This was written by Marion Brady, veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author.

By Marion Brady

A longtime friend on the school board of one of the largest school systems in America did something that few public servants are willing to do. He took versions of his state’s high-stakes standardized math and reading tests for 10th graders, and said he’d make his scores public.

By any reasonable measure, my friend is a success. His now-grown kids are well-educated. He has a big house in a good part of town. Paid-for condo in the Caribbean. Influential friends. Lots of frequent flyer miles. Enough time of his own to give serious attention to his school board responsibilities. The margins of his electoral wins and his good relationships with administrators and teachers testify to his openness to dialogue and willingness to listen.

He called me the morning he took the test to say he was sure he hadn’t done well, but had to wait for the results. A couple of days ago, realizing that local school board members don’t seem to be playing much of a role in the current “reform” brouhaha, I asked him what he now thought about the tests he’d taken.

“I won’t beat around the bush,” he wrote in an email. “The math section had 60 questions. I knew the answers to none of them, but managed to guess ten out of the 60 correctly. On the reading test, I got 62% . In our system, that’s a “D”, and would get me a mandatory assignment to a double block of reading instruction.

He continued, “It seems to me something is seriously wrong. I have a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate.

“I help oversee an organization with 22,000 employees and a $3 billion operations and capital budget, and am able to make sense of complex data related to those responsibilities.

“I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.

“It might be argued that I’ve been out of school too long, that if I’d actually been in the 10th grade prior to taking the test, the material would have been fresh. But doesn’t that miss the point? A test that can determine a student’s future life chances should surely relate in some practical way to the requirements of life. I can’t see how that could possibly be true of the test I took.”

Here’s the clincher in what he wrote:

“If I’d been required to take those two tests when I was a 10th grader, my life would almost certainly have been very different. I’d have been told I wasn’t ‘college material,’ would probably have believed it, and looked for work appropriate for the level of ability that the test said I had.

“It makes no sense to me that a test with the potential for shaping a student’s entire future has so little apparent relevance to adult, real-world functioning. Who decided the kind of questions and their level of difficulty? Using what criteria? To whom did they have to defend their decisions? As subject-matter specialists, how qualified were they to make general judgments about the needs of this state’s children in a future they can’t possibly predict? Who set the pass-fail “cut score”? How?”

“I can’t escape the conclusion that decisions about the [state test] in particular and standardized tests in general are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.”

There you have it. A concise summary of what’s wrong with present corporately driven education change: Decisions are being made by individuals who lack perspective and aren’t really accountable.

Those decisions are shaped not by knowledge or understanding of educating, but by ideology, politics, hubris, greed, ignorance, the conventional wisdom, and various combinations thereof. And then they’re sold to the public by the rich and powerful.

All that without so much as a pilot program to see if their simplistic, worn-out ideas work, and without a single procedure in place that imposes on them what they demand of teachers: accountability.

But maybe there’s hope. As I write, a New York Times story by Michael Winerip makes my day. The stupidity of the current test-based thrust of reform has triggered the first revolt of school principals.

Winerip writes: “As of last night, 658 principals around the state (New York) had signed a letter — 488 of them from Long Island, where the insurrection began — protesting the use of students’ test scores to evaluate teachers’ and principals’ performance.”

One of those school principals, Winerip says, is Bernard Kaplan. Kaplan runs one of the highest-achieving schools in the state, but is required to attend 10 training sessions.

“It’s education by humiliation,” Kaplan said. “I’ve never seen teachers and principals so degraded.”

Carol Burris, named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, has to attend those 10 training sessions.

Katie Zahedi, another principal, said the session she attended was “two days of total nonsense. I have a Ph.D., I’m in a school every day, and some consultant is supposed to be teaching me to do evaluations.”

A fourth principal, Mario Fernandez, called the evaluation process a product of “ludicrous, shallow thinking. They’re expecting a tornado to go through a junkyard and have a brand new Mercedes pop up.”

