Archive

Author Archive

Study Identifies 52 Genes with Links to Intelligence. What are the Consequences for Schools?

May 22, 2017 Leave a comment

The NYTimes writer Carl Zimmer reported today that scientists have linked 52 genes to “human intelligence”, a “…significant advance in the study of mental ability” that could have repercussions in public education in the future. As Zimmer writes at the outset of his article, and emphasizes throughout, these findings do NOT mean that intelligence is immutable:

These genes do not determine intelligence, however. Their combined influence is minuscule, the researchers said, suggesting that thousands more are likely to be involved and still await discovery. Just as important, intelligence is profoundly shaped by the environment.

Still, the findings could make it possible to begin new experiments into the biological basis of reasoning and problem-solving, experts said. They could even help researchers determine which interventions would be most effective for children struggling to learn.

I was frustrated to read this, because it is possible that researchers could use science to inform instructional practices… but only if the Federal government provided the funding for the kinds of research that would be required. I was even more frustrated to read Mr. Zimmer’s conclusion about actions that could be taken to rectify the proven links between genes and the presence of lead in water and the absence of iodine in certain foods. At the conclusion of his article, Mr. Zimmer wrote that Paige Harden, a psychologist at the University of Texas, who was not involved in the study, looked at the findings and concluded:

…we don’t have to wait for such studies to change people’s environments for the better. “We know that lead harms children’s intellectual abilities,” she said. “There’s low-hanging policy fruit here.” 

In a rational world where scientific findings matter, the regulating of lead would be “…low-hanging policy fruit”. But in the world we are living in today “government regulations” are viewed as a cumbersome obstacle to profit-making and, therefore, should be avoided. Here’s hoping that science prevails over politics in this battle.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Eugene Stern: How Value Added Models are Like Turds

May 22, 2017 Leave a comment

I didn’t get a chance to react to this on my own blog… and I’m glad I didn’t because this is not only a better explanation of the flaws in Dr. Sanders methodology but also offers a more pungent alternative to using standardized achievement test scores!

mathbabe

This is a guest post by Eugene Stern, originally posted on his blog sensemadehere.wordpress.com.

“Why am I surrounded by statistical illiterates?” — Roger Mexico in Gravity’s Rainbow

Oops, they did it again. This weekend, the New York Times put out this profile of William Sanders, the originator of evaluating teachers using value-added models based on student standardized test results. It is statistically illiterate, uses math to mislead and intimidate, and is utterly infuriating.

Here’s the worst part:

When he began calculating value-added scores en masse, he immediately saw that the ratings fell into a “normal” distribution, or bell curve. A small number of teachers had unusually bad results, a small number had unusually good results, and most were somewhere in the middle.

And later:

Up until his death, Mr. Sanders never tired of pointing out that none of the critiques refuted the central insight of the value-added bell…

View original post 339 more words

Categories: Uncategorized

Educational Choice vs. School Choice vs. the Implicit Mission of Public Schools

May 22, 2017 Leave a comment

Christensen Institute’s article on last week’s blog by Michael Horn made a distinction between educational choice and school choice, noting that while school choice is getting a lot of publicity (and notoriety), the real change in the format of public education might be emerging in educational choice. And what is educational choice? It is a method parents can use to access some aspects of schooling in traditional public schools while accessing other aspects on line or in other venues. Here’s Michael Horn’s description:

…rather than have the school control the educational experiences, as occurs in course access, a subset of parents, particularly at the elementary school level—both public and home-school—are opting to manage their children’s education and customize a mix of public brick-and-mortar school, online school, home school, and even some private school (such as private music lessons) experiences. In other words, a student might take her core academics online at home, come in to the local elementary school for arts and physical education, and then enroll in a music academy for private piano lessons. Or the core classes could be at the public school and extracurricular activities could be delivered online. All of this is possible in Florida because of FLVS’s Flex program, which allows students to attend part-time.

