Archive for October, 2015

“With All Deliberate Speed” or “At Once” Means “Never”

October 31, 2015 1 comment

Yesterday, Sumeer Rao, a writer for Colorlines whose mission is to cover race matters “...from the perspective of community, rather than through the lens of power brokers”, wrote a brief post noting that October 29, 2015, was the 46th anniversary of the Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education ruling by the US Supreme Court. While less celebrated than Brown v. Topeka, it was intended to underscore the urgency to put an end to dual school systems and make it clear that “all deliberate speed”, the language in Brown, meant now. Rao summarized the decision as follows:

In Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education—which was decided on this day in 1969—the Court ruled to underscore their previous mandates in Brown and Brown II and ordered immediate desegregation of public schools. Noting that the “all deliberate speed” language in Brown enabled Southern states to procrastinate, the Court’s decision took no chances, saying, “The obligation of every school district is to terminate dual school systems at once and to operate now and hereafter only unitary schools.”

Brown effectively put an end to Jim Crow laws and practices because it overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, an 1896 case that allowed for “separate but equal” facilities… a phrase, like “adequate schools”, allowed separate substandard facilities to be designated for blacks because some whites had the same kinds of facilities. Ten years after Brown Congress passed the Civil Rights Act which reinforced the court ruling and seemingly put an end to legalized discrimination.

In a fifteen year period during the time I was growing up in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, our nations leaders passed legislation that was intended to put an end to our country’s legacy of racial discrimination. 46 years later, little has changed. Based on my personal experience as a child, student, teacher, public school administrator and parent, I find that the only way one can overcome prejudice is to share a seat in a classroom, a playground, a church pew, or a neighborhood with someone of a different race or culture. When one experiences an individual from a different race or culture, prejudice quickly disappears and that person’s humanity shines through. I know that moving from where we were then and how we are now to a world where we stop thinking of different races and cultures as “the other” will not happen now and cannot be forced. I fear that our current housing patterns and stereotyping will prevent us thinking of different races and cultures as “the other” making it impossible to achieve the kind of world our forefathers and religions of all stripes want us to live in.

Success Academy’s “Got To Go” List Underscores Bogus Civil Rights Claims of Charters

October 30, 2015 Comments off

Anyone who follows the methods for-profit deregulated charter schools use to weed out low performing students could not be surprised to learn that the schools develop lists of students who need to be weeded out in order to keep their performance levels on standardized tests high. In case some politicians and “reformers” needed evidence, Kate Taylor of the NYTimes has found it and presented it in an article published on Thursday titled “At a Success Academy Charter School, Singling Out Students Who Have “Got To Go”. The response from the spokesperson for Success Academy was even more appalling than the fact that the for profit charter school kept the lists:

In a written response to questions, Success Academy’s spokeswoman, Ann Powell, said that the “Got to Go” list was a mistake and that the network quickly got wind of it and reprimanded Mr. Brown, the principal.

Ms. Powell said that Success schools did not push children out, and that what might look like an effort to nudge students out the door was actually an attempt to help parents find the right environment for their children. Some on the list required special education settings that Success could not offer them, she said.

There was no denial that a list was kept… and I can only surmise from the slap on the wrist the principal received that the “mistake” was that Mr. Brown allowed the staff members to let the parents know of the list’s existence. Worse, the notion that Success Academy could not offer special education services while receiving public school funding is absurd. The school pays no rent, overpays its CEO and other leadership, underpays its teachers, and receives millions of dollars that would otherwise fund public schools that are mandated to provide special education services.

Ms. Taylor’s article is thoroughly researched and full of anecdotes about parents whose children in grades K-3 were repeatedly suspended for minor infractions in an effort to get the parents to withdraw their children from school. The children in question had ADHD or special education needs that were costly.

A charter school that was truly interested in providing an equal educational opportunity for all children would bend over backwards to help children who require special services. A charter school that strives for profits would drive those same children out. It’s clear that Ms. Moskovitz’ civil rights claims lack credibility.

Comptroller Stringer’s Requirement that Success Academy Follow Regulations Sets Up Cuomo

October 30, 2015 Comments off

As reported in yesterday’s NY Daily News, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer is refusing to release funds for Eva Moskovitz’s PreK Charter school until she complies with the rules set forth by the city. In putting Ms. Moskovtiz on notice, Stringer stated:

“There is no conceivable reason for one charter school to be held to a different standard than every other charter school, and no one should try to skirt the process that ensures accountability, quality and integrity,”

Will Mr. Cuomo allow dual standards to apply to Ms. Moskovitz? Stay tuned!

