"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Exactly the number of signatures required in Ohio to get the the Koch/Kasich union killing bill onto a November referendum:

Now that the Ohio state Legislature has passed legislation limiting the collective bargaining rights of public employees unions, with Gov. John Kasich expected to sign the bill as soon as Friday, the fight moves out of the statehouse and onto the streets, so to speak.
That's because Ohioans opposed to the union-neutering legislation vow to keep it from becoming law through the state's referendum process.
Under Ohio law, opponents have 90 days from the time the governor signs the legislation to collect 231,149 signatures to get a referendum on the November ballot.
If they collect enough valid signatures from 44 Ohio counties within that time frame, the law wouldn't go into effect until voters approved as much, assuming it won a majority of the vote in November, which now seems like a pretty big assumption.
As with other Republican governors elsewhere who have stirred up controversy with through attempts to reduce budgets that have proved unpopular with many of their citizens, the fight has taken a toll on Kasich's approval ratings.
NPR's Don Gonyea reported for Morning Edition that Kasich while Kasich acknowledges that he has lost some of the support that helped him win office in November he maintains that his actions are ultimately the right ones for his state.
An excerpt from his report:
DON: Sixty-four year old Dwight Landis is a retired city worker who joined the latest protests. He did admit that he has long admired Kasich as a smart numbers and finance guy.
LANDIS: I hate to... I'm gonna say it... I voted for him. And I like the idea of getting our house in order. And we do have to get our finances right. But it doesn't have to be predatory. And this is where this is headed. That's the way I see it.
DON: Landis is an independent voter but says Governor Kasich has lost his support - forever. Polls show that the governor's approval rating has plummeted. One new survey puts it at just 30%.
Kasich's reaction?.
KASIC: I'm not at all pleased that somebody who voted for me now thinks I've lost my way. But it's just not true. I can look in their faces and understand their fear. I come from a union family. But it's my job to be a leader, to bring prosperity back to Ohio.
While the Ohio situation has broken mostly along partisan lines, it hasn't been totally true that political affiliation determined where lawmakers have stood on the legislation that would limit the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 public employees in the state.
Five Republican lawmakers voted against the bill known as SB 5.
From the Columbus Dispatch:
Five House Republicans joined all Democrats in opposing the bill. Republican Reps. Cheryl Grossman of Grove City, Anne Gonzales of Westerville and Mike Duffey of Worthington voted for it.
The bill would require public workers to pay at least 15 percent of health-insurance costs; limit the issues that could be bargained; and allow the governing body to pick its own last offer to settle a negotiation impasse - which unions say turns negotiations into "collective begging."
"This is a fundamentally rigged process," said Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, one of six Senate Republicans to vote against the bill.

Governor Rick Snyder: Why There Is an "A" and a "Hole" in "A-Hole"

Under the radar no more:

NC Tea Party Working to Insure Wake County Resegregation Holds

Recently the Koch-Heads in the North Carolina legislature introduced a bill that would have the State create its own school accreditation body, just in case AdvanceEd votes to withdraw accreditation for Wake County high schools for the County's irresesponsible and mis-educative resegregation practices.

Now some of the same geniuses that sponsored that bill have brought another, this time a special re-writing of an existing law that would give the incompetent leader of the Gang of Five a vote, just in case Wake County citizens wake up and turn out one or more of these puppets of the John Birchers in the next school board election. From WRAL:
Posted: 2:24 p.m. Tuesday
The state House is considering legislation that would expand the voting power of Wake County Board of Education Chairman Ron Margiotta.

Rep. Nelson Dollar introduced House Bill 498 on Monday, and fellow Republican Reps. Marilyn Avila, Tom Murry and Paul Stam are co-sponsoring the legislation.

The bill aims to eliminate a sentence from the 1975 state law that created the school board that states "the presiding officer shall have no authority to vote except to break a tie."

The nine-member school board is supposed to be nonpartisan, but a Republican-backed group joined with Margiotta after elections in 2009 to form a new majority. They have since changed numerous policies, including how students are assigned, and have drawn criticism from many sides, including former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Vice Chairwoman Debra Goldman has broken ranks with the GOP bloc on several occasions, and giving Margiotta more voting power could give the Republicans more muscle in some debates. . . .

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More money for testing, less money for learning

More money for testing, less for learning

Sent to the New York Times, March 30, 2011

Buried deep in "In City Schools, Tech Spending to Rise Despite Cuts," (March 30) is a statement by "city officials" that the huge expenditures for technology are primarily to make it possible for students to take computerized national standardized tests. We can expect this to happen nation-wide. We can expect more of our tax money to go to wealthy corporations to pay for tests and the technology to administer tests, with less available for helping children learn.

Susan Ohanian

Stephen Krashen

For original article and additional discussion: http://susanohanian.org/show_nclb_outrages.php?id=4117

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Can Chess Improve Reading?

Can Chess Improve Reading?

Sent to USA Today, March 29, 2011

"Chess makes move into class" (March 29) asserts that a 1993 study showed that playing chess can improve academics. Not quite.

The study, "The Effect of Chess on Reading Scores: District Nine Chess Program Second Year Report" was published by the American Chess Foundation, and claimed that 53 students who voluntarily participated in a chess program in New York improved five percentiles in reading over the year (from the 58th percentile to the 63rd).

Nearly all the gains, however, were from six children who made unbelievable improvements, ranging from 38 to 66 percentiles. If we remove these outliers, the average gain for all 53 students is much less impressive, less than two percentiles. The case for chess, in other words, depends on unusual gains made by six children in one study done about 20 years ago.

I'm all for chess, but if we are interested in improving reading, let's do the obvious: Invest in libraries.

Stephen Krashen

Original article (different heading on online edition): http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2011-03-29-chesslady29_ST_N.htm?loc=interstitialskip

Humane Schooling vs. KIPP-Genics

At the segregated KIPP containment camps, children who have signed away, along with their parents, all their rights as humans are subjected to a relentless and rigid psychological sterilization process that leaves KIPPsters unable to separate their capacity to affect the world from the KIPP brainwashing message that centers on instilling a false sense individual responsibility for all the good and bad that comes the way of these children and future altered adults. 

In short, the captive KIPPsters internalize the message that if they work hard enough and are nice enough, the world is their oyster; if the world does not open up to them, then it is the fault of their own shortcomings to, yes, work hard enough and be nice enough.  Any other consideration becomes entirely peripheral, and physical containment that begins at KIPP is transformed to life-long psychic containment as children function within a waking coma of compliance.

This circular closed logic for assuring constant self-monitoring, self-regulation, and self-flagellation of KIPPsters leads to tortured lives of self-blame and self-doubt for any failure to achieve the mundane or the miraculous, while the criminal-capitalist system that is behind these neo-eugenic hellholes for the poor is left as untouched from blame or responsibility as the unreachable jewels behind the bullet-proof glass at Tiffany's on Fifth Avenue. 

This is the new age of cultural eugenics, and public dollars are paying Wall Street hustlers to make it happen in every urban center where poor children and their parents are misled by New York public relations and advertising firms to believe that KIPP can produce miracles for their kids, who are being psychologically altered for life as we watch with folded hands.

From kindergarten up, children learn first that the 8 hour work day is a relic of a bygone era, and that if someone is yelling at them like one of their TFA brainwashed "teachers" or CEO principals, then they, themselves, must have done something wrong to deserve that yelling or that punishment. 

Had this system of behavioral neutering been in place in 1920 during the first eugenics wave to make the world safe from the unfit, we would have never had that noisy and messy Civil Rights Movement, for poor and brown children would have grown up knowing that rights readily come to those, and only those, who work hard enough and are nice enough.  If not, then you are not trying hard enough.

And so it is that the Bloomberg/Black schooling machine has a vested interest in minimizing humane schooling in New York City and maximizing the presence of KIPP and the KIPP emulators.  From the New York Times:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Joel I. Klein, the former schools chancellor, are strong supporters of charter schools. Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein have repeatedly told principals at New York City’s traditional public schools that a new age of reform has dawned, that charter schools are the cutting edge and that if these principals want traditional public schools to survive, they must learn to compete in the educational marketplace.

