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The Myth of School Choice

June 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Timeless Posts XIX

Over the past three decades, conservative and neo-liberal politicians have convinced many voters that the private sector can provide public goods more effectively and efficiently than the government. They base this assertion on the theories of libertarian and conservative economists who have faith that an unregulated marketplace will provide goods fairly, efficiently, and effectively. These free-market economists and politicians contend that if public goods were subject to market forces and the creative destruction that results from market forces, the price of services would decline and their quality would improve. This would benefit taxpayers who would experience lower taxes and benefit citizens who would receive better services.

Education is one area of the public sector where there is no debate over privatization between the two political parties. The neo-liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans both agree that parents want to have choices for their child’s school the same way consumers have choices when they buy detergent in the grocery store. Their vision is to create a public education system where informed parent-consumers would be able to choose the best school for their child. This school-choice concept seems like a common sense, but it fails in practice for two major reasons: parents, especially parents who live in impoverished communities or neighborhoods have limited choices in the public schools; and even if all parents DID have a wide array of choices they do not have the information they need to be “informed consumers”.

Parents, particularly those in high-poverty neighborhoods or towns, have limited choice because they are unable to select from the better schools located in nearby or readily accessible affluent communities. School boards and elected officials who govern schools in affluent communities know that parents in their town chose their residences based on the quality of schools. Parents in affluent communities value smaller classes, high quality teachers, and a wide range of courses and activities, and they willingly pay higher taxes to provide those elements in their public schools. If these schools expand their populations by accepting students from nearby schools they would strain their facilities, resources and budgets. In doing so they would compromise the quality of the schools and, in turn, erode their property values. Consequently, a parent in the Bronx, where class sizes are in the mid-20s, is not able to choose a school in nearby Bronxville, where class sizes are under 20. Boundaries between districts are impermeable, which means a parent’s “choice” is restricted to those schools within the boundaries of the city or town where they reside.

School choice, a key element of privatization, is based on the flawed notion that parents are “informed consumers” who have the information available to them to make a sound decision regarding their child’s education. At the same time, however, the politicians and economists who advocate for “choice” and privatization also champion de-regulation, which limits the accuracy of the information available to parents. The financial sector provides glaring examples of how unregulated businesses limited, withheld, and manipulated the information they provided to consumers. Banks issued “liar loans” to unqualified borrowers by withholding or glossing over important information. These same banks colluded with rating agencies to misrepresent information about the toxic mortgages they bundled into “innovative products” misleading even sophisticated financial analysts. They then colluded to manipulate the interest rates they charged to each other, masking weaknesses in the market.

But even highly regulated sectors of the economy provide poor information for consumers, as a trip to any grocery store demonstrates. What does “organic” mean? What kinds of antibiotics are injected in our meats? What’s been sprayed on our fruits and vegetables? Are our fruits, vegetables, and meats genetically modified? The food industry recently invested millions of dollars to fight a referendum in California seeking to have the use of GMOs labeled clearly on crops sold in stores so consumers could make informed decisions. Indeed, businesses (including for profit charter schools) spend millions of dollars on advertising, which intentionally misleads and misinforms consumers. In short, it is unrealistic to expect parents to get the clear and accurate information they need to make a rational choice regarding the school they are choosing.

Knowing that the parents of the neediest children will not have access to the best schools and knowing that privatization will not provide parents with clear and helpful information regarding schools, why do politicians agree that school choice is a good idea? They agree because “choice” is intuitively appealing and logically defensible in a theoretical universe where parents could move freely into any school and where information is free flowing and clear. Best of all, IF you lived in such a universe the overall cost of schooling would be lower and parent-consumers would be more satisfied. We do not live in this ideal universe and we cannot create it without eliminating state and local control of schools. Since we don’t live in the ideal universe that is the basis for school choice and never will in our lifetimes, if we want to provide equal opportunities for all children our country we will need to find a way to make all of our schools as good as those in our most affluent communities. Until we do so, expect the divide between classes to expand, the opportunities for children raised in poverty to diminish, and the American ideal of class mobility to disappear.

Racing to the Top: The Prequel

June 18, 2014 Leave a comment

Timeless Posts XVIII

The conclusion: I worked for several weeks on an RTTT grant that was not funded.

In an earlier post, I reported that I was exploring the possibility of submitting a Race to the Top District grant. As of Friday, it is evident that I will be playing some role in the development of a Race to the Top proposal that will be submitted by at least five New Hampshire school districts, two of which are in the North Country where I am doing consulting work. This post describes how this came to pass.

