Want Less Integration? UCLA Study Indicates Charter Schools Are The Way to Go!

July 27, 2015 Leave a comment

A recent Latina article by Cindy Casares described a study conducted by UCLA that indicated that New York City— one of the most multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multiracial cities in the world— has the most segregated school in our country. How did this happen?

The culprit? Educational choice plans without civil rights standards like “strong public information and outreach, free transportation, serious planning and training for successful diversity, authentic educational options worth choosing, and no admissions screening.”

The problem with using tests as the basis for entering NYC High Schools is well documented and referenced in earlier blog posts.  The consequence of this practice: NYC High Schools are far more segregated than the schools zoned by neighborhoods that fed them students. As test results became an entry factor to elementary and middle schools and “choice” without outreach, free transportation, and “authentic educational options” took over, the elementary and middle schools became increasingly segregated. How can this be fixed? Mayor de Blasio is requiring schools “…to report annually on student demographics in community school districts and high schools and any efforts made to “encourage a diverse student body in its schools and special programs.” But here’s a better idea:

Slate highlights a small program in super crunchy Park Slope, Brooklyn, where one school set aside a large percentage of seats for kids who are still learning English or receiving free or reduced meals.

Segregation will not go away on its own… and when it is addressed at the grassroots level it’s chances for success are created than when it is imposed by “the government”. The Park Slope neighborhood that opened its doors to ESL and less affluent students is acting from an internal sense of economic justice and not because of an edict from Washington DC. If more NYC neighborhoods had the heart of “crunchy” Park Slope instead of the elitist attitude that leads to the kinds of charter schools described in this article, de-segregation would happen quickly and without incident.

University of Chicago Report Hails RTTT’s Results: “Reform” Policies Adopted With No Proof of Efficacy

July 26, 2015 Leave a comment

A recent report written by the University of Chicago was hailed in a recent web site post with this headline: “Race to the Top Initiative Spurs US Education Policy Reform, Report Finds“. The University of Chicago’s late economist Milton Friedman is the father of the voucher movement, and the fact that his former home base is writing favorable reports about RTTT is not surprising, especially given the definition of the RTTT’s goals as they report them:

Race to the Top was designed to encourage higher state standards, create new data systems, improve teacher effectiveness, increase college readiness, stimulate charter-school expansion and strengthen low-performing schools.

According to the press release/web page, a study conducted at the University of Chicago by William Howell shows that one of the primary means of accomplishing this goal, policy changes at the State level, was a success:

In order to see whether Race to the Top stimulated the adoption of education reforms, Howell and a team of researchers examined whether a statewide governing body had actually enacted (not just proposed) upwards of 33 qualifying policies each year between 2001 and 2014. They found that states enacted reform policies at a much higher rate in the aftermath of Race to the Top. 

A “team of researchers” was not needed to make this determination: the USDOE would not grant waivers unless such policies were adopted by State Boards and, given the desperate need for additional funds for schools in the aftermath of the crash in 2008 it did not take a herd of Ph.D. s to “research” this finding. A group of undergraduates could do it by spending an hour with Google. The next sentence in the web posting shows where the researchers should have spent some time:

Howell clarifies that the study “does not assess the efficacy of the particular policies promoted by the initiative, nor does it investigate how Race to the Top altered practices within schools or districts. Rather, the focus is the education policymaking process itself; the adoption of education policies is the outcome of interest.”

It is what Howell DIDN’T research that is the most germane question to answer as Congress considers the reauthorization of ESEA because the reauthorization is based on the same premises as NCLB and RTTT: the way to prepare more students for the workplace or college and to improve “low performing schools” is to set higher standards, collect more data on students (especially data from standardized tests), improve teaching in schools, and open more charter schools. Is there proof to support this? If there IS, the University of Chicago is not looking for it…. and if there IS no one running for office is championing it. On the contrary, both the University of Chicago research team and a herd of President candidates, and the US Congress assume that despite evidence to the contrary, the continuation of the “solutions” based on testing students and punishing and/or replacing “failing schools” is imperative. If we keep wishing for this to work it will…. just like if we keep wishing the global temperatures would decline they will.

What’s More Important in Kindergarten: Civility and Self-Awareness or “Basic Skills”?