And so, last summer, Julie Zuckerman, the principal of a highly regarded public elementary school — Central Park East 1 in East Harlem — applied to open a new elementary school on the other side of Manhattan, in Washington Heights. Her plan was to create something truly rare: an urban school not focused on standardized testing.

Ms. Zuckerman, who worked in education as a principal and teacher for nearly 30 years and has a doctorate from Columbia, was given preliminary approval for the school in October. On Jan. 6, she was one of 30 people invited to the Education Department’s headquarters at Tweed Courthouse, where Cathleen P. Black, the current chancellor, congratulated them for being chosen to run new schools.

On Jan. 19, Ms. Zuckerman was informed that her school — to be called Castle Bridge — would be located in a vacant space at Public School 115 in Washington Heights. “We are all systems go,” wrote Elizabeth Rose of the Education Department. On Jan. 27, Ms. Zuckerman was informed by Alex Shub, another department official, that she would be getting $40,000 in start-up money. “Sounds like you are doing all the right things,” Mr. Shub wrote in a Feb. 14 e-mail.

And then, a few days later, Ms. Rose called to say that everything had changed. Ms. Zuckerman would not be getting the space at P.S. 115. Instead, Marc Sternberg, a deputy superintendent, had decided to award that space to KIPP, the biggest, richest charter school chain in the country.

That set off sparks. There is a quiet but fierce battle going on in education today, between the unions that represent the public school teachers and the hedge-fund managers who finance the big charter chains, between those who trust teachers to assess a child’s progress and those who trust standardized tests, and occasionally it flares out into the open over something as seemingly minor as the location of a school.

On one side is KIPP, a nonprofit organization with 99 charter schools nationwide, including seven in New York City. It is a favorite of the Broad, Gates and Walton foundations; in the last four years, KIPP has raised $160 million to supplement the public funds it receives ($13,527 per student in New York).

On the other side is Ms. Zuckerman, who has followed in the footsteps of Central Park East’s founder, Deborah Meier, one of the best-known education innovators in America.

When Ms. Zuckerman was told the earliest she would be getting a site for her school was 2012, her supporters were furious, but not too surprised. “Everyone knows the D.O.E. favors charters,” said Kevin Guzman, who, along with his wife, Melissa, runs a preschool in Washington Heights and has circulated petitions on behalf of Ms. Zuckerman’s school. “It was David versus Goliath.”

Ms. Zuckerman refused to comment for this article. However, interviews with her supporters, including fellow principals, teachers, parents, community activists and elected officials, made it possible to piece together her story.
I also obtained e-mails that Education Department officials sent to Ms. Zuckerman.

They were provided by a staff member of an elected official. The staff member was sympathetic to Ms. Zuckerman but did not want to be named because of fear of retaliation.

Mr. Sternberg also did not respond to requests for an interview. But he wrote in an e-mail, “We can always improve our process around planning,” and added, “KIPP has run some of the best schools in New York City for 15 years, and we think this school is going to be an excellent option for Upper Manhattan families.”

He denied there was any favoritism.

There are major differences between Central Park East 1 and KIPP schools. Central Park East is known as a progressive school. Learning is often done through group projects. Instead of survey courses, students are encouraged to go deeper on fewer topics. There is little test prep.

The KIPP chain is famous for long school days that end at 5 p.m., as well as Saturday school. Performance on standardized tests is a central focus, and test prep is extensive. Courses tend to cover more ground, but do not go into as much depth.

There are also similarities between Central Park East and the four KIPP schools serving elementary-age children in New York. Both Central Park East and the KIPP schools have similar poverty rates: 74 percent of Central Park East students get subsidized lunches; two of the KIPP schools have higher poverty rates and two have lower rates.

Academic performance is comparable. Two of the KIPP schools scored better than Central Park East on the 2010 state English tests; two scored worse. In math, KIPP is considerably stronger with three of the four KIPP schools doing better than Central Park East on state math tests.

Both are in demand. KIPP has 2,000 students on waiting lists for its seven schools, said Steve Mancini, KIPP’s spokesman.

At Central Park East, 180 were on last year’s waiting list for 12 openings. The Guzmans, whose preschool, the Small Idea, also follows a progressive philosophy, say that for several years many families with children at their preschool have applied to Central Park East, but none have been lucky enough to be selected in the school lottery.

When it comes to resources to open new schools, Central Park East is badly overmatched. According to its most recent tax forms, KIPP had a $1.7 million school expansion budget for New York in 2008. KIPP also has many well-paid executives working on new-school development, including David Levin, the KIPP New York superintendent, who makes $296,751 a year; eight other New York staff members earn $104,299 to $150,950.

At a public hearing in Washington Heights in February, Mr. Levin brought along two busloads of supporters dressed in KIPP T-shirts.

There were five people from Central Park East, including Ms. Zuckerman, at the same meeting. Ms. Zuckerman had no money or paid staff to fill out the abundant paperwork required for a new school. She did the planning in her spare time and got help from parent volunteers.

The Guzmans, who live in Washington Heights, have been the primary neighborhood organizers for Ms. Zuckerman’s school. They are volunteers who make a combined salary of $42,000 from their preschool and live in a back room of the school.

KIPP officials appear confident that the space in P.S. 115 is theirs. Though the decision will not be final until an April 28 vote by the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, KIPP posted recruiting flyers making it sound like a done deal: KIPP Star Elementary/Washington Heights/Now enrolling kindergarten/Housed within the P.S. 115 building. . .  .
Read the rest here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Obama wants less testing, Dept of Ed wants more testing

The president wants less testing; the DOE wants more.

Sent to the Washington Post, March 28, 2011

"Obama says standardized tests too punitive" (3/28/11) is baffling.

The president is calling for less standardized testing and less teaching to the test while his Department of Education is launching the most extensive standardized testing program ever seen in American education, one that goes far beyond the president's reasonable suggestion of a standardized test to be given every few years.

It is widely agreed that No Child Left Behind put too much emphasis on testing, but the new plan goes far beyond NCLB.

NCLB demands tests in reading and math. The Department of Education's Blueprint encourages testing in all subjects.

NCLB requires one test at the end of the year. The new plan includes "interim tests" to be given several times during the year, and because the Blueprint endorses measuring improvement, we could have tests given in the fall and spring.

In addition, all tests will be closely linked to national standards, which promises to result in more teaching to the test than ever.

There is no evidence that this approach has ever worked and plenty of reason to believe it will result in the kind of punitive "pressure-packed atmosphere" the president wants to avoid.

Secretary of Education Duncan should listen to President Obama.

Stephen Krashen

Associated Press -- March 28, 2011
By Erica Werner

Washington -- President Barack Obama said Monday that students should take fewer standardized tests and school performance should be measured in other ways than just exam results. Too much testing makes education boring for kids, he said.

"Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools," the president told students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C.

Obama, who is pushing a rewrite of the nation's education law that would ease some of its rigid measurement tools, said policymakers should find a test that "everybody agrees makes sense" and administer it in less pressure-packed atmospheres, potentially every few years instead of annually.

At the same time, Obama said, schools should be judged on criteria other than student test performance, including attendance rate.

"One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching the test because then you're not learning about the world, you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math," the president said. "All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that's not going to make education interesting."

"And young people do well in stuff that they're interested in," Obama said. "They're not going to do as well if it's boring."

The president endorsed the occasional administering of standardized tests to determine a "baseline" of student ability. He said his daughters Sasha, 9, and Malia, 12, recently took a standardized test that didn't require advance preparation. Instead, he said, it was just used as a tool to diagnose their strengths and weaknesses, and show areas where they could use more emphasis from teachers. The girls attend the private Sidwell Friends School in Washington.

Obama, who has been pushing his education agenda all month, has expressed concern that too many schools will be unable to meet annual proficiency standards under the No Child Left Behind law this year. The standards are aimed at getting 100 percent of students proficient in math, reading and science by 2014, a goal now widely seen as unrealistic.

The Obama administration has proposed replacing those standards with a less prescriptive requirement that by 2020 all students graduating from high school should be ready for college or a career.