In late May, when I returned from a three week camping trip to the Four Corners, I read with great interest that the US Department of education was launching a new Race to the Top competition that was aimed at DISTRICTS as opposed to STATES and would emphasize personal learning plans as the basis for measuring student (and teacher) progress as opposed to using standardized achievement tests. Furthermore, it was allowing consortia of districts to apply, so long as the consortia represented schools with at least 40% of the student population qualifying for free and reduced lunch and all of the schools were “rural” based on the USDOE’s definition. This set of conditions matched the districts I am working with as part of my consulting work with North Country Education Services and the emphasis on personalization resonated with me.

As two of the white papers found elsewhere in this blog indicate, I was on record at the NH State Department as being opposed to Race to the Top as it was originally conceived and supportive of waivers so long as a different form of metrics was used. I submitted the first white paper, “Race To The Top: NO“, to NH State Commissioner Ginny Barry a week in advance of a State Superintendents meeting and was pleasantly surprised to see that she had made copies of the six page essay and circulated to my colleagues and used it as the basis for discussion. When I read about the USDOE’s decision to grant waivers to States in fall of 2011, I got a copy of the State’s draft waiver submission and wrote another white paper, “NCLB Waivers: A chance to Get the Metrics Right”, which I mailed to Ginny Barry. Her administrative assistant emailed me and invited me to attend a planning session of the team that was preparing the waiver. The general theme of the white paper was the absurdity of using standardized achievement test results as the basis for determining “value added” and urged the state to consider a wider array of metrics. I was discouraged to learn that the waiver requirements from the federal government did not provide an avenue for the State to use any kind of metric other than standardized achievement tests and effectively required the state to use test results as the be all and end all of teacher accountability.

Given this background, I sent an email to the Deputy Commissioner Paul Leather in late May asking if the North Country Education Services might apply for this grant. His quick response was: “we should talk”. Over the next three weeks, I gave two power point presentations to the Superintendents in the North Country, wrote an extended essay (see below) describing a plan that might be the basis for a Race to the Top submission, and— using the DRAFT RFP available on the USDOE web site— developed a one page synopsis of the conditions the district(s) would need to meet in order to apply. I also reached out to the Superintendent in SAD 44 in Bethel ME and the Northeast Kingdom Superintendents to see if they might be interested in forming an interstate consortium. At the request of the State Department of Eduction’s liaison to the North Country I called the NH-NEA liaison to the State’s Task Force on Professional Evaluation and three different organizations with experience in grant writing. The stage was set for seeking a Race To The Top District Grant…. and the consensus of my colleagues in the North Country and all of the folks I talked with was to wait to see what the final RFP looked like and then loop back to see if a submission was feasible. The conventional wisdom was that after July 4th the final RFP would be available and we could get a running start on the submission over the summer.

The waiting was longer than any of us expected. In mid August the final RFP was posted. The application was daunting in its length and would clearly require some professional assistance. I contacted one of the organizations who I conferred with in mid July and they emailed that they needed to confer with their CEO before getting back to me.  Shortly thereafter I received an email from John Freeman, an old friend and colleague who I hired to be Elementary Principal in Bethel, ME in the early 1980s and who was now Superintendent in a small district in NH. He had a grant writing partner and was looking for districts to join his to form a consortium that might apply for a Race To The Top grant. He got my name from the State Department of Education. On Friday, John Freeman told USDOE that he would be applying as the lead district in a consortium of NH rural school districts. I’m not sure what form the grant submission will take, but pasted below is the extended essay describing a plan that might be the basis for a Race To The Top submission:

 

 

 

The Race to the Top Steering Committee would oversee the work of five distinct but inter-related task forces for Evaluation, Data Management, Assessment, Curriculum, and Community Outreach. The Committee members would be appointed by the NCES Executive Board and serve throughout the life of the RT3-D grant. At the conclusion of the grant cycle, members would cycle off over a three-year period or be re-appointed for a three-year term. At least one representative from the Steering Committee would serve as a liaison to each Task Force and be responsible for posting the task force meetings, maintaining minutes of each task force meeting, and ensuring that the committee is on track to complete its work in keeping with the time lines incorporated in the grant documents. The proposed mission statements, membership, and time lines for each committee is attached.

EVALUATION TASK FORCE

Mission: By 2014-15, adopt and implement evaluation systems for teachers, school-based administrators, central office instructional administrators, and school boards. The evaluation systems must meet the standards set forth by the RT3-D grant RFP.

 

Evaluation Task Force Membership: The Evaluation Task Force will be comprised of the sub-committee chairs (see below) and a Steering Committee liaison to each sub-committee.

 

Sub-Committees: Given the breadth of evaluation systems to be developed, the Evaluation Task Force will be divided into three (3) sub-committees: teacher evaluation; principal evaluation; and Superintendent evaluation. The sub-Committees will review the evaluation systems recommended by the NH Task Force on Effective Teaching and recommend either universal adoption of one of the systems recommended by the Task Force or demonstrate how the teacher evaluation systems adopted by individual districts can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers in a fashion that matches the grant expectations.

