Monday, April 30, 2012

What Do We Measure and Why? Questions About The Uses of Measurement

Margaret J. Wheatly wrote this piece awhile back that's germane to discussions on measurement today. -Angela

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What Do We Measure and Why? Questions About The Uses of Measurement
Journal for Strategic Performance Measurement, June 1999
Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers

And still they come, new from those
nations to which the study of that
which can be weighed and measured
is a consuming love.     
   W.H. Auden

We live in a culture that is crazy about numbers. We seek standardization, we revere precision, and we aspire for control. The very ancient and dominant belief of Western culture is that numbers are what is real. If you can number it, you make it real. Once made real, it's yours to manage and control. We increasingly depend on numbers to know how we are doing for virtually everything. We ascertain our health with numbers. How many calories or grams should I eat? What's my cholesterol reading? We assess one another with numbers. What's your I.Q.? What's your GPA? Your Emotional Intelligence? And of course we judge organizational viability only with numbers. What's the customer satisfaction rating? Inventory turns? ROI? P/E ratio?

It is numbers and only numbers that define and make visible what is real. This is the "hard stuff," the real world of management- graphs, charts, indices, ratios. Everyone knows that "you can only manage what you can measure." The work of modern managers is to interpret and manipulate these numeric views of reality. The desire to be good managers has compelled many people to become earnest students of measurement. But are measures and numbers the right pursuit? Do the right measures make for better managers? Do they make for stellar organizations?

As we look into the future of measurement, we want to pause for a moment and question this number mania. We'd like you to consider this question. What are the problems in organizations for which we assume measures are the solution?

Assumedly, most managers want reliable, high quality work. They want commitment, focus, teamwork, learning, and quality. They want people to pay attention to those things that contribute to performance.

If you agree that these are the general attributes and behaviors you're seeking, we'd like to ask whether, in your experience, you have been able to find measures that sustain these strong and important behaviors over time. Or if you haven't succeeded at finding them yet, are you still hopeful that you will find the right measures? Do you still believe in the power of measures to elicit these performance qualities?

We believe that these behaviors are never produced by measurement. They are performance capabilities that emerge as people feel connected to their work and to each other. They are capacities that emerge as colleagues develop a shared sense of what they hope to create together, and as they operate in an environment where everyone feels welcome to contribute to that shared hope. Each of these qualities and behaviors-commitment, focus, teamwork, learning, quality--is a choice that people make. Depending on how connected they feel to the organization or team, they choose to pay attention, to take responsibility, to innovate, to learn and share their learnings. People can't be punished or paid into these behaviors. Either they are contributed or withheld by individuals as they choose whether and how they will work with us.

But to look at prevailing organizational practice, most managers seem consistently to choose measurement as the route to these capacities. They agonize to find the right reward that can be tied to the right measure. How long has been the search for the rewards that will lead to better teamwork or to more innovation? And haven't we yet learned that any measure or reward only works as an incentive in the short term, if at all. Ironically, the longer we try to garner these behaviors through measurement and reward, the more damage we do to the quality of our relationships, and the more we trivialize the meaning of work. Far too many organizations have lost the path to quality because they have burdened themselves with unending measures. How many employees have become experts at playing "the numbers game" to satisfy bosses rather than becoming experts at their jobs? The path of measurement can lead us dangerously far from the organizational qualities and behaviors that we require.

But measurement is critical. It can provide something that is essential to sustenance and growth: feedback. All life thrives on feedback and dies without it. We have to know what is going on around us, how our actions impact others, how the environment is changing, how we're changing. If we don't have access to this kind of information, we can't adapt or grow. Without feedback, we shrivel into routines and develop hard shells that keep newness out. We don't survive for long.

In any living system, feedback differs from measurement in several significant ways:

1. Feedback is self-generated. An individual or system notices whatever they determine is important for them. They ignore everything else.

2. Feedback depends on context. The critical information is being generated right now. Failing to notice the "now," or staying stuck in past assumptions, is very dangerous.

3. Feedback changes. What an individual or system chooses to notice will change depending on the past, the present, and the future. Looking for information only within rigid categories leads to blindness, which is also dangerous.

4. New and surprising information can get in. The boundaries are permeable.

5. Feedback is life-sustaining. It provides essential information about how to maintain one's existence. It also indicates when adaptation and growth are necessary.

6. Feedback supports movement toward fitness. Through the constant exchange of feedback, the individual and its environment coevolve towards mutual sustainability.

As we reflect on the capacities that feedback can provide, it seems we are seeking many similar attributes in our organizations. But we haven't replicated the same processes, and therefore we can't achieve the same outcomes. There are some critical distinctions between feedback and measurement, as evident in the following contrasts.

Some Important Distinctions

Feedback Measurement
Context dependent One size fits all
Self-determined; the system choose what to notice Imposed. Criteria are established externally.
Information accepted from anywhere Information in fixed categories only
System creates own meaning Meaning is pre-determined
Newness, surprise are essential Prediction, routine are valued
Focus on adaptability and growth Focus on stability and control
Meaning evolves Meaning remains static
System co-adapts System adapts to the measures

If we understand the critical role played by feedback in living systems, and contemplate these distinctions, we could develop measurement processes that support the behaviors and capacities we require, those that enhance the vitality and adaptability of the organization. To create measures that more resemble feedback, we suggest the following questions. We use them as design criteria for any measure or measurement process:

Who gets to create the measures? Measures are meaningful and important only when generated by those doing the work. Any group can benefit from others' experience and from experts, but the final measures need to be their creation. People only support what they create, and those closest to the work know a great deal about what is significant to measure.

How will we measure our measures? How can we keep measures useful and current? What will indicate that they are now obsolete? How will we keep abreast of changes in context that warrant new measures? Who will look for the unintended consequences that accompany any process and feed that information back to us?

