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

Monday, January 24, 2022

How to Learn Nothing from the Failure of VAM-Based Teacher Evaluation

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform is a most exclusive academic club lavishly funded and outfitted at Brown U. for the advancement of corporate education in America. 

The Institute is headed by Susanna Loeb, who has a whole slew of degrees from prestigious universities, none of which has anything to do with the science and art of schooling, teaching, or learning.  

Researchers at the Institute are circulating a working paper that, at first glance, would suggest that school reformers might have learned something about the failure of teacher evaluation based on value-added models applied to student test scores. The abstract:

Starting in 2009, the U.S. public education system undertook a massive effort to institute new high-stakes teacher evaluation systems. We examine the effects of these reforms on student achievement and attainment at a national scale by exploiting the staggered timing of implementation across states. We find precisely estimated null effects, on average, that rule out impacts as small as 1.5 percent of a standard deviation for achievement and 1 percentage point for high school graduation and college enrollment. We also find little evidence of heterogeneous effects across an index measuring system design rigor, specific design features, and district characteristics.

So could this mean that the national failure of VAM applied to teacher evaluation might translate to decreasing the brutalization of teachers and the waste of student learning time that resulted from the implementation of VAM beginning in 2009? No such luck.  
The conclusion of the paper, in fact, clearly shows that the Annenbergers have concluded that the failure to raise test scores by corporate accountability means (VAM) resulted from laggard states and districts that did not adhere strictly to the VAM's mad methods.  In short, the corporate-led failure of VAM in education happened as a result of schools not being corporate enough:

Firms in the private sector often fail to implement best management practices and performance evaluation systems because of imperfectly competitive markets and the costs of implementing such policies and practices (Bloom and Van Reenen 2007). These same factors are likely to have influenced the design and implementation of teacher evaluation reforms. Unlike firms in a perfectly competitive market with incentives to implement management and evaluation systems that increase productivity, school districts and states face less competitive pressure to innovate. Similarly, adopting evaluation systems like the one implemented in Washington D.C. requires a significant investment of time, money, and political capital. Many states may have believed that the costs of these investments outweighed the benefits. Consequently, the evaluation systems adopted by many states were not meaningfully different from the status quo and subsequently failed to improve student outcomes.

So the Gates-Duncan RTTT corporate plan for teacher evaluation failed not because it was a corporate model but because it was not corporate enough!  In short, there were way too many small carrots and not enough big sticks.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

British Study Finds Phonics Fanaticism "is uninformed and failing children"

 A new British study reported in The Guardian finds that the imbalance created by dependence on phonics in reading instruction to the exclusion of balanced literacy approaches effectively limits children's comprehension and understanding of what they read, children's desire to read, children's appreciation of books, and their reading achievement scores. 

So what's not to love about concentrated phonics instruction, especially for disenfranchised children?  After all, it is best child neurological training regimen for a life without independent thinking, individual initiative, a broad understanding of how the world works, or the capacity for imaginative problem solving.

The study concludes with a call for national reading curriculum and instruction policy control to be removed from appointed officials whose job it is to pursue an education agenda based on political ideology rather than empirical evidence. How quaint!

From The Guardian:

A landmark study has described the way primary school pupils are taught to read in England as “uninformed and failing children”, calling on the government to drop its narrow focus on phonics.

Researchers at UCL’s Institute of Education say the current emphasis on synthetic phonics, which teaches children to read by helping them to identify and pronounce sounds which they blend together to make words, is “not underpinned by the latest evidence”.

They claim analysis of multiple systematic reviews, experimental trials and data from international assessment tests such as Pisa suggests that teaching reading in England may have been less successful since the adoption of the synthetic phonics approach rather than more.

The UCL researchers are among 250 signatories to a letter which has been sent to education secretary Nadhim Zahawi, calling on the government to allow for a wider range of approaches to teaching reading, which would allow teachers to use their own judgment about which is best for their pupils. . . .

Monday, January 17, 2022

New Sex Crimes Charges Against Another KIPP Teacher

In August 2021, the Southern District of New York announced sex crimes charges against a former Bronx KIPP teacher, Jesus Concepcion, who is now facing 10 years to life on one charge and 15 years to life on another. 

