Massachusetts, Roland Fryer, and a “Two-tiered System of Standardized Testing”?
On November 17, 2015, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will vote on either the PARCC assessments or the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) as the statewide assessment system for Massachusetts.
In 2015, districts were able to decide on either PARCC or MCAS, with over half using PARCC.
Massachusetts commissioner Mitchell Chester chairs the governing board of the struggling PARCC consortium, and in November 2015, he is to make a formal recommendation to BESE on which assessment system to choose.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker has made two new appointments to BESE. One is Michael Moriarty, a Holyoke education and community development expert.
The other is Harvard University economist Roland Fryer, who was (hmmm…) promoted from assistant professor to full professor after a single year on the Harvard University faculty (and skipping right over associate professor, to boot).
Fryer is also the faculty director of Harvard University-based EdLabs, which describes itself as just a helpful group of individuals with no agenda:
We are an eclectic collection of scientists, educators, and implementers with diverse backgrounds and vast experience, generating ideas and implementing experiments that have the potential to transform education.
Edlabs has no political affiliation or agenda to promote. We squeeze truths from data. People may not always like what we discover, but we will disseminate our results no matter what we find.
On the same web page EdLabs lists five “stakeholders.” Among them is Condoleeza Rice, former secretary of state who now leads former Florida governor and Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s corporate-reform-promoting nonprofit, Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE).
A second EdLabs stakeholder is former New York City chancellor, Joel Klein, who with Rice co-authored a weak “A Nation at Risk” substitute in March 2012. After his stint in trying to privatize NYC public education, Klein left to lead Rupert Murdoch’s ed division, Amplify– a losing venture that Murdoch dumped after it lost $371 million this year alone.
According to Fryer’s curriculum vitae, Fryer served under Klein as the “chief equality officer” for the NYC Department of Education for a year (2007-08), which happens to be the same year that Fryer made that remarkable jump from assistant professor to full professor.
A third notable EdLabs stakeholder is billionaire Eli Broad, whose most recent privatizing effort involves pushing to convert half of Los Angeles’ schools to charters.
Then there are EdLabs “Partners in Innovation,” a Who’s Who in test-score-driven, market-serving, ed “reform,” including Teach for America (TFA), the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, Pritzker Foundation, and Robin Hood Foundation.
Fryer’s curriculum vitae includes the following section entitled, “Selected Gifts and Grants.” Note that Fryer has collected over $10 million from the Broad Foundation and more than $7 million from the NY City Mayor’s Fund under Bloomberg:
Broad Foundation Grant, 2011 [2,500,000]
Community Foundation of Oklahoma, 2011 [284,000]
Hecksher Foundation Grant, 2011 [500,000]
Ford Foundation Grant, 2010 [$1,000,000]
Liemandt Foundation Grant, 2010 [$1,500,000]
Hecksher Foundation Grant, 2010 [$250,000]
Gates Foundation Grant, 2009 [$1,000,000]
Arnold Foundation Grant, 2009 [$500,000]
Fisher Foundation Grant, 2009 [$500,000]
Griffin Foundation Grant, 2009 [$10,000,000]
CAREER Grant, 2008 [$400,000]
Steans Foundation, 2008 [$150,000]
Joyce Foundation, 2008 [$150,000]
Broad Foundation Grant, 2007-2009 [$7,600,000]
NYC Mayor’s Fund Grant, 2007-2009 [$4,800,000]
District of Columbia Public Schools, 2007-2009 [$1,900,000]
Smith Richardson Foundation Grant, 2007-2009 [$360,000]
National Science Foundation Grant, 2005-2007 [$200,000]
Milton Fund Grant, Harvard University, 2004-2005 [$35,000]
NICHD Minority Research Grant, 2001-2002 [$15,000]
So, I am finding it difficult to believe that Fryer would vote against PARCC in favor of a state-based assessment system. But there is more to note about Fryer’s view of standardized testing: his favoring testing as a “two-tiered system.” I read the following on September 17, 2015, on Worcester (MA) School Committee member Tracy Novick’s blog:
I haven’t figured out why no one has tried a two-tiered system for standardized testing. So, I live in Concord, Massachusetts which is a wonderful suburb of Boston — my wife and I just moved there — and I actually don’t want a lot of standardized testing in Concord because it will crowd out my kids learning Shakespeare and those types of things I never really read. However, in the schools that are failing, we really do need standardized tests because at least we know where they are and that’s really, really important. Just because we don’t test them doesn’t mean they’re not failing. And so I would actually say if schools are high-performing suburban schools or high-performing schools ought to be able to say, ‘You know what? 90 percent passed the test in 2008, let’s not take the test for 2 or 3 years so that we can focus on different and more holistic types of instruction’. For schools that are in the bottom, I think they ought to test those kids every day. [Emphasis added.]
Given that there is an established connection between standardized test scores and student family income (see here, and here, and here, for example), what Fryer is advocating is that standardized testing become “education” for poorer American children.
Note also that according to Fryer’s curriculum vitae, he is currently involved in an “experiment” from 2015-18, entitled, “Decrease Poverty or Increase School Quality?”
“School Quality” Fryer-style must be a euphemism for a lower-income-student daily dose of standardized testing.
Then comes the issue of what “passed the test” means. What test? PARCC, with its higher failure rate? Even Massachusetts will take a hit on PARCC– with disadvantaged groups taking the hardest hit.
“Passed the test” is not objective. “Passed the test” depends upon the selected test and the selected cut scores– both of which are little more than hyper-marketed political tools for an obscenely-financed status quo that clearly includes Fryer.