Paying the Price for Bad Legislation in NC

April 19, 2014 Leave a comment

The headline to the press release says it all: “.North Carolina Public Schools Are Facing Teacher Shortage”… and the report is brief enough to paste below:

It is getting harder to recruit new teachers to North Carolina Public Schools, according to Wake County Public School System Chair Christine Kushner. She says another obstacle was thrown in the path of incoming teachers when a state additive for teachers with a Masters degree was eliminated.

Kushner said, “And now, with the elimination of the state supplement for master’s degrees, we’ve seen that we’re no longer competitive for those same teachers.”

Legislators recently proposed raising starter teacher salary, but Kushner says a complete reform of teacher pay is necessary in the legislative short session this year. Leader’s of the state’s largest school system held a press conference on Thursday announcing that over 600 teachers has left their position since July 2013.

And three days later, this:

School leaders announced Thursday that nearly 7% of teachers in the Wake County Public School System resigned their positions since July, 2013, the start of the school year. Dr. Michael Maher, Asst. Dean for Professional Education at NC State, says not only are teachers leaving the profession, but fewer students are entering university’s to study teaching.

Maher said, “The UNC system as a whole, our 17 campuses, we’re the top producers of teachers in the state of North Carolina. We prepare nearly half of all new teachers in the state. We are seeing declines across the entire set of campuses.”

Maher says the pipeline is drying up, and that will ultimately impact student achievement.

Over the past year I’ve read of a litany of bad ALEC legislation passed by NC, including some crazy ones like eliminating additional pay for advanced desires, offering performance bonuses of $400 for higher test results (as if a 1% increase in pay for one year was an “incentive”), eliminating “tenure”, etc. All of this was supposed to improve student results while limiting the costs to taxpayers. As the results are showing, they only got half the equation right.

 

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Why I Love Kurt Vonnegut’s Writing

April 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s post today linked to two letters Kurt Vonnegut wrote: one in a month-old Huffington Post article  that, in turn, linked to another posted in a Letters of Note blog. The letters are vintage Vonnegut. The Huffington Post letter was written in 2006 when he was 84 years old, offering advice to high school students that was at once practical and carefree. The Letters of Note correspondence was written to a ND school board who had banned his book Slaughterhouse 5 that included this paragraph that explains why I love Kurt Vonnegut’s writing:

“If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated person would,  you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue for wildness of any kind. They beg that people be more kinder and more responsible than they often are. 

Is VAM Dying a Slow Death?

April 18, 2014 Leave a comment

Over the past week I read three posts that make me think Value Added Measures might be dying a slow death.

The most heartening, compelling and comprehensive series of articles came from the Dallas Tribune, which described in a three part series how Texas’ commitment to high stakes testing is eroding thanks to the efforts of parents, education professors, teachers, superintendents…. and even the business community. Why? Because after 30 years of test-based accountability Texas schools are no better in 2014 than they were when the whole initiative started in the late 1980s!

Diane Ravitch posted two different articles describing the grave and uncorrectable problems with VAM…. and VAM is the crown jewel of the testing mavens since it was touted as a means of measuring student, teacher, and school performance. It turns out that VAM really “measures” something other than teacher performance: it measures the education of the parents, the affluence of the community, and the richness of the school’s curriculum. I put “measure” in quotes because it seems that VAM is correlational as opposed to causal. That little detail, though, has not prevented the USDoE from requiring states to use VAM as part of teacher evaluation.

I have avoided blogging each time I read an article debunking VAM because it seems that more and more policy-makers are getting wise to the flaws… yet the politics behind VAM, it’s intuitive appeal to those who value spreadsheets, and its apparent precision make it a favorite of quants…. and if VAM withers, high-stakes standardized testing might not be too far behind…

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Moneyball in Public Education? HA!!!

April 18, 2014 Leave a comment

David Bornstien’s “Fixes” blog often offers thought provoking and original ideas for solving social problems… but today’s column, “Can Governments Play Moneyball?” grossly misses the boat when it described the current administration’s efforts to use evidence in formulating policy. Parroting the Obama administration’s narrative, Bornstein writes:

The administration has linked billions of dollars in funding to programs that demonstrate evidence of effectiveness. They include efforts to prevent teen pregnancy, improve maternal and child health and child development through home visitation, promote reforms in preschool and K-12 education, prepare youths for success in college and the work force, and finance the growth of innovative social organizations tackling a variety of challenges.

“The Obama administration is doing a whole bunch of things that, taken together, make it by far the most evidence-based administration ever,” said Ron Haskins, a former Republican Congressional and White House adviser who co-directs the Brookings Center on Children and Families. “About 700 programs around the country are being required to evaluate their work. The evaluations have to be part of the budget, they have to be high quality, and they have to happen on a continuing basis so staff and administrators know whether they are producing impacts.”