Both federal charges involve sex crimes with KIPP middle school students. From the Justice Department Press Release last August:

CONCEPCION, 48, of Simpsonville, South Carolina, is charged with four counts of enticing a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity and four counts of transporting a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity, each of which carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison.  CONCEPCION also is charged with inducing a minor to produce child pornography, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Then, in December of 2021, another KIPP teacher, Cesar Sanchez, was charged in Manhattan Criminal Court with sexually molesting students at KIPP Washington Heights, beginning when one girl was in fourth grade. 

Both Sanchez and the principal of KIPP Washington Heights, Danny Swersky, have been fired. Both were suspended temporarily in 2019 for an undisclosed misconduct charge that occurred during a school trip.

Three major news outlets have carried the KIPP sex abuse stories, but not the New York Times, which most often can be counted to remain mum about charter school abusers and predators.

The latest sex crimes charges follow on the firing of KIPP co-founder, Mike Feinberg, in 2018 amid accusations of sex assault against a KIPP middle school student.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

KIPP, Inc. Seeks More Handouts from Public Schools

 Last updated 01/17/22

The KIPP Foundation is flush with cash.  Over the past 20 years, KIPP has received dozens of federal grants worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  In 2019, alone, KIPP has handed a whopping $86 million by the U.S. Department of Education.  

And on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars in per pupil funding each year that public school system pay out to the corporate welfare kings of the charter world, the KIPP Foundation took in $90 million in grants and tax exempt donations just in 2020.

That same year KIPP, Inc. paid its top nine executives over $3 million in salaries, which does not include benefits, bonuses, and travel expenses. David Levin, alone, rakes in more than the President of the United States.
So it would seem surprising to anyone who doesn't understand KIPP's insatiable greed and dedication to racial sterilization that KIPP would elbow its way past a school board's unanimous decision to reject another KIPP chain gang back in 2020.  Here's the school board's thinking at the time of the vote to reject:

Kaivan Yuen, assistant superintendent for educational services, recommended the board vote to deny the request for a number of reasons, including:

  • There was no indication on how teachers can manage time and structure to hold student conferences while also providing lessons to the other students.
  • Noncredentialed teachers are responsible for a classroom the last Friday of each month.
  • There is insufficient time for students who are learning to speak Spanish.
  • There is no program for gifted students
  • KIPP’s special education program relies entirely on membership in getting approved for a program based in El  Dorado County and its petition does not adequately explain what happens if KIPP doesn’t get in.
  • No details were provided for physical education classes.
  • There is no description of a specific health unit or curriculum.
And what happened to KIPP's plans to open a new school after its successful appeal to a state level commission that the charter industry has packed with charter school supporters?  Well, not much.  Seems KIPP decided to save money by piling in on an existing elementary school in the Montebello School District, where it quickly sought, and achieved, a reduction in the amount of rent charged by the District.

Monday, January 10, 2022

The Sunny Side of Corruption by Jay Mathews

American print media's most prominent charter school cheerleader is at it again.  In his most recent Washington Post column, Jay Mathews is preaching the virtues of IDEA Charter Schools, Inc., which recently lost its CEO founder and other senior leaders due to corruption charges involving private jets, NBA sky boxes, and routine use of public funds for "personal benefit:"

A financial investigation “uncovered substantial evidence that … a small number of IDEA senior leaders directed the use of IDEA financial and staff resources for their personal benefit on multiple occasions,” Board Chair Al Lopez wrote in a letter Tuesday. “Furthermore, their actions appeared to be done in a manner to avoid detection by the standard external audit and internal control processes that the Board had in place at the time.”
None of this corruption or efforts to conceal the crimes could ever dampen Jay's enthusiasm, however.  Nor has Mathews departed from his unique brand of dissembling propaganda. Just one example from this latest column:

Charters are independently run public schools that use tax dollars. Most are no better academically than regular public schools. But a 2013 Stanford University report showed that 25 percent of charters were significantly better in reading achievement and 29 percent were significantly better in math achievement than neighboring regular public schools serving the same kinds of students.

When we go to the actual research report that includes Jay's numbers, we find the details that put a whole new light on Jay's sunny summary.  From the Credo Study, 2013, p. 22 Executive Summary:

Figure 8 shows the performance of charter schools relative to the TPS in their market. Based on our analyses, we found 25 percent of schools had significantly stronger growth than their TPS market counterparts in reading, 56 percent were not significantly different and 19 percent of schools had weaker growth. In math, the results show that 29 percent of charter schools had stronger growth than their TPS market counterparts, 40 percent had growth that was not significantly different, and 31 percent had weaker growth. These results were an improvement over those in the 2009 report.