July 25, 2015 Leave a comment

David Bornstein’s Fixes column yesterday, “Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grades and Lives“, describes several studies that demonstrate a positive relationships between positive social skills and a host of positive outcomes from school. After describing the studies and their findings, Bornstein writes:

These studies suggest that if we want many more children to lead fulfilling and productive lives, it’s not enough for schools to focus exclusively on academics. Indeed, one of the most powerful and cost-effective interventions is to help children develop core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness — strengths that are necessary for students to fully benefit from their education, and succeed in many other areas of life.

The conclusion of the article described the efforts of the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, also known as Casel, which has been working for three to four years to help school districts embed social and emotional learning throughout their systems and described ongoing studies in this arena. The description of one of the studies caught my eye:

This year, researchers from Teachers College at Columbia University did some number crunching to estimate the economic value of six different social and emotional learning programs that had strong track records. They looked at the programs’ impact on things like future wages and social costs (pdf), and found that the programs yielded an average return of $11 for each dollar invested.

It’s a shame that our obsession with measurement and economic value are the means of “proving” the worth of civility and self-awareness…. and a shame that these same obsessions are compelling us to measure the effectiveness of Kindergarten teachers by the amount of reading and math students are learning and to measure the effectiveness of college by the post-graduate job placements. Civility and self-awareness are skills that schools should be inculcating explicitly, but they are often viewed as by-products instead of ends in themselves. Schools only have a limited time with children, and using that time to teach skills that could be learned through programmed instruction (e.g. basic math and reading skills)  seems like a waste of teacher talent. We’re so obsessed with “getting ready for college and careers” by the end of 12 years that we overlook the most important elements of life: getting along with others and understanding ourselves.

More Hullaballoo Over ECAA Bill and its Riders: More Reasons to Stop Bill Altogether

July 24, 2015 Leave a comment

The more I read about and think about the effort to repeal NCLB, the more I hope that no compromise will be reached. The latest brouhaha over the bill involves the Booker-Murphy Amendment, which is supported by the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) a think tank that supports the neo-liberal test-and-punish reforms advocated by the likes of Cuomo, Christie and Walker. Charles Barone, DFER’s policy director, summarizes the amendment’s elements as follows:

The amendment simply sets forth what we see as two non-negotiable principles that, in exchange for billions of dollars in federal aid:

1. States will assess school performance based on real and measurable results – not just for all students on average but for historically-disadvantaged groups of students including black students, Hispanic students, students from low-income families, students with disabilities and English Language Learners.

2. States or districts will intervene in schools where historically-disadvantaged groups of students consistently fail to meet state academic benchmarks.

“It’s on the second point that the underlying bill reauthorizing ESEA is most in need of improvement. Unlike the underlying bill, the Murphy amendment would not allow states and school districts to neglect schools that are chronically under-performing. It would not dictate hopelessness to parents whose children are trapped in those schools. It would not accept dropout factories that perpetuate the school-to-prison pipeline.

What’s not to like about these premises? Well, in an open letter to Bernie Sanders who signed on to this amendment, a group of disaffected teachers and unions leaders argue against any quantitative measures:

Quantitative measures are invalid. They are masks for social inequalities. They merely highlight and then reflect economic and racial inequalities. Mel Riddile, “PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid'” at the blog, “The Principal’s Corner”, found that numerical performance of districts mirrors the scale of economic inequalities of those districts. Statisticians have proven over and over again that the use of value added modeling is logically flawed. NCLB drove the use of value-added modeling (VAM) which negatively transformed the teaching and learning processes in the nation’s schools.

It’s unclear to me that the amendment itself would require or even lead to the use of VAM. As I understand it, this rider requires that any test scores be disaggregated by race and socio-economic demographics and require that states do something about “chronically underperforming” districts.

I think that Bernie Sanders is placed in an awkward situation with this bill. He is clearly opposed to privatization of public services, clearly supportive of unions, and clearly supportive of social justice. I do not believe that his support of this amendment is a signal that he supports VAM or that he favors testing as the sole means of accountability. Moreover, the presumptive nominee for the democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, is not subjected to a litmus test based on her support for or rejection of this amendment. My belief: if Hillary Clinton was still a Senator this would be the Booker-Murphy-Clinton amendment.

