Archives for category: Accountability

Horace Meister is a young untenured scholar who writes for this blog.

 

 

He writes:

 

 

Competing narratives underlie the disputes on how to best improve education for all students. On the one hand we have narratives of testing, accountability, and the free market. On the other hand we have narratives of collaboration, social capital, and public goods. Data are often cited in these debates to support one narrative or the other. But there is a dark art to the use of data, an art at which the powerful forces of corporate reform and school districts operating under their paradigm excel.

Let’s take a look at how reformer think tanks and “research” organizations manipulate data and how school districts mimic those strategies. The New York Times editorial page recently gushed over “Michael Bloomberg, who improved graduation rates and college acceptances in poor neighborhoods by shutting down schools that were essentially dropout factories and starting afresh with smaller schools, new teachers and new leadership [1].” The editorial board does not realize or acknowledge that in New York City “student outcomes have not improved compared to similar districts, which did not implement the market-based reforms [2].” The editorial board also does not realize or acknowledge that the MDRC papers, the “research” often cited as supporting the shuttering of community schools and their replacement with small schools of choice, are deeply biased and flawed [3].

Additional flaws and biases with the MDRC “research” can be added to the top 10 list in the piece cited in endnote #3. MDRC seems to have deliberately biased their sample so as to come to conclusions that support the corporate reform approach [4]. MDRC only looked at high schools– ignoring elementary and middle schools that were also subjected to closure and re-opening (and, in some cases, re-closure and re-re-opening). The data show that the new middle schools that opened under Bloomberg performed worse than the older middle schools, when controlling for student need [5]. The data also show that of “154 public elementary and middle schools that have opened since Mayor Bloomberg took office, nearly 60% had passing rates that were lower than older schools with similar poverty rates [6].”

MDRC only studies new small high schools that opened up by 2008, the very years during which the new small high schools were allowed to exclude special education students and English Language Learners. By now they could have added to their sample additional student cohorts, but they have not. Due to threats of a lawsuit since 2008 new small schools are no longer officially permitted to exclude students [7]. Does MDRC know that without this “competitive advantage” the new small school data wouldn’t look so good? When a purportedly objective “research” organization manages to exclude entire categories of schools and when including the excluded schools would lead to a more objective and less positive evaluation of a policy, we are witnessing the dark art of data manipulation.

MDRC did not consider alternative hypotheses, a basic requirement of the scientific method as taught by every science teacher. So let’s consider an alternative hypothesis for the editorial board of the New York Times. Here is the hypothesis: “Large community high schools and large high schools of choice have better student outcomes than other high schools serving similar students.” Indeed the data support this hypothesis [8]. The New York City Department of Education produces report cards that evaluate schools on their “peer percent of range.” According to this data the largest high schools in New York City, those serving over 2,000 students, outperform peers by +14.7% on weighted graduation rate (a metric that takes into account the quality of the diploma such as whether or not it is Regents-endorsed or an advanced Regents diploma) and by +20.1% on college readiness [9].

Rather than favoring certain types of schools over others and forcing schools to compete with one another, as Bloomberg did and the New York Times editorial board wants to continue, let’s have schools collaborate and work together in an equitable policy environment [10]. This approach to creating great schools is supported by the (non-manipulated) data [11].

Unfortunately, school districts operating under the corporate reform paradigm do not want to follow such an approach. Instead they manipulate data in ways that are biased towards their ideological agenda. As we just saw, large high schools in New York City do a great job on college and career readiness metrics. This must have put Bloomberg’s Department of Education in a bind. They had all the data showing that the large high schools were outperforming their peers in college and career readiness, an important part of what high schools are all about. But they couldn’t allow the new small high schools created under Bloomberg to look bad. So when including college and career readiness metrics in the school report cards they only allowed them to count as 10% of the total school grade (and not 20% or 25% or 30%– percentages that would seem more important given the importance of college and career readiness). This minimized the negative effect that these metrics would have on the grades of schools created under Bloomberg [12].

This sort of manipulation is not uncommon. Corporate reform school districts believe in privatization and charter schools. So they do not address how creaming and the sky-high attrition rates at many charter schools explains their “results [13].” They believe in accountability and evaluating schools. So they grade schools using metrics that are deeply flawed and penalize schools that serve the neediest students [14]. They believe in accountability and testing. So they pretend not to manipulate cut-scores on exams for political ends [15].