Sunday, January 09, 2022

New Year's Resolution: Eliminate "Rigor" from Education Lexicon

If there is a single word that comes close to capturing the zeitgeist of corporate education austerity policies that have metastasized since the Reagan era (among both Democrats and Republicans), it would be a five-letter signifier that has done more damage to effective and humane schooling than any one word in the English language: "rigor." 

If you can believe the education efficiency zealots of the last two generations, the answer to most questions about schooling have the same answer: more "rigor." Whether we're talking about curriculum, teacher quality, teacher education, leadership, or assessment, what we need is more "rigor."

I went to Webster's online looking for a word that might serve as an adequate replacement.  Here's some of what I found for the word "rigor:"

Synonyms & Antonyms of rigor

2. the quality or state of being demanding or unyielding (as in discipline or criticism)
  • after being coddled by his former coach, the swimmer was shocked by the rigor of the new training program

Synonyms for rigor

Words Related to rigor

Near Antonyms for rigor

Antonyms for rigor

And, yet, there seems to be no end to the use of this code word for segregated "no excuses" KIPP Model schools, "zero tolerance" straight jacket discipline, and racist standardized testing regimes that effectively keep marginalized populations on the margins.

Today I came across an interview with Amanda Ripley, who has become one of the pretty masks placed on the corporate education Frankenstein that continues to wreak havoc with any efforts to transform schools into substantive learning communities aimed at opening and integrating the world for children in challenging and supportive ways.

In the summary provided for her interview, Amanda praises the "rigorous learning" of Korean students.  What does Amanda know about Korean education? Well, she interviewed a student who lived in both Korea and the U. S.:
Kids rise to the level of their peer culture when it comes to how important they think rigorous learning is. Especially adolescents are extremely focused on what their peers are doing. There’s a great example of a girl I met in Korea named Jenny, who had lived half of her life in the U.S. and then moved back to Korea. And what she talked about was how different she was in each place. In Korea, everybody worked really hard and took school really seriously, so she did too. And then in [America], school was much lower on her priority list.

No, Amanda, students in Korea try to rise to the level of the monstrous system created by a steroidal version of American capitalism, which has created a dystopian regime whereby parents sacrifice the health and well-being of their children for the "rigorous" demands of a soul-crushing system of schooling based on memorization and recitation.   

This is from a former teacher in one of Korea's hagwons, or cram schools:

Cram schools like the one I taught in — known as hagwons in Korean — are a mainstay of the South Korean education system and a symbol of parental yearning to see their children succeed at all costs. Hagwons are soulless facilities, with room after room divided by thin walls, lit by long fluorescent bulbs, and stuffed with students memorizing English vocabulary, Korean grammar rules and math formulas. Students typically stay after regular school hours until 10 p.m. or later.

Herded to various educational outlets and programs by parents, the average South Korean student works up to 13 hours a day, while the average high school student sleeps only 5.5 hours a night to ensure there is sufficient time for studying. Hagwons consume more than half of spending on private education.

Any Ripley hit job wouldn't be complete without an attack on teacher education programs in the U. S. While she decries the continued existence of non-rigorous "mediocre teacher training colleges," she has nothing to say about the micro-preparation provided to Teach for America beginner missionaries who are placed into schools with children who need the most experienced and best prepared teachers among us. Nor does she voice any objection to the exploitative non-higher ed alternative certification programs that leave would-be teachers less prepared than accredited university programs. 

Finally, one of Ripley's conjectures remains truly puzzling to me, even considering her thorough lack of understanding of how schools actually work and how teachers experience their jobs:

Anyone who has seen a great teacher or been a great teacher knows that it is not different from being the CEO of a company; there is a lot that is demanded of you and it requires a lot of support.

Yes, Amanda, "rigorous" teaching is sort of like being a CEO, except for the pay, the prestige, the perks, the lifestyle, and the autonomy. Teachers in the U.S. rank 27th in teacher pay among 32 OECD countries.  

I'm still looking for a substitute for "rigor." Until I find it, I guess I'll settle for challenging, supportive, substantive, open, and integrative.