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Interview with Harvard Professor of Education Daniel Koretz on “The Testing Charade”

October 18, 2017
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As a recent Washington Post article featuring an interview with Harvard Professor of Education Daniel Koretz notes, over the past decades the American public and its political officials have sought to reform the public educational system by holding teachers, educational methods, and education officials, accountable for the performance of their students. One increasingly common way to enforce this accountability is by holding the various constituents of our public educational system responsible for student performance on standardized tests. Beginning perhaps most visibly with the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, and again augmented under the Obama administration with the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, standardized test scores have become the holy grail of educational achievement at the K-12 level and beyond.

But in his new book The Testing Charade Koretz puts forth a strong critique of the efficacy of high-stakes testing in evaluating the performance and utility of public education strategies and its practitioners. He illuminates among other problems, the extent to which test scores, taken out of context, miss the mark in demonstrating the value of less traditional educational programs, and the extent to which standardized tests lend themselves to manipulation, and in some cases, downright cheating. From the interview:

“Used appropriately, standardized tests are a valuable source of information, sometimes an irreplaceable one. …

But in our educational system, the use of tests has been anything but appropriate. Policymakers have ignored the fact that tests capture only some of what we want students to accomplish and even less of what we want schools to do. And they created perverse incentives that led educators to cut corners and inflate scores. Ironically, this made test scores less valuable than they would have been. Inflated scores don’t provide a trustworthy indicator of what students actually learn.

For well over 60 years, testing experts have warned educators that pressure to raise scores would cause score inflation and that test scores by themselves are not sufficient to evaluate schools. Over 40 years ago, in one of the most cited papers in the social sciences, Don Campbell repeated the warning about score inflation and the corruption of instruction. As I note in “Charade,” studies documenting bad test prep and score inflation in response to high-stakes testing started appearing almost 30 years ago, and the first study documenting more severe score inflation among disadvantaged students — and, hence, illusory improvements in achievement gaps — was published more than 15 years ago. And very consistent evidence of these problems continued to accumulate over the years.

So … why did people persist with this approach despite all of those warnings and all of the evidence? Just based on my own experience, I think it was for several reasons. Some policymakers simply didn’t know; most don’t read social science; and many had no experts on hand to warn them.”

Fortunately, with Koretz’s The Testing Charade now we do.

Continue reading the interview on the Washington Post website where they have also posted several excerpts from the book.

For more on Koretz and his critique of  American educational policy check out a video of a recent discussion between Koretz and Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the Brookings Institution’s Russ Whitehurst, hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. Or see another interview with Koretz on a special video edition of the Harvard EdCast.

The Limits of “Diversity”

October 9, 2017
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In recent years, diversity has become a hallowed American value, shared and honored in a wide range of contexts. And even as the concept has faced renewed criticism since the rise of Donald Trump, it remains a much-praised cornerstone of corporate, educational, and civic values. But what do we mean by it? What are we talking about when we talk about diversity? What goals is it intended to serve? And who is it for? The answers to those questions are surprisingly hard to pin down, and they vary by context. Ellen Berrey has been studying diversity for years, in neighborhoods, colleges, and corporations, and in a piece for Salon a few years ago, she was blunt about what she’s discovered: Here’s what I’ve learned: diversity is how we talk about race when we can’t talk about race. It has become a stand-in when open discussion of race is too controversial or — let’s be frank — when white people find the topic of race uncomfortable. Diversity seems polite, positive, hopeful. Who is willing to say they don’t value diversity? One national survey found that more than 90 percent of respondents said they valued diversity in their communities and friendships. Berrey’s book The Enigma . . .

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Zzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . .

October 2, 2017
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Zzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . .

Sure–there are some subjects you wouldn’t ever go to a student for an opinion on. Proper nutrition, for one. Work-life balance, for another. But sleep? Oh, they understand sleep. That may be because it’s all they do–or it may be because they barely do it at all. But their knowledge? Rock solid. So to assess The Science of Sleep,  we turn to one of our student employees, Tunisia Kenyatta, an undergrad who, when we’re not loading her down with work for our publicity team, studies in the Department of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies. Penned by Wallace B. Mendelson, retired professor of psychiatry and clinical pharmacology at the University of Chicago and former president of the Sleep Research Society, The Science of Sleep illuminates a phenomenon that has for far too long been kept in darkness. Approaching the topic of sleep from not only a scientific standpoint, but also evolutionary, historical, and social ones, the book offers an understanding of sleep in packaging that is accesible and valuable to those both inside and outside the realm of science. Mendelson did not hesitate to cast a wide net. In addition to the elements of human sleep states and clinical sleep disorders being thoroughly addressed, the book debunks . . .

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The Book of Caterpillars

September 25, 2017
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The Book of Caterpillars

I’ll open this post with a confession: I once watched a little green caterpillar eat the entirety of a dill plant my wife had planted in a windowbox. How could I not? He was so cute, and so industrious! If you feel the same way, but you also would like to retain your plants for your own use, might I suggest our new Book of Caterpillars?   A very big book about little creatures, offering life-size photographs of six hundred species, accompanied by information about their range, habitat, diet, and the moths and butterflies they eventually become. To whet your appetite, some samples follow. The Loepa Megacore. The Forest Tent Caterpillar. The unforgettably named Lettuce Shark. And the, well, commandingly named Commander. The Book of Caterpillars is inching its way to a bookstore near you right now! . . .