Next time you see data cited, even it is from your own school district, question it.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/01/opinion/when-to-shut-down-failingōschools.html

[2] http://dianeravitch.net/2013/12/20/tweed-insider-where-the-bloomberg-administration-went-wrong-on-education/

[3] http://dianeravitch.net/2014/10/23/are-small-high-schools-the-magic-bullet/

[4] The following criticisms are aimed solely at the MDRC claim that the portfolio strategy as employed by the Bloomberg administration was a success. Small schools, if implemented fairly in an equitable policy environment, may provide a level of personalization and support that is valuable for many students. Large schools can also offer personalization and support through smaller structures such as academies or advisories. But this is a topic distinct from the specific one discussed here.

[5] http://www.edwize.org/new-middle-schools-same-old-challenges

[6] http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bloomberg-new-schools-failed-thousands-city-students-article-1.1119406#ixzz21NV9BDG3

[7] http://www.advocatesforchildren.org/Empty%20Promises%20Report%20%206-16-09.pdf?pt=1

[8] http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/7E390ED1-1689-4381-BF70-E228840E5589/0/2012_2013_HS_PR_Results_2014_01_16.xlsx

[9] The high schools with over 2,000 students run the full gamut, from community high schools that serve all local students to selective high schools where admission is based on exams to comprehensive high schools serving students who choice-in from across the city. The Bloomberg administration tried to close some of these schools. The peer percent of range metric is designed to compare each school only to other schools serving students of comparable incoming performance and demographics.

[10] http://dianeravitch.net/2014/05/02/a-triumphant-return-to-professionalism-in-new-york-city/

[11] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/opinion/sunday/the-secret-to-fixing-bad-schools.html?pagewanted=all

[12] Note that this strategy of developing metrics in such a way that they favor specific school types and policies is distinct from the outright corruption of Tony Bennett, the former Indiana education commissioner, who changed the grades of individual schools. https://will.illinois.edu/news/story/former-indiana-superintendent-feels-heat-of-grading-scandal

[13] http://dianeravitch.net/2014/08/28/beware-the-charter-attrition-game/

[14] http://withabrooklynaccent.blogspot.com/2014/01/corporate-reform-versus-child-centered.html

[15] http://withabrooklynaccent.blogspot.com/2014/03/on-misuse-of-statistics-in-testing-by.html

Tim Slekar, dean of education at Edgewood College in Wisconsin, has been a relentless fighter against high-stakes testing and privatization for years. Here he explains what the recent election meant for children and public schools in Wisconsin, what might be called politely a fist in the face or a hard blow to the gut.

 

There can be no doubt that re-elected Scott Walker will push for more vouchers, more charters, more high-stakes testing and call himself a “reformer.”

 

The Assembly speaker said that it was time for a new accountability bill, despite decades of failed accountability demands from Washington, D.C. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting better results is the definition of insanity, isn’t it?

 

Some local school boards plan to “hunker down” and wait for the next election.

 

Tim shouts “NO!” as loud as he can:

 

“Hunkering down” has to be one of the most damaging strategies for anybody or any organization that has the democratic and constitutional responsibility to do what is best for children. Just the idea that the new found power elite are proposing educational “accountability” after 30 years of failed accountability should motivate all that care about children and public schools to regroup, organize, strategize, and then counter attack.

 

Winning an election does not give permission to anti-intellectual, political hacks to prescribe abusive accountability schemes that only hurt children, teachers, and communities and funnel tax dollars to political donors.

 

Hunker down? No! My daughter and son don’t need spineless adults unwilling to protect the only chance they have at a critical and powerful democratic education. My children deserve (and so do all Wisconsin children) advocacy and action! Vos and all the other accountability hawks hellbent on killing childhood are the ones that need to be held accountable. For 30 years they have defunded and redirected precious resources to an accountability scam designed to enrich test and data companies and dismantle OUR public schools. NO MORE! Test and punish accountability has been a disaster!

