Archive for October, 2018

Engaged Parents Are the Target Group of Privatizers

October 30, 2018 Comments off

As noted in several earlier posts, one of the subtle but corrosive consequences of choice is that  the children of engaged parents flee their public schools leaving “other children” behind. This flight of engaged parents undercuts the idea that “OUR children” are in public education together. In affluent communities, virtually every parent is engaged, which makes it impossible for reformers to gain a toe hold. In less affluent communities or cities many parents have bigger concerns than where their child will go to school… they worry about where their child will sleep or where their next meal is coming from… and finding the time to study the “choices” for their child is an impossibility. As I observe my daughters in Brooklyn navigating the system in place as a result of Mayor Bloomberg’s decision to offer “choice” as a means of keeping middle class parents in public schools it is evident that a single parent who holds down more than one job or works the 50-60 hours required to hold down a professional job would find it impossible to study the “choices” available to parents.

And here’s the bottom line: the parents who ARE engaged in those less affluent communities and cities are the target group of privatizers…. and when the engaged parents abandon the public schools it exacerbates the divide between rich and poor and makes it increasingly difficult to secure more funding for the kinds of wraparound services necessary to provide a level playing field for the children of less engaged parents. The only way for this vicious circle to break is for taxpayers who value equity to band together to insist that every child have the same opportunity to learn as the children of engaged and/or affluent parents.

The Closing of New Orleans Charters Evidence that the Invisible Hand Makes Services Disappear

October 29, 2018 Comments off

In a blog post written yesterday, Diane Ravitch describes how over 670 school children were left without a school when a private charter went out of business…. oh, and only two of those children were white and only 5% did not qualify for free and reduced lunch. This just happened in New Orleans, the city where Hurricane Katrina opened the door for wholesale privatization and, supposedly a “miracle” that resulted in improved performance in the public schools.

Much of the post deals with debunking this so-called miracle, but no where does Ms. Ravitch point out the fact that once a service is commodified, the “invisible hand” of the marketplace comes into play and, according to economic theory, everyone will benefit because efficient and well run enterprises will rise to the top and poorly run businesses will be forced to close. But here’s another reality of economic theory that reformers conveniently overlook: the invisible hand of the marketplace creates far more options in marketplaces where there are large sums of money and has no incentive to provide equity. The result is that those who reside in poor neighborhoods and poor towns do not have the same choices and those who live in affluent neighborhoods and communities.

And here’s a sad consequence of the marketplace paradigm: As long as those living in affluence do not have to worry about the impact of the marketplace on their neighborhood schools and as long as they have a wide range of choices when it comes to buying food, clothing and shelter, they can buy into the idea that EVERYONE has that same array of choices and, therefore, endorse the notion that “choice” is a fair means of leveling the playing field.

Schools and public services cannot be commodified… for when they are, the inequities that exist in options for housing, food, and shopping will occur in those services.


Campbell’s Law CAN Be Repealed… but Only By Introducing Multiple and Soft Measures

October 28, 2018 Comments off

Decades ago, in 1985 to be precise, I gave a presentation to teachers at the beginning of the school year that featured a slide that read “What Gets Measured Gets Done”. At the time, NH was about to launch some form of standardized test that was intended to be the end all for accountability and, at the time, I was advocating that our district devise multiple measures for accountability in order to avoid being held accountable based on a single, flawed measure. At the same time, my Assistant Superintendent and I conferred with the consultants from the standardized test company to see if there was some way we could use their norm-referenced test as a criterion referenced test (short answer: it was possible but only through convoluted calculations) and we persuaded the school boards to look at the test results through a criterion-referenced lens as opposed to the norm-referenced lens that we felt mis-represented the effectiveness of our schools since what was tested did not match what we were teaching. I don’t think we were familiar with Campbell’s Law at that time, but without being aware of it we were determined not to fall prey to it. What is Campbell’s Law? Fred Hess offers this definition in a recent Medium post:

Formulated in 1976 by social psychologist Donald Campbell, it reads, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” Put simply: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

Without knowing of Campbell’s Law at the time, my Assistant and I both understood the aphorism “What Gets Measured Gets Done” and we both believed that the national norm referenced standardized tests being used in New Hampshire did NOT measure what we were teaching and, therefore, should NOT be used as a valid accountability measure. Fortunately, the district we worked in was led by school board members who understood this and, therefore, did not pay that much attention to the test results that were reported in the local media. As I witnessed throughout my career, one reason the school boards did not pay that much attention to the test results was that our schools invariably scored very high on the tests: parents were generally well educated, engaged with the schools, and pushed their children to succeed.

Throughout my career as a Superintendent I tried to get the school boards to develop multiple measures for the schools, because if the only measure of success is a nationally normed test score the only thing students will be exposed to in class is a curriculum that is focussed on what is tested… and standardized tests cannot measure what is really important: the development of a joy for continuous learning thought one’s life.

I still believe “What Gets Measured Gets Done” and still believe that norm-referenced standardized tests have a place in measuring a school’s effectiveness… but given the high correlation between parent income and education and test scores it seems foolish to equate high test scores with quality. And given the very tenuous correlation between high test scores and college success and/or earnings, it seems even more preposterous to use those scores as the sole metric for measuring quality. But we love to rank and compare in our country, and norm-referenced tests give us an easy way to do so…. and so the beat goes on….

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