Promiscuous Promotions Start Early!

November 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Frank Bruni’s column in today’s NYTimes, “Promiscuous College Come-Ons” made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Bruni has consistently trumpeted the market based “reforms” of Bloomberg et al and after reading this column it is evident that he cannot see the ultimate consequences of subjecting all schools to the marketplace…. which led me to make this comment:

How do you reconcile your criticism for colleges shamelessly marketing themselves with your avid support for the “market based” school reform? In the world of school reformers EVERY school will need to spend money on recruitment and there will be little or no regulation on how the schools advertise themselves. The only good result of “market based” charter schools will be that by the time a student graduates from high school they will be inured to the “promiscuous promotions” presented by colleges.

The other ironic criticism was his implication that Swarthmore was lowering the rigor of its application process in order to game the statistics in the US News and World Report that give schools a higher ranking if they are “more selective”. Again, there is much data to support the fact that for-profit charter schools do the same thing to demonstrate the “demand” for their openings…. and there is Campbell’s Law which Wikipedia defines as follows:

“The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

To paraphrase: institutions— even respected institutions— will do everything possible to game the system in order to improve their standing in the eyes of “consumers”. If we want to measure effectiveness we should make sure the data we use to do so cannot be easily gamed and the algorithms we use emphasize the most important qualities we are seeking.

If we want to institute market based schools, we should be prepared for more “promiscuous promotion” at earlier and earlier ages… and maybe add b.s. detection to the Common Core.

The Scoring of Common Core Tests is Unrealistic

November 23, 2014 Leave a comment


Diane Ravitch writes: “At some point, someone will have to admit that the Common Core and the tests are so “rigorous” that the students who succeed are being prepared for elite universities, not for state universities, and not for career readiness.”…. or MAYBE at some point we will acknowledge that if we truly want all students to meet the standards we should give them enough time to do so. Is there ANY evidence that students mature at the same rate physically? Do we declare a young man to be “failing” if he hasn’t started shaving when he’s 15 because most boys, on average, begin to grow facial hair around the age of 15? If we think such a test of physical growth is preposterous why do we put so much stock in the assumption that tests of intellectual growth are meaningful? If we expect performance to be constant we need to make time variable.

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

Valerie Strauss has a fascinating column about the scoring of the Smarter Balanced assessment. It appears that the achievement levels mirror the levels on NAEP. Understanding the scoring process is not easy. Apparently only the students in the top two levels will be considered “college-ready,” as befits a very rigorous curriculum. This means that less than half of the 11th grade students will be on track to go to college. In terms of mathematics, only one-third will be college-ready. The scoring ends with the rather ominous statement that Smarter Balance has not yet figured out a scoring guide for “career readiness.” Since there is so little in the Common Core that is related to career readiness, this is understandable. Very likely, the students who are involved in career and technical education will be in the lower bands and won’t be eligible to go to college.

I served on the…

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Every Teacher in the U.S. Should Post This Statement in His or Her Classroom

November 23, 2014 Leave a comment


If VAM is statistically invalid for classroom teachers who provide direct instruction in classes that instruct students in tested material, how could the use of VAM be valid in ANY way for SpED, Music, Art, PE, MS Science, MS Social Studies, the majority of HS content areas, etc. etc.? By my back of the envelope calculation a majority of teachers could not be measured by VAM even it it WAS a statistically valid calculation. My fear: Lamar Alexander and other reformers will solve this problem by giving more tests to more children in more subjects.

Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:

This is the executive summary of the statement of the American Statistical Association on the use of value-added assessment to evaluate teachers. Please share it with other teachers, with principals, and school board members. Please share it with your legislators and other elected officials. Send it to your local news outlets. The words are clear: Teachers account for between 1 and 14% of the variation in test scores. And this is very important to remember: “Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.”