Evaluation Task Force Sub-Committee Overview:

Teacher Evaluation Sub-Committee:

  • Participating LEAs would commit to sending representatives to serve on a Teacher Evaluation Sub-Committee in 2012-13 and be committed to implementing a new evaluation system no later than 2014-15
  • Committee members will include six (6) teacher representatives selected by NH-NEA and the NH-VEA; two (2) superintendents, two (2) building administrators selected by the NCES Executive Board; and one liaison from the Steering Committee.
  • The NH SIG Teacher rubric, the NH Task Force on Effective Teaching’s Final Report, and the “VT Plan to Meeting USDOE Waiver requirements” would inform the development of a new evaluation format. Based on the RFP for the RT3-D grant, the evaluation format must “meaningfully differentiate performance using at least three levels” and include the following metrics for evaluating teacher performance:
    •  Student growth and achievement (as measured by State and local assessments)
    • Professional practice
    • Evidence that the teacher uses information provided by the data system to personalize education (as measured by the frequency the teacher accesses the student’s personal learning plan)
    • Survey data to attain 360-degree review

Principal (i.e. building level administrator) Sub-Committee:

  • Participating LEAs would commit to sending representatives to serve on a Principals Evaluation Sub-Committee in 2012-13 and be committed to implementing a new evaluation system no later than 2014-15
  • Committee members will include four (4) Principals; two (2) Superintendents selected by NCES Executive Board; one Steering Committee liaison
  • NH SIG Principal effectiveness rubric and the “VT Plan to Meeting USDOE Waiver requirements” would inform the development of a new evaluation format. Based on the RFP for the RT3-D grant, the evaluation format must “meaningfully differentiate performance using at least three levels” and include the following metrics for measuring principal performance:
    • Student growth and achievement (as measured by State and local assessments)
    • Professional practice
    • Evidence that the teacher and the principal use information provided by the data system to personalize education (as measured by the frequency the teacher accesses the student’s personal learning plan)
    • Survey data to achieve 360-degree review

Superintendent Evaluation Sub-Committee:

  • Participating LEAs would commit to sending representatives to serve on a Superintendent Evaluation Sub-Committee in 2012-13 and be committed to implementing a new evaluation system no later than 2014-15
  • Committee members will include four (4) Superintendent representatives selected by the NCES Executive Board; one (1) building administrator; one (1) NEA representative; one (1) representative from a State School Board Association; and one liaison from the Steering Committee.
  • The NHSBA best practices for evaluating the Superintendent would inform the development of a new evaluation format. Based on the RFP for the RT3-D grant, the evaluation format must include the following metrics for measuring the Superintendent’s performance:
    • Feedback from “…many stakeholders, including but not limited to educators, principals, and parents”
    • Student growth and achievement (as measured by State and local assessments)

 

CURRICULUM TASK FORCE

Mission: By 2014-15, identify, recommend for adoption and implement curriculum materials for teachers at all grade levels that complement state and local assessments and meet the Common Core Standards adopted by the respective State Boards of Education.

 

Curriculum Task Force Membership: The Curriculum Task Force will be comprised of the sub-committee chairs (see below) and two Steering Committee liaisons who will attend sub-committee meetings on an ad hoc basis.

 

Sub-Committees: The Curriculum Task Force will be divided into six (6) sub-committees as follows:

  • (K-5) literacy;
  • (K-5) mathematics;
  • (K-5) literacy as it applies to social studies/science/technology;
  • (6-12) literacy;
  • (6-12) mathematics;
  • (6-12) literacy as it applies to social studies/science/technology;

 

Curriculum Task Force Sub-Committee Overview

  • Participating LEAs would commit to sending representatives to serve on at least one curriculum committee.
  • Committee members will include six-to-ten (6-10) teacher representatives selected by the NCES Executive Board; and one administrative liaison that will handle the logistics for planning the sub-committee meetings and the dissemination of minutes.
  • The Sub-Committee will:
    • Review existing curriculum materials available to classroom teachers to determine their appropriateness given the changes to state assessments and the adoption of the Common Core Standards
    • Identify open and commercial digital learning content that matches content tested on state assessments and incorporated in the common core.
    • Communicate regularly with members of the Assessment and Data Management Task Forces to ensure alignment between local assessments and curriculum materials
    • Recommend the universal adoption of curriculum materials in the six broad content areas or demonstrate how the curriculum materials in use by individual districts can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the

 

DATA MANAGEMENT TASK FORCE

Mission: By 2014-15, identify, recommend for adoption, and implement a learning management system for teachers at all grade levels that personalizes instruction for students, complements state and local assessments, and aligns with the Common Core Standards adopted by the respective State Boards of Education.