Are we designing measures that are permeable rather than rigid?
Are they open enough? Do they invite in newness and surprise? Do they encourage people to look in new places, or to see with new eyes?

Will these measures create information that increases our capacity to develop, to grow into the purpose of this organization? Will this particular information help individuals, teams, and the entire organization grow in the right direction? Will this information help us to deepen and expand the meaning of our work?

What measures will inform us about critical capacities: commitment, learning, teamwork, quality and innovation? How will we measure these essential behaviors without destroying them through the assessment process? Do these measures honor and support the relationships and meaning-rich environments that give rise to these behaviors?

If these questions seem daunting, we assure you they are not difficult to implement. But they do require extraordinary levels of participation-defining and using measures becomes everyone's responsibility. We've known teams, manufacturing plants, and service organizations where everyone knew that measurement was critical to their success, and went at the task of measuring with great enthusiasm and creativity. They were aggressive about seeking information from anywhere that might contribute to those purposes they had defined as most important to their organization, such things as safety, team-based organization, or social responsibility. Their process was creative, experimental, and the measures they developed were often non-traditional. People stretched and struggled to find ways to measure qualitative aspects of work. They developed unique and complex multivariate formulas that would work for a while and then be replaced by new ones. They understood that the right measurements gave them access to the information they needed to prosper and grow. But what was "right" kept changing. And in contrast to most organizations, measurement felt alive and vital in these work environments. It wasn't a constraint or deadening weight; rather it helped people accomplish what they wanted to accomplish. It provided feedback, the information necessary for them to adapt and thrive.

Being in these workplaces, we also learned that measurement needs to serve the deepest purposes of work. It is only when we connect at the level of purpose that we willingly offer ourselves to the organization. When we have connected to the possibilities of what we might create together, then we want to gather information that will help us be better contributors.

But in too many organizations, just the reverse happens. The measures define what is meaningful rather than letting the greater meaning of the work define the measures. As the focus narrows, people disconnect from any larger purpose, and only do what is required of them. They become focused on meeting the petty requirements of measurement, and eventually, they die on the job. They have been cut off from the deep well-springs of purpose which are the source of the motivation to do good work.

If we look closely at our experience of the past few years, it is clear that as a management culture, we have succeeded at developing finer and more sophisticated measures. But has this sophistication at managing by the numbers led to the levels of performance or commitment we've been seeking? And if we have achieved good results in these areas, was it because we discovered the right measures, or was something else going on in the life of the organization?

We would like to dethrone measurement from its godly position, to reveal the false god it has been. We want instead to offer measurement a new job--that of helpful servant. We want to use measurement to give us the kind and quality of feedback that supports and welcomes people to step forward with their desire to contribute, to learn, and to achieve. We want measurement to be used from a deeper place of understanding, the understanding that the real capacity of an organization arises when colleagues willingly struggle together in a common work that they love.


Margaret Wheatley is a well-respected writer, speaker, and teacher for how we can accomplish our work, sustain our relationships, and willingly step forward to serve in this troubling time. She has written six books: Walk Out Walk On (with Deborah Frieze, 2011); Perseverance (2010); Leadership and the New Science; Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future; A Simpler Way (with Myron Rogers); and Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time. Each of her books has been translated into several languages; Leadership and the New Science appears in 18 languages. She is co-founder and President emerita of The Berkana Institute, which works in partnership with a rich diversity of people and communities around the world, especially in the Global South. These communities find their health and resilience by discovering the wisdom and wealth already present in their people, traditions and environment ( Wheatley received her doctorate in Organizational Behavior and Change from Harvard University, and a Masters in Media Ecology from New York University. She's been an organizational consultant since 1973, a global citizen since her youth, a professor in two graduate business programs, a prolific writer, and a happy mother and grandmother. She has received numerous awards and honorary doctorates. You may read her complete bio at, and may download any of her many articles (free) at

All photos by Margaret Wheatley.
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Saturday, April 28, 2012


And the end of the frontier didn't end this. -Angela



Richard G. Santos

            I recently wrote what I taught for years, that is that U. S. history textbooks are written in black and white perspectives from the East Coast point of view.  The multi-cultural, multi-lingual essence of Texas and the U. S. Southwest is at best overlooked if not belittled.  Moreover, the textbooks are male oriented and the role of the woman and ethnic minorities are ignored.  In a patronizing manner, women who excelled in politics, business, arts and entertainment are given short biographical sketches ignoring the fact they are the exception and not the norm.
            I first faced this contradiction in 1971 – 76 when serving as the first Ethnic Studies Director and instructor at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. As Department Head I informed the administration I wanted to hire a woman to teach a course on The Woman.  The Sisters of Divine Providence told me I could not do that as “the woman is not a minority”.  I was terribly upset (to say the least and being politically correct) as I did not expect that from nuns.  Much to their chagrin, I got around the issue by posting a class on The Woman to be taught by me under “Special Topics”.  On the side, I hired Ms. Lupe Anguiano to teach the class.  Hence, I opened each session, took roll, attended class and paid her salary from my paycheck.  Times have changed and the role of the woman in history, culture and the family has gotten academic acceptance but still excluded in the textbooks.
            I also used to tell my students that the teaching and writing of history was not limited to memorizing names, dates and events.  To study and write history one must look at the totality of human-social-scientific, linguistic and cultural evolution. Ideally, a historian is nothing more than a reporter of past events.   Unfortunately, the role of the woman in history, anthropology and sociology is lacking. This is even more evident in the lack of studies and writings regarding the woman on the Frontier (meaning West of the Mississippi River). Yet, then and now the woman is a child’s first doctor, teacher, provider, peace-keeper, financial manager and keeper of the Faith and culture. Take the nomadic hunter-gather Native American culture of South Texas.  The men were the hunters, priests, warriors and frequently, but not always, the “medicine men”. The women were the gatherers, weavers, seamstresses, nurses, and misleading, all-encompassing “keepers of the home” a phrase that minimizes their role as organizers and preservers of the home and family.
            The woman in the Spanish Colonial, Mexican and early U. S. historical periods of South Texas and New Mexico were all of the above plus, gardeners of fruits, vegetables and herbs (i.e. medicinal and spices),  took care of a family’s domestic live stock (milk cows, goats, chicken, etc), doctor-nurse-midwife-curandera (herb healer), and the unpaid, unappreciated laborer.  The frontier woman had to ride a horse, fire a weapon and defend the home-ranch-farm with or without a husband or mate around. If a widow, she had to do all the

