Posts Tagged ‘Measurement’

Money for Nothing: $3,500,000,0000 in SIG Grants Yield No Change in Test Scores

January 20, 2017 Leave a comment

If the “reform” movement was interested in evidence based decision making, they have now learned that spending $3,500,000,000 on their key ideas yielded no changes in student performance based on test scores and survey results. Mathematica, a non-partisan research group, recently concluded“…multiyear evaluation of School Improvement Grants (SIG) for the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. It examine(d) the practices used by schools that received grants and schools that did not, examine(d) whether SIG had an impact on student achievement, and examine(d) whether student achievement improved more with some school intervention models than with others.” The four SIG interventions are illustrated below:


As you can see, these intervention models reflect the ideas of reformers, who see the school personnel as the primary cause of “failure” as measured by test results and who also see more-of-the-same (i.e. a longer school day) as a means of improving a school. After implementing these intervention models, though, Mathematic found that nothing happened. Here are the findings in summary form:

  • Schools implementing a SIG-funded model used more SIG-promoted practices than other schools (23 versus 20, out of the 35 practices examined), but there was no evidence that SIG caused schools to use more practices. 

  • Implementing a SIG-funded model had no impact on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment. 

  • Elementary schools had similar improvements in math and reading test scores regardless of which SIG model they implemented.

  • Secondary schools implementing the turnaround model had larger improvements in math test scores than those implementing the transformation model. In contrast, reading improvements were similar for all models. The differences in math improvements across models might be due to factors other than the model implemented, such as existing differences between schools before they received grants.

So… lots of money was spent and no improvements occurred. How might that $3,500,000,000 have been spent more effectively? It seems to me that using a RTTT model to establish wraparound services in “failing schools” would have been better than using the RTTT money to “blow up” traditional schools and replace them with ones using the existing model for schooling…. but that would require the “reform” crowd to acknowledge that exogenous factors (i.e. poverty, re-segregation, homelessness, absent or overworked single parents, etc.) play a role in the attainment of test scores that teachers cannot mitigate by themselves. By focussing everything on the school the RTTT grants overlooked the need for schools to link with parents, with the community, and with the array of social agencies designed to help children and families. It reinforced the silo mentality that separates agencies from each other instead of designing a means of having this agencies work together… and it also played into the notion that privatization would be superior to retaining the current governance model whereby school boards make decisions for children in their locale.

As much as I regret seeing President Obama leave office, I regret even more the opportunity squandered by RTTT. There was a moment in time when an injection of funds could have moved the needle toward interagency cooperation. Instead, we spent billions to show that “reform” doesn’t work… and now we have vouchers to reduce us.

Sorry, FairTest! ESSA is NOT Going to Save the Day… and ALL Teachers are NOT Ready to Administer Well Conceived Assessments.

January 7, 2017 Leave a comment

I generally agree with FairTest’s perspective on the overuse of standardized testing and periodically pore through and greatly appreciate their carefully archived articles describing the flaws of those tests. But I find myself at odds with Mr. Neill’s optimism regarding ESSA, his faith in the ability of all teachers to develop and thoughtfully use assessments, and his unwillingness to accept any form of computerized testing. All of this was prompted by an article of his published in Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet titled “How Testing Practices Have to Change in US Public Schools”. The following is an elaboration on the comment I left on-line in response to the article:

Mr. Neill overlooks some sobering political realities in his rosy assessment of the status of standardized testing:

First, 35 states are under the control of Republican governors and/or legislatures and many of those states are of a mind to “run schools like a business”. In doing so they will likely continue their use of standardized tests as the primary metric for “school quality”.
Second, the ESSA rules are likely to be undone by the incoming administration in a fashion that might effectively encourage (or mandate) the restoration of standardized tests. Mr. Neill undoubtedly recalls that the VATs included in RTTT were not a legislated mandate; they were a de facto administrative mandate foisted on public schools and states by the USODE.

