Archives for category: Accountability

Mercedes Schneider has followed the development of the new federal legislation to replace the failed No Child Left Behind. She is one of the few people in the U.S. who has actually read every word of both the Senate bill and the House bill.

She concludes in this post that there will be no federal sanctions for opting out. The Congress has made clear–in both houses–that it does not want the federal Department of Education to take an activist role in punishing states. Will states punish school districts where parents rise up in rebellion against high-stakes testing. Schneider thinks not.

However, I now think that if the House and Senate conference committee whose task it will be to merge SSA and ECAA into a single bill decide against the SSA blanket opt-out and go with the state-level opt-out provision in ECAA, the federal government will not sanction states, regardless of state-level opting out.

In other words, if according to the future ESEA revision, states are supposed to set their own opt-out policy and include as much in the future ESEA Title I funding application, and if a state includes no opt-out provision in its future ESEA application yet dips below the 95 percent of students completing federally-mandated annual tests, the federal government is not likely to strong-arm states with federal sanctions.

I believe the federal government knows it has gone too far in strong-arming states via conditions attached to federal tests. For example, both the SSA and ECAA revisions include language to limit the role of the US secretary of education. The current US secretary, Arne Duncan, has actively promoted and defended Common Core and its annual tests; with the backing of President Obama, Duncan has lured states into adopting Common Core sight unseen with the lure of Race to the Top (RTTT) funds; he has paid for two Common Core testing consortia, PARCC and Smarter Balanced; he has made it a condition of states’ RTTT funding to use student standardized tests to evaluate teachers, and via his NCLB “waivers,” he has cornered states into agreeing to institute Common Core and its associated annual tests as well as testing teachers using test results as a condition for avoiding having the almost all schools in all states declared “failing” according to NCLB.

So, the fact that major news outlets such as the Washington Post and New York Times are doing their best to chastise those who support opting out of standardized tests is not enough to conceal what is obviously a federal blunder to make annual testing the end-all, be-all of American public education.

In its August 15, 2015, editorial, the New York Times points to possible federal penalties for New York State’s failure to test 95 percent of its students. It also notes that parents’ opting out of tests “could damage educational reform… and undermine the Common Core standards….”

Gee, that would be terrible.

It seems that the plan in New York is for state officials to put the squeeze on superintendents and principals to encourage participation in future annual tests– and to not encourage opting out. But the opt-out movement is not driven by superintendents and principals. It is driven by parents who are tired of the toll that test-centric education is taking on their children, including the artificially branding of their children as failures and the state’s allegiance to this branding…

The reality is that opting out of federally-mandated testing is not going away and likely will only continue to gain momentum across years as increasingly more children are branded American public school failures.

Test-centered American public education has had its day, and based upon the growing appeal to parents of opting their children out of mandated tests, that day has more than passed.

There was no opt-out movement throughout the heyday of test-and-punish NCLB, but there certainly is one now.

Federal and state officials need to take the hint as they formulate a non-test-centered Plan B.

Columnist Marilou Johanek of the Toledo Blade writes that Governor John Kasich let the cat out of the bag, unintentionally, of course. Or, as she put it, he let his mask slip.

It was probably an accident. Ohio Gov. John Kasich let his public education mask slip. He ranted when he should have relaxed.

What Mr. Kasich blurted out to a roomful of incoming legislators, assembled in Columbus for an orientation session last November, was enormously revealing. It was prophetic about a secret effort, already begun, to erode local control of Youngstown Schools and any Ohio district like it.

Representative-elect Michele Lepore-Hagan, a newly elected Youngstown Democrat, wanted to talk to the governor about the troubled school district she represented. “And he threw a tablet into the air and said those Youngstown City Schools are in such a mess I want to shut them down and put one great big charter school in there.”

Later a committee, quietly spearheaded by the Kasich administration, would sign off on a plan to change the Youngstown district and others like it in the state. The plan, crafted behind closed doors by the Youngstown City Schools Business Cabinet, could put traditional public schools out of business.

Do Republican voters really want to eliminate traditional public schooling? Do they really want public money to go to unregulated, for-profit charter schools? Do they really want the state’s children to be sent to religious schools with taxpayer funds?

Let’s hope that Governor Kasich lets the cat out of the bag more frequently and does it in public. Let’s hope that when the Republicans debate again, one of the moderators ask him about his views on privatization of public education. And when they do, let’s hope that the moderator is fully informed about the long list of charter school scandals in Ohio, where charter schools underperform traditional public schools across the state.