above plus raise a family. The frontier woman and many today are still the keepers of the Faith and culture as many men step aside when it comes to religious instruction and participation as husbands silently delegate that responsibility to the wife and mother of their children.  The woman then and now
was and remains the key element in regard to the culture of the home. Today, however, a woman’s education, and socio-economic status of the family unit, has a great impact on what she bequeaths and passes on to her children.  Not to be ignored or over-looked, the religious affiliation of the family unit today also impacts on the role of the woman.
            As to the social role and expectation of the woman, it is interesting to note that up to the 19th Century, women usually married by 12 years of age.  Empress Carlota of Mexico (wife of Emperor Maximillian) introduced the quinceanera through which young ladies were presented to society ready to marry at 15 years of age. The U.S. followed the 19th century European tradition of introducing young ladies at 16 years of age. The coming of age debutant balls introducing young ladies to society varied thereafter but never exceeding 21 years of age.
Today the quinceanera, “sweet sixteen ball” and debutant ball are no longer seen as presenting daughters for marriage but rather merely a coming of age
party-social gathering-celebration. Yet the role of the wife-mother has remained practically unchanged and unappreciated.
            As a sidebar, I personally am fed-up with hearing and reading the same old articles and seeing the Casasola photographs of the women soldiers (soldaderas) and “Adelitas” of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Tell me about General Carmen Reyes. What was her background, family life, battles won and lost and accomplishments before, during and after the revolution?  How does she compare to Joan of Arc?  Also, how does the generala compare to her contemporary rebel leaders?  Why is she still an unknown a century after the fact?  The Mexican Revolution is not my area of expertise but if it was I would not hesitate digging into the Archivo de la Defensa in Mexico City as well as the history and archives of the revolution in Michoacan and Jalisco.
            The same applies to Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.  Yes she was a great writer-poetess and I have enjoyed and still enjoy her literary output. However, she was a num leading a shelter, cloistered life exposed only to the elite upper socio-economic circles of Mexico City during her life. She never married, never had or raised children, never had a husband or had to deal with neighbors (other than her fellow sheltered nuns).  She does not represent or present the woman of her lifetime. So how did her worldview compare to that of Maria del Carmen Calvillo ranch owner-manager-cattle baroness of Bexar in the early 1800’s? Nuf zed as I hope I got some of you angry enough to do something about the unappreciated role of women in history.

Zavala County Sentinel …………….. 21-22 September 2011

Ed Dept seeks to bring test-based assessment to teacher prep programs

Okay, isn't there something wrong with this picture?  TFA's Wendy Kopp and James G. Cibulka, president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) were on the panel advising with Cibulka trying to get the group to consensus.  

Check this out (from within): 
It should also be noted that Cibulka had several institutional negotiators at the table who will be coming before his organization for re-accreditation within the next several months.
The negotiations frustrated some of the people involved — and some who weren’t invited.
“The Department of Education’s attempt to make sweeping higher education policy changes in 7 ½ days of negotiations, and ultimately, to make regulations via conference call makes a train wreck look well-planned,” said Becky Timmons, assistant vice president for government relations of the American Council on Education."
This is an important read for higher education, too:
And now, the Education Department has higher ed in its sights.

Department officials put together a group of several dozen people to “negotiate” on proposed regulations on colleges of education, which have come under scrutiny as the issue of “teacher quality” has become front and center in the school reform movement.
  I hear the train and the train wreck coming 'round the bend.

The Obama administration wants to expand the use of standardized test scores as an accountability tool from K-12 into higher education.

The Education Department just tried — and failed — to persuade a group of negotiators to agree to regulations that would rate colleges of education in large part on how K-12 students being taught by their graduates perform on standardized tests. As part of this scheme, financial aid to students in these programs would not be based entirely on need but, rather, would also be linked to test scores.

The department’s plans assume that standardized test scores can reliably and validly be used for such accountability purposes . Most researchers in this field say they can’t — for a number of reasons, including the limitations of the tests themselves — and therefore shouldn’t be used for any high stakes decision in education anywhere. They say that making test scores so important is one of the negative consequences of the last decade of No Child Left Behind, and shouldn’t be continued.

But the Education Department thinks otherwise and has been pushing this kind of evaluation as a centerpiece of its school reform initiatives. In order to win federal funds, a number of states have approved new K-12 educator assessment systems that rely heavily on these “value added” formulas — which purport to be able to ascertain the amount of “value” a teacher adds to a student achievement based on test scores.

And now, the Education Department has higher ed in its sights.

Department officials put together a group of several dozen people to “negotiate” on proposed regulations on colleges of education, which have come under scrutiny as the issue of “teacher quality” has become front and center in the school reform movement.

Teacher quality, of course, is important. There are teachers in classrooms today who shouldn’t be, and there are teacher preparation programs that should be closed. The question is how to go about improving the situation.

Specifically department officials are proposing regulations that would rate teacher prep programs into four tiers through a number of measures — though heavily weighted — on standardized test scores. Only programs in the top two tiers would be allowed to offer federally funded teaching grants for students who agree to teach in high-poverty schools.