Third, there is an implicit belief that the end of standardized testing will result in the simultaneous advent of well conceived teacher developed tests. Having led public school districts from 1981 through 2011 I can attest to the fact that testing practices vary wildly from classroom to classroom and that most teachers never had training in the development of effective assessments. And despite their uneven quality and inconsistency, those teacher developed tests were always “high stakes assessments” from the student’s perspective since they were used to determine if a student passed or failed a course. Moreover, since the advent of NCLB the teacher’s ability to develop assessments has eroded. Teachers in all but the most affluent school districts are primarily focussed on improving standardized test scores. The bottom line on teacher developed assessments: if Mr. Neill hopes to rely the their use for accountability purposes it will require a massive staff development initiative.

Fourth, the call to avoid the use of computerized formative assessments is misguided. Teachers routinely give pencil-and-paper assessments and— yes even in this day and age— worksheets that are presumably designed to determine if a student has mastered the content the teacher presented. Administering those routine assignments via computer frees the time teachers use for grading those quizzes and worksheets enables them to use that time to individualize instruction. The use of well-crafted computerized formative assessments would be a huge step forward if it displaced the quizzes and worksheets that to this day are used as “seat work” in schools.

Mr. Neill’s cause is a righteous one, and I believe we ARE making progress in the way we use assessments at the national level. But I also believe we need to be clear-eyed about the ability for public schools to move in a different direction when it comes to accountability.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

Dog Bites Man: Education Week Report Card Shows that Money Matters

January 6, 2017 Leave a comment

I was going to write yet another blog post describing how Education Week’s “Report Card” metrics prove the obvious: State’s that spend well on education and make an earnest effort to equalize spending do better than state’s that skimp on spending. But fellow blogger Mike Klonsky wrote a brief and eloquent post that does an effective job of explaining this fact. Read it here.

American Thinker’s Thoughtless Insights on Public Education

December 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Occasionally a post from the American Thinker blog comes through my Google feed and compels me to examine public education from a conservative perspective. “Help us with public education, Donald“, this morning’s post by Richard Miniter, offers a conservative’s perspective on what Betsy DeVos should do for public education, but it is generally short of new ideas and long on faith in the marketplace. After analogizing education spending to spending on the military (while conveniently overlooking the fact that roughly 39% of spending on the military is contracted to the private sector), Miniter notes that literacy rates in our nation and Britain have not increased since 1980 though, according to his figures, the US spends $620,000,000 annually on public education. Thus, he is not seeing any “Return on Investment” for all the money being spent. His solution? THE MARKETPLACE!

…If the population of the United States requires sixteen million new cars and trucks every year, that’s what the United States produce.  Need a million tons of potatoes?  You got it.  A billion cheeseburgers?  Get the ketchup ready.  And so it follows that absent government education, one might confidently predict that if the nation has a requirement for 95 or 90 or 80% literacy among parents or the labor market, that’s what the free market will hand off.

If the market is free to do so.

Make it homeschooling, small local private schools, expensive snotty private academies, distance learning – whatever.  With whatever that is, parents have the means and the inclination to indulge themselves with.

This preposterous logic overlooks the fact that the marketplace is currently generating a diet that is has a higher rate of obesity than ever and a life expectancy that is diminishing… but no matter…. the magic of the market is already working in “education”. How?

The greatest advance in information distribution since the invention of movable type is the still unfolding computer revolution.  But what we don’t think about is that this revolution is accompanied by the most incredible educational effort ever undertaken in the history of the world as children learn how to use computers, smartphones, and other handheld devices in order to begin texting or talking to one another.  To learn how to connect to the world’s databases, encyclopedias, books, news, and opinion sites.

And every bit of this vital education has occurred outside the government’s K-12 system and at zero cost to any taxpayer.  Without public school teachers, “education presidents,” school boards, state departments of education, without landscaped multi-million-dollar campuses or two-hundred-dollar boring textbooks, and without having most of a $620,000,000,000 annual bill for services vanish into teacher salaries and cushy retirement funds.

So ask yourself this: if the text messages your children compose and send already exceed by a factor of two hundred the word count of the essays they’re required to produce in public school, who and what are actually teaching your child to write?  If your children are accessing the millions of free or very inexpensive books and other information sources online in order to explore and master the subjects that excite them, who and what are teaching your child to read?