Obama wants Congress to send him a rewrite of the 2001 law before the start of a new school year this fall. Although his education secretary, Arne Duncan, has been working hard with lawmakers of both parties, the deadline may be unrealistic with Congress focused on the budget and the economy. Congressional Republicans also look unwilling to sign off on Obama's plans to increase spending on education.

Obama also made a plug Monday for the use of technology in classrooms, revealing that he himself has an iPad.

He turned back a plea from one questioner to grant a special protected status to students who are in the country illegally in order to prevent them from getting deported. Obama said it wouldn't be appropriate because that status has traditionally been reserved for immigrants fleeing persecution or disaster.

The president did pledge to keep working to pass the Dream Act, which would give undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children a chance to gain legal status if they enroll in college or the military. The legislation passed the House but failed in the Senate in December; it now faces even longer odds in Congress with the House controlled by Republicans.


Monty Neill and Andy Eduwonk on NCLB

Rotherham admits gains have topped out under NCLB, soooo, we need a new generation of tests to make performance look good again. 

And then there is Monty Neill, who offers an understanding of the real achievement problem--poverty and TESTING!!

More Rhee Testing Miracles Evaporate as Henderson Stonewalls

Jack Gillum and Marisol Bello at USA Today have produced a piece of investigative journalism that is sure to win them awards for education reporting (unless Bill Gates and Eli Broad are paying for the trophies at EWA).  

In looking at every angle of a long-ignored story to ferret out the facts in a testing scandal that was kept under wraps by Fenty/Rhee/Henderson, Gillum and Bello have produced a classic case study of what happens when high stakes, high pressure, and big bucks corrupt social policy, per Campbell's Law, which states that

"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."

Not only have social processes been corrupted, but children have been damaged, too, as noted in this remarkable news story.  Here is a small clip:

'A total disconnect'

Questions were raised about high test scores at Noyes well before 2008.

A former Noyes parent, Marvin Tucker, says he suspected something was wrong in 2003, when the test scores his daughter, Marlana, brought home from school showed she was proficient in math.

Tucker says he was skeptical because the third-grader was getting daily instruction from a private tutor yet struggled with addition and subtraction. "She was nowhere near where they said she was on the test," he says. "I thought something was wrong with the test."

He questioned Ryan, the principal, and teachers about his daughter's scores but no one could explain how she had scored so high, Tucker recalls. Ultimately, Ryan barred him from the school for a year, saying he had threatened staff members, Tucker says. Tucker denies that.

Tucker also points out that if his daughter was proficient as a third-grader, that didn't last. When Marlana moved on to middle school elsewhere in D.C., her test scores fell and she no longer was considered proficient in math, he says.

Tucker shared his concerns about testing and other issues at Noyes with other parents. A small group went to the school board. "We tried to go through the chain of command," says Debbie Smith-Steiner, a neighborhood activist who worked with Tucker.

Parents even staged a small protest at the school board's offices, she says. Nothing changed and the group eventually let it go, Smith-Steiner says. "There wasn't anything we could do. You are fighting these battles and nobody is listening. Nobody is saying, 'How are these test scores going up so much?' "

Councilman Tommy Wells, then a school board member, says he relayed the parents' concerns to school officials. He says those officials assured him the allegations were checked out and nothing was confirmed. "There were parents and community members who did not like the principal," Wells says. "But we took their concerns seriously."

Several teachers at Noyes also were dubious about the legitimacy of test scores, describing what one called "a disconnect" between the high scores and how their students performed in class.

Ernestine Allen, a former teacher who taught pre-K as well as second- and fourth-grades for five years at Noyes, says it was hard to trust the scores of some students entering her classes. Their scores showed they were doing well when, she says, they were still struggling with reading.

"You wonder, how is it that this student got such a high score?" Allen says. She says teachers talked about the problem among themselves. But, she says, "Who do you tell?"

Allen left Noyes in 2006 after a series of run-ins with Ryan, which included a poor evaluation and an incident in which he called the police on her son, Preston. A police report shows Preston Allen, then 31, went to Ryan's office in October 2005 and asked the principal to stop using profanity when he talked to his mother. Ryan said the situation would be handled "administratively," the report said. No arrests were made.

Another Noyes instructor who taught more recently than Allen agrees with her that test scores were unreliable. "Something doesn't make sense," says the former teacher who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. "It's a total disconnect between what scores showed and what I could see in the classroom."

The former teacher also says "there was no way" the students themselves could have erased their own answers and changed them to the right ones. "They didn't check their work," the teacher says. . . . .

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Arne Duncan solves Greygower's problem

"Greygower" just recorded a song called the Test Teacher Anthem on http://educationrumination.com/. Here is the chorus:

"Test teacher, test teacher

Teaching to the test

Work on math and English

And forget about the rest."

Don’t worry, Greygower. Arne Duncan has solved this problem: Test all subjects.

"They want to test everything." (Diane Ravitch, after discussions with staff of the US Dept of Education)

The Crucial Missing Value in Using Value Added Modeling (VAM) for Teacher Evaluation

I was at a social justice conference on Saturday and heard a great deal of concern related the ethical breach created when children and teachers are evaluated using a standardized test.  What was missing in the discussion, however, was an understanding of how the "new and improved" version of pre and post testing represents just another in a long line of pseudo-scientific impositions that eventually ended up in the dustbin of technocratic ed interventions. 

The excerpted piece below that appears in Change helps to add some much-needed technical clarity to a policy that is dangerous for many other reasons than the ones laid out here based on technical non-feasibility and the inherent messiness of application venue for a method that would be much easier to apply to, let's say, an agricultural experiment (perhaps that is where the mad Dr. Sanders should return). 

For even though Dr. Wainer below lays out 3 big reasons that this current use of pseudoscience is not ready for prime time, he does not even touch upon the lack of validity and reliability of the junk tests that the testing corporations have sold to state and locals school systems, and he does not delve into the ethical and philosophical barrel of snakes to which the student-teacher relationship has been cast when student performance on a test becomes the principal criterion used to determine if a teacher can keep her job. 
This essay was extracted from Howard Wainer’s book Uneducated Guesses: A Leisurely Tour of Some Educational Policies That Only Make Sense If You Say Them Fast, to be published this year by Princeton University Press.
Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s program to help reform American education, has much to recommend it—not the least of which is the infusion of much needed money. So it came as no surprise to anyone that resource-starved states rushed headlong to submit modified education programs that would qualify them for some of the windfall. A required aspect of all such reforms is the use of student performance data to judge the quality of districts and teachers. This is a fine idea, not original to Race to the Top.

The late Marvin Bressler (1923–2010), Princeton University’s renowned educational sociologist, said the following in a 1991 interview:
Some professors are justly renowned for their bravura performances as Grand Expositor on the podium, Agent Provocateur in the preceptorial, or Kindly Old Mentor in the corridors. These familiar roles in the standard faculty repertoire, however, should not be mistaken for teaching, except as they are validated by the transformation of the minds and persons of the intended audience.
But how are we to measure the extent to which “the minds and persons” of students are transformed? And how much of any transformation observed do we assign to the teacher as the causal agent? These are thorny issues indeed. The beginning of a solution has been proposed in the guise of what are generally called “value-added models,” or VAMs for short. These models try to partition the change in student test scores among the student, the school, and the teacher. Although these models are still very much in the experimental stage, they have been seized upon as “the solution” by many states and thence included as a key element in their reform proposals. Their use in the evaluation of teachers is especially problematic.

Let me describe what I see as three especially difficult problems in the hopes that I might instigate some of my readers to try to make some progress toward their solution.

Problem 1—Causal Inference

One principal goal of VAMs is to estimate each teacher’s effect on his/her students. This probably would not be too difficult to do if our goal was just descriptive (e.g., Freddy’s math score went up 10 points while Ms. Jones was his teacher.). But, description is only a very small step if this is to be used to evaluate teachers. We must have a causal connection. Surely no one would credit Ms. Jones if the claim was “Freddy grew four inches while Ms. Jones was his teacher,” although it, too, might be descriptively correct. How are we to go from description to causation? A good beginning would be to know how much of a gain Freddy would have made with some other teacher. But alas, Freddy didn’t have any other teacher. He had Ms. Jones. The problem of the counterfactual plagues all of causal inference.