This is the press release about the annual PDK-Gallup public opinion poll about U.S. education. As usual, most people think highly of their local public schools but not of American education, which is not surprising in light of the well-financed corporate reform campaign to undermine confidence in American public education. Since 1983, the public has heard that our public schools are “failing, declining, broken,” yet our nation continues to lead the world by most measures of productivity and economic stability, technological innovation, scientific discovery, and economic growth.

The big takeaway in the poll is that the public is disillusioned with the emphasis on standardized testing in their local public schools. Amazingly, nearly half the public supports opting out of mandated standardized tests, which until recently was a very controversial idea. This show of support is great news for the Opt Out movement, which is likely to grow in the future.

54% don’t want their public schools to implement the Common Core standards; only 24% of the public support the Common Core standards and 25% of public school parents.

The idea of school choice (among public schools) has grown acceptable to a majority, but only 31% support vouchers (that number is in the body of the report).

A few notable findings: one, the public “strongly opposes any federal role in holding public schools accountable.” This is no doubt a response to 13 years of No Child Left Behind, along with six years of Race to the Top, both of which have produced angst and few benefits.

When you read the complete report, you will also discover that 55% of the public opposes the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, as do 63% of public school parents.

Parents are very concerned about the underfunding of their public schools, which leads to larger classes and fewer resources for activities that should be part of schooling.

Another notable finding: “A strong majority — about eight in 10 — of the U.S. public believes the effectiveness of their local public schools should be measured by how engaged the students are with classwork and by their level of hope for the future.” This strong public sentiment against using test scores to measure the quality of public schools suggests that the public is fed up with the test-and-punish regime of the past 13 years. That’s good news. I hope candidates for public office will take note. The day may be coming when the public holds elected officials accountable for damaging their public schools and promoting privatization.

This is the press release:


47th Annual Poll of Public Attitudes Toward Public Schools Shows
Strong Support for Public School Choice, But Not Private Vouchers

ARLINGTON, Va., Aug. 24, 2015 — The public believes there is too much emphasis on standardized testing in their local schools but are split almost evenly on whether parents should have the right to excuse their children from such testing, a new survey shows.

Sixty-four percent say there is “too much emphasis on testing” and 41% say parents should be able to opt their children out of standardized testing. A majority (54%) oppose having local teachers use the Common Core Standards to guide what they teach.

However, blacks and Hispanics are somewhat more likely than whites to say that results of standardized tests are very important to improve schools and to compare school quality. Blacks also are more likely than whites to say that parents should not be allowed to excuse their child from taking standardized tests.

A strong majority — about eight in 10 — of the U.S. public believes the effectiveness of their local public schools should be measured by how engaged the students are with classwork and by their level of hope for the future.

These and other findings are included in the 47th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. Conducted annually by PDK International in conjunction with Gallup, the poll is the longest-running survey of attitudes toward education and thus provides an extensive and trusted repository of data documenting how the U.S. public’s views on public education have changed over the decades.

For the first time, the 2015 poll is able to report opinions among whites, blacks and Hispanics because of the addition of a web-based poll with a larger sample of 3,499 U.S. adults.

“By expanding our poll and disaggregating by demographics, we’re now able to better understand and convey more deeply how different groups of Americans experience public education,” said Joshua P. Starr, the chief executive officer of PDK International. “National survey results and averages are important, but they’re a starting point for deeper conversation on why there are different opinions among different groups of Americans. Policymakers need to look at those differences.”

Overall, with consistency, the U.S. public believes their local schools are doing a good job though they say they are underfunded; supports charter schools but not vouchers for private schools, and strongly opposes any federal role in holding public schools accountable. While 57% of public school parents give their local schools an “A” or “B” for performance, that drops to just 19% when asked to rate public schools nationwide.

A majority — 64% — say parents should be able to choose any public school in their community for their child to attend. And if parents could choose any public school, they say their top priorities would be the quality of teachers, the curriculum, discipline and class size, not standardized test scores or successful athletic programs.

Nearly all adults nationally (84%) support mandatory vaccinations for students attending public schools.

When asked to rate the importance of knowing how students in local schools perform on standardized tests compared with students in other school districts, about one-third of blacks (31%) and Hispanics (29%) think comparisons with other districts are very important compared with 15% of whites.