My school board member-friend concluded his email with this: “I can’t escape the conclusion that those of us who are expected to follow through on decisions that have been made for us are doing something ethically questionable.”

He’s wrong. What they’re being made to do isn’t ethically questionable. It’s ethically unacceptable. Ethically reprehensible. Ethically indefensible.

How many of the approximately 100,000 school principals in the U.S. would join the revolt if their ethical principles trumped their fears of retribution? Why haven’t they been asked?

When does a four-page cover sheet cost $49 million? When it’s part of California’s application for the latest round of federal school improvement funding. Had they signed the cover sheet, state officials would have been endorsing the establishment of statewide teacher evaluation methods – a commitment they would not make. Federal education officials announced that the state’s bid for Race to the Top funds was denied earlier this week because its application was deemed by the U.S. Department of Education to be incomplete. The money would have been used in seven school districts, including Sacramento, throughout the state to implement common math and English language standards, build a teacher assessment system and boost achievement at low-performing schools. Education officials disagree on who is to blame for the scuttled application. “The money was ours for the asking,” said Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson. “One million students were left out in the cold, and it didn’t have to be this way.” Hanson is president of the California Office of Reform Education, the group of seven districts – Fresno, Clovis, Sanger, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco – that spearheaded the state’s second unsuccessful Race to the Top application last year and lobbied state officials to apply for this latest round of funding. Hanson said the application was a four-page cover sheet and a copy of the strategies outlined in the state’s previous application. CORE officials say the application was denied because the state didn’t turn in the federally required cover sheet that pledges, among other things, to tie teacher evaluations to test scores and use statewide methods to turn around low-performing schools. State officials say they couldn’t sign the cover sheet because teacher evaluations and school performance strategies are determined at the local level. State Department of Education spokesman Paul Hefner said federal officials should have allowed California some flexibility in its application. So instead of signing and returning the cover sheet, state leaders sent a two-page letter to the U.S. Department of Education that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown; state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson; and state Board of Education President Michael Kirst. The letter assured federal officials that the state would move toward some of the federal requirements – such as adopting core standards in English and math and developing a statewide system to track student progress – but could not endorse statewide teacher evaluation methods and strategies to turn around underperforming schools. Elizabeth Ashford, Brown’s chief deputy press secretary, said the governor is away this week and referred all questions to the Department of Education. Torlakson called the letter a “good faith effort” to apply for the federal money. “I had hoped the federal administration would be mindful of the financial emergency facing California’s schools and the severe constraints it has placed on state resources,” he said in a statement. Hanson said CORE will continue to work toward developing statewide student and teacher evaluation systems, with the help of $5 million from private foundations. “But $49 million would’ve been an incredible boost to the work we’re doing to try to improve our system,” he said.