Some of the negotiators turned out not to be as infatuated with the highly controversial “value-added” assessment methods as are department officials. They believe there are better, fairer ways to determine quality of teachers and colleges of education.

When it became clear that some of the negotiators weren’t going to go along with the basic outlines of the department’s plan, department officials ended the negotiations over a conference call.
But don’t think that is the end of the effort.

Now we can expect Obama administration officials to issue regulations doing what they want — without congressional approval, or, for that matter, without having persuaded a group of negotiators they had selected themselves that what they want to do makes educational sense.

It should be noted that administration officials say that there is evidence to show that “value added” formulas can work for assessment. Justin Hamilton, press secretary for Education Arne Duncan, said in an email that some of the negotiators pointed to this evidence: “Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee have already implemented it and their work has been closely studied and documented.... And all the RTTT [Race to the Top] states are in process.”

Most researchers on the subject, however, have warned strongly against using value-added formulas for high stakes decisions of any kind in part because there is too much variability in the results. Good teachers can be evaluated poorly; and poor teachers can be evaluated as effective, they say, hardly a way to go about improving the teaching corps.

Let’s look at how this would work in another field. Take doctors. What if they were measured by the number of patients they save — and then the medical school where they trained gets graded on those numbers? And to top it off, student financial aid at medical schools become dependent on those numbers, too.

How do you think medical schools which seek to serve high need, high risk populations would fare in comparison to medical schools that produce doctors for the healthy and wealthy?

This point was not lost on minority-serving institutions, including the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, who called foul loud and clear in letters sent to the department. Other educational organizations, including groups of deans from well-respected colleges of education, all sent in concerns about the proposed regulations, including:

* They are a big expansion of the federal role in assessing teacher training programs. According to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, it is the states that have been given the authority by statute to evaluate and penalize teacher prep programs.

* They would require states and teacher preparation programs to report to the federal government on data that most do not currently have the ability to collect.

* They would require states to implement assessment programs that are costly, without providing any federal funds to help.

For the negotiations, the Education Department picked the negotiating team — and some of the selections, as well as the omissions, are interesting.

One might assume that one organization that would be selected to negotiate on the issue of colleges of teacher education would be the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. It wasn’t. Neither was the American Council of Education, the nonprofit organization that represents presidents and chancellors of colleges and universities.

Who was? Among the groups selected were Teach for America, the nonprofit organization that places new college graduates into needy classrooms with only five weeks of training. It has been a favorite of the Education Department, winning millions of dollars in federal grant month. And its founder Wendy Kopp, has been lavishly praised by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Also on the negotiating team was James G. Cibulka, president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). He took on the role of trying to reach consensus on the panel, holding informal meetings with the dissenters to try to win them over.

It should be noted that he heads the only remaining accreditor of teacher preparation/teacher education programs (a result of a merger between NCATE and the other specialized teacher accreditor, TEAC), and that he will thus be coming before the Department of Education’s panel – the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity — in the near future. This committee confers recognition to accreditors, and it’s rigorous scrutiny is something accreditors tend to dread because recognition equals legitimacy, rigor, and value.

It should also be noted that Cibulka had several institutional negotiators at the table who will be coming before his organization for re-accreditation within the next several months.

The negotiations frustrated some of the people involved — and some who weren’t invited.
“The Department of Education’s attempt to make sweeping higher education policy changes in 7 ½ days of negotiations, and ultimately, to make regulations via conference call makes a train wreck look well-planned,” said Becky Timmons, assistant vice president for government relations of the American Council on Education.

Apart from how the negotiations were conducted, the insistence of the department to pursue initiatives involving highly controversial assessment methods continues to astound people who had expected President Obama to make a sharp break from the No Child Left Behind mentality rather than to exacerbate some of its worst effects.
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‘Mr. President, public education in the U.S. is on the wrong track’

Posted at 04:00 AM ET, 04/24/2012

‘Mr. President, public education in the U.S. is on the wrong track’

This is the text of an open letter written to President Obama by Mary Broderick, president of the Arlington, Va.,-based National School Boards Association, a not-for-profit organization representing state associations of school boards and their member districts. The letter, sent earlier this month to the president, asks for a national dialogue about the direction of public education reform.
Here’s the text of the letter:

April 17, 2012
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Obama:

The night of your election, in Grant Park, you said, “I will listen to you especially when we disagree.” We are all committed to the best educational future for the children of America. Yet, as the nation prepares for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), school board members and top educational thinkers overwhelming urge abandoning the current “command-and-control” federal educational oversight. America’s treasure lies in unleashing the creativity of our youth. Though well-intentioned, the current federal direction is ignoring and working against much of what we know about student motivation and achievement. Instead, the federal government should support local efforts to ignite curiosity, creative potential, and a drive for excellence among students and staff.

Throughout my presidency of the National School Boards Association, I have travelled to many states and written for our national journal and asked for input to this letter. School board members and educators across the country have contributed their thinking here. We share your sense of urgency: We must give every child, no matter their circumstances, the opportunity to excel. We must ensure high quality experiences so each child develops fully. Our major disagreement comes from how we go about this task.