 

It’s time for an accountability system that holds legislators accountable for making sure all children come to school well fed, well clothed, warm, healthy, and protected from the trauma of living in a state of perpetual uncertainty—poverty. If this new set of power pawns fail to pry our most vulnerable from the trappings of generational racism and destroy the economic system that only rewards their campaign funders then they must be the ones held accountable, judged “legislatively inadequate” and stripped of all legislative power. We must get rid of “failing” legislators.

 

 

Carol Burris, high school principal in Long Island, New York, writes here about the sudden shift in tone of the high-stakes testing cheerleaders.

 

Arne Duncan throws his support to the Beltway groups that say that there is too much testing and there should be less. Don’t believe it, writes Burris.

 

Of course, they hope to pacify and quiet the growing movement against high-stakes testing.

 

She writes:

 

Education Secretary Arne Duncan must believe that those “suburban moms” he talked about back in 2013 are an awfully gullible bunch. In response to continued pushback on testing, Duncan and the Council of Chief State School Officers are now saying that they, by golly, are against excessive standardized testing, too.

Duncan recently wrote an op-ed published in The Washington Post in which he expressed support for a statement issued by the Council of Chief State School Officers along with the Council of Great City Schools saying that it was time to rethink standardized testing.

Readers may recall how Duncan characterized pushback on the Common Core as coming from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were” when he addressed the State Chiefs last year. His disdainful dismissal of the genuine concern of parents fueled the already growing anti-testing movement.

 

 

And more:

 

So now Mr. Duncan and the Chief State School Officers need to convince parents that they are listening, too. Their strategy is to say that “we are only for good tests, not the bad tests, and we will make all the bad tests go away.” It is disturbing that they believe that parents would not see through the ruse.

Parents are not protesting weekly spelling quizzes. The tests they do not like are the very tests that Duncan and the Chiefs want to save. In his recent op-ed, Duncan refers to “high-quality tests” as ones for which, “the Education Department has provided $360 million dollars.” The money went to two multi-state consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, designing new tests to align to the Common Core State Standards. All the while, both Duncan and the Chiefs were careful not to mention the Common Core in their statements. The Common Core is now their Voldermort–“he who cannot be named.” Instead they declare themselves the warriors of the bubble test, as though answering multiple-choice questions with a mouse is a game changer.

Perhaps the most bizarre declaration in favor of annual testing came from Louisiana’s Chief John White who said that it is “an absolutely essential element of assuring the civil rights of children in America.” Meanwhile, 40 of the 70 districts in White’s state are still under desegregation orders, having not achieved unitary status after more than 40 years. When the U.S. Justice Department sued Louisiana to block 2014-15 vouchers for students in schools under federal desegregation orders, John White characterized the order as “a little ridiculous.”. The heck with Brown v Board of Education—as long as kids have the civil right to be tested each year, social justice is served.

 

Imagine that! Kids don’t need desegregation, but testing is a “civil right”? Yes, he really said that.

 

Burris concludes that Duncan and the cheerleading Chiefs don’t believe in democratic control of schools. That’s why they love standardized testing. Teachers and principals can’t be trusted to do what is right for children.

 

And that really sums up the thinking of Duncan and his cheerleading Chiefs. Their distrust of public schools and the democratic control of schooling run deep. It colors every solution that they propose. They have no idea how to effect school improvement other than by making tests harder and making sticks bigger. When punishing the school did not work, it morphed into punish the teacher through evaluations based on test scores. The reality that no country has ever improved student learning using test and punish strategies is lost on those who refuse to address the greater social issues that we who do the work confront every day.
When one argues that testing 8-year-olds for nine hours is the way to give a child his civil rights, then moral authority is surely gone. The public knows it. Moms, of all colors and neighborhoods, are a heck of a lot smarter than Mr. Duncan and his reform supporters believe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anthony Cody recognizes that “reformers” are back-pedaling from test-test-test because 1) the results have been disappointing; and 2) the anti-testing backlash is turning into a mighty roar.

So, of course, they need a new paradigm that redefines accountability. In this post, Cody reviews the latest effort to make accountability palatable and concludes that any paradigm that preserves high-stakes testing will preserve the flaws and misguided incentives of the current system.

He writes that every effort to shift to a new paradigm is trapped in the stale thinking of the old paradigm:

“We are stuck in a model that says learning must be measured to be managed, and management is the overriding systemic imperative. This necessitates top-down systems, even as those systems are incapable of delivering the sort of change advocates insist upon….

