Archive for June, 2013

NH Waiver Rejected: HOORAY!

June 25, 2013 Comments off

I just read in an Advancing NH Public Education blog post that NH lost its waiver bid, reportedly because NH would not kowtow to the testing requirements set form by USDOE. Here was my comment:

Kudos to Ginny Barry for holding her ground on value added assessments! There is no evidence— NONE— that these improve teaching performance or— more importantly— student performance. They are mathematically elegant but devoid of all meaning.

Here’s a link to a white paper I wrote in October 2009 when I was Superintendent in SAU 70. It outlines why I thought it was a bad idea to seek a waiver:

Two years later, shortly after my retirement, I wrote this white paper discouraging the seeking of a waiver if it meant compromising too much on the value added assessment component:

Anyone familiar with the Pareto Principle knows how the 20% of the evaluation based on value added scores will play out: it will consume 80% of the time and get 100% of the attention of the press.

NH should look across the Connecticut River and join hands with VT in rejecting the waiver. (see: NH, VT, and ME could show the nation the best way to educate children is NOT by testing them to death but by engaging them in designing their own education plans.

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Adrift Adults

June 24, 2013 Comments off

“Young and Isolated”, an Opinionator op ed article in today’s NYTimes, describes the lives of young adults in Lowell MA and Richmond VA who are challenged by the transition into the workforce. Those profiled in the article are under-employed, in varying degrees of despair about their future, and feeling that they have no one to turn to. Some are college dropouts, some took several years to earn degrees that have not resulted in an improved level of living, and some never aspired to college. My comment to the article:

While I resent the tendency to “blame public school” for every woe, I fear that we played a role in creating these adrift adults because we failed to pay attention to them when they were in our care. Public schools spend extra funds on special needs students and bend over backwards to meet the needs of gifted and talented students. But we pay little attention to students in the middle… especially the ones who can’t figure out where they are headed after high school or what they want to do with their lives. Making these students pass high stakes tests to graduate is not the answer. We need to engage them in dialogue on a personal level when they enter secondary schools and help them make a realistic plan for their future. One caring adult can make all the difference in the life of an adolescent. That seems to be the missing ingredient in the lives of the young adults descried in this essay.

When I worked in MD from 1987 through 1997, I recall reading a paper called “The Forgotten Half” that advocated an expansion of vocational education to meet the needs of these students who were drifting through high school. At that time, I recalled sitting across from these students as a high school administrator responsible for scheduling and asking them “what do you want to do when you get out of high school” and getting a blank stare and a shoulder shrug. The 20-somethings in this article are the children of the students I scheduled in the late 1970s. When their children get to middle school— and they will have children who will get into middle school— will public schools be able to give them the guidance and support they need to make the transition to adulthood?

Parents and Patients are NOT Consumers

June 23, 2013 Comments off

Frank Bruni’s op ed article in today’s NYTimes describes NYC’s effort to eliminate obesity by requiring restaurants to post calorie counts. Unsurprisingly, the people who paid the most attention to the calorie counts were the people who needed it least, as evidenced in a study Starbucks conducted:

“Calorie reductions were highest in high-income, high-education neighborhoods (where we believe obesity rates to be lower),” Phillip Leslie, one of the study’s authors, said to me in an e-mail. On top of which, the Starbucks customers as an overall group were more affluent than the fast-food customers whose unchanged behavior Elbel evaluated. “It raises a very important concern,” said Leslie, an economist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The people who tend to be most responsive to information may be those we least aim to target.”

I witnessed this phenomenon in public schools I led: the more affluent the school, the more weight conscious the student body was and the more engaged students were in athletics. Having travelled widely in the country you can almost predict the free and reduced lunch counts based on the waist sizes: the heavier the people in the checkout lines at grocery stores, the higher the free-and-reduced lunch counts. These overweight consumers don’t lack information on the food they are purchasing: it’s all there on the side of the package. They are immune to the information the government provides because they are feeding their eating habits which are effectively subsidized by the government that encourages the growth of corn that is used to make the fructose that sweetens food and fattens consumers. Bruni offers a solution to this problem by analogizing it to another social ill: smoking.

Cheryl Healton, the dean of global public health at New York University… an authority on tobacco… noted that the principal reasons for the remarkable decrease in smoking in New York City and elsewhere over the last few decades weren’t ominous commercials and warning labels. They were taxes and the bans on indoor smoking. People kicked the habit when it became onerous, in cost and convenience…

Taxing foods based on their fructose, then, might provide a means of limiting obesity and the high medical costs associated with it in the same way that taxing cigarettes reduced the incidence of lung cancer and other smoking related diseases. But taxes raise money for the government and we know that government is the problem.

Here was my comment to Bruni’s article, which notes how both political parties use “market-based” solutions to avoid the need to raise money to address the root causes of health care and education:

This article underscores the flaw in the market-based consumer mentality that both political parties embrace. Both parties operate on the assumption that people consume badly in the marketplace because they lack information and both parties use this mental model to avoid root cause of our most vexing social problems, which is more funding. Obamacare rests on the assumption that informed consumers of medical services will spend less, avoiding the need to address the root cause: more funding to provide quality care for everyone. “School choice” rests on the proposition that informed parents will opt out of a low-performing school in their neighborhood or community, avoiding the need to address the root cause of the problem: which is more funding for all schools. Anytime a “market based solution” is offered it overlooks the reality that you need money to enter the market and you need a lot of money to buy quality. High quality health care and high quality education should not be equated with high quality automobiles or food: they should be exempted from the marketplace and paid for in full by the government.

Maybe the solution is to tax fructose to pay for health care and schools… I’m not waiting for any politician to make that suggestion… especially with the Iowa primary first on the list for anyone with presidential aspirations!

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