Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Pandemic Puts Great School Ratings System at Risk

September 24, 2020 Leave a comment

Matt Barnum’s recent Chalkbeat article, “GreatSchools overhauls its ratings in bid to reduce link with race and poverty”,  touts the changes to the Great Schools rating system for schools. But the title of this blog post is the real news… and is far more accurate.

The article offers a history of GreatSchools development and illustrates how its use by Zillow and other real estate sites has exacerbated the racial divide in schools because there is a correlation between affluence, race and the GreatSchools rating. As a Chalkbeat writer I am confident that Mr. Barnum knows why: it’s because there is a correlation between affluence, race and standardized test scores and standardized test scores are the heart of GreatSchools ratings. Indeed, their “overhaul” doesn’t change that link substantially: it builds on it by using “growth” metrics based on standardized test scores as the basis for he ratings!

The article glosses over this flaw, but does note near the end that GreatSchools will be in trouble if standardized tests are not administered in 2020-21 after being suspended in 2019-2020. In his concluding paragraphs, Barnum describes the problem thus:

As it makes these changes, GreatSchools is also facing an unprecedented challenge. State tests, which provide the data for GreatSchools’ ratings, were canceled last school year. The Trump administration has said it will likely require these tests this year, but some school officials are hoping that will change if Joe Biden is elected president.

Even if tests resume, one year of data will be missing. That puts GreatSchools in a tough spot, as its ratings may seem outdated and it will be difficult to calculate new growth scores. Two years of missing data would make things even more complicated.

“We are considering a lot of different options,” said (GreatSchools CEO Jon) Deane.

One thing the new rating system won’t change: Boiling a school down to a numerical rating is inherently fraught.

“What makes a school great isn’t just in the test scores; it’s in the intangibles or unmeasurable things that you feel when you’re in the building, but you can’t necessarily quantify,” (Shane) Knight, the (Knapp Elementary school) principal (in Denver CO), said. “To their credit, they’re trying to use the information they have to help parents make informed choices, and I value that.”

Mr. Knight is right to offer support to the school, but the practical reality is that data doesn’t really matter when one is selecting a school or a house. It’s “the intangibles or unmeasurable things” the ultimately determine what kind of house someone purchases and “the intangibles or unmeasurable things” that draw someone to a particular school. The best way to get a handle on those things is to walk through the house, walk through the neighborhood, or walk the school and get a sense of whether it’s a fit for you. Mr. Barnum’s assessment that “Boiling a school down to a numerical rating is inherently fraught” is correct… but he has, I am sure, done well for himself trying to do just that. And, I am hopeful his “overhaul” is in peril because of the pandemic… and that the rating games that rely on standardized test scores will soon come to an inglorious end.

Arizona Platform: Scam or New Model for Public Schools?

September 23, 2020 Leave a comment

I get a weekly newsletter called Cashing in on Kids, a spin off of In the Public Interest, that provides a digest of news stories about for-profit schools. The stories all have a negative spin on the way profiteers are scamming taxpayers. But in some cases, like Erin Clark’s recent post from Report Door, the profiteers are advancing ideas that public schools should consider.

Ms. Clark’s article opens with a description of a platform devised by Prenda that is getting widespread use in Arizona:

To its backers, Prenda microschools represents a “return to the one-room schoolhouse” of the past, empowering parents to educate their children in intimate settings away from the cruel public-school bureaucracy.

But looked at another way, the for-profit company is reaching for something more contemporary, to be the Uber of education.

Anyone can start a Prenda microschool of five to 10 students. And no certification or degree is required to be a “guide” — Prenda’s term for the adult who leads the class — only a passion for helping kids.

Guides use their living rooms as a schoolhouse, much like Uber drivers work in their own vehicles.

Prenda — which is largely based in Arizona but is “rapidly spreading all over the world,” according to its website — has seen a surge in interest during the coronavirus pandemic and doesn’t shy away from the Uber comparison.

Having read about the Uber and Air BnB model in Anand Giradharadas’ book Winners Take All, it was clear that Prenda was taking that model and applying it to the learning pods that are emerging as a “solution” to the remote learning problems faced by many parents. In doing so, as Ms. Clark observes, “Prenda is exploiting gaps in regulation and oversight in the hopes of growing so fast and large that it alters the industry it seeks to disrupt.” And in states like Arizona where the deregulation frenzy has taken hold in an effort to promote lower cost charter schools, Prenda is siphoning taxpayers’ funds to it’s bottom line the same way that Air BnB and Uber are siphoning funds for the “services” they provide to renters and ride seekers.

Technology investors who underwrite businesses like Uber and AirBnB see themselves as champions of freedom, “…fighting for the people against the corrupt power structure“. And free market libertarians see highly regulated “government run” public schools as part of the corrupt power structure and see their new ideas as liberating parents from their monopolistic hold.

But… in some cases the ideas advanced by these technology-based entrepreneurs ARE liberating and have the potential to change the existing structure for the better…. and Prenda’s platform might be a case in point. The idea of using technology to help parents form pods, provide each others’ children with an ungraded “one-room school house” structure is not that different from the Mountain Oaks model I witnessed nearly two decades ago in Calaveras County CA. The idea of matching tutors with students is not that different from the model Ivan Illich advocated nearly 50 years ago in Deschooling Society. The problem with Prenda, as I see it, is not the model itself. Indeed, the model could easily be adapted by public schools to assure that all children are taught by a qualified (if not “certified”) teacher and, I believe, result in a method of instruction that would be far superior to the traditional factory model in place today. The problem is that the profits the platform generates’ like the profits Uber generates, leave the community.