“A truly new paradigm would invest confidence in students and teachers, rather than constantly require them to demonstrate their adherence to standards and predetermined curricula and assessments. A new paradigm would refocus our schools on the needs of local communities, and require educators to work closely with parents and community leaders to set goals and share evidence of student progress. Accountability invested in centralized authority is inherently top-down. New paradigm? Not there yet.”

Count on Arne Duncan to speak out against testing while he mandates more and more of it. If you are a teacher and your students’ scores don’t go up, you will be fired. That’s federal policy. That makes standardized testing the measure of a teachers’ worth, not a reflection of the demographics in the classroom. If the teacher teaches students with special needs, the scores may not go up as much as they do for teachers in affluent suburbs. Teachers of English language learners are at a disadvantage. All of this has been proven again and again by researchers. But the news has never reached Arne Duncan.

 

In this post, Peter Greene says that when Arne Duncan joins the chorus of voices who are criticizing standardized testing, he is just blowing smoke. As usual. Watch what he does, not what he says. Just remember: he was for it before he was against it, and he was against it before he was for it. And the only reason children with disabilities get low scores is because their teachers have low expectations and they don’t take hard enough tests. And the goal of all education is for every student to take and pass Advanced Placement examinations.

 

Greene writes:

 

 

As soon as CCSSO and CGCS announced their non-plan to provide PR coverage for the high stakes test-and-punish status quo, Arne Duncan was there to throw his tooter on the bandwagon. On top of an official word salad on the subject, Arne popped up yesterday in the Washington Post.

 

There was a time when Duncan could be counted on to at least say the right thing before he went ahead and did the wrong thing. And I cannot fault his opening for the WaPo piece.

 

“As a parent, I want to know how my children are progressing in school each year. The more I know, the more I can help them build upon their strengths and interests and work on their weaknesses. The more I know, the better I can reinforce at home each night the hard work of their teachers during the school day.”

 

He’s absolutely correct here. It’s just that his words have nothing to do with the policies pursued by his Department of Education.

 
Duncan welcomes the stated intention “to examine their assessment systems, ensure that assessments are high-quality and cut back testing that doesn’t meet that bar or is redundant.”Duncan does not welcome an examination of the way in which standardized testing is driving actual education out of classrooms across America.

 

He makes his case for standardized testing here:

 

“Parents have a right to know how much their children are learning; teachers, schools and districts need to know how students are progressing; and policymakers must know where students are excelling, improving and struggling.”

 

As a case for standardized testing, this is wrong on all three points.

 

1) Parents do have a right to know how much their children are learning. And standardized tests are by far the least effective instruments for informing them. They are minute snapshots, providing little or no description of how students are growing and changing. Standardized tests measure one thing– how well students do on standardized tests.

 

2) Teachers, schools and districts need to know how students are doing. And if a teacher needs a standardized test to tell her how her students are doing, that teacher is a dope, and needs to get out of teaching immediately. I measure my students dozens of times every single week, collecting wide and varied “data” that informs my view of how each student is doing. A standardized test will tell me one thing– how that student does with a standardized test. If the school or district does not know whether they can trust my word or not about how the student is doing, the school and district are a dope. Standardized tests offer no useful information for this picture.

 

3) Explain, please, exactly why policymakers need to know how my third period class is doing on paragraph construction? Why do the bureaucrats in state and federal capitols need to know where students are “excelling, improving and struggling”? Is Congress planning to pass the “Clearer Lesson Plans About the Rise of American Critical Realism Act”? Are you suggesting that there are aides in the DOE standing by to help me write curriculum? Because I cannot for the life of me figure out why the policymakers (nice term, that, since it includes both the legislators who pass policy and the unelected suits who write it for them) need to have standardized results on every single kid in htis country.

 

Duncan follows this up with a reference to another of his pet theories– that students with learning disabilities just needed to be tested harder in order to fix their difficulties.

 

Duncan goes on to admit that “in some places” testing is eating up calendars and stressing students.

 

Policymakers at every level bear responsibility here — and that includes me and my department. We will support state and district leaders in taking on this issue and provide technical assistance to those who seek it.