ASA Statement onUsing Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment

April 8, 2014

Executive Summary

Many states and school districts have adopted Value-Added Models (VAMs) as part of educational accountability systems. The goal of these models, which are also referred to as Value-Added Assessment (VAA) Models, is to estimate effects of individual teachers or schools on student achievement while accounting for differences…

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For Profit Charter’s End Game

November 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Peter Greene, who blogs at Curmudgucation, wrote an insightful blog post that Diane Ravitch excerpted on her blog yesterday. Titled “100% Charter Fail” Greene’s post made the point that the for profit charters do NOT want to take over all the schools, they are only after the easiest portion of the market. Greene writes (with my emphasis added):

It’s telling that while chartercrats are cheering on complete charter conversions for cities from York, PA to Memphis, TN, no charter chains have (as far as I know) expressed a desire to have a whole city to themselves. The preferred model is an urban broker like Tennessee’s ASD or the bureaucratic clusterfarfegnugen that is Philadelphia schools– charter operators can jostle for the juiciest slice of the steak and try to leave the gristle for some other poor sucker.

It’s not even that charters are worried about how successful they will look…. the numbers that they are most attentive to are the ones on the bottom line, and that’s why no charter operators in their right minds would want a 100% charter system that they had to be responsible for.

He then offers these insights on why the “free market” will not work in public education:

Here’s one more reason that free market economics do not belong in public education– in the free market, all customers are NOT created equal. All customers are NOT equally desirable to businesses. And the free market deals with these undesirable customers very simply– it doesn’t serve them. (This is why, for instance, when you hire FEDex or UPS to deliver a package to your uncle on some back road in Bumfargel, PA, FEDex and UPS turn around and hire the United States Postal Service to deliver it for them.) In a charter system, those High Cost Students become human hot potatoes.

“Well, we’ll just require charters to serve a certain segment of the population in our 100% charter system,” you say. And I will remind you of one other critical difference between charters and true public schools. True traditional public schools do not say, “It’s too hard to turn a profit in this business environment, so we are just going to close our doors.” Traditional public schools are in it for the long haul. Charter operators are in it as long as it makes business sense to be in it. If they don’t like the deal you’re offering them, they don’t have to stay.

I especially liked his Post Office analogy because it reinforces my notion that small towns think of their public school the same way they think of the Post Office: both serve as community hubs and community identities. It is noteworthy that both the school consolidation efforts and the post office closures hit a stone wall in the small New England communities where I worked as a consultant for the past two years: people in those communities were explicitly willing to pay a premium price to retain the schools that identified their community as distinct from a larger nearby community.

My observation that I shared on both blogs:

For profit charters don’t want to take over the whole market any more than Walmart wants to… Do you see a Walmart in Scarsdale? In New Trier? In Radnor PA? Conversely do you see any Walmarts in poor urban neighborhoods? Walmart is willing to cede the upscale market and abandon the urban poor to make as much profit as possible on the mass market. For profit charter operators think the same way. They’ll go after the market of engaged urban parents and middle class neighborhoods and towns that are seeking relief from high taxes. The for profit charters are not cherry picking to destroy public education, they are cherry picking to make money.

One concluding observation: The charter cheerleaders need to look at who charter schools are leaving behind before they make claims about charter expansion, choice, and vouchers being a “civil rights” issue. The poor children with disengaged parents, the disabled children who will pull down test scores, and the remote rural communities will be left behind and the public schools in affluent communities will continue to thrive and become more exclusive as their housing prices rise correspondingly. Charters, choice, and vouchers are all about rewarding investors and shareholders… not about helping children.

MI Court Rules State NOT Required to Educate Well

November 21, 2014 Leave a comment

In a case that could have national implications, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the state has “…no legal obligation to provide a quality public education to students” in a school district that the state turned over to a charter school that has not improved its performance. This overturned a lower court decision that the State has a “broad compelling state interest in the provision of an education to all children.”

Kary L. Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties of Michigan who filed the suit on behalf of eight students of nearly 1,000 children attending K-12 public schools in Highland Park, MI, stated that “This ruling should outrage anyone who cares about our public education system. The court washes its hands and absolves the state of any responsibility in a district that has failed and continues to fail its children.”

As reported in The Michigan Citizen blog,

The suit, which named as defendants the State of Michigan, its agencies charged with overseeing public education and the Highland Park School District, maintained that the state failed to take effective steps to ensure that students are reading at grade level.