We want for each American child the same things that you and Michelle want for Sasha and Malia — inspiration, aspiration, creativity. I know you don’t want an overemphasis on testing. I have heard you say it. Experience in schools and communities, supported by research, tells us that relentlessly focusing on standardized tests erodes our national competitiveness and deadens curiosity and drive. Clearly, we need some testing to gauge student learning, and we have no problem with appropriate accountability. But we have swung to a far extreme that is significantly hurting children. “Students are numbing over testing for testing’s sake…. We can’t test this country into excellence.” (Sonny Savoie, LA)

Other countries that traditionally focus on testing recognize the shortcomings of their systems and come to our shores to learn how we inspire a spirit of innovation. And decades of work by motivation theorists, such as Daniel Pink, help us understand why a focus on testing and standards may not cultivate the learners we want. Others have found that such narrow focus restricts our views of what is possible, and even causes unethical behavior, such as the rash of testing scandals here and abroad.
By contrast, Finnish schools are now “exemplars of many of the success indicators we … want to see in American schools. Achievement is consistently high. Students are self-motivated and engaged in their learning. Schools have wide latitude to decide on their own programs, and there are no intrusive sanctions.” (Jill Wynns, CA)

The focus on strict quantitative accountability has never worked for any organization, and it has not worked with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Teachers are trying to meet the mandates of those programs and consequently “our children suffer and are not getting educated to their individual potential.” (Carolyne Brooks, IL) Teachers’ focus on tests is undermining their potential and initiative, making it more difficult to share a love of learning with their students.

Our students will never be first in the world on standardized tests. We never have come close. Nor is that something toward which we should aspire! We simply are not a compliant people willing to absorb facts without challenge. But we have had the most innovative workforce in the world (and now vie with Finland for that top position). Though intended to encourage equity, our current policy is, in fact, driving us toward mediocrity. Our students may be becoming better regurgitators, but what we need is excellent thinkers.

We have significant challenges in many of our communities, especially those that are underserved, yet we continue to boast some of the best schools in the world. We have models of excellence from which we should all be learning. Our vision should be to empower excellence — to draw out the best in each and every individual in our schools. We should recognize that our children’s brains are our most important resource. We should aspire to having children take responsibility for their own learning. We can have a common curriculum as a guide, but leave it to our local “civic labs,” as Thomas Jefferson envisioned them, to find optimal ways to inspire learning.

That said, we won’t achieve any vision without significant teamwork. Finland’s process may offer a model: They spent years developing national consensus about the essentials for successful education and, hence, the nation. Collaboration can promote independent thinking and action.

As a nation, rather than inspiring people toward a vision of excellence, we have been blaming some for blocking student achievement. It is time to inspire all toward a pursuit of excellence for each of our children.

The work world our children inherit will be significantly different from the one we have known. Jobs in the 20th century were mostly algorithmic or routine. According to McKinsey & Co., most such jobs have already evaporated because of automation and outsourcing. Future work will be more complex, so we had better prepare students differently than through standardized tests.

As the nature of work changes, so too must motivators. Carrots and sticks, which worked with routine jobs, actually impede efforts when the work is more complex, Daniel Pink says. Instead, the rewards of learning and challenges of the work itself must now be the primary motivators. Adults learn best, experts say, if they feel competent, autonomous, and a sense of belonging.

Much in our current school systems works against these, and our new national focus on teacher evaluation will continue that trend. As a result of ignoring innate needs, our schools too often are not innovative hubs. Yet to meet the challenges of our future, we must cultivate a spirit of innovation and inspiration. We will only succeed in preparing for our future if we empower all in our schools to think through complex problems and processes and generate solutions. Rather than laboring over bureaucratic compliance problems, let’s engage students and teachers (even board members!) in solving problems of teaching and learning.

Our schools will never become great through threat or intimidation. Schools must be safe places to take risks, where staff members and students feel valued for their ideas and talents and empowered to fail so that they can grow. Students will learn what they see, experience, and enjoy.

We have the knowledge and experience to do this at the national, state, and local levels. However, the present narrow focus on accountability and trend of demonizing those in public education, arrogantly focusing on “failing schools,” is diametrically opposed to fostering excellence.

Again, we can learn from Finland: It holds teachers in high regard (appealing to competence). Teacher training includes a strong feedback loop; professional development is embedded in the work, through coaching and ongoing support (appealing to belonging). People are willing to try new approaches and ideas (appealing to autonomy).

Innovation requires investment. Retired school superintendent Jack Reynolds noted that under the original ESEA we had a national system for identifying, supporting, and sharing excellent, vetted educational ideas. We should return to such a system of research, development, and diffusion, using technology to share teaching and learning approaches. Further, Ohio school board member Charlie Wilson suggested we encourage and fund our universities to conduct empirical research on the considerable experimentation that does occur in our schools.

Some board members suggested that we benefit from broad, guiding curriculum principles. Wyoming’s David Fall encouraged you to continue your work with the National Governors’ Association to refine core standards. However, our children would be best served if the standards were guides, but decision-making remained local.

Across the nation, I have heard growing support for an emphasis on the early years. To close achievement gaps, we need to provide rich early learning environments for children born with the least. We need to teach their parents how to encourage their learning. Please continue to support states’ early childhood efforts.

Mr. President, public education in the U.S. is on the wrong track. As we have moved decision-making farther from teachers and children, we have jeopardized our competitive edge and keys to our national success: our ingenuity, our openness to innovation, and our creativity.

I urge you to convene a national dialogue, not made up of politicians, but including the breadth of educational opinion, to reconsider our educational direction. I would love to help you do this. Let’s ensure that each child has the tools to be successful. Let’s marshal the nation’s brain power and tap into the research, proven practice, and demonstrated evidence of excellence.

Please bring your parent hat to determining our new direction for public education. Your daughters, like all of our children and all of our teachers, don’t need more tests designed to identify weaknesses. They need excited, motivated, passionate teachers who feel challenged, supported, and encouraged to try new approaches, who share with their students a learning environment that is limitless. If we work collaboratively on a shared vision of excellence, if we foster team development, encourage innovation, and care for the growth of our teachers, our children will lead us into the future with confidence. And public education will remain the cornerstone of our vibrant democracy.

Thank you, Mr. President.


Mary Broderick
NSBA President

Tejanos Worked Hard to Spread Activism

Thanks Ricardo and thanks, Marc Simon Rodriguez, for providing historical knowledge about our organizing traditions and identities that indeed, have guided both our community and our nation.