 

In one sense, Duncan is correct. Policymakers at the state and local level bear responsibility for not telling the federal government to take its testing mandates and shove them where the NCLB-based money threats don’t shine. Duncan’s Department of Education bears responsibility for everything else.

 

This is the worst kind of weasel wording. This is the kid who sets fire to the neighbors house and then says to the kids who just tried to talk him out of it, “So, we’re all in this together, right?”

 

It was the Duncan/Obama Education Department that twisted every state’s arm up behind its ear and said, “If you want your Get Out Of NCLB Free Card, you will make testing the cornerstone of your education system.” Duncan does not get to pretend that this testing mania, this out of control testing monster, somehow just fell from the sky. “Gosh,” Duncan says and shrugs. “I guess there was just something in the water that year that made everybody just suddenly go crazypants on the testing thing. Guess we’ll all have to try harder, boys.”

 

No. No no no no. Testing mania is the direct mandated result of NCLB and its ugly stepsister RttT. It didn’t just happen. The federal government required it. And if Duncan really though this was an actual problem and not just a PR problem, he is the one guy who could wave his magic waiver wand and say, “My bad. Your waiver no longer requires you to test everything that moves and use the test results as the basis for all educational system judgments.”

 

 

Mercedes Schneider, no fan of the Common Core standards, here reviews a new proposal for Common Core accountability, this one funded by the Hewlett Foundation. We are supposed to believe that the ideas are new, but almost everyone involved was a key player in the creation of the standards or the federally-funded CC tests.

 

Schneider says that what is needed is not more accountability for standards that have never been reviewed, revised, or piloted, but accountability for a dozen years of testing post-NCLB.

 

Why no piloting for CCSS? She writes:

 

Piloting was needed for CCSS, and it never happened. Instead, overly eager governors and state superintendents signed on for an as-of-then, not-yet-created CCSS. No wise caution. Just, “let’s do it!”

That word “urgency” was continuously thrown around, and it makes an appearance in the current, Hewlett-funded report. No time to pilot a finished CCSS product. Simply declare that CCSS was “based on research” and push for implementation.

This is how fools operate.

America has been hearing since 1983 that Our Education System Places Our Nation at Risk. I was 16 years old then. I am now 47.

America is not facing impending collapse.

We do have time to test the likes of CCSS before rushing in.

 

She identifies where accountability is needed most, and that is for programs that have been tried and obviously failed:

 

How about an accountability report on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and its strategic placement on a life support that enables former-basketball-playing US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to hold states hostage to the federal whim?

The Hewlett-funded report notes that between 2000 and 2012, PISA scores have “declined.” Those are chiefly the NCLB years and beyond, with the continued “test-driven reform” focus. It is the test-driven focus that could use a hefty helping of “accountability.”

And let us not forget the NCLB-instituted push for privatization of public education via charters, vouchers, and online “education.” An accountability study on the effects of “market-driven,” under-regulated “reform” upon the quality of American education would prove useful.

There is also the very real push to erase teaching as a profession and replace it with temporary teachers hailing from the amply-funded and -connected teacher temp agency, Teach for America (TFA). A nationwide accountability study on the effects of the teacher revolving door exacerbated by TFA would be a long-overdue first of its kind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Bryant writes that we are stuck in stale thinking about education. Our leaders think that there is a new or better way to do testing and accountability, which is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We have been stuck in the testing and accountability paradigm for at least a dozen years, in fact, for more than a generation. Governors and Congressmen think that “reform” means more and better tests.

But there comes a time to say, “that doesn’t work. We have been testing and holding people accountable since the passage of NCLB and even earlier.” It failed. It is time to think anew before we “reform” our teachers to distraction and our schools to extinction.

Bryant writes:

“Since the passage of No Child Left Behind legislation in 2002, the nation’s schools have been dominated by a regime of standardized testing that started in two grade levels – 4th and 8th – but eventually rolled out to every level for the vast majority of school children. Then, the Obama administration took the policy obsession with testing to extremes. Race to the Top grants and other incentives encouraged school districts to test multiple times throughout the year, and waivers to help states avoid the consequences of NCLB demanded even more testing for the purpose of evaluating teachers, principals, and schools. The latest fad is to test four year olds for their “readiness” to attend kindergarten.