We would have a stronger claim for causation if we could randomly assign students to teachers and thence compare the average gain of one teacher with that of another. But, students are not assigned randomly. And even if they were, it would be difficult to contain post-assignment shifting. Also, randomization doesn’t cure all ills in very finite samples. The VAM parameter that is called “teacher effect” is actually misnamed; it should more properly be called “classroom effect.” This change in nomenclature makes explicit that certain aspects of what goes on in the classroom affects student learning, but is not completely under the teacher’s control. For example, suppose there is one 4th grader whose lack of bladder control regularly disrupts the class. Even if his class assignment is random, it still does not allow fair causal comparisons.

And so if VAMs are to be usable, we must utilize all the tools of observational studies to make the assumptions required for causal inference less than heroic.

Problem 2—The Load VAM Places on Tests

VAMs have been mandated for use in teacher evaluation from kindergarten through 12th grade. This leads through dangerous waters. It may be possible for test scores on the same subject, within the same grade, to be scaled so that a 10-point gain from a score of, say, 40 to 50 has the same meaning as a similar gain from 80 to 90. It will take some doing, but I believe that current psychometric technology may be able to handle it. I am less sanguine about being able to do this across years. Thus, while we may be able to make comparisons between two 4th-grade teachers with respect to the gains their students have made in math, I am not sure how well we could do if we were comparing a 2nd-grade teacher and a 6th-grade one. Surely a 10-point gain on the tests that were properly aimed for these two distinct student populations would have little in common. In fact, even the topics covered on the two math tests are certain to be wildly different.

If these difficulties emerge on the same subject in elementary school, the problems of comparing teachers in high school seem insurmountable. Is a 10-point gain on a French test equal to a 10-point gain in physics? Even cutting-edge psychometrics has no answers for this. Are you better at French than I am in physics? Was Mozart a better composer than Babe Ruth was a hitter? Such questions are not impossible to think about—Mozart was a better composer than I am a hitter—but only for very great differences. What can we do to make some gains on this topic? Judging differences among teachers are usually much more subtle.

Problem 3—Missing Data

Always a huge problem in all practical situations, it is made even more critical because of problems with the stability of VAM parameter estimates. The sample size available for the estimation of a teacher effect is typically about 30. This has not yielded stable estimates. One VAM study showed that only about 20% of teachers in the top quintile one year were in the top quintile the next. This result can be interpreted in either of two ways:
  • 1. The teacher effect estimates aren’t much better than random numbers.
  • 2. Teacher quality is ephemeral and so a very good teacher one year can be awful the next.
If we opt for (1), we must discard VAM as too inaccurate for serious use. If we opt for (2), the underlying idea behind VAM (that being a good teacher is a relatively stable characteristic we wish to reward) is not true. In either case, VAM is in trouble.

Current belief is that the problem is (1) and we must try to stabilize the estimates by increasing the sample size. This can be done in lots of ways. Four that come to mind are:
  • (a) Increasing class size to 300 or so
  • (b) Collapsing across time
  • (c) Collapsing across teachers
  • (d) Using some sort of empirical Bayes trick and gather stability by borrowing strength from both other teachers and other time periods
Option (a), despite its appeal to lunatic cost-cutters, violates all we know about the importance of small class sizes, especially in elementary education. Option (c) seems at odds with the notion of trying to estimate a teacher effect, and it would be tough to explain to a teacher that her rating was lowered this year because some of the other teachers in her school had not performed up to par. Option (d) is a technical solution that has much appeal to me, but I don’t know how much work has been done to measure its efficacy. Option (b) is the one that has been chosen in Tennessee, the state that has pioneered VAM, and has thence been adopted more-or-less pro forma by the other states in which VAMs have been mandated. But, requiring longitudinal data increases data-gathering costs and the amount of missing data.

What data are missing? Typically, test scores, but also sometimes things like the connection between student and teacher. But, let’s just focus on missing test scores. The essence of VAM is the adjusted difference between pretest and posttest scores (often given at the ends of the school year, but sometimes there is just one test given in a year and the pretest score is the previous year’s post score). The pre-score can be missing, the post-score can be missing, or both can be missing. High student mobility increases the likelihood of missing data. Inner-city schools have higher mobility than suburban schools. Because it is unlikely that missingness is unrelated to student performance, it is unrealistic to assume that we can ignore missing data and just average around them. Yet, often this is just what is done.
If a student’s pre-test score is missing, we cannot obtain what the change is unless we do something. What is often done is the mean pre-score for the students that have them (in that school and that grade) is imputed for the missing score. This has the advantage of allowing us to compute a change score, and the mean scores for the actual data and the augmented data (augmented with the imputed scores) will be the same. This sounds like a plausible strategy, but only if you say it fast. It assumes that the people who are missing scores are just like the ones that have complete data. This is unlikely to be true.

It isn’t hard to imagine how a principal under pressure to show big gains could easily game the system. For example, the principal could arrange a field trip for the best students on the day that the pre-test is to be given. Those students would have the average of all those left behind imputed as their score. Then, at the end of the year when the post-test is to be given, there is a parallel field trip for the worst students. Their missing data will be imputed from the average of those who remain. The gain scores could thus be manipulated, and the size of the manipulation is directly related to the academic diversity of the student population—the more diverse, the greater the possible gain. Obviously, a better method for dealing with missing data must be found.

Concluding Remarks

There is substantial evidence that the quality of teachers is of great importance in children’s education. We must remember, however, the lessons brought home to us in the Coleman report (and replicated many times in the almost half-century since) that the effects of home life dwarf teacher effects, whatever they are. If a classroom is made up of students whose home life is filled with the richness of learning, even an ordinary teacher can have remarkable results. But, conversely, if the children’s homes reflect chronic lack, and the life of the mind is largely absent, the teacher’s task is made insuperably more difficult.

Value-added models represent the beginning of an attempt to help us find, and thence reward, the most gifted teachers. But, despite substantial efforts, these models are still not ready for full-scale implementation. I have tried to describe what I believe are the biggest challenges facing the developers of this methodology. I do this in the hope that once the problems are made explicit, others will add the beauty of their minds to the labor of mine and we may make some progress. But we must be quick, because the pressures of contemporary politics allow little time for extended reflection.

Marcel Proust likened aging to being “perched upon living stilts that keep on growing.” We can see farther, but passage is increasingly wobbly. This essay exemplifies Proust’s metaphor.

Some Hows and Whys of VAM

The principal claim made by the developers of VAM—William L. Sanders, Arnold M. Saxton, and Sandra P. Horn—is that through the analysis of changes in student test scores from one year to the next, they can objectively isolate the contributions of teachers and schools to student learning. If this claim proves to be true, VAM could become a powerful tool for both teachers’ professional development and teachers’ evaluation.
This approach represents an important divergence from the path specified by the “adequate yearly progress” provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, for it focuses on the gain each student makes, rather than the proportion of students who attain some particular standard. VAM’s attention to individual student’s longitudinal data to measure their progress seems filled with commonsense and fairness.

There are many models that fall under the general heading of VAM. One of the most widely used was developed and programmed by William Sanders and his colleagues. It was developed for use in Tennessee and has been in place there for more than a decade under the name Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System. It also has been called the “layered model” because of the way each of its annual component pieces is layered on top of another.

The model begins by representing a student’s test score in the first year, y1, as the sum of the district’s average for that grade, subject, and year, say μ1; the incremental contribution of the teacher, say θ1; and systematic and unsystematic errors, say ε1. When these pieces are put together, we obtain a simple equation for the first year:
y1 = μ1+ θ1+ ε1 (1)

Student’s score (1) = district average (1) + teacher effect (1) + error (1)
There are similar equations for the second, third, fourth, and fifth years, and it is instructive to look at the second year’s equation, which looks like the first except it contains a term for the teacher’s effect from the previous year:
y2 = μ2+ θ1+ θ2+ ε2 . (2)
Student’s score (2) = district average (2) + teacher effect (1) + teacher (2) + error (2)

To assess the value added (y2 – y1), we merely subtract equation (1) from equation (2) and note that the effect of the teacher from the first year has conveniently dropped out. While this is statistically convenient, because it leaves us with fewer parameters to estimate, does it make sense? Some have argued that although a teacher’s effect lingers beyond the year the student had her/him, that effect is likely to shrink with time.

