Opt Out and iRefuse are still relatively small organizations (iRefuse relies on a Facebook page) but there’s no reason to think the movement will stay that way. NPR says that “educators and policymakers … are starting to get nervous.”

Maybe the “movement [is] gaining momentum in response to … Common Core.”

We are about to find out whether movement organizers are getting any traction: standardized tests begin this week and we’ll see data on the number of students opting out. We already have some early returns from New York: 2.9% of students on Long Island opted out and 27% of students in West Seneca opted out.

Making the opt-out issue slightly confusing, I found two different meanings for “opt out.” In most cases, as above, opt out refers to a tension between parent and school. However, opt out can also refer to a tension between district and state, as in Schwartz’s MindShift article. Schwartz reports that the Douglas County School District (CO) wants to opt out of standardized tests, although it is not threatening to do so in protest. Instead, the district proposes an alternative to standardized tests called performance assessments. Douglas County has even introduced state legislation that would grant districts a waiver from standardized tests in the event of reasonable alternatives.

Ravitch Sightings

Diane Ravitch.Diane Ravitch is having a week for the history books: one radio appearance, one lecture, two articles, all of them prominent. Whoever is doing Ravitch’s public relations deserves a raise. This is enough to make any media-seeker envious.

Ravitch is a professor, author, education historian and influential blogger. Now in her 70s, she began her career at Columbia, then joined the Bush administration, then the Clinton administration, then the Brookings Institution. Currently she’s at New York University. Per her own admission, her views on education have evolved in response to the growing influence of big business in public education.

Ravitch’s week began with a bang: on Thursday she landed an article in the New York Review of Books. The article covers education in New York City, specifically the cut-throat battle between the charter schools and the city. She tears into Gov. Andrew Cuomo, “outspoken charter school leader” Eva Moskowitz, and, to a lesser extent, Mayor Bill DeBlasio. Her purpose appears to be to expose the influence of big business in the battle.

On Friday Ravitch appeared on Moyers & Company, a PBS show with national reach. Again she slams charter schools. Host Bill Moyers, clearly on the same page, quotes media mogul Rupert Murdoch in his introduction: “When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the US alone.”

On Monday Ravitch landed a second article, this one in the Huffington Post. In it she takes aim at standardized tests. She argues that although standardized tests are purportedly used to evaluate students, in reality their purpose is to evaluate teachers and to provide corporations with a revenue stream. “Deny the machine the data on which it feeds. There are corporations ready to mine your child’s data. Don’t let them have it.” Her advice? Opt out.

Ravitch’s week wrapped up on Tuesday with an appearance at Syracuse University. In front of a 1,000-person crowd her tone was less aggressive but the message was consistent: get big business out of public education. She clarified her stance: she’s not opposed to all testing, just the standardized testing we currently have. “[T]he best predictor of test scores is poverty, and … education reformers should be attacking poverty and segregation if they want test scores to improve.”

Wow. What a week.

April Fools’ Day

April Fools' Day: A shipping label with the "this side up" upside down. I once again fell for an April Fools’ Day prank, this one by Alexander Russo. Russo is a prominent education writer who blogs at This Week in Education. On Monday he posted an entry titled, “So Long — I’m Quitting Blogging & Joining TFA.”

“Wow, that’s hard to write. But I’m done.  You don’t need me doing this every day. I don’t need to be doing this every day. It’s been a long, amazing ride. I’m really proud of what I’ve done, and incredibly grateful to have been allowed to do it. Thanks to everyone who’s helped make it happen.”

Below the post in comments, the first person called out April Fools’, but by that time I’d been had. Russo later confirmed the prank on his Twitter feed.

Featured photo is “Paul Krugman at the WKF2012 in Seoul” by Marc Smith licensed under CC BY 2.0 / cropped from original. Students at computer is “Students researching in the new lab” by Susan Hersh licensed under CC BY 2.0. Pencil is “#2 Pencils” by vanhookc licensed under CC BY 2.0. Woman is “Diane Ravitch” by Tim licensed under CC BY 2.0. April Fools is “april fools 2010” by Sean MacEntee licensed under CC BY 2.0



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  1. Pingback: #Education Week in Review: PISA-OECD, Standardized Testing | Longacre

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