 

Data Management Task Force Membership: The Data Management Task Force will be selected by the NCES Executive Board and will consist of five (5) technology integration teachers from the schools; the NCES technology staff; two (2) at-large representatives with data management experience (i.e. health care; university staff); and the Steering Committee liaison.

 

Data Management Task Force Overview

  • Review existing learning management systems to determine their appropriateness given the changes to state assessments, the adoption of the Common Core Standards, and the plan to expand the use of data to inform instruction
  • Review existing infra-structure in place in each school to determine upgrades needed to expand the use of digital learning content and the expansion of digital assessments
  • Determine the need for standardization of hardware in order to provide a common learning management system
  • Explore grant sources and/or partnerships in order to expand the use of technology applications in schools.
  • Communicate regularly with members of the Assessment and Curriculum Task Forces to ensure alignment

 

ASSESSMENT TASK FORCE

Mission: By 2014-15, identify local assessments drawn from North Country teachers at all grade levels that support the personalization of instruction for students, complement state assessments, and align with the Common Core Standards adopted by the respective State Boards of Education. These local assessments will be adopted for inclusion in a database that will be used in all North Country schools. The Assessment Task Force will also be responsible for designing local assessments that will be used to determine Readiness for Kindergarten; College entry; and Career entry

 

Assessment Task Force Membership: The Assessment Task Force will be will be comprised of the sub-committee chairs (see below), two Steering Committee liaisons who will attend sub-committee meetings on an ad hoc basis, and a consultant who will serve as a resource to the group.

 

Sub-Committees: The Assessment Task Force will be divided into six (6) sub-committees as follows:

  • Kindergarten readiness;
  • Local Assessments to complement State literacy assessments;
  • Local Assessments to complement State mathematics assessments;
  • Local Assessments to complement State social studies//science/technology assessments;
  • College Readiness;
  • Career readiness

 

Assessment Sub-Committee Overview

Kindergarten readiness:

  • Participating LEAs would commit to sending representatives to serve on a Kindergarten Assessment Sub-Committee in 2012-13 and be committed to implementing a new Kindergarten Readiness assessment no later than 2014-15
  • Committee members will include six (6) teacher representatives, three each from pre-K programs and Kindergarten; two (2) liaisons from the Community Outreach committee, two (2) building administrators selected by the NCES Executive Board; and one liaison from the Steering Committee.
  • The NH “Ready!” assessment and the NH TS Gold Pre-School Special Ed Assessment would inform the development of a new Readiness assessment.

 

Local Literacy Assessments:

  • Participating LEAs would commit to sending representatives to serve on a Local Language Arts Assessment Sub-Committee in 2012-13 and be committed to implementing a new Local Language Arts assessment no later than 2014-15
  • Committee members will include six (6) teacher representatives, two (2) building administrators selected by the NCES Executive Board; and one liaison from the Steering Committee. The assessment consultant will attend on an ad hoc basis.
  • The new state assessments in reading and writing and the Common Core in those content areas would inform the development of new local assessments. Based on the RFP for the RT3-D grant, the assessments must be “rigorous and relevant” and yield results that are “actionable performance measures that will assist grantees and the USDOE in managing both leading indicators of implementation success and outcome measures of performance”.

 

Local Mathematics assessments:

  • Participating LEAs would commit to sending representatives to serve on a Local Mathematics Assessment Sub-Committee in 2012-13 and be committed to implementing a new Mathematics assessment no later than 2014-15
  • Committee members will include six (6) teacher representatives, two (2) building administrators selected by the NCES Executive Board; and one liaison from the Steering Committee. The assessment consultant will attend on an ad hoc basis.
  • The new state assessments in mathematics and Common Core would inform the development of new local assessments. Based on the RFP for the RT3-D grant, the assessments must be “rigorous and relevant” and yield results that are “actionable performance measures that will assist grantees and the USDOE in managing both leading indicators of implementation success and outcome measures of performance”.

 

Local Social Studies/Science/Technology assessments:

  • Participating LEAs would commit to sending representatives to serve on a Local Science Assessment Sub-Committee in 2012-13 and be committed to implementing a new Local Language Arts assessment no later than 2014-15
  • Committee members will include six (6) teacher representatives, two (2) building administrators selected by the NCES Executive Board; and one liaison from the Steering Committee. The assessment consultant will attend on an ad hoc basis.
  • The new state science assessments and Common Core would inform the development of new local assessments. Based on the RFP for the RT3-D grant, the assessments must be “rigorous and relevant” and yield results that are “actionable performance measures that will assist grantees and the USDOE in managing both leading indicators of implementation success and outcome measures of performance”.