Although such a model is less convenient to estimate, it more realistically mirrors reality. But, not surprisingly, the estimate of the size of a teacher’s effect varies depending on the choice of model. How large this choice-of-model effect is, relative to the size of the “teacher effect” is yet to be determined. Obviously, if it is large, it diminishes the practicality of the methodology.

Recent research from the Rand Corporation shows a shift from the layered model to one that estimates the size of the change of a teacher’s effect from one year to the next suggests that almost half of the teacher effect is accounted for by the choice of model.

One cannot partition student effect from teacher effect without information about how the same students perform with other teachers. In practice, using longitudinal data and obtaining measures of student performance in other years can resolve this issue. The decade of Tennessee’s experience with VAM led to a requirement of at least three years’ data. This requirement raises the concerns when (i) data are missing and (ii) the meaning of what is being tested changes with time. 

Further Reading

Ballou, D., W. Sanders, and P. Wright. 2004. Controlling for student background in value-added assessment of teachers. Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics 29(1):37–65.

Braun, H. I., and H. Wainer. 2007. Value-added assessment. In Handbook of statistics (volume 27) psychometrics, ed. C. R. Rao and S. Sinharay, 867–892. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science.

Bressler, M. 1992. A teacher reflects. Princeton Alumni Weekly 93(5):11–14. 

Coleman, J. S., et al. 1966. Equality of educational opportunity. Washington, DC: U.S. Office of Education. 

Mariano, L. T., D. F. McCafferty, and J. R. Lockwood. 2010. A model for teacher effects from longitudinal data without assuming vertical scaling. Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics 35:253–279.

National Research Council. 2010. Getting value out of value-added. H. Braun, N. Chudowsky, and J. Koenig (eds.). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Rubin, D. B., E. A. Stuart, and E. L. Zanutto. 2004. A potential outcomes view of value-added assessment in education. Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics 29(1):103–116.

Sanders, W. L., A. M. Saxton, and S. P. Horn. 1997. The Tennessee value-added educational assessment system (TVAAS): A quantitative, outcomes-based approach to educational assessment. In Grading teachers, grading schools: Is student achievement a valid evaluation measure?, ed. J. Millman, 137–162. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press, Inc.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Bit 'o Background on Stand for Children's Lobbyist in Texas...

Question: What do you do after working on Dubya/Cheney's Presidential campaign, helping orchestrate a number of Republican victories, and buying Karl Rove's consulting firm?
Answer: Work as a lobbyist for Stand for Children-Texas!
No, this isn't a joke - it's entirely true...
From the Delisi Communications website (click on Ted Delisi):
When Karl Rove moved full-time to the Bush Presidential campaign in 1999, Ted purchased Rove’s consulting and direct mail company. The new company served as the sole direct mail fundraising firm for the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2000 and coordinated the get out the vote and direct mail efforts in several key battleground states. 
And from the Texas Ethics Commission website:
Believe it or not, the lobbyists above account for less than half of SFC-TX's army: they also hired five lobbyists from The Graydon Group. Two more people, including SFC-TX's executive director, are registered as lobbyists for the group.

SFC-TX already has a "Great Texas Teachers" campaign, and they've expressed support for two bills: SB 4 and HB 1587. The former bill requires that half a teachers evaluation be based on "standardized achievement data of the teacher's students, including the assessment instruments administered under Section 39.032". The latter bill recommends performance evaluations "which must include student performance on assessment instruments administered under Section 39.023 and other student learning objectives and outcomes," which is ever so slightly more benign than the language in SB 4 (but would likely result in the same result: a heckuva lot of value-added nonsense).
I guess someone has to carry the Dubya legacy. Looks like we have have found that illustrious torchbearer.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"The model is a business design, not an educational program..."

If the Ravenswood City School District school board agrees with the district's superintendent, it looks like one Rocketship won't be launching in East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park anytime soon.
Rocketship Education, praised for its reliance on cheap labor "hybrid" model and funded in part by the Broad Foundation, was hammered for their "unsound education program".
From Palo Alto Weekly's Chris Kenrick:
The superintendent of East Palo Alto's Ravenswood City School Districthas recommended denial of an application by a high-performing charter school operator to open a campus in East Palo Alto.
Superintendent Maria De La Vega said the application, by Rocketship Education, presents an "unsound educational program," which is poorly described in its 368-page charter petition, and that Rocketship is "demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement" the program it proposes.
Ravenswood trustees are scheduled to vote on Rocketship's petition in ameeting Thursday night (March 24) at 7:30 p.m. in the Costano School gymnasium, 2695 Fordham St., East Palo Alto.
Click here to read the entire article.

The Most Effective, Efficient, and Fair Way to Raise Achievement For Which Duncan Has No Interest

All the international test score comparisons show that it is our poorest quintile of children that keeping the US from claiming a top seat among other Western nations in the test score derby.  Socioeconomic integration has been demonstrated to raise achievement among these poorest children while having no negative testing effect on the high performers.  And it is affordable and offers a moral bonus and the pragmatic benefits that accrue from diverse social environments.  The only downside for the Oligarchs: it is democratic and it does not treat social advantage as a zero-sum game that can be exploited by a fetid form of consumer capitalism.

From Bob Herbert at the NYTimes:

One of the most powerful tools for improving the educational achievement of poor black and Hispanic public school students is, regrettably, seldom even considered. It has become a political no-no.

Educators know that it is very difficult to get consistently good results in schools characterized by high concentrations of poverty. The best teachers tend to avoid such schools. Expectations regarding student achievement are frequently much lower, and there are lower levels of parental involvement. These, of course, are the very schools in which so many black and Hispanic children are enrolled.

Breaking up these toxic concentrations of poverty would seem to be a logical and worthy goal. Long years of evidence show that poor kids of all ethnic backgrounds do better academically when they go to school with their more affluent — that is, middle class — peers. But when the poor kids are black or Hispanic, that means racial and ethnic integration in the schools. Despite all the babble about a postracial America, that has been off the table for a long time.
More than a half-century after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation ruling, we are still trying as a country to validate and justify the discredited concept of separate but equal schools — the very idea supposedly overturned by Brown v. Board when it declared, “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Schools are no longer legally segregated, but because of residential patterns, housing discrimination, economic disparities and long-held custom, they most emphatically are in reality.

“Ninety-five percent of education reform is about trying to make separate schools for rich and poor work, but there is very little evidence that you can have success when you pack all the low-income students into one particular school,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who specializes in education issues.

The current obsession with firing teachers, attacking unions and creating ever more charter schools has done very little to improve the academic outcomes of poor black and Latino students. Nothing has brought about gains on the scale that is needed.

If you really want to improve the education of poor children, you have to get them away from learning environments that are smothered by poverty. This is being done in some places, with impressive results. An important study conducted by the Century Foundation in Montgomery County, Md., showed that low-income students who happened to be enrolled in affluent elementary schools did much better than similarly low-income students in higher-poverty schools in the county.

The study, released last October, found that “over a period of five to seven years, children in public housing who attended the school district’s most advantaged schools (as measured by either subsidized lunch status or the district’s own criteria) far outperformed in math and reading those children in public housing who attended the district’s least-advantaged public schools.”

Studies have shown that it is not the race of the students that is significant, but rather the improved all-around environment of schools with better teachers, fewer classroom disruptions, pupils who are more engaged academically, parents who are more involved, and so on. The poorer students benefit from the more affluent environment. “It’s a much more effective way of closing the achievement gap,” said Mr. Kahlenberg.

About 80 school districts across the country are taking steps to reduce the concentrations of poverty in their schools. But there is no getting away from the fact that if you try to bring about economic integration, you’re also talking about racial and ethnic integration, and that provokes bitter resistance. The election of Barack Obama has not made true integration any more palatable to millions of Americans.