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Is the Administration Finally Fessing up on School Testing?

October 30, 2015 Comments off

Outgoing Secretary of Education Duncan said yesterday: “I’ve said on a number of occasions that we should expect scores in this period to bounce around some … this is really hard work, and big change never happens overnight. And, as the President recently said, ‘This is a decades-long or longer proposition.’”

But Kevin Kumashiro sees through this sorry explanation and the “2% solution” President Obama offers. Here’s a quote from the article:

Unfortunately the Department continues to call for annual testing and for making high-stakes decisions based on student growth (gains in test scores), including evaluations of teachers and teacher-preparation programs, despite the critique by researchers that such use of ‘value-added modeling’ has proven to be neither valid nor reliable for such decision-making. Giving states some flexibility in how to use such test data does not address this more fundamental validity problem. 

Source: Is the Administration Finally Fessing up on School Testing?

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NY Times Editorial Board’s Preposterous and Hypocritical Position on Tests

October 29, 2015 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes has an editorial that is based on the flawed logic they and legislators have used since the advent of NCLB and the “high stakes tests” that spawned the thinking behind NCLB. I couldn’t recount all of the flawed thinking in the essay in the space allowed for comments, but did offer this rejoinder:

President Obama’s 2% solution will only matter if tests are not used as the basis for closing schools and firing teachers. If a homeowner was told they would lose their home if they failed a test given in June why WOULDN’T they prepare for that test by studying the material on the test and taking preparatory tests that match the format on the June test? If the editors of the NYTimes were suddenly told they would lose their jobs based on a standardized test administered in June, why WOULDN”T they prepare for the test by studying the material on the test and taking preparatory tests that match the format on the June test? If the President wants to require fewer tests, he needs to abandon the notion that any one test is the basis for drastic actions like school closures and the firing of teachers.

Take the stakes out of the tests and all of the other tests will disappear.

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We Ended “Welfare As We Know It” and Ended Equal Opportunity at the Same Time

October 29, 2015 Comments off

Eduardo Porter’s scathing article, “One Party’s Effort to Ignore Poverty”, in yesterday’s NYTimes describes the horrific impact of ending welfare as we know it and laments the direction one party, the Republicans, is taking to shred the safety net even further. While the article does not say so explicitly, it is clear that school children will be the ones who suffer while taxpayers, shareholders, and politicians reap benefits at their expense.

His article pivots on the recent “confession” of Peter Germanis, one of the White House advisers who help write President Ronald Reagan’s welfare reform proposal of 1986, called “Up From Dependency.”

Over the summer, Mr. Germanis published a startling confession. Writing “as a citizen and in my capacity as a conservative welfare expert,” he apologized for whatever role he may have had in the welfare reform enacted in 1996.

“To the extent that anything I ever wrote contributed to the creation of TANF or any block grant, I am sorry,” he wrote. “As I hope to demonstrate in this paper, a block grant for a safety net program is bad public policy.”

Porter then indicates the many ways the block grant concept failed, the most obvious of which was this:

Among the easier charges to make against the Needy Families block grant is that it was not meant to adjust for inflation. It was $16.5 billion two decades ago; it is $16.5 billion today. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it has lost more than a third of its buying power.

Worse, States used the block grants for purposes other than providing relief to those who found themselves without work and in need of food, clothing, and shelter. As Porter writes:

On average, states use only about a half of their funds under the TANF program to fund its core objectives: Provide the poor with cash aid or child care, or help connect them to jobs.

Ending the poor’s entitlement to government aid is counted as a success because it has reduced the rolls of people on welfare. But that is not the same as helping the poor get a job, overcome dependency and climb out of poverty. Welfare was essentially made irrelevant to the lives of the poor. It is meager yet increasingly difficult to get.

Today only 26 percent of families with children in poverty receive welfare cash assistance. This is down from 68 percent two decades ago.

So… we’ve ended “welfare as we know it” by short-changing those who live below the poverty level leaving 74% of families with children without any cash assistance. And where did the money go? Porter offers his home state, Arizona, as an example of how the money got spent:

Arizona is a prime example of what has happened in states where Republicans rule. By now, only about nine out of every 100 poor families benefit from the cash welfare program, down from 55 percent two decades ago. This has nothing to do with the program’s objective of helping poor adults with children escape the stigma of welfare and get a job, still the best antipoverty tool there is. Arizona simply needed the money for something else.

Specifically, as noted in a report by researchers at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, the state, facing a huge jump in the number of neglected children put in foster care, needed more money to “plug state budget gaps and to fund child protection, foster care and adoption services.” Rather than ask state taxpayers to help fill the gap, lawmakers took it from the pockets of poor people.