If Mr. Miniter is using the word count of tweets, text messages, and social posts as the basis for “literacy” then schools are unnecessary. And if he is unconcerned about the quality and accuracy of the “other information sources online” that students are exploring on line then schools are not required to deliver curricula. And if he believes that having children spend endless hours looking at screens in darkened rooms is preferable to spending time outdoors or in an environment where they come in contact with other future citizens. In the end, Mr. Miniter seems more interested in lowering his taxes and propagating scare stories about the “evil influences” children are exposed to in “government schools”:

(Ask yourself) if the school taxes you’re required to pay on your home run five, ten, or fifteen thousand dollars annually, is having a teacher show your child how to put glitter on his finger-painting worth that?  Is the danger to your child from violent students the school cannot expel worth that?  Or are the long bus rides, endless indoctrination in transgenderism, the really diseased obsession with “diversity,” skewed history classes, dumbed down textbooks, having somebody sell your child drugs in a school bathroom, worth that?

The marketplace won’t solve the problems of violence children experience at home, of dealing with gender issues, of learning how to interact with people of differing backgrounds, of drug abuse. If the marketplace could solve these problems they shouldn’t exist anymore… and if “the government” created them they would only exist here. These are all issues that are a part of the human condition, issues that can’t be measured by the number of words in tweets, text messages, and social posts.


The Obama Legacy in Public Education: WAY Too Little… WAY Too Late

December 13, 2016 Leave a comment

Nation education writer Dana Goldstein wrote a comprehensive and, to my way of thinking, mostly accurate synopsis of public education trends during the Obama presidency. She opened her article with a description of how Mr. Obama began his term of office aligning with the so-called “bi-partisan” reform group but conclude his term of office with a better understanding: he saw that public education’s problems could not be separated from the problem of childhood poverty:

Only since 2014 has there been a détente in what many, myself included, termed the “teacher wars.”Grassroots activism from the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as from tens of thousands of parents who opted their children out of standardized testing, helped shift the terms of the debate. We now talk almost as much about school discipline, unequal school funding, and school segregation as we do about low test scores and teacher tenure. It’s a profound change in rhetoric.

Ms. Goldstein speculated that this change in rhetoric would have continued had Ms. Clinton been elected, but is very pessimistic bout the chances that Mr. Trump will pick up on this line of thinking.

The article then detailed Mr. Obama’s horrific decision to institute Race to the Top, which is described in objective and deservedly critical terms:

Race to the Top told states and school districts that if they wanted a share of the $4 billion in discretionary federal dollars, they would need to evaluate teachers using “evidence of student learning” (generally, test scores). They would also need to weaken tenure protections to remove underperforming teachers; lift caps on the number of independently operated charter schools allowed to open; and “turn around” failing schools, sometimes by removing veteran teachers and principals or handing the schools over to charter operators. There were no new federal incentives for desegregating schools, or for equalizing funding between those that served rich and poor children.

“Given [that Obama] took office at the height of the recession,” says Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at New York University, “the most surprising thing was that he didn’t acknowledge the poverty that schools were dealing with. [His administration] never said schools are overwhelmed by kids who are hungry, whose parents lost their homes, lost their jobs…. Instead, they kind of kept on the same path that Bush had been on, emphasizing standards and accountability and accelerating it by calling for more school closures, replacing teachers and principals. They seized on very simplistic solutions to complex problems.”

Test, punish, repeat. This was the algorithm recommended by the reformers, a group Ms. Goldstein mischaracterizes as “bi-partisan”. From my perspective this group was not partisan in any sense of the word. Instead, they were seeking some means of privatizing public education, creating an “open marketplace” to replace the “monopoly” because “everyone knows” that markets will reward the best and drive out the worst.