I favor integration for integration’s sake. This society should be far more integrated in almost every way than it is now. But to get around the political obstacles to school integration, districts have tried a number of strategies. Some have established specialized, high-achieving magnet schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, which have had some success in attracting middle class students. Some middle-class schools have been willing to accept transfers of low-income students when those transfers are accompanied by additional resources that benefit all of the students in the schools.

It’s difficult, but there are ways to sidestep the politics. What I think is a shame is that we have to do all of this humiliating dancing around the perennially uncomfortable issue of race. We pretend that no one’s a racist anymore, but it’s easier to talk about pornography in polite company than racial integration. Everybody’s in favor of helping poor black kids do better in school, but the consensus is that those efforts are best confined to the kids’ own poor black neighborhoods.

Separate but equal. The Supreme Court understood in 1954 that it would never work. But our perpetual bad faith on matters of race keeps us trying. 

North Carolina Republicans Don't Need No Stinkin' Accrediting Agency

The Koch heads in the North Carolina Legislature are pushing on with their plan to strip AdvanceED of its accrediting powers in the state of North Carolina.  Why?  Because AdvancED did not look kindly on the anti-democratic and socially unjust and educationally disruptive and pedagogically unsound and ideologically based re-segregation of Wake County Schools.  So Teabagger sponsors, Blackwell and Holloway, along with co-sponsors,  AvilaCookDollar; and Stam, have offered this legislative masterpiece, Edition 1 [HTML], of John Birch Society problem-solving, and so we must wait to see if the North Carolina will be dragged further back into the Jim Crow era by the social antiquarians who now control government in NC.

Commentary from the Charlotte Observer:
Remember comedian Stephen Colbert's lampooning in January of the Wake County school board and its dismantling of the system's popular socioeconomic diversity school assignment plan?

That ridicule wasn't enough for some N.C. lawmakers. They're offering "help" to the Wake school board as it wards off accreditation problems resulting from the school assignment issue - and aid to school officials in Burke County too.

That help comes in the form of House Bill 342. The bill would give the State Board of Education new powers as an accreditation agency, with local school districts required to pay the board for the costs of the accreditation process. It also would force the UNC Board of Governors to adopt policies prohibiting its colleges and universities from using accreditation of secondary schools (other than from the state board of education) as a factor in admissions, loans, scholarships and other educational activity. State community colleges would face the same restrictions.

Burke County and Wake County face loss of accreditation from AdvanceED, a national school accreditation agency widely used by schools around the country. Both have dysfunctional school boards, and complaints about impacts on academics led to probes. Last week, the agency issued a scathing report on the Wake school board, saying it had created a climate of uncertainty and mistrust in the community by giving inadequate notice of major actions and making policy decisions, such as eliminating the use of socioeconomic diversity in student assignment, without compelling data. The agency gave Wake a year to fix problems or risk losing accreditation. Burke has until June.

But lawmakers, mostly from Burke and Wake, decided on a different way to tackle the matter. With House Bill 342, they are trying to make the national accreditation irrelevant. They assert that the state board would provide more accountability on standards than AdvanceED has anyway.

That's mind-boggling. A group funded by state lawmakers, wholly dependent on their support, is more credible on accountability than one with no ties to legislators and an established national reputation? We don't think so. This would be wink-and-a-nod accreditation. It's a worthless and wasteful idea.

Absurdly, the move also would burden local school districts with more costs. That's because many students seek admission to non-N.C. colleges and universities. National accreditation will still be desirable. This just sets up another accrediting agency for local school districts to pay for.

Lawmakers would be foolish to approve such a plan just to save face for a couple of school boards who don't want to or can't get their acts together. But if legislators do approve this folly, lawmakers and the rest of us should expect to become the butt of more jokes. We'll deserve it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rotherham in TIME - Bending the Truth

This is a post that should have been up a while ago, but I needed to check with multiple sources to make sure the facts were straight. This post will focus on something Andrew Rotherham said in TIME magazine.

From TIME:

Recently, the group [Stand for Children] pushed through tax increases to improve school funding in Oregon as well as changes in the ways that teachers are evaluated and granted tenure in Colorado. It is currently in the middle of a major debate over teacher policy in Illinois. 

Rotherham makes three claims about Stand in these two sentences. Two claims are fair and accurate, but one is quite misleading. Whether or not this is intentional or accidental is somewhat irrelevant (although interesting to explore), but it begs a few questions:

  • just how much does Rotherham really know about what Bellwether's clients are actually doing;
  • is Rotherham intentionally misleading readers in order to garner more support for the organizations he advises; and
  • is it fair for TIME Magazine to give space to someone so clearly involved in education reform at multiple levels?

It's important to note that:

As you'll (hopefully) see below, it's really impossible to claim Stand "pushed through tax increases" in Oregon. I doubt anyone at Stand would even agree with Rotherham's statement. There are a few ways to get legislation passed: with a lot of money, or by whipping up a crowd to support the legislation (which is easier to do if you have a lot of money).

As you can see at the bottom of this post, by far the biggest financial contributors to this campaign to raise taxes were unions, including the NEA and Oregon Education Association. If anyone "pushed through" the tax increases, it was various labor unions, including teacher unions. Stand did, in fact, provide assistance with phone banks (the third largest contributor according to a few sources; two labor unions provided more support than SFC), and they did eventually support the measure. But push it through they did not, and for Rotherham to claim they did - and for Stand-OR not to correct the record - is concerning.

Here's why this is important: Rotherham notes Stand's activity in Oregon - which would certainly be progressive if it was true - while mentioning their work in Colorado and Illinois. In CO, Stand played a major role in passing SB-191, a bill that will use value-added scores as a significant component of evaluations. Stand's work in Illinois is straight-up union busting, pure and simple (they joined Advance Illinois and the corporate class to push a heavy VAM bill with some other awful provisions, which ultimately failed to pass. The bill certainly could be revived, especially now that Stand has over $3,000,000 in a PAC).

Consider this: pushing for a tax increase is a pretty progressive stance. Using value-added models as a serious component of teacher evaluations is (at least in this day and age) a more centrist position. The work of SFC in IL is certainly not progressive by any measure, and is probably most accurately described as anti-union. Rotherham used his post at TIME to portray SFC as an organization that spans the political spectrum. It's actually a quite creative approach - if it was true. But it's not even remotely true. To say the pushed through tax increases is pure bologna, and that looks really bad when you consider Rotherham is advising (and presumably paid) by SFC. Or, he's paid to lie about them in a national magazine that doesn't even seem to bother with things like fact checking statements made by people that are paid to talk about certain groups.

Below is a summary of the major donations made to the pro-tax advocates here in Oregon. We're talking about a significant amount of money raised - but none from Stand for Children.


The "Defend Oregon - Yes for Tax Fairness" was the committee supporting the tax changes. Campaign records are available via ORESTAR, Oregon's election reporting website. Below are all donations exceeding $25,000:


$350,000 on 1/15/2010

$250,000 on 12/15/2009

$250,000 on 1/4/2010

$100,000 on 1/25/2010

SEIU Local 503 - Oregon public employees union:

$250,000 on 1/11/2010

$210,000 on 12/14/2009

$200,000 o 11/23/2009

$85,000 on 12/30/2009

$75,000 on 9/2/2009

$30,000 cash contribution - 1/4/2010

Oregon Education Association:

$500,000 on 12/14/2009

$500,000 on 12/29/2009

$400,000 on 1/8/2010

$300,000 on 10/23/2009

$300,000 on 12/21/2009

$26,033 In-kind contribution - 12/22/2009

AFSCME (national):

$500,000 on 12/21/2009

National Education Association:

$200,000 on 1/19/2010

$41,465.53 on 1/24/2010

Oregon AFSCME Council 75:

$250,000 on 11/3/2009

$150,000 on 12/16/2009

$145,009 on 1/8/2010

$100,000 on 12/21/2009

Oregon AFT Political and Legislative Action Network PAC:

$200,000 on 12/4/2009

$100,000 on 1/6/2010

$100,000 on 1/14/2010

Our Oregon:

$150,000 on 1/7/2010

$90,000 on 12/31/2009

$50,000 on 6/4/2010

The Atlantic Advocacy Fund:

$100,000 on 1/15/2010

Oregon School Employees Association:

$50,000 on 10/26/2009

SEIU State Council:

$50,000 on 1/11/2010

$50,000 on 1/11/2010


$50,000 on 1/22/2010


$50,000 on 1/15/2010

School Employees Exercising Democracy:

Oregon Health Care Association:

$75,000 on 12/3/2009

American Federation of Teachers - Oregon Issue PAC:

$50,000 on 10/3/2009

$50,000 on 1/5/2010



Christie's Starvation Diet for Schools Ruled Uncontitutional

As the Governor's girth grows at a pace that is only exceeded by that of his ego, and as he applies his ham-handed surgical procedure for economic banding to New Jersey schools, the Courts have finally stepped in to challenge Christie's attempted extermination of public education through starvation. New Jersey Abbot Districts, those with the poorest children in the state, have been particularly hard hit for a reason. 