The “high quality” study of the TFA was debunked in several Diane Ravitch posts as flawed and superficial— hardly the kind of “high quality” evaluations touted in Bornstein’s column. A comment I offered provides a host of questions about the administration’s purported commitment to “evidence based” policies:

Education is one area where evidence doesn’t matter to the Obama administration. There is NO evidence that the use of high stakes tests improves performance yet Race To The Top redoubles NCLB’s testing regiment. There is NO evidence that charter schools are superior to public schools, yet the USDoE champions them to replace “failed” public schools. The USDoE’s insists that states use value added measures as an element of teacher evaluation is even though there is NO evidence that value added measure (VAM) is a valid means of assessing teacher performance and OVERWHELMING evidence that VAM is INVALID. Yet despite a host of recent studies from economists, social scientists, and statisticians that Value Added measures do NOT work, Secretary Duncan has remained steadfast in his support of this metric, perhaps because it helps support his flawed assertion that public education is failing and teachers are to blame. Finally, there is strong evidence that poverty is the major factor contributing to deficiencies in students’ academic performance yet the Obama administration has done nothing to provide more support to schools serving children born into poverty. When it comes to public education, the Obama administration cherry-picks evidence the way charter schools cherry-pick students.

Sadly, the Obama administration’s commitment to evidence based policies in education is no different than that of George Bush: the only difference is that his administration acknowledges that abstinence only sex education is wishful thinking and phonics is not the only way to teach reading…

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Science Proves We Are Oligarchy

April 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Over the past two days I’ve read about a recently released report by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page in two different progressive blogs: Common Dreams and The Math Babe. The report is a detailed statistical analysis of the role citizens play in the decision making in our country and concludes that we are not living in a democracy but rather in an oligarchy. Gilens and Page are not advocates of any political party, they are academics: Gilens works at Princeton and Page is from Northwestern. Their study will appear in the Fall 2014 edition of Perspectives in Politics, a scholarly journal of the American Political Science Association. Their findings are sobering.

Eric Zuess, the Common Dreams blogger concludes his post with this paragraph:

The clear finding is that the U.S. is an oligarchy, no democratic country, at all. American democracy is a sham, no matter how much it’s pumped by the oligarchs who run the country (and who control the nation’s “news” media). The U.S., in other words, is basically similar to Russia or most other dubious “electoral” “democratic” countries. We weren’t formerly, but we clearly are now. Today, after this exhaustive analysis of the data, “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” That’s it, in a nutshell.

Cathy O’Neill, the Mathbabe, concludes her lengthy and detailed post supporting for the statistical models and findings with the authors’ conclusion:

What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

With fewer people controlling ever increasing shares of the media and with more and more money required to run for office it is increasingly difficult for the voices of people like Gilens and Page to be heard and increasingly difficult to change the status quo politically… which means making changes to schooling will require the support of the oligarchs who, to date, seem to view public education as a vehicle for increasing their wealth. Tough sledding ahead!

A Lesson from For Profit Colleges?

April 17, 2014 Leave a comment

For profit colleges have a longstanding negative record. As noted in an editorial in today’s NYTimes they have low graduation rates, lower than average earnings for their graduates, and astonishingly high default rates on student loans. The administration is attempting to impose some regulations on these schools, but they are lobbying congress to remain unfettered in their operations… and if the default rate is not addressed at some point taxpayers will be asked to bail them out.

The need to impose regulations on for profit colleges combined with the well documented financial irregularities of several for-profit charter schools should be a warning to elected officials regarding the introduction of the profit motive into education. When money can be made by either asking students to go into debt to pay tuitions or asking the taxpayers to fund unproven schools led by individuals with no academic credentials one should expect profiteering behavior… and that’s what we are encountering. The Times editorial offers some ideas for regulating the loans issued by for-profit colleges. Here are some regulations I would propose to minimize the profiteering witnessed to date in the for-profit charter sector that draws on public funds:

  • AUDITS: For-profit charter schools should be subjected to the same audit regulations as publicly funded schools
  • WAGE DISCLOSURE: For-profit charters should be governed by the same public disclosure laws as publicly funded schools
  • ACADEMIC ACCOUNTABILITY: For-profit charters should have attrition rates that match publicly funded schools serving the same district
  • DEMOGRAPHIC ACCOUNTABILITY: The demographics of the for-profit should match those of the district in terms of socio-economics, race, and special needs

If these conditions were met, profiteering would be much more difficult… but without these, it is unrealistic to expect anything different than what we’ve encountered to date in terms of financial shenanigans.

 

Privatization = More Inequality

April 16, 2014 Leave a comment

A post in the  Angry Bear blog, described as a “Slightly left of center economic commentary on news, politics and the economy”, describes how the emergence of Private Public Partnerships (P3) contribute to inequality by rewarding the oligarchs who can afford to make the private investments and effectively penalizing the consumers who pay increased fees for formerly public services. The article uses Chilean highways and Chicago parking meters as a means of explaining how the oligarchs profit and consumers are bilked. After reading the post, I left the following comment: 

The P3 idea is emerging in public education to ill effect… and accountability based on standardized testing is accelerating the trend. Affluent communities whose test scores are high to begin with are spending more and their students are retaining the broad curriculum offerings and solid teachers. Urban schools serving children raised in poverty get low test scores and are then replaced by for-profit charters whose focus is on the topics tested, whose operations are less costly, and whose profits are returned to shareholders instead of being used to expand social services needed by the students.

Politicians in both parties hail P3 as a means of bringing business practices into the private sector, getting work done more quickly and efficiently, and avoiding the need to raise taxes. What politicians don’t tell voters is the back-end costs for these P3s are more expensive, corrosive to democracy, and contribute to inequality.