Let’s remember it was the state that turned the entire district over to a for-profit charter management company with no track record of success with low performing schools,” said Moss. “It is the state that has not enforced the law that requires literacy intervention to children not reading at grade level. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure and maintain a system of education that serves all children.

Why could this have national implications? As noted in earlier posts, school districts in “failing districts” are often taken over by the State who, presumably, have the ability to overcome the effects of poverty more effectively than the local school boards and, increasingly, States look to privatization as the answer (e.g. Newark and Camden NJ; Philadelphia PA; Chicago IL, to name a few). If State’s are not responsible for providing a quality education, who is? Are parents in affluent districts the only ones who will have their children attending quality public schools? Will for-profit schools be allowed to continue to operate even if they fail to get results?

While I am not well versed in the structure of MI’s court set up, I have to assume their Supreme Court will have the find say on this… and I assume the MI State “…agencies charged with overseeing public education and the Highland Park School District” will continue to argue that they are not responsible for ensuring that every child gets a quality education.

Here’s my final question: how can the state defend it’s willingness deny a quality education to all children while at the same time wresting the control of “failing schools” from local boards who are more than willing to make every effort to achieve that goal?

Keep Your Eye on the .01%

November 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Several articles of late have emphasized that “the 1%” aren’t the real problem with the effects of inequality in our country, it’s the .01%.

Progressive economist Robert Reich’s essay titled ” If you Want to Know What’s Happened to Our Democracy, Follow the Richest .01%”, describes the effects of inequality in stark terms. After providing lots of statistical information detailing how wide the spread is between the 16,000 people who control 11% of the total wealth in our country, and a description of how this is affecting the debts of the bottom 90%, Reich outlines the political reasons for why we should care about this:

…the top .01 percent have also been investing their money in politics. And these investments have been changing the game.

In the 2012 election cycle (the last for which we have good data) donations from the top .01 accounted for over 40 percent of all campaign contributions, according to a study by Professors Adam Bonica, Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal.

This is a huge increase from 1980, when the top .01 accounted for ten percent of total campaign contributions….

All this money has flowed to Democrats as well as Republicans.

In fact, Democrats have increasingly relied on it. In the 2012 election cycle, the top .01 percent’s donations to Democrats were more than four times larger than all labor union donations to Democrats put together.

(And) their political investments have paid off in the form of lower taxes on themselves and their businesses, subsidies for their corporations, government bailouts, federal prosecutions that end in settlements where companies don’t affirm or deny the facts and where executives don’t go to jail, watered-down regulations, and non-enforcement of antitrust laws.

Since the top .01 began investing big time in politics, corporate profits and the stock market have risen to record levels. That’s enlarged the wealth of the richest .01 percent by an average of 7.8 percent a year since the mid-1980s.

But the bottom 90 percent don’t own many shares of stock. They rely on wages, which have been trending downward. And for some reason, politicians don’t seem particularly intent on reversing this trend.

If you want to know what’s happened to the American economy, follow the money. That will lead you to the richest .01 percent.

And if you want to know what’s happened to our democracy, follow the richest .01 percent. They’ll lead you to the politicians who have been selling our democracy.

But why should advocates of public education care about this increasing inequality? An Inside Philanthropy blog post titled “Be Afraid: The Five Scariest Trends in Philanthropy” by David Callahan outlines five reasons:

  1. The growing push to convert wealth into power: (see Reich’s article and this quote from Callahan offers an example in public education: “Look at nearly any sector of U.S. society, and you’ll find private funders wielding growing power. Most dramatic has been the reshaping of public education by philanthropists like Gates and the Waltons, but the footprint of private money has also grown when it comes to healthcare, the environment, the economy, social policy, science, and the arts.

    Whether you agree or disagree with the specific views pushed by private funders, you’ve got to be disturbed by the growing army of hands-on mega donors and foundations that seems to get more clever every year about converting their money into societal influence. Love it or hate it, the Common Core is a great example: In effect, private funders are helping determine how tens of millions of kids will be educated for years to come. And to think that we once saw public education as America’s most democratic institution!”