“An increasingly loud backlash to the over-emphasis on testing has been growing and spreading among parents, teachers, and students for some time, resulting in mass public rallies, school walkouts, and lawsuits. There are clear signs those voices are starting to have an effect on people responsible for education policy…..

“What if instead of just getting rid of NCLB, we got rid of the thinking that created it? That was a question I asked three years ago when the failed legislation was gasping toward its tenth birthday. At that time, I likened the thinking behind NCLB to an econometric approach to problem solving, which is unsuitable for a pursuit like education that is values driven.

“Now there’s a new book arguing that we can’t change the way we think about education policy until we change the way we talk about education. The book is Dumb Ideas Won’t Create Smart Kids: Straight Talk About Bad School Reform, Good Teaching, and Better Learning by Eric M. Hass, Gustavo E. Fischman, and Joe Brewer.

“The book queries why federal and state policymakers put so much energy into “reforms” – such as raising standards and standardized testing – that have very little to no evidence of effectiveness. What the authors contend is that policymakers continue down the same never-ending path to policy failure because they operate from a failed “prototype” for education – a way of thinking about teaching and learning that leads to conclusions that sound good but are built on false beliefs (what the authors call “rightly wrong thinking”). And rather than looking for genuine results, policy makers tend to adhere to a “confirmation bias” that dismisses contrary evidence and reinforces the prototype.

“The authors observe that we tend to talk about schools – and indeed the whole nation – through the metaphor of the “family.” And whenever we think about family, we tend to think about two kinds: the “strict, authority-based” kind and the “caring nurturance-based” kind. It’s the authors’ belief that current education policy is dominated by the former and needs lots more of the latter.

“Policy adhering mostly to strict authoritarian ideals, they contend, promotes a faulty approach to education…..

“What’s needed instead of this failed strict, authority-based approach is a shift to the caring nurturance-based approach, the authors believe. This shift, they argue, would replace the metaphors we use to talk about education with metaphors that are more compatible with how students actually learn.

“Because the conduit-to-empty vessel approaches to education – too much step-by-step instruction, over-testing, and “delivery of lots of right answers” – lead to policies and practices that actually hinder learning, the authors call for a “learning as growth” metaphor.

“The learning as growth metaphor would reinforce thinking about students’ minds as “soil” and ideas and understandings as “plants.”

“The logic of learning as growth metaphor is based on two key ideas,” the authors write. “First, people develop or construct their ideas and understandings … Second, people need support to help them construct accurate understandings.”

“In this metaphorical description, the teacher’s role is more akin to a gardener and the education process more aligned to cultivation. “It says that teaching and learning are cooperative activities,” the authors write. “Like a plant, a student’s understanding will thrive when he or she gets attention tailored to his or her individual needs.”

“The authors also call for replacing the freedom as the lack of constraints metaphor with a “freedom as support” metaphor, which equates freedom to providing the resources teachers need to teach and the students with more opportunities to learn.

“Schools, for example should act as community centers that provide tutoring and library materials, and possibly food and health services,” the authors maintain. “Students need the inputs of basic resources to survive and thrive.”….

“Calls for “better testing” and evermore complicated “accountability” metrics are pruning around the edges of a dead shrub. With a new way to think about education, with the language of learning as growth, we can get beyond today’s failed remedies. Let’s talk it up.”

Wendy Lecker, a civil rights attorney in Stamford, joins the many others who complain that charter schools have been allowed to proliferate in an irresponsible manner, with minimal or no supervision. She writes that it is time to reassess the charter movement and to set new standards for accountability. Across the country, charter school frauds have been exposed, in which the operators are profiting handsomely while refusing to accept the same children as the neighboring district. The latest example is in North Carolina, where a local businessman is making millions of dollars by supplying goods and services to his four publicly-funded charter schools while insisting that he has no obligation to open the books to public scrutiny. Connecticut has had its own charter scandal, with the implosion of Jumoke Academy.

 

 

Lecker writes:

 

Almost daily, headlines are filled with stories of charter school fraud or mismanagement. Recent revelations about possible illegal practices in charter schools in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere have led even charter supporters to try to distance themselves from the “crony capitalism” fueling this sector.