In another cockfight between California and Washington over education, the U.S. Department of Education has rejected California’s application – and only California’s application – in the third round of Race to the Top. The denial exasperated the seven California school districts that led the state’s effort and were counting on $49 million earmarked for California as critical to do the work they had committed to do. In a statement Wednesday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst each criticized the federal government’s inflexibility in not accepting what they described as California’s “innovative” approach of giving control of the reforms to local school districts. Seven unified districts, including Los Angeles, Frenso, and Long Beach, formed a coalition known as CORE, the California Office to Reform Education, to compete for round three and work together on the reform. Torlakson also said the federal government failed to scale back its expectations for Race to the Top reforms during this fiscal crisis. “I had hoped the federal Administration would be mindful of the financial emergency facing California’s schools and the severe constraints it has placed on state resources,” he said. (In the third round of RTTT, the federal government slashed the available funding from $3.4 billion to $200 million. For California, that reduced the potential award from as much as $700 million to $50 million.) The federal government saw things differently. In a statement congratulating the other seven states in line for the money, federal officials said California “submitted an incomplete application.” As we reported here on Tuesday, Kirst, Torlakson, and Gov. Brown, who is vacationing this week, submitted only a two-page letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that indicated that the state was fine with just the seven districts undertaking the reforms. What state officials didn’t do was submit and sign the official short application, which, the Department ruled Wednesday, disqualified California. Failure to sign wasn’t simply an oversight; it reflected a fundamental disagreement about what California was asked to commit to. In the second round of RTTT, the state had agreed to four broad areas of reform: Implementing Common Core standards; Building data systems to measure student growth and success in order to improve instruction; Recruiting, training, and rewarding effective teachers and principals; Turning around the lowest-achieving schools. In being asked to reaffirm these reforms for round three, the state and CORE districts had very different interpretations. The districts believed that nothing had changed; they remained committed to the four reform areas agreed to in the second round. All that Brown and the others had to do was simply acknowledge that the Legislature hadn’t passed any laws reversing the commitments made in round two. “It was a unique application that only committed participating districts to reforms,” said Rick Miller, executive director of CORE, which represents the districts. Brown and Torlakson objected to making any statewide commitments dealing with teacher effectiveness and how to treat failing schools. They also didn’t want to be tied to explicit reforms approved by Gov. Schwarzenegger in the second round application. One in particular, strongly opposed by the California Teachers Association, would have committed the CORE districts to linking standardized test scores to teacher evaluations. State Board President Kirst agreed with that interpretation. “The issue is not what the districts committed to but what the state was committed to,” said Kirst. “The second round application was slippery in terms of what was committed; it mixed up state and local roles.” Kirst, Torlaskson, and Sue Burr, executive director of the State Board of Education, have had ongoing conversations with top federal education officials. As recently as this week Kirst spoke with Duncan and expressed his reservations. The state’s interpretation baffled Fresno Unified Superintendent Mike Hanson, who said he thought the CORE districts had an understanding with the governor to submit the round three application. “I find it hard to believe that whatever gap existed in the end could not have been bridged by having representatives from Sacramento, D.C., and CORE sit down and talk it out,” said Hanson. Fresno and the other six districts were going to use the federal money to prepare teachers to make the transition to Common Core and build local data systems to share information and their successes. They’ve been starting to do this work using some small foundation grants, but Hanson said the $49 million would have been “jet propulsion for us,” and the results would have been available for all districts in the state. “We missed a big opportunity, probably the last opportunity” for a major federal grant, said Hanson. “That money is now going to go to another state to help make those kids more competitive.”

It was the first bill Gov. Rick Scott signed and the state’s revamped teacher-evaluation system is part of the education reform agenda pushed by the Obama Administration, which is giving states $4.3 billion in the Race to the Top grant program to come up with new ways to grade teachers and tie educator paychecks to student performance.

Research doesn’t transfer that way, said Russ Whitehurst, director of the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center for Education Policy. Whitehurst, former director of the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, said Lain’s argument is akin to saying a car you built in your garage is just as good as a brand new car because you looked at one while making yours.

The way education is delivered is becoming increasingly technology-driven as students - and teachers - head to the web. But does learning via a computer achieve the same results?

Florida - Land O’Lakes - A new state-mandated evaluation system for teachers is under way in Pasco County, even as some of the nuts-and-bolts details still are being worked out.

Although a lot of discussion and work is happening locally, the new evaluation system was set in motion at the state level after the Legislature passed, and Gov. Rick Scott signed, a bill requiring revised teacher evaluations that place a greater emphasis on student achievement.

… Senate Bill 95 allows test scores to be used as a factor in discipline, suspension or firing without any of the current conditions. Those scores could not be the sole factor for firing or disciplining a teacher, however. The bill, which received final legislative approval this month, comes as the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction prepares a statewide evaluation system for teachers that also includes the use of test scores.

Opinion / Editorial - Tennessee’s treatment of student test scores is similar to that of the District of Columbia teacher rating system, now in its third year. Civil rights groups there are questioning why the highest-rated teachers are concentrated in schools in affluent Northwest Washington, while schools across town in poor neighborhoods are staffed with the lowest-rated. The discrepancy is due neither to teacher quality nor distribution, but to “value-added assessment.”