After describing the technological change process in detail, Mr. Horn posits that what is happening in Florida with an increasing number of parents opting for this “customized mix” of educational models is also emerging as a trend nationwide:

Outside of Florida, the emergence of a wide variety of micro-schools points to a similar phenomenon. The families who send their children to micro-schools often want an option other than home schooling that will personalize learning for their child’s needs. And they are often thrilled if it’s a stripped-down, small school that students attend a couple days a week where they can customize their children’s experience around the edges, in areas like music, science, engineering, sports, and so forth. In other words, it’s perfectly fine that the school itself offers something limited in an area because the parents will find another way to provide students with that experience. This is actually something parents of home-schooled children have done for years, but increasingly some seem to be saying that they would like some of the benefits of the local public school, for which they are paying with their tax dollars, as they do so.

Having just spent the week-end at an Air BnB site that is located in the home of two individuals who operate a small private school that fits the description of the micro-school described above, I can see one problem with this trend. If parents are allowed to access public funds to attend a school that effectively reinforces the values of the parents, it could lead to a further Balkanization of our country. The school in question reinforces that value I would like to see in all public schools. It espouses harmony with the environment; collaboration, and cooperation among students; independent thinking and learning by individual students; and and ethic of multiculturalism. But around the corner from this school, it is conceivable that another school with a militaristic, survivalist curriculum could be created. In effect you would be fragmenting the population into micro-value systems where one school would be wearing tie-dyes and another wearing camouflage and neither group would be exposed to the other. One of the implicit purposes of public education is to reinforce the notion that our country is a melting pot. That is, we are united as a nation despite our differences of religious and secular beliefs and that unity is an overarching value we share. While the housing patterns and district borders might work against this notion and might even lead cynics to declare that unity is a myth as opposed to an aspiration, I fear that encouraging the dissolution of public schools through this kind of educational choice will lead to even more Balkanization than we already have in place.

In the end, I find that Mr. Horn’s justification for moving in this direction is even more disturbing: it could save taxpayers money!

The net impact on public financing… was actually positive to the tune of roughly $400 to $500 saving per student, not insignificant in a state where total per pupil funding hovers around $8,500 in any given year.

In his closing paragraph Mr. Horn DOES acknowledge that the ultimate consequences of implementing widespread educational choice are indeterminate:

If programs like this expanded, could those savings be redirected to students most in need? And how do the students of families who avail themselves of this choice do academically, socially and from an extracurricular perspective? Many questions to be asked and answered, but this development is an intriguing wrinkle that takes us well beyond the national theme of school choice.

I like the idea of micro-schools, but only if there is some assurance that they do not isolate children from others who hold different values and beliefs. We need to maintain (or perhaps restore or even impose) economic, racial, ethnic, and religious diversity in public schools if we hope to change the national trend of corrosive divisiveness. If we hope to make that change in the future, we need to make it happen in public schools today.

More on DeVos-Trump Budget from Jeff Bryant

May 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Blogger Jeff Bryant digs deeper into the DeVos-Trump USDOE budget and finds even more disturbing information on how education funding will be redirected away from children raised in poverty and toward school choice programs. In a post picked up by Common Dreams, Bryant writes:

Trump and DeVos would take $1 billion out of the federal government’s Title I funds – money sent to the states to support educating poor children – to a new grant program that incentivizes those states to fund the competitive privately-operated schools such as charters and religious schools. The grant program, the Post explains is called Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success (FOCUS) that only goes to school districts that “agree to allow students to choose which public school they attend – and take their federal, state and local dollars with them.”

This proposal, often called “Title I portability,” was proposed by Republicans during the Obama administration and met significant opposition from Democrats. The Center for American Progress called the scheme “Robin Hood in reverse” and declared, “Portability actually drives resources away from high-poverty districts and into more affluent ones.”

Nevertheless, Title I portability is based on the general principle that education funding should “follow the child” – a misguided practice many Democrats espouse also – so it continues to live on in the foundation of all school choice initiatives.

What Bryant DIDN’T note in his post is the irony of the GOP using the same carrot-and-stick gambit to promote choice as the Obama administration did in Race To The Top to promote adoption of the Common Core. So much for abandoning the principle of the Federal government dictating to state and local districts!