  2. How philanthropic dollars have become another form of political money: (see Reich’s article for lots of examples)
  3. The decline of the public sector relative to private fundersThis means that as public funding for schools diminishes and schools are privatized the wealth trickles UPWARD instead of ACROSS the workforce. As a result, the extraordinarily wealthy individuals (e.g. philanthropists) who make “generous donations” to public schools have more and more influence in how schools spend money.
  4. The rise of the know-it-all funderSee Bill Gates and any hedge fund manager or technology squillionaire who provides a “generous donation” to schools contingent on the implementation of a program they are certain will be a game-changer. Callahan describes how this is playing out in public education: “In an age of hands-on living mega donors, the possibilities for big screwups are self-evident and we’ve seen some doozies so far—like, say, turning urban school districts upside down to create small high schools and then realizing that this idea wasn’t as brilliant as MS-DOS.”
  5. A rising flood of anonymous moneyThis is playing out as dark money flows into elections for State and County Superintendents, governors, and various referenda on issues like the elimination of tenure, school funding, etc. 

Inequality matters to public education and it matters to democracy. Here’s hoping that the issue gets an airing in 2016… but as long as the richest .01% buy and own our political leaders and buy and control the advertising that is the basis for voters’ decision making having a dialog on this issue will be difficult.

Guns Again….

November 20, 2014 Leave a comment

On the one hand I feel bad posting twice in one day about gun violence, but this article in the Washington Post merits a post of its own. After digging around on Google I’ve learned that six states, OK, MO, IL, TN, AR,  and NJ, specifically mandate active shooter drills for schools while 26 other states require general school lockdown or safety drills. Last year 10 State legislatures considered legislation that mandate “active shooter drills” as outlined in this synopsis written by Lauren Heintz for the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting tragedy in December 2012, state lawmakers have been working on strategies to strengthen K-12 safety and preparedness. One of the most common responses has been to add “active shooter” or “school intruder” drills to the list of general emergency drills that 32 states already require schools to conduct for earthquakes, fires, tornadoes and other potential disasters.

Lawmakers in 10 states—Arkansas, California,  Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee—have introduced such legislation since last year. The bills tend to address only general requirements for the drills, such as how many must be conducted each year and who needs to be involved, rather than specifically what should occur during the drill. Like the laws requiring schools to conduct general emergency drills, the proposed “active shooter” measures give districts and schools the flexibility to implement the type of drill they determine is best for them, from simple discussions and table-top exercises to full-scale operations involving emergency and law enforcement personnel.

To address  concerns that the “active shooter” drills might unduly frighten children, the National Association of School Psychologists has created guidelines for the drills.They include recommendations that school officials steer clear of potentially traumatic stimuli, such as blank bullets or fake blood; collaborate with an outside expert to conduct the drills; and focus on communicating the purpose of the drills with students and families well in advance.

The mandatory active shooter drills provide zealous police forces with an opportunity to use their acting talents as the Washington Post article referenced above indicated. That article featured this picture from an “active shooter drill” staged earlier this year in NJ:


The picture raised a number of questions in my mind:

  • Who took the picture?
  • Who gave authorization for this to occur?
  • Who authorized the picture?
  • Why are the policeman smiling?
  • Were parents smiling when they received panicked texts from their children?
  • How did administrators handle the influx of panicked parents?
  • Were the CHILDREN smiling afterwards?
  • How did teachers and school personnel handle the panicked children afterwards?
  • Were the TEACHERS smiling afterwards?
  • How did administrators deal with the teachers who were stunned by the unannounced drill?
  • Would the police have arrived before the shooter and his hostage left the school in a REAL “event” of this nature?
  • How would police handle a shooting event if their was already carnage in the school?
  • Do we need to legislate drills for cleaning up wounded bodies since most shooting incidents occur without warning and end within minutes?
  • Who thought this was a good idea?
  • Who drafted the legislation that mandated these drills?

I’ve got a catchy phrase for this kind of legislation: No Child Left Unafraid. I’ll be watching the legislative docket in NH to make sure I get an opportunity to weigh in any legislation they consider about this!