 

It is cold comfort that Connecticut officials are not alone in allowing unscrupulous charter operators to bilk taxpayers. It is time to reassess the entire charter movement in Connecticut.

 

Recall the original promises made by charter proponents: that they would benefit all public schools — showing public schools the way by using “innovative” methods to deliver a better education to struggling students in an efficient, less expensive manner.

 

None of those promises have been kept. Charters cannot point to any “innovations” that lead to better achievement. Smaller classes and wraparound services are not innovations — public schools have been begging for these resources for years. Charter practices such as failing to serve our neediest children, e.g., English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and “counseling out” children who cannot adhere to overly strict disciplinary policies, are not “innovations” — and should be prohibited.

 

Charters often spend more than public schools. Charters in Bridgeport and Stamford spend more per pupil than their host districts. And while it appears that charters in New Haven and Hartford spend comparable amounts, they serve a less needy, and less expensive, population. Moreover, Connecticut charters need not pay for special education services, transportation, or, if they serve fewer than 20 ELL students, ELL services.

 

While Connecticut owes billions of dollars to our neediest districts, officials provide higher per-pupil allocations to charters. For example charter schools receive $11,500 per pupil from the state, but Bridgeport’s ECS allocation is only $8,662 per pupil. Bridgeport is owed an additional $5,446 according to the CCJEF plaintiffs, not including the cost of teacher evaluations, the Common Core, and other unfunded mandates imposed over the years.

 

Connecticut increased charter funding over the past three years by $2,100 per pupil, while our poorest school districts received an average increase of only $642 per pupil.

 

 

Here are Lecker’s proposals for reform of privately managed charter schools:

 

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform’s “Public Accountability for Charter Schools,” is a good starting point. The report outlines areas that demand equity, accountability and transparency: such as enrollment, governance, contracts, and management.

 

Connecticut must require, as a condition of continued authorization, that charters serve the same demographics as their host districts, through clearly delineated controlled choice policies.

 

Charter schools must maintain transparent and publicly available annual records and policies regarding enrollment, discipline and attrition. Charters must ensure that they do not employ subtle barriers to enrollment, such as strict disciplinary policies or requirements for parent participation as a condition of attendance. No such barriers exist in public schools.

 

Charters must prove that they meet the specific needs of the host community in a way the public schools do not. Charters must not be imposed over community opposition. State officials must assess the negative impact of charters on a district, including segregation and funding effects.

 

Charters must post all contracts and fully disclose revenues and expenditures. Charter officials, board members and employees must undergo background checks and disclose any relationships with contractors, state officials and others dealing with their school. Parents in charter schools must be allowed to elect charter board members.

 

Charters must show evidence annually that their unique educational methods improve achievement.

 

 

 

Ras Baraka, Mayor of Newark, wrote an op-ed article for the New York Times that shows what a disaster state control of the public schools has been in Newark, New Jersey.

 

The state took “temporary” control of the Newark schools in 1995. Reforms came and went; new programs came and went. Promises were made and broken. Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million went to a failed merit pay plan (merit pay has always failed yet politicians and naive philanthropists never give up).

 

Newark has had top-down control for nearly 20 years. Democracy was suspended. The children are no better off.

 

The state’s maladministration of Newark’s public schools continues to this day. When Superintendent Cami Anderson’s “Renew Schools” reform plan ran into difficulties because of its lack of public consultation, foundation dollars went to a community-engagement program. Yet the latest iteration, the “One Newark” plan, has only plunged the system into more chaos.

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Consider the reports I’ve received of Barringer High School (formerly Newark High School). Three weeks into the school year, students still did not have schedules. Students who had just arrived in this country and did not speak English sat for days in the school library without placement or instruction. Seniors were placed in classes they had already taken, missing the requirements they’d need to graduate. Even the school lunch system broke down, with students served bread and cheese in lieu of hot meals.

 

Baraka, an experienced educator, knows what should be done, but neither Governor Christie nor his hand-picked superintendent Cami Anderson listens to the elected representative of the people of Newark.

 

Baraka writes:

 

The real issues that reform should address are ensuring that every 3- or 4-year-old child is enrolled in a structured learning environment, and that all our teachers get staff development and training. We must be more effective at sharing best practices and keeping our class sizes manageable. If necessary, we should put more than one teacher in the classroom, especially for students from kindergarten to third grade.