When asked if public school parents should be allowed to excuse their child from taking standardized tests, 57% of blacks say parents should not be allowed to excuse their child. Among Hispanics, that margin is 45%. But among whites, 41% said “no” while 44% said “yes.”

Overall, 54% of the public opposes teachers using the Common Core State Standards to guide what they teach. However, 41% of blacks favor that approach compared with 21% of whites.

A majority of blacks — 55% — give President Obama a grade of an “A” or “B” for his support of public schools compared with 17% of whites.

“African-American children often end up in lower-performing and under-resourced schools and I think these results suggest an important segment of the black community thinks the federal government could do a better job than local and state governments in holding schools and educators accountable,” observed Starr.

Nationally, 2015 is the 10th consecutive year in which the public identified lack of financial support as the biggest problem facing local school systems. U.S. adults are consistent in saying that the most important idea for improving public schools is to improve teacher quality; in 2015, 95% considered “quality of the teachers” to be very important, putting it at the top of a list of five options.

“The 2015 survey results highlight significant issues for education leaders, communities and policymakers,” Starr concluded. “The public wants more state and local leadership on education issues; they want more effective teachers, and even if they don’t like the brand name ‘Common Core,’ they want a strong curriculum that engages students in classes that aren’t too large. The poll results make clear what the public wants; the question is whether policymakers and leaders will respond accordingly.”

Starr, the former superintendent of the Stamford, Conn., and Montgomery County, Md., school systems, became CEO of PDK International in June. He succeeded William J. Bushaw, who retired after 11 years in the post. Starr holds a doctorate in education from Harvard, a master’s degree in special education from Brooklyn College and a bachelor’s degree in English and history from the University of Wisconsin.

PDK, a global network of education professionals, has conducted an annual poll with Gallup every year since 1969. The poll serves as an opportunity for parents, educators and legislators to assess public opinion about public schools. The latest findings are based on a web survey of 3,499 U.S. adults with Internet access plus telephone interviews with a national sample of 1,001 U.S. adults. Both surveys included a sub-sample of parents and were conducted in May 2015.

Additional poll data are available at The margin of sampling error for the phone survey is ±4.79 percentage points at the 95% confidence level; ±3.02 percentage points for the web poll; ±8.7 percentage points for the Hispanic population surveyed in the web poll, and ±7.9 percentage points for the black population surveyed in the web poll.

# # #

A few days back, I wrote a post about a freshman Democrat in North Carolina, Graig Meyer. Representative Meyer had written a column that seemed to accept the reality (finality?) of vouchers and that called for setting accountability standards for schools receiving voucher money. He noted that many such schools do not have certified teachers and do not take state tests.

Rep. Meyer contacted me and said the purpose of his article was to begin a dialogue about setting accountability standards for the voucher schools, so that children were protected, as well as taxpayer dollars. He emphasized that it was critical to run strong campaigns against legislators who passed the voucher law. I agreed with him.

He wrote:

“My goal in offering the column was to start building some groundwork for adding accountability and measurement standards to the voucher law. I believe that if a private entity takes public funds for education, it must accept public scrutiny in the use of those funds….

“I appreciate you and my other friends who have challenged me this week. I assure you that I have lost no energy for the fight to maintain strong public schools and policies that strengthen families and communities.”

I wrongly accused a good man of “throwing in the towel.” I apologize.

I invited Rep. Meyer to join the Network for Public Education’s third annual conference next April in Raleigh, and he graciously accepted. He will meet hundreds of activists fighting for public education across the nation.

You should join us too. April 15-17, 2016. Raleigh, North Carolina. Save the date.

The New York Times published some smart responses to its uninformed editorial about opting out. The Times chastised the parents of 225,000 children who opted out of the state tests in New York. The letters try to explain why parents make that decision, which is not easy. Bob Shaeffer of FairTest explains that New York was not the only hotbed of opting out, that there were other states that have strong and growing opt out movements.

The Times thought the number of opt outs (they wrongly say 200,000, state data say 225,000) is “alarming.” Many parents and educators think it is thrilling, an affirmation of civic duty by civil disobedience.

No doubt, the Times would have a better grasp on this issue if there were one member of the editorial board who was a parent of children in public school. Just one.

Education Next is a conservative journal that is strongly committed to school choice and high-stakes testing. Its editorial board (of which I was a member until six or seven years ag) shares the view that American public education is failing and in need of radical reform.