Ms. Goldstein then recapped the unintended consequences of Race to the Top, noting that by the time 2014 came around everyone associated with public education was dismayed by the emphasis on test scores (no surprise given that teacher’s employment often depended on test results), and both the right and the left opposed the Common Core that was the basis for the tests. The left hated it because it invariably led to narrow and dumbed-down tests, the right because it was an example of federal intrusion on local schools.

Ms. Goldstein’s biggest errors in reporting appear near the end of the article where she presents ESSA as legislation that will put an end to testing. She writes:

Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind. ESSA continues to require annual testing in reading and math, but removes pressure for all teachers to be evaluated using student test scores. The law asks states to judge school quality in new ways, by considering student-discipline policies and whether all kids have access to advanced courses.

With new research showing that poor children who attend schools with higher per-pupil funding outperform those whose schools have less cash, Obama has also sought to influence how states and municipalities fund schools. This year, he proposed a regulation that would withhold ESSA money from states and school districts that send more local dollars to schools serving affluent children than poor ones. Congressional Republicans and many local education officials from both parties are resisting the regulation, known as “supplement, not supplant.” It is simply impossible to imagine President-elect Trump, who campaigned on the premise of local control of education, continuing Obama’s fight on this front.

As readers of this blog know, I believe ESSA is grossly oversold as a means of eliminating and over-emphasizing testing. It removes pressure for all teachers to be evaluated using test scores based on a Federal mandate, but does not in any way discourage the use of tests to evaluate teachers and, given the preponderance of Republican Governors it is foolish to believe that there will be a wholesale abandonment of Value Added Measure. And without the supplement-vs-supplant” regulations there will be nothing to limit the use of federal funds to displace State and local funds.

I completely agree with Ms. Goldstein’s description of what went wrong with the Obama administration when it came to public education, but I don’t believe Mr. Obama EVER gave full-throated support to the notion that more money was needed to help children raised in poverty… nor did he ever give public educators, administrators, and Board members the credit they richly deserve for their hard work in the face of fiscal and psychological adversity. Mr. Obama offered way to little way too late….


Successful School Integration Requires Grit: On the part of Teachers, Administrators, and the Community

December 12, 2016 Leave a comment

A story on the Morris NJ schools by Kyle Spencer describes the incredible effort— and, yes, money— required to maintain a desegregated school district in this era. Mr. Spencer’s article also describes the painful history that led to this success story and the tenuousness of the success.

A brief overview of the Morris Schools:

  • The district was created by court order in 1971 in response to a suit filed by parents who wanted to maintain racial balance in the schools in the region.
  • The district demographics have shifted over the past five-plus decades, particularly in the past 15 years with non-English speaking students increasing from 909 to 1,698 while African American enrollments dropped from 815 to 546 during the same time period.
  • The district has made extensive use of technology to individualize instruction in an effort to meet the wildly diverse educational and cultural backgrounds of students and maintain some degree of integration in all of its classrooms.
  • To assist non-English speakers, the district has extensive supports in place.
  • Parent organizations in the district provide translators at their meetings and workshops to ensure the engagement of the burgeoning non-English speaking parent population.
  • To attract and retain affluent families with high achieving students, the district has pull-out gifted and talented programs throughout its elementary schools and a wide array of STEM and AP offerings at the high school level.

Even with all of these supplementary programs and efforts at engagement, the district faces challenges that would daunt other communities. For example:

  • The population churn has increased, particularly among the non-English students, adding to the workload for teachers and administrators and reinforcing the notion that money is being spent on “illegals” that could be spent on resident children with special needs and/or special interests.
  • Some parents avail themselves of the rich programs available to students in PK-8 but then abandon the high school in favor of private schools. Indeed, Mr. Spencer cites data indicating that over 22% of the students who live in the most affluent community feeding the high school opt to attend private schools, nearly double the State average.
  • The top tier HS courses and gifted and talented programs have a disproportionate number of white students— unsurprising given the challenges non-English speakers face but a problem in the eyes of those who aspire to equity across-the-board.

The story concludes with this anecdote, which exemplifies the value of attending a diverse school:

Nile Birch, a high school junior who is black, said that most of the students in his honors and A.P. classes are white. “In total, they are not very diverse,” he said about the higher-level classes.