Great quote:  "It's not that there weren't homegrown activists. But, because Tejanos were in deeper holes than others, they were more practiced in digging out."


By O. Ricardo Pimentel 
San Antonio Express-News
Sunday, April 22, 2012

If you believe civil rights for Latinos have improved dramatically since the 1950s, thank a Tejano.

Thank the Tejano diaspora.

“The Tejano Diaspora” is also the title of a new book by Notre Dame scholar Marc Simon Rodriguez, an associate professor of history and law.

Rodriguez focuses on “Mexican Americanism & Ethnic Politics in Texas and Wisconsin,” the book's subtitle. So I somewhat overstate his case. I think, however, the extrapolation is warranted.
Rodriguez's analysis takes us to the hotbed of Chicano activism in Crystal City, Texas, and makes the strong case that such activism was exported to Wisconsin. But, from my reading, the template was at work just about any place Tejanos migrated during that critical civil rights period from the 1950s to the 1970s.

They went wherever strong backs and willing — low paid — hands were needed to harvest crops for a hungry nation. And they brought with them a drive to engage the institutions that governed their work and their lives.

It's not that there weren't homegrown activists. But, because Tejanos were in deeper holes than others, they were more practiced in digging out.

To read “The Tejano Diaspora” is to be taken back to an unsettling time and place in Texas when Mexican-Americans were the majority in many small communities, but you couldn't tell that from those who worked the levers of power.

If you want to make the case that your small Texas town was different, the literature — untaught, I suspect, in Texas schools — would suggest that yours was the exception to a hard Texas rule.
“The situation in Texas was more severe,” Rodriguez told me. “The demarcation lines were understood by all.”

So it was in Crystal City.

Take an ill-fated election bid in 1951.

“For Mexican Americans, this election demonstrated that the airing of complaints about problems such as corruption, cronyism, unpaved roads, and a lack of water, sewer and electric service in their neighborhoods resulted in massive resistance,” Rodriguez writes.

“Los Cinco” changed that in 1963. The five and their supporters launched a poll-tax drive to register as many Mexican-Americans as possible.

Did you get that? A poll-tax drive. Please don't tell me that all was hunky-dory in Texas.

Mexican-Americans, the majority, took control of the city.

After the election, the five splintered. Governance was bad. It spawned La Raza Unida Party, which also imploded. Still, even in failure, lessons were learned and these were passed along the migrant trail to Wisconsin, where farm workers organized and poverty programs were created to help migrants and Latinos.

I know and respect two of the principals in this book: Jesus Salas, who became a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, and Ernesto Chacon, who served in a Democratic governor's administration.

This Mexican-American “radicalism” created schisms in the Latino community, a topic Rodriguez said is deserving of its own research.

Yup. I still remember the sneer my immigrant father gave me when I first uttered the word “Chicano” in his presence.

Rodriguez, whose family was also from Crystal City, makes clear in his book that the engagement that started there was replicated elsewhere.

From a former Wisconsinite and Californian: Thank you, Tejanos.

Moral Authority The U.S. Supreme Court La Mordida

Professor Rudy Acuña is calling out fascism in America.   So now what?
Moral Authority
The U.S. Supreme Court
La Mordida
Rodolfo F. Acuña

Direct forms of political control are easy to figure out. For a time, laws and police agencies can keep things together. However, most institutions and societies depend on social control to deceive people into thinking that they live in a democracy. They use processes that socialize them into believing that those in control have moral authority.

Belief systems exert a greater control on behavior than laws. For example, religion maintains control through laws. Nevertheless, institutions such as the Catholic Church maintain control more through their moral authority than their laws. A society does not stay together for a long period of time through the use of coercive powers alone.

Historical events such as the Black Plague in the first part of the 14th Century shook the Church’s moral authority and two centuries later the Protestant Revolt ended the hegemony of Catholicism in Europe. No one can predict what effect the Church’s pedophile scandal will have. One thing for sure is that the scandal has reduced the moral authority of the Church Fathers and their interpretation of what God wants.

In the similar vein, government has suffered a loss of moral authority. This is good and bad; one thing is for sure it is leading to a divided society. Although the number of southern states passing anti-immigrant laws has grown to over a half dozen and they are flushed with emotion, it must be remembered that California and New York alone dwarf the population numbers and wealth of the red states.

Much has been written about the growth of the Latino population and its voting power. But truth be told, Latinos are growing increasingly disaffected with government and most are cynical about its fairness.

The institution that has taken the hardest hit in the past dozen years is the Supreme Court.

To put things in perspective: when I was growing up we understood that Mexico had problems, which was obvious because we were here. My relatives talked about the political and moral corruption of the Mexican government and uttered sighs of relief that we lived in the United States.

There was racism and inequality. Yet in comparison to what was happening in Mexico or what we thought was happening there, U.S. institutions appeared to be free of corruption. This was true as long as we did not read the newspapers – the radio did not carry that kind of news.

Even when it came to the sex lives of elected officials, we believed that the Mexicans were the only ones who cheated on their wives.

That is not true today. The lives of our elected officials are soap operas. The affairs of past Mexican presidents are boring in comparison to the Anglo-American versions.

My grandfather, more cynical than the rest of the family, would often correct us about our misconceptions. He would say that the gringos always did things on a grander scale. They did not take small bribes. It was only the public officials at the bottom who were regulated.

What we did not know was that what those on the top still affected us; we just did not see it. We lived in another universe.

Thanks to cable news or better still, cable opinion, we know corruption is ubiquitous – it is at the federal, state and local levels. So much so that it seems as if all elected officials are corrupt. I would not call them whores because I don’t want to give the word a bad name.

You look at the Republican and a majority of the Democrats in Congress and they are bought – pure and simple. The entire state of Arizona has been purchased. Lady Justice is dead.