 

College readiness:

  • Participating LEAs would commit to sending representatives to serve on a College Readiness Assessment Sub-Committee in 2012-13 and be committed to implementing a new College Readiness assessment no later than 2014-15
  • Committee members will include six (6) teacher representatives, at least one of whom has experience in guidance counseling; three (3) liaisons from higher education, preferably members of the Community Outreach committee, two (2) building administrators selected by the NCES Executive Board; and one liaison from the Steering Committee.
  • The existing assessments used to determine the need for remediation would inform the development of a new College Readiness assessment. Based on the RFP for the RT3-D grant, all students “…should be able to, or be on a trajectory to, demonstrate content and skills mastery and credentialing for the State and LEA’s college and career ready graduation requirements”. The “college ready” assessments must yield results that will help schools accomplish that goal.

 

Career readiness:

  • Participating LEAs would commit to sending representatives to serve on a Career Readiness Assessment Sub-Committee in 2012-13 and be committed to implementing a new Career Readiness assessment no later than 2014-15
  • Committee members will include six (6) teacher representatives, at least one of whom has experience in vocational counseling and two of whom are vocational educators; three (3) liaisons from the business community, preferably members of the Community Outreach committee, two (2) building administrators selected by the NCES Executive Board; and one liaison from the Steering Committee.
  • The existing assessments used to determine the need for remediation would inform the development of a new Career Readiness assessment. Based on the RFP for the RT3-D grant, all students “…should be able to, or be on a trajectory to, demonstrate content and skills mastery and credentialing for the State and LEA’s college and career ready graduation requirements”. The “college ready” assessments must yield results that will help schools accomplish that goal.

 COMMUNITY OUTREACH TASK FORCE

Mission: Serve as liaison to parents, the business community, higher education, public and private agencies that serve youth, and community members.

 

Community Outreach Task Force Membership: The Community Outreach Task Force will be selected by the NCES Executive Board and will consist of ten representatives from parent organizations, the business community, higher education, public and private agencies that serve youth, and the community at large, and the Steering Committee liaison.

 

Data Management Task Force Overview

  • Review existing alliances between public education and the various constituent groups to determine ones that could be replicated in other LEAs and/or schools.
  • Identify gaps in services to children and develop a means of filling those gaps through grant sources and/or partnerships among groups on Task Force
  • Identify committee members or community members to serve as liaisons to other Task Forces.
  • Assist in the development of community surveys, other means of communication.

TAX ME… End Poverty

June 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Timeless Posts XVII

When I spent a week at Chautauqua earlier this month (in August 2012), one of the people staying in our group residence had a bright yellow pin that read “TAX ME…. end poverty”. When I commented favorably on the pin, she took it off and gave it to me. After reading “America’s Aversion to Taxes”, Eduardo Porter’s article in the August 14  NYTimes, I have some facts and figures that I can use to explain why many of us in the top 20% need to start wearing this pin.

Before you start complaining about taxes, consider this set of facts drawn from Porter’s article with my emphases added:

Every developed country aspires to provide a better life for its people. The United States, among the richest of all, fails in important ways. It has the highest poverty and the highest infant mortality among developed nations. We provide among the least generous unemployment benefits in the industrial world. Not long ago one of the most educated countries in the world, the United States is slipping behind.

The reason is not difficult to figure out: rich though we are, we can’t afford the policies needed to improve our record. The politicians in Washington all know that we face a long-term fiscal crisis. By 2020, 70 million Americans are expected to be on Social Security, up from 45 million in 2000. The ranks on Medicare will swell to 64 million, up from 40 million in 2000. Virtually every economist knows that just maintaining Medicare and Medicaid benefits will require raising taxes on the middle class…..

Citizens of most industrial countries have demanded more public services as they have become richer. And they have been by and large willing to pay more taxes to finance them. Since 1965, tax revenue raised by governments in the developed world have risen to 34 percent of their gross domestic product from 25 percent, on average.

The big exception has been the United States. In 1965, taxes collected by federal, state and municipal governments amounted to 24.7 percent of the nation’s output. In 2010, they amounted to 24.8 percent. Excluding Chile and Mexico, the United States raises less tax revenue, as a share of the economy, than every other industrial country.

No wonder we can’t afford to keep more children alive. In 2007, the most recent year for which figures are available, the United States government spent about 16 percent of its output on social programs — things like public health, food and housing for the poor. In Italy, that figure was 25 percent.

In this blog I’ve cited may articles written about “failing public schools” and taken the position that this “failure” is sadly limited to those schools serving children raised in poverty, children born into families where education is undervalued and the parent engagement is lacking. This isn’t an “excuse”, it is a statement of fact: the schools with the lowest test scores, lowest graduation rates, and lowest college attending rates are the schools serving the poorest children… and the schools who excel in those areas are those schools serving affluent children. I know that charter school advocates will point to successes in some of their schools. But charters serve parents who want their children to have a better life… and those children have an asset that exceeds a family’s financial wherewithal: an engaged and caring parent. In order for public schools to reach children in families where parents are disengaged and disaffected, early and consistent intervention is needed— and that intervention requires an investment in social programs.