We also need to fix additional problems like a historically segregated curriculum, which offers stimulating choices in wealthy suburbs but only the most basic courses to our inner-city children. And we must break the cycle of low expectations that some educators have of the children they teach, merely prescribing repeat classes if students don’t pass.

The first step in a transition to local control of Newark’s schools is a short-term transfer of authority to the mayor. I would quickly appoint a new superintendent. Once basic functions were restored to the district, we would move as soon as possible to return control to an elected school board with full powers.

It is clear that we cannot rely on the good faith of the state to respond expeditiously. Federal intervention appears our only recourse. I have written to the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights in support of the lawsuits that parents, students, advocates and educators in our city have brought, requesting that the federal government intercede. The right of Newark’s citizens to equitable, high-quality public education demands the return of local, democratic control.

 

 

 

Peter Greene, in his incisive and typically humorous style, explains here why performance incentives don’t work in the public sector.

 

He offers as one example the case of fire fighters. Imagine if they were paid based on how many fires they extinguished, and how much money was saved as a result of their doing so.

 

We have always paid public servants a flat fee, untethered to any sort of “performance measures.” That’s because we want public service to be completely disconnected from any private interests. (And if you just thought, “Damn, this is a long post,” you can get the basic point here and decide if you want to travel down the whole web of alleys with me.)

Fighting Fire with Money

Imagine if, for instance, we paid fire fighters on sliding scale, based on how many of which type fires they put out at a certain speed. This would be disastrous for many reasons.

 

Fire fighters would refuse to work in cities where there were few fires to fight, because they couldn’t make a living. In cities where there were commonly multiple fires, fire fighters would look at each fire call through a lens of “What’s in it for me?”

 

For instance, in a system where fire fighters were paid based on the value of the flame-besieged property, fire fighters might view some small building fires as Not Worth the Trouble. Why bother traveling to the other side of the tracks? It’s only a hundred-dollar blaze, anyway. Let’s wait till something breaks out up in the million-dollar neighborhood.

 

In the worst-case scenario, one of our fire fighters depending on performance-based pay to feed his family may be tempted to grab some matches and go fire up some business.

 

He writes, later in the post:

 

It makes business-oriented reformy types crazy that the way I do my job doesn’t make any difference to my pay. I understand the terror for them there, but that Not Making A Difference is actually the point of how we pay public servants.

It doesn’t matter it’s a big fire or a small fire, a rich person’s house or a poor person’s house– the fire department still does their job. It doesn’t matter whether I have a classroom full of bright students or slow students, rich students or poor students, ambitious students or lazy students– I will still show up and do my job the best I know how. I should never, ever, ever have to look at a class roster or a set of test results or a practice quiz and think, “Dammit, these kids are going to keep me from making my house payment next month.”

 

Why I Won’t Suck

 

Reformsters are sure that human beings must be motivated by threats and rewards, and that the lack of threats and rewards means that I can too easily choose to do a crappy job, because it won’t make any difference. They are wrong. Here’s why.

 

1) I knew the gig when I started. I knew I would not get rich, not be powerful, not have a chance to rise to some position of prominence. There was no reason to enter teaching in the first except a desire to do right by the students.

 

2) Teaching is too hard to do half-assed. Do a consistently lousy job, and the students will eat you alive and dragging yourself out of bed every day will be too damn much. There isn’t enough money to keep people flailing badly in a classroom for a lifetime. Just ask all the TFA dropouts who said, “Damn! This is hella hard!” and left the classroom.
And Most Importantly

 

Threats and rewards do not make people better public servants (nor have I ever seen a lick of research that suggests otherwise, but feel free to review this oft-linked video re: motivation). Threats and rewards interfere with people’s ability to get their job done. Threats and rewards motivate people to game the system.

 

And any time you have a complex system being measured with simple instruments, you have a system that is ripe for gaming. In fact, if your measures are bad enough (looking at you, high stakes tests and VAM), your system can only be successfully operated by gaming it.

 

Greene explains his case so clearly that even a child can understand why performance pay creates perverse incentives. (As Krazy TA, a regular reader is sure to say, quoting Groucho Marx, “please send for a child.”)

 

 

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