Bryant closes his post with these paragraphs, which provide some degree of comfort for those of us who believe the DeVos-Trump budget is a disaster… but the final, blog faced sentence tells a chilling truth:

Not many people who’ve already had a chance to comment on this education budget, including Post reporters who brought it to light, think it has much of a chance of getting through Congress.

The circus of scandal that is sidetracking the Trump administration’s plans for tax reform, healthcare, and infrastructure may thwart any progress on his education plan too. But let’s be clear that this budget reflects the education values that have guided, for years, an agenda to privatize public education.

Fact Challenged Administration Doing It’s Best to Prevent the Sharing of Facts

May 21, 2017 Leave a comment

One of the most appalling aspects of the current administration from my perspective is its unwillingness to face facts in ALL arenas. As noted in many earlier posts and in at least one of the White Papers found on this blog, the Obama administration conveniently overlooked the studies presented by statisticians when it came to VAM. But the Obama administration did not make an effort to suppress facts for fear that they might contradict the narrative they were concocting. But, as this May 14 Washington Post article by Juliet Ellperin indicates, the current administration is not only ignoring unpleasant facts, it is preventing them from being collected and/or shared. Ms. Ellperin writes:

The Trump administration has removed or tucked away a wide variety of information that until recently was provided to the public, limiting access, for instance, to disclosures about workplace violations, energy efficiency, and animal welfare abuses.

Some of the information relates to enforcement actions taken by federal agencies against companies and other employers. By lessening access, the administration is sheltering them from the kind of “naming and shaming” that federal officials previously used to influence company behavior, according to digital experts, activists and former Obama administration officials.

As widely publicized, the Trump administration has taken down Federal government websites that provided information on climate change. But until I read this article I did not realize that they had removed links to organizations supporting Syrian refugees, “…the ethics waivers granted to appointees who would otherwise be barred from joining the government because of recent lobbying activities… or the White House logs of its visitors”  But, no surprise, his spokespersons see no problem:

“The President has made a commitment that his Administration will absolutely follow the law and disclose any information it is required to disclose,” said White House spokeswoman Kelly Love in an email Sunday.

The White House takes its ethics and conflict of interest rules seriously,” Love added, “and requires all employees to work closely with ethics counsel to ensure compliance. Per the President’s Executive Order, violators will be held accountable by the Department of Justice.”

As one who supports public education, I find it hard to believe that the White House is at all serious about ethical issues, having appointed a Secretary of Education who has worked hard to dismantle public schools in her home state and owns a collection agency that collects student debt. But the elimination of data from the White House web page undercuts the Department of Education’s mission beyond his decision to appoint an agency head who supports the dismantling of the agency. The USDOE had “technical difficulties” with its FAFSA application materials earlier this year arousing some suspicions given the Trump administrations opposition to providing affordable college and Ms. DeVos has taken steps to withhold some of the consumer protections the Obama administration put in place to protect prospective students from enrolling in fly-by-night for profit post secondary institutions like, say, Trump University.

As time goes on, public school advocates will need to keep a watchful eye on the information no longer available on the web page… information that might be used to help determine which schools are providing quality programs and whether Mr. Trump’s voucher programs are doing anything to improve the educational opportunities for children raised in poverty.

 

DeVos/Trump Budget Horrific for Children Raised in Poverty, Great for Prophets and Profiteers

May 20, 2017 Leave a comment

I’ve read several posts on the forthcoming DeVos/Trump budget… the most blunt and devastating of which came from Esquire blogger Charles Pierce. Titled “Is There a Point to All This Cruelty“, Pierce’s post includes this synopsis of the cuts from a Washington Post article:

The cuts would come from eliminating at least 22 programs, some of which Trump outlined in March. Gone, for example, would be $1.2 billion for after-school programs that serve 1.6 million children, most of whom are poor, and $2.1 billion for teacher training and class-size reduction. The documents obtained by The Post — dated May 23, the day the president’s budget is expected to be released — outline the rest of the cuts, including a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs…

…The Trump administration would dedicate no money to a fund for student support and academic enrichment that is meant to help schools pay for, among other things, mental-health services, anti-bullying initiatives, physical education, Advanced Placement courses and science and engineering instruction. Congress created the fund, which totals $400 million this fiscal year, by rolling together several smaller programs. Lawmakers authorized as much as $1.65 billion, but the administration’s budget for it in the next fiscal year is zero.