As I’ve written frequently in this blog, the whole idea of giving STATES the responsibility for determining how to measure school performance is troubling, especially given the direction most States are heading when it comes to issues like VAM, funding equity, and racial discrimination. Here’s hoping the bill dies before the President gets a chance to sign it into law. If it DOES pass, we’ll have at least another six years of testing… and we won’t be testing climate change and evolution in at least nine states in the union.

Here’s a GREAT Way to Boost Charter School Grades: Fail to Report Failing Ones!

July 23, 2015 Leave a comment

In a story that falls into the “you can’t make this stuff up” category, Jan Ressinger of The Progressive reports that the information prepared on the performance of charter school for the Ohio School Board omitted the failing grades assigned to numerous on-line for-profit charter schools. As a result charts schools appear to be far more successful than they are in reality, and over $100,000,000 of taxpayer funds went to failing on-line schools that served 14,600 students. I can hardly wait to see how Governor Kasich, a Presidential hopeful and charter school advocate, explains this mis-step that as made by the administrator who oversees the reporting on charter schools… especially given that the administrator is the spouse of his chief of staff and current campaign chairperson.

Two Captioned Pictures Give One Clear Explanation for Why ECAA Should be Rejected

July 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Take a look at these two pictures and tell me why anyone thinks its a good idea to let States control education? As much as I am troubled by the way the common core was developed and imposed and as much as I wholeheartedly reject the standardized testing associated with NCLB and RTTT, these two pictures show why the reauthorization bill should be voted down. In the event the link doesn’t work, one picture depicts a middle school aged girl with a head scarf and a caption that reads:

In Iraq ISIS has Banned Her From Learning About Evolution

Next to it is a picture of a young girl the same age with American attire with a caption that reads:

In Nine States and D.C. Creationist Voucher Schools Are Doing the Same to Her With US Tax Dollars

In nine states SO FAR… once this bill passes I expect many of the other Republican controlled legislatures and perhaps even NYS to move in this direction. Public education will never be the same… and neither will our collective understanding of science.

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Wrongheaded Metrics in Surgery Mirror Those Used in Public Education

July 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Giving Doctors Grades“, an op ed article in today’s NYTimes by Sandeep Jauhar, describes the consequences of using simplistic metrics to determine the effectiveness of a complex operation: heart surgery. In the early 1990s, NYS decided to issue “Report Cards” to surgeons in an effort to provide easy-to-understand information on the ability of various medical practitioners. The result?

(T)he report cards backfired. They often penalized surgeons, like the senior surgeon at my hospital, who were aggressive about treating very sick patients and thus incurred higher mortality rates. When the statistics were publicized, some talented surgeons with higher-than-expected mortality statistics lost their operating privileges, while others, whose risk aversion had earned them lower-than-predicted rates, used the report cards to promote their services in advertisements.

This was an insult that the senior surgeon at my hospital could no longer countenance. “The so-called best surgeons are only doing the most straightforward cases,” he said disdainfully.

This sounded VERY familiar to me… and I left the following comment:

This wrongheaded method of measuring the performance of surgeons is analogous to the “Value Added” evaluation methods promoted by “school reformers” and adopted by Arne Duncan, Andrew Cuomo, the Regents, and host of other governors and State Boards. The standardized test scores used to “measure” teacher performance mirror the economic standing of the parents. Consequently teachers who choose to work with the most challenging students, like the surgeons who tackle the riskiest cases, could lose their jobs. Grading schools using test scores only serves to humiliate the entire faculty who choose to work with children raised in poverty. Both of these failed metrics have one thing in common: they are attempts to bring mathematical precision to fields of endeavor that are crafts more than sciences.

The notion that service organizations should be run like businesses leads to the need for “precise” metrics like mortality rates and VAM to be used in lieu of “the bottom line” so revered by businessmen. But service enterprises do not provide neat and tidy outcomes: they defy the kinds of measures that can be used to develop “stack ratings” or “grades” because they serve individuals who have different backgrounds, temperaments, and physical compositions. The desire to reduce everything to a single number to rank employees using some kind of “objective criteria” is ultimately a means to replacing the judgement of human managers with algorithms. It has not worked in the past and is unlikely to work in the future— unless the future is led by robots.