The math in Porter’s article is fairly straightforward: we spent 9% less of our output on social programs than Italy and raised 9% less of our GDP for taxes… and unlike Italy we spent billions on defense. We could end poverty by providing every child in this country an equal opportunity to advance IF we were willing to provide more social services to their families before the child enters school.

Based on an income calculator I found online, my estimated income of $60,000+ for retirement and consulting in the coming year would place me in the top 20% of wage earners in 2009. If I were collecting social security in addition to those earnings (I am deferring until I am 66) I would be in the top 10%. Can I afford a reduction in my social security payments while I am earning income as a consultant? YES. Do I need to collect my full social security in addition to my State funded retirement and my State funded Medicare supplement? NO. Would these changes in my personal revenue be challenging. YES. Could I voluntarily increase my donations to charities of my choice to help end poverty? Yes… but in doing so I might well be emphasizing my personal priorities over those of the country (see Bill Gates). In a democracy, we need to trust those we elect to spend our tax dollars wisely even when evidence suggests that hasn’t always been the case (i.e. see Iraq, Afghanistan, the “War on Drugs”, the Patriot Act,  the bank bailouts, etc.). 

At this point, if my taxes increased they’d have to fund the interest payments on debts incurred as a result of some of the bad budget decisions of the past. But SOME of the mis-directed funds cited above could be re-allocated to provide the social services lacking today not only for children raised in poverty, but for returning veterans, for prisoners attempting to transition into the workplace, and for health care for those who cannot afford insurance. Increasing our taxes and changing our spending priorities is not “socialism”, it is hard-headed capitalism. We need to invest in our human resources if we hope to compete internationally, we need to invest in those resources at the same level as other developed nations. We need to have every child succeed and every able-bodied adult working. That is going to require an investment in social programs. TAX ME… end poverty…. and keep our country’s economy strong for the future.

Privatization, Politics, and Poverty

June 16, 2014 Leave a comment

Timeless Posts XVI

This was originally posted on August 16, 2012

Posts on privatization seem to dominate this blog over the past several days… but only because the news is full of articles on this issue, three of which are discussed in this post. Taken together, these articles illustrate that once the debate on privatization takes hold, politics comes to the forefront and poverty takes a back seat.

A post on Diane Ravitch’s blog, “For Profit Schools Pour Money into Florida State Races”, describes the influx of money into State senate races in Florida to displace senators who opposed a “parent trigger” law enacted by the house. The law, which was opposed by every single parent group in Florida, in part because they believed that it was a means of undercutting public schools. Ravitch writes:

Every Florida parent group opposed it. They warned that the parent trigger was a transparent attempt by the charter operators to trick parents into handing their public school over to the charter chains.

By funding opposition to the senators who oppose the parent trigger, the for-profit charter chains are demonstrating that the parent groups were right.

Yesterday’s Common Dreams posted an article  by Josh Eidleson on Walmart’s financial backing for a CBS TV Special that looks like “…  a transparent attempt by charter operators to trick parents into handing their public schools over to charter chains”. The movie, which is disingenuously described as “…a celebration of a group of unsung heroes of our society – our teachers… and not intended to be a political event” will be released to coincide with the election efforts cited above and below. When you read the article, you’ll see that my use of “disingenuous” is not editorializing.

But lest readers think that only the privatizers are guilty of politicization of schools, today’s NYTimes offers an article about a de facto PAC that is attempting to link Romney to Michelle Rhee and Bloomberg. This is a pre-emptive strike on the part of the  “non-partisan” group that seems to be predominantly funded by the teacher’s union.

In this political debate, like most, it doesn’t matter who fired the first bullet or spent the first dollar. What is sad is that those attempting to privatize public schools serving children in poverty to make a are defining the terms of the debate… and the debate ignores the fact that children who come from homes where parents are poor and disengaged are the children being left behind. School choice doesn’t matter to a parent who moves every three months, a parent who needs medical care but can’t afford it, a parent who wants to work but can’t find a job because they have to take care of their little children or an infirm parent or spouse…. and school choice doesn’t matter at all to a parent who is disengaged from their child’s schooling. Until we decide to intervene early and thoroughly, as Geoffrey Canada did in his Harlem schools, we will not be able to say with a straight face that every child in this country has an opportunity to succeed in school. If only we could find a way to make early intervention profitable.

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Shareholders vs. Stakeholders

June 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Timeless Posts XIV

Joe Nocera’s op ed column in the August 11, 2012 NYTimes,“Down With Stockholders”, describes the trend over the past three decades to expect shareholders to operate as democratic overseers… and Nocera concludes that the results have been disastrous:

Too many chief executives succumb to the pressure to boost short-term earnings at the expense of long-term value creation. After all, their compensation depends on it. In the lead-up to the financial crisis — to take just one extreme example — financial institutions took on far too much risk in search of easy profits that would lead to a higher stock price.