Connecting the dots here isn’t that difficult: the Federal government doesn’t want to ask taxpayers to provide inflation adjusted funds for welfare so it hands the states a fixed amount of money to solve the problem of poverty. States cannot fully fund programs designed to help “poor adults with children escape the stigma of welfare and get a job” and they, too, do not want to ask taxpayers to fill the gap. So… what happens to the children: they end up in foster care… and the money to dud foster care comes out of the funds intended to keep children OUT of foster care. This is the paradigmatic definition of a vicious circle… and it won’t be stopped until someone is willing to ask taxpayers to help their fellow citizens find work so they can escape poverty.

Porter casts the Republicans as the villains in this drama… but the deafening silence of the Democrat party makes them complicit and it was a Democrat President, Bill Clinton, who proudly enacted this legislation. Alas, this is not an issue that has gotten much play in the Presidential debates… but it’s early in the election cycle and MAYBE someone will decide welfare as we know it now is failing too many innocent children and MAYBE a remedy will be forthcoming.

NAEP Scores Drop and “Experts” Overlook the REAL Reason

October 28, 2015 Comments off

The NYTimes Mokoto Rich’s report on the decline in mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress is full of explanations for the drop, but all of the explanations miss the primary factor. Here are the expert’s explanations, in the sequence they appear in the article, and my commentary on each in bold red

…it could be related to changes ushered in by the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states. For example, some of the fourth-grade math questions on data analysis, statistics and geometry are not part of that grade’s guidelines under the Common Core and so might not have been covered in class. The largest score drops on the fourth-grade math exams were on questions related to those topics.

This is highly implausible since many states had not rolled out these standards

…stagnating performance could also reflect the demographic changes sweeping America’s schools and the persistent achievement gap between white students and minorities, as well as between students from poor families and their more affluent peers

This is undoubtedly an underlying factor, particularly the divide between affluent and poverty-stricken schools. But this is not the primary factor.

…with students taking so many other standardized tests, some educators said those who took the national exams, which were administered from January to March, may simply have had test fatigue.

This is implausible. The NAEP is only administered to a small group of students within a district and when it was administered in districts I led it was very low key. 

Protests about testing as well as decisions by some parents to opt their students out of testing could have influenced some students who took the national exams.

This completely bogus idea was presented by the Council of Chief School Officers, who are clearly grasping for straws. In order for this to be the case large numbers of parents of high achieving students would need to pull their child from school on the days when NAEP was administered… and unlike the high stakes tests given by States the NAEP has a wide window and is not highlighted in the minds of parents and children. 

Of all the explanations, the AFT President came closest to nailing the real problem:

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, linked the drop in test scores to recent educational policies as well as the economic downturn and its aftermath. “Of course we are disappointed” with the scores, she said. “But they should give pause to anyone who still wishes to double down on austerity and make competition, scapegoating teachers, closing rather than fixing schools, driving fear, and testing and sanctioning the dominant education strategies.”

The test-and-punish model implicit in NCLB and exacerbated by RTTT combined with austerity measures imposed on public schools is a close second to the real factor… which is how the focus of teachers’ energy changed when testing became the predominant metric for school success and teacher success.

A quick primer on test construction is needed to see why the teacher’s focus changed. NAEP is a norm-referenced examination, scored by determining the average (mean) test scores. The “high stakes tests” introduced by NCLB are criterion referenced tests whose results are based on the percent of students who score higher than a proficient level that is determined by a (arguably subjective) cut score. NCLB moved toward criterion referenced tests because on a norm referenced test the scores of high achieving students can offset the lower scores attained by struggling students, causing the lower scoring students to be “left behind”.

When NCLB’s criterion referenced testing was introduced it was clear what the consequence would be: teachers would focus most of their time and energy on students whose scores were just below the proficient level the prior year. While those children had been “left behind” when mean scores were the basis for determining if a school was succeeding… the focus on that group of students resulted in another group being “left behind” or, more accurately, “held back”: those in the top end of the achievement level. And when the higher achieving students were under-served, NAEPs mean scores were suppressed.

The solution? I remain convinced that if children were allowed to advance in reading and mathematics at their own pace that norm-referenced scores based on age cohorts would rise and, over time, more students would achieve the benchmarks set for high school graduation. As stated repeatedly in this blog, we have the technology available that can make this happen, we have the human resources in our schools that can make this happen, all we need to do is abandon our idea that students progress uniformly through their schooling based on their age, an idea we hold onto despite decades of evidence that it is absolutely wrong.