When towns like Edison with large numbers of poor children have their State education funding cut by 55 percent in one year (see below), that puts them on the fast track to privatization via segregated corporate charter schools.  No longer are the oligarchs and the bottom feeding hedge funders working the angles of Wall Street content to wait any longer for AYP to work its relentless formula toward privatization of urban America.  These leeches are eager to fast track corporate takeover of schools based on a crisis created by a the Koch-headed Governor who remains unwilling to have the rich bear part of the burden of the Wall Street swindle of 2008 that the rich benefited from.  Instead, he wants to hand over our schools to Wall Street as a reward for their crimes that remain unpunished.  There will hell to pay.

Judge: Christie's education aid cut was unconstitutional
Philadelphia Inquirer, 3.22.11
Gov. Christie's deep aid cuts last year have prevented New Jersey public schools from providing students the "thorough and efficient" education required by the state constitution, a Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday….Thirty-six percent of New Jersey's school districts were funded at a level deemed less than adequate under the funding formula, according to Doyne. Seventy-two percent of the state's at-risk students lives in those districts, he wrote.

ELC Statement on Special Master’s Findings
Judge Doyne's detailed findings and conclusions provide a sobering analysis of the result of state aid cuts on New Jersey's public schools. In finding that the School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) formula is underfunded by $1.6 billion, or 19%, in the current year, the Special Master highlighted evidence of the inability of districts to provide the programs necessary for students to meet State academic standards, particularly at-risk students across the state.

Braun: N.J. Supreme Court to take its turn on deciding constitutionality of Christie's school funding
Star Ledger, 3.23.11
The high court has three options. It can agree the state doesn’t have the money and defer or cancel the promise of full funding. It can insist, as it did in 1976, that the formula be fully funded, even if that means raising taxes — a remedy the late Chief Justice Richard Hughes enforced with a statewide school shutdown. "Or," says Tractenberg, "it can try to find the nearly invisible line between the two.’’

N.J.’s Poorest Students Hurt by Christie Cuts, Judge Says
Business Week
Michael Drewniak, a Christie spokesman, said today in a statement that the Supreme Court “should at last abandon the failed assumption of the last three decades that more money equals better education, and stop treating our state’s fiscal condition as in inconvenient afterthought.”

Judge: School cuts not fair to Abbott districts especially
Star Ledger, 3.23.11
Edison Superintendent Richard O'Malley said his district was handed a $9.78 million budget cut last year, equal to 55.8 percent of the state aid Edison received the previous year. The district, the largest in Middlesex County, cut 131 education positions, full-day kindergarten, elementary world language instruction, middle school athletics, after-school busing and money for new textbooks and technology. "The district suffered a tremendous academic setback with the loss of this amount of money in one year with no time to plan," O'Malley said. "Those effects have been felt this year and will be felt in years to come. What is not stated in these numbers is what's lost on the future education of our children."

Abbott Fact Finding: Christie Cuts Hurt At-Risk Kids

NJ Spotlight 3.22.11
In a case that is now dating back close to 40 years, the true drama will come in what happens next with the state Supreme Court, which requested Doyne’s fact-finding report as part of the latest challenge under the epic case. The court could next demand the administration restore the cuts -- or even the full funding -- or something short of that, prospects that set off their own commentary yesterday.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jay Picks a New Charter School to Fawn Over - but Forgets the Data! (Or, Another Reminder About Why Jay's Newsweek Rankings are Junk)

Earlier this week, Jay Mathews posted about the possibility of a new charter school coming to D.C. The operator of the school, BASIS Schools, runs a number of schools in Arizona and has drawn attention because of their high standards, heavy use of AP classes/tests, and stellar rankings on the US News & World Report and Jay's very own Newsweek list. 

In this post, I'm going to point out a few issues here: 
  1. BASIS Tucson, their flagship school, has a serious attrition problem;
  2. BASIS Tucson's high attrition means they skyrocket up Jay's Newsweek list; and
  3. Jay's concluding remarks about the school and the possibility of others giving this model a try is pretty silly (to put it kindly).
  4. [As a bonus, there's also a bit about AZ charters not keeping track of how many F/R lunch kids they serve]

BASIS Tucson attrition: The Arizona Department of Education's website includes a handy page that'll give you statistics on school enrollment. I took this enrollment data from BASIS' Tucson location and put them on one Excel spreadsheet. As you can plainly see, there's TREMENDOUS attrition at this school. The 2009/2010 graduating class, for instance, had 71 6th graders in 2004/2005, but only 24 managed to graduate by the time that cohort of students had made their way to 12th grade. 

[Click to enlarge]
A few caveats here: it's abundantly clear that BASIS Tucson loses a lot of kids between the time they start in 5th grade and the time that cohort of kids makes to 12th grade. It is possible, however, that BASIS Tucson students graduate in 11th grade, which would (unfairly) make their 12 grade classes seem very small. I think that's likely a very minor issue. The other thing to keep in mind is that we don't know if, for instance, the 24 seniors that graduated in 2010 were all part of the class of 71 6th graders during the 2003/4 school year. Students may have entered or exited the school - and the only way to know about that is to use student-level, longitudinal data (which I don't have). 

Gaming Jay's Newsweek Rankings: Jay mentions that Tucson's BASIS charter ranks 6th on his list of "America's Best High Schools." Let me point out how Jay comes up with his "challenge figure," which is the *only* measurement he uses to rank schools (via Newsweek's FAQ):
We take the total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge (AICE) tests given at a school each year and divide by the number of seniors graduating in May or June.
Pretty simple and straightforward - just straightforward enough for the simpleminded folks that somehow believe a single measure is a sufficient way to measure a school. Schools giving a lot of AP/IB/AICE tests with a small graduating class of seniors is likely to skyrocket up Jay's list. Does it tell us something about a school if they give a heck of a lot of AP/IB/AICE tests and have a small senior class? Yes - it tells us they give a lot of AP/IB/AICE tests and only have a small class of seniors. It really, really doesn't tell us much about the quality of the school. And, of course, the serious attrition at BASIS Tucson means their graduating class of seniors is small - which, once again, makes Jays ranking more than a bit silly.

Silly Conclusion: Here's Jay's concluding paragraph:
It will be interesting to watch. No one has ever planned for D.C. students to work this hard and do this well. If such high standards succeed at BASIS, other schools may have to give them a try.
It might make sense to have other schools give this a try - but only if BASIS was able to keep kids from 5th grade all the way through 12th grade. That's quite clearly not happening. This school is the epitome of the argument that charter schools skim off certain students and discard the rest. Jay gives precisely zero indication of these issues, and his conclusion lacks nuance. 

If anything, this is a boutique model that might work for a select group of kids, but it's likely not something that other schools, especially public schools that are *required to serve all kids*, can emulate. 

Bonus!: Jay asks:

Can such a school survive in the District? Michael Block says 26 percent of BASIS Tucson students are Hispanic or black, and estimates about 20 percent are low-income. Yet the school’s average SAT score last year, 1854, was above the 1852 average at Langley High School in McLean, where only 2 percent of students come from low-income homes. Seventy-two percent of BASIS Tucson’s Hispanic students and 88 percent of its black students had passing scores on AP tests in 2010, compared to passing rates of 42 percent and 27 percent for those ethnicities nationally.