Talking to my students in general they are cynical about the courts. It was once evident that justice depended on the size of your wallet. The rich could hire rich attorneys and get away with murder. The poor especially if they were minorities were left at the whim of the court.

The Supreme Court is currently listening to arguments in Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation. If the Court rules for Arizona the decision will give legs to every racist legislator in the nation who will repeat that it (racism) is the law of the land.

They can say whatever they want but that does not make it right or less corrupt. Only the most naive and ill-informed person would make the case that Justices Samuel A. Alito, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and John Roberts are not corrupt. Well documented articles prove the same. Thomas and Scalia have family members who are feeding at the corporate trough.

I do not want to call these justices partisan – it would be giving partisanship a bad name.
Frankly, we are not going to be able to do much about Gore v. Bush (2000) that gave George W. the presidency. At the time we shrugged our shoulders and the Democrats rolled over. In Citizens United (2010), the Court delivered the presidency to corporate interests.

Now healthcare will probably be dismantled and the anti-immigrant legislation will be upheld. Racism will be legal in the United States.

When and if this happens the moral authority of the Court will be irreparable. The Supreme Court might as well be honest and set up shop on K Street.

I don’t want to sound cynical but the worst thing that could happen to you when I was growing up was que te vieran la cara de pendejo (literally meaning that they took you for a fool or a punk).  

Six degrees of separation is the notion that everyone on earth is on average approximately six steps away from any other person. If this is so, we should accept that only one degree separates our justices from the Mexican border guard and his grubby mordida (kickback).

My grandfather was right – the border guard took five pesos. Our elected officials are higher paid (escorts). Who does more damage to democracy?

A Very Pricey Pineapple

It's amazing it has taken this long for folks to get religion on this systemic fraud and rip-off and realize what is at hand here with Pearson. And then it's amazing after they knew, just how long it has taken to organize around this issue.  And yes, it IS about affecting somebody's bottom line.  Just like ending slavery was.
April 27, 2012

A Very Pricey Pineapple

Let’s talk about talking pineapples. 

Actually (spoiler alert!) I’m going to use the pineapple as a sneaky way to introduce the topic of privatization of public education. I was driven to this. Do you know how difficult it is to get anybody to read about “privatization of education?” It’s hell. A pineapple, on the other hand, is something everybody likes. It’s a symbol of hospitality. Its juice is said to remove warts. And you really cannot beat the talking-fruit angle. 

This month, New York eighth graders took a standardized English test that included a story called “The Hare and the Pineapple,” in which you-know-what challenges a hare to a race. The forest animals suspect that since the pineapple can’t move, it must have some clever scheme to ensure victory, and they decide to root against the bunny. But when the race begins, the pineapple just sits there. The hare wins. Then the animals eat the pineapple. The end. 

There were many complaints from the eighth graders, who had to answer questions like: “What would have happened if the animals had decided to cheer for the hare?” They were also supposed to decide whether the animals ate the pineapple because they were hungry, excited, annoyed or amused. (That part bothered me a lot. We’ve got a talking pineapple here, people. You don’t just go and devour it for having delusions of grandeur.) 

Teachers, parents and education experts all chimed in. Nobody liked the talking pineapple questions. The Daily News, which broke the story, corralled “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings, who concluded that “the plot details are so oddly chosen that the story seems to have been written during a peyote trip.” 

The state education commissioner, John King, announced that the questions would not count in the official test scores. There was no comment from the test author. That would be Pearson, the world’s largest for-profit education business, which has a $32 million five-year contract to produce New York standardized tests. 

Now — finally — we have tumbled into my central point. We have turned school testing into a huge corporate profit center, led by Pearson, for whom $32 million is actually pretty small potatoes. Pearson has a five-year testing contract with Texas that’s costing the state taxpayers nearly half-a-billion dollars. 

This is the part of education reform nobody told you about. You heard about accountability, and choice, and innovation. But when No Child Left Behind was passed 11 years ago, do you recall anybody mentioning that it would provide monster profits for the private business sector?
Me neither. 

It’s not just the tests. No Child Left Behind has created a system of public-funded charter schools, a growing number of which are run by for-profit companies. Some of them are completely online, with kids getting their lessons at home via computer. The academic results can be abysmal, but on the plus side — definitely no classroom crowding issues. 

Pearson is just one part of the picture, albeit a part about the size of Mount Rushmore. Its lobbyists include the guy who served as the top White House liaison with Congress on drafting the No Child law. It has its own nonprofit foundation that sends state education commissioners on free trips overseas to contemplate school reform. 

An American child could go to a public school run by Pearson, studying from books produced by Pearson, while his or her progress is evaluated by Pearson standardized tests. The only public participant in the show would be the taxpayer. 

If all else fails, the kid could always drop out and try to get a diploma via the good old G.E.D. The General Educational Development test program used to be operated by the nonprofit American Council on Education, but last year the Council and Pearson announced that they were going into a partnership to redevelop the G.E.D. — a nationally used near-monopoly — as a profit-making enterprise. 

“We’re a capitalist system, but this is worrisome,” said New York Education Commissioner King.
The Obama administration has been trying to tackle the astronomical costs of 50 different sets of standardized tests by funding efforts by states to develop shared models — a process you will be stunned to hear is being denounced by conservatives like Gov. Rick Perry of Texas as “a federal takeover of public schools.” 

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has also begun giving out waivers from the requirement that children in failing public schools be given after-school tutoring. Idea sounded great. Hardly helped the kids at all. But no for-profit tutoring company was left behind. 

The pushback against privatization isn’t easy. We’re now in a world in which decisions about public education involve not just parents and children and teachers, but also big profits or losses for the private sector. Change the tests, or the textbooks, or the charters, or even the rules for teacher certification, and you change somebody’s bottom line. 