He cites recent writings– The Shareholder Myth by Cornell University professor Lynn Stout and “What Good are Shareholders?” by Harvard professor Jay Lorsch and HBR Group’s Justin Fox— as evidence that a new movement may be dawning; one that thinks more long term about the value of a corporate investment. He outlines the current view of shareholders citing the Lorsch and Fox article:

One of their arguments is that the calls for increased shareholder democracy are misguided; shareholders, they write, simply aren’t particularly well-suited to be “corporate bosses.” They are too diffuse, and too short-term-oriented, especially now that high-frequency trading dominates the market. Indeed, despite the increased emphasis on shareholders the past few decades, companies haven’t gotten noticeably better.

A second argument, though, is that the central idea that led us to elevate shareholders above all others is off-base. According to the reigning academic theory, shareholders are “principals” and management serves as their “agent.” Thus, it is the job of the principals to keep the agents in line. But, said Fox, “The more you treat executives that way, the more they are going to act like mercenaries, and the more they get away from seeing themselves as stewards of an organization with lasting value.”

“Look at almost any company that has lasted,” he continued. “It is inevitably because executives see themselves as trying to move the organization forward, and not because they are incented by their pay package to maximize the share price.”

What does this have to do with public schools? Everything given the calls for schools to model themselves after businesses and the move toward for-profit charter schools whose mission is to improve the bottom line. And what is the “bottom line” in schools? TEST SCORES…. PERIOD… END OF REPORT. Are the shareholders of a for-profit charter school interested in hiring executives to be “stewards” of the public schools? Are the shareholders of a for-profit charter school interested in providing a well rounded curriculum that values higher order thinking skills over higher test scores?

I hate the term “stakeholders”… but it is used by my colleagues in education to define those who have a reason to want public education to succeed… and it is a good term to counterbalance “shareholder”. “Stakeholders” want schools to serve children, to meet their social and emotional needs AND increase their test scores if that is necessary to sustain funding. But given the choice, stakeholders would opt for nurturance over high test scores and would not see “profit” as a motive in any way, shape or form.

So here’s a compare and contrast:

Who are the stakeholders? Children in schools… parents… people who live in the community, including social service providers, health care providers, and businesses…  local taxpayers… people who work in the school… people who are connected with the community every hour of the day every day of the week.

Who are the shareholders? None of the above unless someone in town bought a share of, say, Kaplan….

I don’t like the term “stakeholder”, but I love their mission.

Categories: Essays Tags:

Advance In Grade

June 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Timeless Posts XIII

This is a satirical piece I wrote a couple of years ago… but it may only be humorous to those who work as public school administrators who have misgivings about privatization…. 

Advance In Grade: A Modest Prospectus

You are invited to invest in Advance In Grade, an exciting new business venture that will combine the talent of the recently laid off financial analysts with the urgent need to reform public schools. Advance In Grade will capitalize on the Obama administration’s desire to bring the proven performance pay methods of the private sector to public education. A new privately operated education enterprise, Advance In Grade offers an integrated array of services that guarantees every state will experience increased performance in test results, every school will succeed in meeting state standards, every teacher will achieve performance compensation targets, and every education executive will receive compensation packages that will attract proven business leaders into the field of school administration. Students may learn more as well.

A brief description of Advance In Grade’s fully integrated product lines follows:

  • Assessments: Using innovative individualized performance profiles (IPPs) for each student, Advance In Grade’s copyrighted on-line assessments draw test questions from State assessment data banks and match the questions to each individual student’s unique abilities. Advance in Grade then uses a sophisticated item-analysis methodology for reporting results. Advance In Grade’s copyrighted assessments are calibrated so that students show a consistent percentage increase in their results on standardized tests on an annual basis over an extended time period. This modest but steady improvement in student performance guarantees that teachers will add value to student learning (that is, student learning as measured by standardized assessments).
  • Quantitative Analysis: Advance In Grade’s quantitative analysis team uses the same statistical methods that yielded huge profits in the mortgage marketplace over the past decade to help schools and State’s show student progress. Advance In Grade combines the test results of low performing students and low performing schools with those of high performing students and high performing schools in a way that guarantees annual growth at the classroom, school, district, and state level.
  • Compensation Systems: Advance In Grade’s compensation planning team can provide an invaluable service to school districts seeking to introduce performance pay plans. Drawing on the talents of recently laid-off human resource personnel from prestigious Wall Street firms, Advance In Grade can develop teacher and building level administration compensation plans that are integrated with our assessment and quantitative analysis products. For an additional fee, the Advance In Grade compensation planning team can provide the executive staff with contracts that ensure high annual bonuses and healthy severance provisions even if student assessment results unexpectedly decrease.
  • Budget Insurance: Advance In Grade provides a wide array of insurance products. Advance in Grade offers a “Bonus Insurance” package that ensures that teachers and administrators will receive their bonuses even if the economy is in decline or the local voters reject the local budgets when they increase because teachers meet performance targets. We also offer Taxpayer Level Funding insurance package that ensures that no one’s tax burden will increase if teachers and administrators earn performance bonuses. We have assurances that the Federal Government, who promised the introduction of performance pay into public schools would have no impact on the taxpayer, will back these products.
  • Performance Auditing: While Advance In Grade cannot audit its own assessment results, it can provide States and school districts with a list of audit firms who have the in depth expertise to confirm that the results achieved by schools and states are valid. The use of these specialized auditing services is necessary since Advance In Grade’s assessment and analysis systems are complex and indecipherable to the average taxpayer.