The solution? If community non-profits could develop and support the learning platforms like those developed by Prenda the taxpayers funds would remain in the community and any “profits” would be plowed back into the non-profit entity that manages the platform. That entity would not necessarily be a school district. It could be a regional cooperative group like a BOCES, a consortium managed by a college, or a regional planning commission that employs technologists capable of providing the necessary backroom support for individual school districts. These kinds of platform cooperatives could be a way forward for schools, a means of keeping taxpayers’ funds in the regional if not local economy, and a means of providing a better education for all students.


The US NEEDS More People to Prosper, But If the US WANTS More People Parents Need More Help

September 14, 2020 Leave a comment

Journalis Matt Yglesias invariably writes thought provoking essays and his recent NYMagazine piece, “The Case for Adding 672 Million More Americans” certainly hits that standard! Derived from his forthcoming book One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, Yglesias argues that in order for the US to remain economically competitive on the global level it needs to accept MANY more immigrants. Why? Because of the sheer scale of Asian countries like China and India whose populations dwarf ours. As Yglesias notes at the outset of his article:

…against China, we are the little dog: There are more than 1 billion of them to about 330 million of us. Chinese people don’t need to become as rich as Americans for China’s overall economy to outweigh ours. If they managed to become about half as rich as we are on a per person basis, like the Bahamas or Spain, then their economy would be far larger than ours in the aggregate. To become one-third as rich as we are, like Portugal or Greece, would be enough to pull even. To stay on top, we probably need to grow the country threefold — to one billion Americans.

What Yglesias DIDN’T note in this excerpt but may note in his book, China’s ability to make up for lost ground is helped by it’s repressive government which is willing to enslave millions of minority Uighars in the Western part of its country to work for next to nothing so that natives in the heartland of the country can begin increasing its per person wealth rapidly. Ultimately, Yglesias sees our freedom as a means of increasing our population in a selective fashion— IF we wake up to this numerical reality and change our thinking about immigration:

…one advantage the U.S. does have over China is that because it is a beacon of freedom to the world, rather than an increasingly dystopian oligarchy, there are more than 100 million people who would like to move here than America is prepared to allow in. We shouldn’t recklessly throw the borders open to just anyone who happens to show up, but we should recognize that openness to immigration is not just a nice favor the U.S. does for immigrants. That people want to move here is — and historically has been — a strategic asset, and we have a form of creedal civic nationalism that can accommodate a broad range of newcomers.We should be reasonably selective about whom we let in, but we should let in a lot of people.

Needless to say if we abandon the “…creedal civic nationalism that can accommodate a broad range of newcomers”  by re-electing a POTUS who defines greatness by building a wall we will lose this advantage. We could also lose this advantage AND the possibility of expanding our population by failing to address the way our current system makes parenting and education difficult. Yglesias writes:

…though the standard K-12 public-school concept is invaluable, it’s also insanely limited. Children younger than 5 need to be taken care of, as do children of all ages during the summer months and after 3:30 p.m. Young people increasingly need more education than a high-school degree. Providing the public resources necessary to address all these gaps — rather than covering 50 percent of the days for 75 percent of childhood — would be very expensive. But not doing it pushes the costs onto parents and encourages people not to become parents…

And while Yglesias doesn’t say so, it would also discourage the immigration of the parents we WANT to move here and thereby precludes our opportunity to be “reasonably selective” in our immigration policy.

Lack of support for parents also disproportionately disadvantages the poor, as will surprise no one. And yet the scale of the disparity is nevertheless shocking: 21.1 percent of American children are living in poverty, compared with 11.3 percent of German children and just 9.3 percent of Swedish children, even though the U.S. is richer on average than either Germany or Sweden.

By accepting higher poverty levels among children, the US is sending a message that it doesn’t care about them… and a caring parent who wants the best for their child would not be drawn to a country with such a policy. Yglesias concludes his essay with a comparison between his goal that the US needs to accept more immigrants with Kennedy’s goal that we put a man on the moon and comes to this conclusion:

Letting more hardworking and talented foreign-born people move here is not hard. On the contrary, it’s keeping people out that’s hard. Providing financial support so that Americans can have as many children as they say they’d like to is a big change, but there’s nothing particularly difficult about it. Letting builders make whatever kind of housing their customers want to buy is easy. Shifting economic activity to places where land and buildings are cheap is a little more difficult, but it’s hardly a voyage to the moon. Copying a traffic-management paradigm that Singapore implemented in the mid-’70s isn’t hard at all, nor is copying long-standing German commuter-rail practices. These easy things feel hard only because we’ve become accustomed to a political culture that can barely do anything at all… 

…But think of how much healthier our politics would be if there were really a debate about how to accomplish great things rather than a food fight over semi-imagined offenses to “real Americans” that serves as a mask for an endless procession of tax cuts for the rich. Why not make America greater than ever instead?

Whatever liberals’ misgivings about this national project, America should aspire to be the greatest nation on earth. That’s what Americans already think and rightly so. Rather than being paralyzed by racial panic, ecopessimism, or paranoia about the loss of parking spaces, we should try to think this stuff through calmly and systematically — choosing to emulate our forefathers and mothers, who managed to welcome millions of newcomers and ride oxcarts across the Rocky Mountains to build the greatest nation in human history, rather than throw up our hands at every moderately difficult logistical problem and whine that the country is full.

Yglesias avoids emphasizing what I see as an obvious though politically contentious conclusion: that “we’ve become accustomed to a political culture that can barely do anything at all” because we’ve bought into the Conservative thinking of Ronald Reagan that “government is the problem” and the neoliberal thinking that “running Government like a business” is the antidote. We need to embrace the liberal thinking as defined by the Oxford dictionary: we need to be “open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.” Yglesias is offering us a solution to our problems that merits careful consideration. Let’s give it our full consideration.