Still, electives, clubs and required classes have provided him the opportunity to learn about people whose lives differ from his own.

He recalled being in a health class during his freshman year, with a quiet Hispanic girl who barely talked. One day, it was time to recite a written monologue: She stood up and told the class she was a single mother who had made it across the border and eventually to New Jersey, where she dreamed of getting an education.

“It really moved every single person in that class,” he said. “Before that she was just the quiet girl in the corner.”

After reading this heartwarming conclusion, I was overcome with sadness because, as Mr. Spencer notes, this is an extraordinarily exceptional district. Mr. Spencer notes that “…New Jersey has one of the strongest laws against segregation, but at the same time has some of the most segregated schools in the country.” And, as noted in many earlier posts, resegregation is on the increase because of residential patterns and the public sentiment the opposes efforts to address this issue. I was also saddened because I can see the tenuousness of this segregated school. It requires grit on the part of teachers, administrators, board members, parents, and taxpayers…. and if any one of those players decides to let up on the effort required to maintain the nurturing and inclusive environment in the school district, the entire construct will collapse. And here’s what saddens me the most: if a voucher program like Betsy DeVos advocates is ever put in place in NJ, the out-migration of affluent parents will increase, the taxpayer support for the existing framework will collapse, and fifty-plus years of work to create a desegregated success story will go down the drain. At a time when forceful positive leadership is needed in the White House and the State House, NJ has the opposite. I sincerely hope the grit continues in Morris NJ— they will need even more of it to sustain their success.


Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Advice to Principals: Push Back Against the Headwinds!

December 8, 2016 Leave a comment

One of the best books I read this year was Between the World and Me, which was an extended letter he wrote to his son, Samori, about what it is like to grown up black in America. As a 69-year old White American I feel that I have empathy for Blacks, but Coates’ book made me appreciate just how different the world looked to me during my formative years in an integrated college town in PA compared to his experiences in Baltimore, MD.

Earlier this week the Chalkbeat blogger Alex Zimmerman wrote a post describing Coates’ interactions with a group of roughly 30 current and aspiring Principals. In recounting his conversations with them, Mr. Zimmerman captured the same blunt honesty that characterizes Coates’ essays and his book. In expiring to the group why he sends his son to private school, Coates reflected on his personal experience in public schools.

“I guess I feel like the school system sort of failed me, he said. “School was not a physically safe place … violence was a thing you were always coping with.”

Coates lso drove home the powerful negative impact the grading system has on children, implicitly urging the gathering to focus on ways to provide intellectual stimulation to the students.

“People and educators often deeply underestimate that it actually hurts to fail,” he explained. “The world is so much more open than any report card or any test score.”

But Coates did display an understanding of the challenges teachers and administrators face, and analogized the scapegoating of teachers to the scapegoating he experienced as a black man:

But Coates noted the headwinds teachers face — the consequences of homelessness, poverty and the criminal justice system — and argued that teachers, like black people, are often easy scapegoats for larger institutional failures.

So how to resist that demonization? Coates urged educators to “push back” against the idea that it’s solely their responsibility to solve longstanding social problems, and encouraged them to team up with other activists to fight for change.

“Drawing on the history of African-Americans in this country, you really have to be willing to struggle on behalf of things that are not resolvable in your lifetime,” he said. “The fact that you’re fighting for kids who have not yet been born doesn’t make the struggle irrelevant … The problems weren’t created in one generation.”

As I am certain Mr. Coates appreciates, from a public teacher’s perspective the headwinds just got stronger with the election of Mr. Trump, with his Cabinet appointments, and with a Congress that is likely to use his election to promote their agenda that favors pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps grit over any kind of early intervention and support. I have long advocated that school districts work with local social service departments, local health departments, and local police departments to provide children attending school with the safety net they need to succeed in school. Now I think that administrators, teachers, and school boards are going to have to work in tandem with every public agency that provides services to children to push back against the direction our country is headed for each one of our services– even the police department– is likely to face the forces of deregulated privatization in the coming four years.