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Review of David Ikard’s Lovable Racists, Magical Negroes, and White Messiahs

September 15, 2017
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Review of David Ikard’s Lovable Racists, Magical Negroes, and White Messiahs

One of the great things about being part of a university is that our part-timers tend to be students—and tend to be engaged with the content of the books we publish. Here’s an example: a review by Tunisia Kenyatta, an undergrad who, when we’re not loading her down with work for our publicity team, studies in the Department of Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies. “As I was writing this book, America felt like it was on fire . . .” – David Ikard   Full of contemplative, sobering analyses, Lovable Racists, Magical Negroes, and White Messiahs identifies, defines, and locates the origin of white supremacist tropes, presenting strikingly clear pictures of the methods and manifestations of each. While asserting that he who controls the master narrative controls the perception of reality, Ikard offers compelling criticism of this reality as he engages with the work and insights of black artists and activists like James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Frederick Douglas, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. In addition to addressing racially biased political campaigns and administrations, Ikard examines how media coverage of Hurricane Katrina, Sandy Hook, and the Charleston shooting show how racial bias raises its head even in tragedy. Rich in reference to . . .

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Machiavelli offers a good way to see out August

August 30, 2017
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This weekend brings the end of summer, that season which, at its opening, always seems to offer such promise. Just think of all the books we’ll read in our sunny back yards! Then Labor Day arrives and the stack of unread books remains higher than we would like, our efforts stymied by life’s many agents of distraction. It can be a time of frustration, of disappointment; it’s all too easy to enter autumn in a mood less autumnal than wintry. So today, we offer a passage from Machiavelli that we have always found comforting, even inspiring. It comes from a letter–collected in our volume of Machiavelli’s letters–that he sent to his benefactor, Francesco Vettori, on December 10, 1513: On the coming of evening, I return to my house and enter my study; and at the door I take off the day’s clothing, covered with mud and dust, and put on garments regal and courtly; and reclothed appropriately, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them with affection, I feed on that food which is only mine and which I was born for, where I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the . . .

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Our Latest Longest War . . . still going on

August 23, 2017
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Our Latest Longest War . . . still going on

On Monday night, President Trump announced a new strategy for Afghanistan, where American forces have been fighting since late 2001. He gave few details, but the general indication was that the war would go on–with possibly as many as 4,000 additional troops–and that the strategy wouldn’t differ markedly from those followed by the Bush and Obama administrations. Aaron O’Connell, retired Marine lieutenant colonel, Afghan war veteran, and the editor of our collection of analysis of the Afghan war by those who have fought it, Our Latest Longest War: Losing Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan, talked with NPR’s Morning Edition on Monday. That was before the president’s speech, but O’Connell had a sense of what he was likely to say, and he wasn’t impressed: Nobody thinks 5,000 more troops is going to end the war in Afghanistan. For context, we have about 8,400 American troops there now. And at the height of the surge in 2011, we had 100,000. So adding 5,000 more won’t end the war. The hope is that it will buy the Afghan government a bit more time to bring the Taliban to a negotiated peace, or at least to halt the loss of momentum and halt the Taliban advance. . . .

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It’s here!

August 16, 2017
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It’s here!

Seven years and countless changes to every aspect of writing, editing, and publishing* after the 16th Edition, the 17th Edition of the Chicago Manual of Style has arrived in all its glory.   Blue and beautiful, this behemoth more than any other book we publish is the product of teamwork. It may not take a village, but it does take a whole publishing house. So we thought we’d share a few photos from a birthday party we just held for it. Those are the smiling faces of people who have just proudly set this book off on its journey to the desks of writers and editors all over the world. *But not to the serial comma. We’re not monsters. . . .

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Passchendaele, a century on

August 2, 2017
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Passchendaele, a century on

“Why should I not write it?” That’s Edmund Blunden, opening his now-classic memoir of World War I, Undertones of War, in 1928. Blunden, a poet, joined the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1915, and he served in a number of major battles of the war, including Passchendaele, which began July 31, 1917 and would continue–at a cost of nearly 600,000 dead–until November 10. Blunden’s book was one of a number published a decade or so after the war that both marked and brought about a change in English opinion about the war and its legacy. William Manchester, in The Last Lion, wrote, The most extraordinary thing about England’s disenchantment with the war is that it didn’t surface for over ten years. The reading public had been fed the self-serving memoirs of those responsible for the disaster and the thin fictional gruel of Bulldog Drummond and Richard Hannay. Those who had remained home were simply incapable of absorbing the truth. Aging Tommies told them that sixty thousand young Englishmen had fallen on the first day of the battle of the Somme without gaining a single yard. Sixty thousand! It couldn’t be true. Those who said so must be shell-shocked. But by 1929, after the publication of Undertones, Siegfried . . .

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You thought that by coming here you were going to escape all the Russia news, didn’t you?

July 23, 2017
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You thought that by coming here you were going to escape all the Russia news, didn’t you?

Well, define “news.” Because what we have to offer is nearly a century old–but it’s also little known. Over at Aeon, Julia Mickenberg has written a piece drawing on her book American Girls in Red Russia: Chasing the Soviet Dream about the almost unknown stories of the many American women who moved to the young Soviet Union in the early part of the twentieth century in search of a better life. Most of these were ordinary women, tempted by promises of greater freedom, more equality, and a broader spectrum of rights than they could have in the United States at the time. But a few were famous–including dancer Isadora Duncan; you can read about her Soviet years in  an excerpt from the book at Lapham’s Quarterly. See? Nary a word about secret meetings, dodgy dossiers, or anything contemporary. It’s okay sometimes to live in the past–especially when that past reminds you of long-forgotten (if ultimately tragic) dreams of the future. . . .

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