It’s a tough world out there. Ask the talking pineapple.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Texas STAAR results are in

Performance standards for STAAR to be phased in

In the spirit of making information somewhat accessible, below is the press release from the state agency, together with relevant links to new information regarding the new STAAR standards. 

We hope this helps parents and communities to be more informed.


TEA News Release
April 24, 2012

Performance standards for STAAR to be phased in

AUSTIN –The commissioner of education today unveiled the performance standards students must achieve to pass or excel on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR™) end-of-course tests.
“These standards will be challenging for our students and will push academic performance to a new level in Texas.  Students who pass the STAAR end-of-course assessments will be better prepared for success in the next course or in postsecondary pursuits,” said Commissioner of Education Robert Scott.

Three performance categories have been set for STAAR EOCs. The definitions for the categories are:
Level III: Advanced Academic Performance*
Performance in this category indicates that students are well prepared for the next grade or course. They demonstrate the ability to think critically and apply the assessed knowledge and skills in varied contexts, both familiar and unfamiliar. Students in this category have a high likelihood of success in the next grade or course with little or no academic intervention.
*          For Algebra II and English III, this level of performance also indicates students are well prepared for postsecondary success.
Level II: Satisfactory Academic Performance**
Performance in this category indicates that students are sufficiently prepared for the next grade or course. They generally demonstrate the ability to think critically and apply the assessed knowledge and skills in familiar contexts. Students in this category have a reasonable likelihood of success in the next grade or course but may need short-term, targeted academic intervention.
**        For Algebra II and English III, this level of performance also indicates students are sufficiently prepared for postsecondary success.
Level I: Unsatisfactory Academic Performance
Performance in this category indicates that students are inadequately prepared for the next grade or course. They do not demonstrate a sufficient understanding of the assessed knowledge and skills. Students in this category are unlikely to succeed in the next grade or course without significant, ongoing academic intervention.

 As the state has done for at least the past two testing programs – the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) and the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) – the passing standards will be phased in.  The Level II passing standards will be a four-year, two-step process. A two-year phase-in will be used for Level III performance on English III reading and writing and Algebra II only.
The phase-in approach was adopted because of the significant increase in the rigor of the STAAR program and because the distance between the initial and final passing standards for Level II is generally larger than the distance between the initial and final passing standards for  TAKS.
The phase-in will provide districts with time to adjust instruction, provide additional staff training, and close knowledge gaps.
“We have found that a gradual increase in standards sets realistic but challenging expectations for our students and results in improved academic performance,” Scott said.

The performance standards each student must achieve will be based on the year a student takes his first end-of-course assessment. 
  • If students take their first STAAR EOC assessment in 2012 or 2013, they will be held to the first set of Level II phase-in performance standards for every assessment in that content area. 
  • Students who take their first STAAR EOC assessment in 2014 or 2015 will be held to the second set of Level II phase-in performance standards. 
  • The final Level II performance standards will be in place for any students who take their first STAAR EOC assessment in 2016 or later.
  • The final Level III performance standards will be in place for any students who take their first STAAR English III writing and reading and Algebra II EOC tests in 2014 or later.

Level II standards
The scores needed to reach the various performance levels are expressed as scale scores. Once fully phased in, the score needed to achieve Level II performance will be a scale score of 4000 for each of the following assessments: Algebra I, Algebra II, geometry, biology, chemistry, physics, world geography, world history, and United States history. The initial phase-in standard for these tests will be 3500. 
The scale score needed to achieve a Level II performance on each of the English I, II, and III reading and writing assessments is 2000.  The initial phase-in score is 1875.

Level III standards
The Level III standards will not be phased in for English I and II reading and writing, Algebra I, geometry, biology, chemistry, physics, world geography, world history and U.S. history. The final performance standards on these tests for Level III will range from 4333 to 4634, depending on the assessment. 
An initial phase-in score of 4080 will be required to earn a Level III performance for the Algebra II assessment with the final Level III score set at 4411.
The English III reading assessment will require an initial phase-in score of 2135, while the English III writing assessment will require an initial score of 2155. The fully-implemented standards will require a score of 2356 on the English III reading test and a score of 2300 on the English III writing test.
State law now requires students graduating in 2015 or later to earn a Level III rating on Algebra II and English III to qualify for the state’s Distinguished Achievement Program high school diploma.
The attached table lists the scale scores needed on all the STAAR EOC assessments.  The category called minimum refers to a score that is below Level II but is high enough to be included in the cumulative score students must achieve on the three assessments in each core content area.
Texas classroom teachers and administrators, higher education faculty, education policy experts, staff from the Texas Education Agency and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and psychometricians who are experts in the development of educational tests, worked together for four years to prepare passing standard recommendations.  Additionally, TEA and Coordinating Board staff conducted research studies over a three-year period to link performance on a STAAR assessment and performance on other assessments in the same content area.
TEA expects to release the first round of STAAR EOC results in June.
Additional information about the STAAR EOC standards can be found at

Phase-in and Final Recommended Level II and Level III Standards and Minimum Scores
2012 & 2013
Phase-in 1
2012 & 2013
Phase-in 1
Level II
2014 & 2015
Phase-in 2
2014 & 2015
Phase-in 2
Level II
Final Recommended
Final Recommended
Level II
2012 & 2013
Level III
Final Recommended
Level III
English I Reading
English II Reading
*English III Reading
English I Writing
English II Writing
*English III Writing
Algebra I
*Algebra II
World Geography
World History
U.S. History

STAAR Standard-Setting Process

Nine steps for setting STAAR performance standards:
  1.  Conduct validity and linking studies
  2.  Develop performance labels and policy definitions
  3.  Develop grade/course specific performance level descriptors
  4.  Policy committee
  5.  Standard-setting committee
  6.  Reasonableness review
  7.  Approval of performance standards
  8.  Implementation of performance standards
  9.  Review of performance standards