In the era of measurement, data, more measurement and even more data, how is it possible that BASIS can only offer an estimate of the number of low-income students they serve? Well, BASIS doesn't keep track of F/R lunch students because they don't have a meal program (in fact, only about 35% of AZ's charter schools have a lunch program). The 20% figure provided by BASIS Tucson is "based on the number of seniors who needed waivers for SAT/college applications," according to Julia Toews, head of BASIS Tucson (via email).

Stanley Fish Supports Higher Ed Unions (gasp) and Declares "We are All Badgers Now"

This has to rank right up there with Diane Ravitch coming down from her neat corporate view at 20,000 feet to see the destruction among children, parents, and teachers on the ground.  As I said thank you and welcome to Diane, I extend the same hand of solidarity to Stanley Fish, whose behind on most faculty labor issues over the years has been so tight as to blunt even any needle potentially driven by a 16 ounce hammer (I hope I said that in a way that wasn't too offensive to Stanley).

From the New York Times:
A conversation about unionization and higher education between Stanley Fish and Walter Benn Michaels, professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

SF: In over 35 years of friendship and conversation, Walter Michaels and I have disagreed on only two things, and one of them was faculty and graduate student unionization. He has always been for and I had always been against. I say “had” because I recently flipped and what flipped me, pure and simple, was Wisconsin.

When I think about the reasons (too honorific a word) for my previous posture I become embarrassed. They are by and large the reasons rehearsed and apparently approved by Naomi Schaefer Riley in her recent op-ed piece “Why unions hurt higher education” (USA Today). The big reason was the feeling — hardly thought through sufficiently to be called a conviction — that someone with an advanced degree and scholarly publications should not be in the same category as factory workers with lunch boxes and hard hats. As Riley points out, even the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) used to be opposed to unionization because of “the commonly held belief that universities were not corporations and faculty were not employees.”

WBM: But at UIC, where I worked for Stanley and where many of us are working right now to build a union, “a lunch bucket faculty for a lunch bucket student body” is a standard way of describing us, originally intended as a form of condescension but increasingly accepted as a badge of honor. Why is it a bad thing that our students aren’t as rich as the ones at Northwestern or the University of Chicago? Why is it a bad thing to accept the fact that we are workers? We’re fortunate that some of us are pretty well-paid workers, but many of us aren’t and, well-paid or not, we all have less and less of a say in what our university does and how it does it. When workers want a voice, what do they do? Unionize! So even though our job descriptions range from professor to principal investigator and we make more books than widgets, that’s what we’re tying to do.

I have to agree. If “unions are not corporations” ever was a good argument, it isn’t anymore because universities, always corporations in financial fact, become increasingly corporate in spirit every day; and if I and my colleagues are not employees, from whom do we receive salaries, promotions, equipment, offices, etc., and to whom are we responsible in the carrying out of our duties? (If it looks like a duck . . . .) It’s not God and it’s not (despite some claims to the contrary) students, and it’s not awestruck admirers of our dazzling intellects. It must be our employer, and if that is so the only question becomes whether, as employees, we can do better for ourselves by ourselves or whether we will be in a stronger position if we unite.

That’s not the simple question it appears to be, because for a small percentage of academics there is something like a free agent market: another university comes calling and you’re in the nice position of being able to pit your current employer against your suitor and wait to see who will come up with the best package. But most of us are not in this position, and so it doesn’t pay (quite literally) to conceptualize our situation as if we were all stars. Once we accept as a baseline the average hardworking instructor or the completely vulnerable adjunct the case for unionization, at least on the level of professional self-interest, seems compelling.

It has not seemed compelling to those who see an ill fit between what is essentially a meritocracy (the question asked in tenure and hiring meetings is always “Who is the smartest?”) and the tendency — or so it is said — of unions to protect members who are marginally competent. If academics opt for unions and “a belt-and-suspenders security,” Riley warns, we might “expect that even the laziest, most incompetent or radical professor won’t get fired.”

It is when I read a sentence like this one of Riley’s that I come to my senses and recognize what’s going on. “Lazy” and “incompetent” go together; they point to deficiencies we don’t want our teachers to display. But “radical” is a political judgment. What Riley fears is that if colleges and universities were unionized, teachers with far out, discomforting ideas couldn’t be fired. It’s hard to imagine a better argument for unions (and also for tenure). The autonomy and independence of the academy is perpetually threatened by efforts to impose an ideological test on hiring and firing decisions. The goal is always to create a faculty that has the right (pun intended) partisan hue. Riley makes no bones about it. Letting the unions get a foothold “could . . . make the environment more left leaning.” The message is clear: keep those unions out so that we can more easily get rid of the lefties.

WBM: At UIC, we’re not so worried about our bosses weeding out the radicals — our administration has been staunch in its support of academic freedom. But what amazes us is the idea that somehow a faculty can’t be both unionized and, to use the word invoked by Riley in her USA Today piece and by our own provost in his communications to the faculty, “elite.” This would come as a shock to the Rutgers philosophy department, which works on a unionized campus and which is nonetheless ranked as one of the two best in the U.S. And it’s even a bit of a shock to the UIC English department, which isn’t as elite as Rutgers philosophy but is (according to the National Research Council) among the top 20 in the country, and which almost unanimously supports unionization. Riley may think that only the “laziest” want unions, but our ranking is based largely on the strength of faculty productivity — it’s the hard-working ones who want the union most.

Why? Because we think that the people who actually do the teaching and the research should have more of a say in how the teaching and the research gets done. Riley quotes the president of the University of Buffalo saying, “Unionization runs contrary to what you’re socialized to do if you’re a researcher. The notion of belonging to a herd seems on the face of it inappropriate.” But since when does having a voice in what happens in your own workplace count as belonging to the herd? The president of Buffalo, despite the fact that Buffalo is itself unionized, apparently thinks that rugged individualism consists in shutting up and doing what management tells you to do.

But why should we shut up? Who else actually cares about our teaching and research? People like Riley claim that we should be worried about how unionization will “affect the quality of higher education in America.” But whether you’re a radical or a conservative, a Republican or a Democrat, it’s easy to see that the unions aren’t what’s destroying the public colleges and universities. In the last 10 years, we’ve seen Illinois and states all around the country beat a rapid retreat from their commitment to public higher education. We’ve seen the increased transfer of undergraduate teaching to non-tenure-track faculty who are paid at a wage that, if they were supporting a family of four, would qualify them for food stamps. We’ve seen more money spent on administering universities and less money spent on the teaching and the research that are the only reasons the universities exist in the first place. Unions aren’t the problem. They’re the beginning of the solution.

The erosion of support for public higher education is a part of a larger strategy designed to deprive public employees of a voice and ensure the triumph of conservative/neoliberal policies. Republican legislators in New Hampshire propose taking the vote away from college students and say straight out that they want to do it because students are known to be liberal. Governor Walker of Wisconsin cites budgetary woes as the reason for taking away the bargaining rights of public sector unions, but everyone knows his real reason is to reduce union membership (why join and pay dues if there is no longer any strength in numbers?) and thus dry up support that would have gone largely to Democratic candidates. Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (shouldn’t there be a patent on names?) makes it official: “If we win this battle and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions . . . President Obama is going to have a . . . much more difficult time getting elected.”

Fitzgerald, Walker and Riley remind me of something I had forgotten, cocooned as I have been in the small world of the academy. With apologies to John Donne, “no university is an Island” and “ask not at whom the union-bashing is aimed; it is aimed at you,” even if you (like me) are relatively insulated from its immediate effects. Should Governor Walker have his way (as it seems he has), should New Hampshire Republicans succeed in disqualifying citizens likely to vote against them, should Riley’s admonition that “students, parents and taxpayers . . . think twice about how unionization affects the quality of higher education” be heeded, the result will be a further entrenchment of the interests that labor to monopolize wealth and power and to create a world in which any of us can be dismissed in the name of achieving a “more flexible workforce,” that is, a workforce that has no choice but to accept whatever its masters deign to offer.

We are all badgers now.

WBM: Hey, UIC faculty — sign the card!