He then poses this plaintive question… and the response:

Is there a point to all this gratuitous cruelty? Why, yes, there is.

The cuts would make space for investments in choice, including $500 million for charter schools, up 50 percent over current funding. The administration also wants to spend $250 million on “Education Innovation and Research Grants,” which would pay for expanding and studying the impacts of vouchers for private and religious schools. It’s not clear how much would be spent on research versus on the vouchers themselves.

While Mr. Pierce uses the balance of his column to excoriate Ms. DeVos, I want to offer what I believe to be an accurate assessment of how much will be spent on research versus the vouchers themselves. Based on Mr. Trump’s refusal to fund research and accept the findings of research, I would guess that a 100:1 ratio of spending tor research is probable… IF any money at all is earmarked for research. Oh… and my further guess is that the research will be done by a libertarian think tank.

In the meantime, while federal funds are used to subsidize parents who enroll their children in religious schools, children raised in poverty will lose after school programs, teachers, and opportunities for post secondary education. Prophets operating parochial schools and profiteers operating charters will gain, though.. and the marketplace will replace democratically operated public schools.

Roseburg Oregon a Case Study on What Taxes Pay For

May 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Last Saturday’s NYTimes article by Kirk Johnson described the travails of Roseburg, Oregon, a small town in SW Oregon that has suffered a loss of tax revenues as a result of the outsourcing of lumber, a loss that make Roseburg a case study that illustrates what our taxes pay for. In the article Mr. Johnson describes how successive votes to keep its library open failed, along with votes to pay for 24/7 police services, the ability to incarcerate criminals, and the assessor’s required to collect taxes.

Some background on how Roseburg Oregon found itself in this predicament:

…for many years, timber-harvesting operations on public lands here paid the bills, and people got used to it. A law passed by Congress in the 1930s specified that a vast swath of forest lands that had passed into corporate hands and back into federal control would be managed for county benefit. But then logging declined, starting in the 1980s and 1990s, as it did across many other parts of the West, and the flood of timber money slowed to a trickle, with only a stunted tax base to pick up the difference. The property tax rate in Curry County is less than a quarter of the statewide average. Douglas County (where Roseburg is located) residents pay about 60 percent less than most state residents.

So even though the taxes are relatively low in Douglas County, voters see them as skyrocketing because of a decline in logging, which was the “cash cow” for the government in years past. And, as several interviews in Mr. Johnson’s article indicate, there is a deep and abiding distrust in the government at all levels that manifests itself in negative votes for any government spending at any level. And here’s the result:

So what does life in government retreat look like?

It looks like the house on Hubbard Creek Road in Curry County, where owners went for more than 10 years without paying any property taxes at all because the county assessor’s office couldn’t field enough workers to go out and inspect. The house, nestled in the woods with a tidy blue roof and skylights, dodged more than $8,500 in property taxes that would have gone to support the schools, fire district and sheriff, because government had gotten too small to even ask. So things fall even further, with cuts to agencies that actually bring in revenue prompting further cuts down the line.

Those who distrust government and starve it of funding set a death spiral in motion, a death spiral that eliminates the opportunity for children in their community to get a good education, that eliminates community-funded fire and police protection, and eliminates all kinds of government funded “frills” like public libraries. And in its place, those who favor small government can hire private tutors and/or send their children to private schools with public subsidies in the form of vouchers, can band together with neighbors to secure private police and fire protection, and use the fast lane of their internet to secure whatever reading materials they desire. The poor neighbors or those who are thrown into poverty because they can’t pay their medical bills or whose homes burn down because they can’t afford to pitch in for the fire can fend for themselves. Welcome to a world with low taxes and limited service… the world it appears some people in SW Oregon want to live in.