Advance in Grade’s new product line will be in place by September 2012. We are seeking investors now. Please mail a check for $10,000 to Advance In Grade to get in on the ground floor of this exciting new venture. The first 1000 investors will get a 10% dividend immediately. Investors may get additional dividends if Advance In Grade decides to launch its business.

 

 

Categories: Essays

NCLB Waivers: A Chance to Get the Metrics Right!

June 12, 2014 1 comment

Timeless Posts XII

I wrote this in hopes that the Obama administration might change NCLB’s metrics as part of it’s plan to grant waivers… but, sadly, we have more of the same! 

NCLB Waivers: An Opportunity to Get the Metrics Right

The Obama administration’s decision to unilaterally change the rules for No Child Left Behind provides states with an opportunity to reconsider the way they hold schools accountable for student learning. In doing so, school leaders have an opportunity to change the way they measure student and school performance and, by doing so, have a chance to change the way schools operate.

For the past decade, states were required to use standardized assessments as the basis for rating schools. Rating schools based on pencil and paper tests is easy and relatively cheap and has the advantage of yielding sets of mathematical results that appear to be precise. This “output” measure, however, is based on several flawed assumptions about learning that, in turn, are based on the notion that schools should operate like factories.

A quick history of education is in order. In the 1920s businessmen recommended that schools aggregate students in large schools to achieve economies of scale. After all, Henry Ford achieved tremendous success when he built cars on an assembly line by standardizing the product and process. Businessmen reasoned that schools could accomplish the same success through consolidation and standardization! So, in the name of cost effectiveness, students were herded into large factory schools organized into age-based cohorts called “grades”. This organizational pattern, started in the urban schools in the 1920s, was adopted in suburban and rural schools after World War II as legislatures created consolidated school districts by closing “inefficient” one-room schoolhouses and small schools with multi-grade classrooms and replacing them with large “comprehensive” schools.

At the same time that schools were consolidating, the nascent field of psychometrics was developing ways to measure student learning. In the 1920s Binet and Terman developed tests yielding results that distributed an individual’s “intellectual ability” on a bell curve. In the name of efficiency, schools used these relatively easy-to-administer tests to sort students.

Textbook publishers benefitted from the school organization put in place following the adoption of the factory model. They developed textbook series that matched the various reading levels of each segment of the bell curve. This resulted in a standardized curriculum that reinforced the age-based cohorts and tracking practices in place in public schools across the country.

For decades this factory model for education operated well. Schools operated efficiently and effectively sorting students based on their performance. Those students who matured in accordance with their age cohorts and performed well on pencil-and-paper tests used to measure intellectual ability possessed the skills needed to master the standardized curricula and, therefore, were deemed capable of attaining a college degree. Students who matured slowly and did not do well on pencil-and-paper tests struggled to master the standardized curriculum and, therefore, were deemed unlikely to succeed in college.

In the 1980s, though, the expectations for education changed in large measure because the work force expectations changed. As businesses moved low-skill manufacturing jobs out of the country their need for high school graduates diminished and the opportunities for those without a high school degree disappeared completely. Suddenly, America was A Nation at Risk and schools were called to task for failing to educate all students to a higher performance level. The solution? For the past three decades we have set higher standards, administered tests, held teachers more accountable, administered different test, given parents choices, administered different tests, and collected all kinds of data to inform instruction. Oh, and the latest idea: administer yet another set of tests.

Through all of these reform efforts over the past thirty years, the factory model remains in place. And because of that, we have not examined some fundamental questions about the way school is organized:

  • Why do we continue to group students in grade levels based on their age?
  • Why do we group students at all?
  • Why do we continue to believe there is “one best way” to educate children?
  • Why do we use comparisons with other groups of students to define “success?
  • Why does school take place in a limited time frame?
  • Why do we limit the mission of school to academic instruction?

If we seize this opportunity, we can organize schools around the lives of students and families and use metrics as a tool instead of a weapon.

Categories: Essays