Education Next just released its opinion poll about the state of the schools, and Peter Greene noticed a startling finding. Very few Americans know of any failing schools!

How can this be?

He writes:

“There are certainly aspects of these data that are unbragworthy. But it is still worth noting that the reformsters narrative of terrible schools staffed with horrible teachers is not what most folks see– certainly not the level of disaster needed to really jumpstart a good round of disaster capitalist roulette. Perhaps that’s why some folks have to work so very hard to create the impression of educational disaster.”

Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation/Institute has been a strong supporter of school choice and the Common Core. On the whole, he and TBF have applauded Arne Duncan’s move to promote charter schools, to ignore the voucher proliferation, and to push Common Core on the states (as if they were “state-led,” which they were not).

However, Petrilli now has had a change of mind. (For the record, I support those who are willing to rethink their views and change their minds.) He now recognizes that Arne overreached and caused a counter-reaction. The most atrocious action by Duncan was to force test-based teacher evaluation on the states, with no evidence that it would improve education. It was a disaster. It hasn’t worked anywhere, and it has increased teaching to the test and teacher demoralization. If you are looking for the cause of the widespread teacher shortage, look to the policies of the U.S. Department of Education since 2009.

Petrilli writes, with humility, that he was wrong.

It’s not just that the Department of Education usurped power from Congress and the states; it’s that they used that power to push bad policy. Nobody today can creditably argue that mandating statewide teacher evaluations as a condition of ESEA flexibility was a good idea. Nobody can say that the teacher evaluation efforts are going well. This was an unforced error of enormous magnitude—one that has sparked a significant backlash to accountability policies writ large and also destroyed whatever credibility the feds may have had….

So yes, both the Senate and House versions of ESEA reauthorization are “looser” than No Child Left Behind, or than the Fordham proposal from 2011. If this renewal processes gets across the finish line (and I think it will), the federal government will have much less power than it does today. Folks like Chad who don’t like that will only have Arne Duncan to blame.

This article on “The Costs of Accountability” appeared in The American Interest. It was written by Jerry Z. Muller, a professor of history at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. It is a long and thoughtful article, and I can offer just a few snippets. I urge you to read it. It is a five-star article that explains how much money and energy is wasted in pursuit of the Golden Fleece of “accountability.” It has become an industry unto itself.

He begins:

The Google Ngram Viewer, which instantly searches through thousands of scanned books and other publications, provides a rough but telling portrait of changes in our culture. Set the parameters by years, type in a term or phrase, and up pops a graph showing the incidence of the words selected from 1800 to the present. Look up “gender”, for example, and you will see a line that curves upward around 1972; the slope becomes steeper around 1980, reaches its peak in 2000, and afterwards declines gently. Type in “accountability” and behold a line that begins to curve upward around 1965, with an increasingly steep upward slope after 1985. So too with “metrics”, whose steep increase starts around 1985. “Benchmarks” follows the same pattern, as does “performance indicators.” But unlike “gender”, the lines for “accountability”, “metrics”, “benchmarks”, and “performance indicators” are all still on the upswing.

Today, “accountability” and its kissing cousins “metrics” and “performance indicators” seem to be, if not on every lip, then on every piece of legislation, and certainly on every policy memo in the Western world. In business, government, non-profit organizations, and education, “accountability” has become a ubiquitous meme—a pattern that repeats itself endlessly, albeit with thousands of localized variations.

The characteristic feature of the culture of accountability is the aspiration to replace judgment with standardized measurement. Judgment is understood as personal, subjective, and self-interested; metrics are supposed to provide information that is hard and objective. The strategy behind the numbers is to improve institutional efficiency by offering rewards to those whose metrics are highest or whose benchmarks have been reached, and by punishing those who fall behind relative to them. Policies based on these assumptions have been on the march for decades, hugely enabled in recent years by dramatic technological advances, and as the ever-rising slope of the Ngram graphs indicate, their assumed truth goes marching on.

The attractions of accountability metrics are apparent. Yet like every culture, the culture of accountability has carved out its own unquestioned sacred space and, as with all arguments from presumed authority, possesses its characteristic blind spots. In this case, the virtues of accountability metrics have been oversold and their costs are underappreciated. It is high time to call accountability and metrics to account.

That might seem a quixotic, if not also a perverse, aspiration. What, after all, could be objectionable about accountability? Should not individuals, departments, divisions, be held to account? And how to do that without counting what they are doing in some standardized, numerical form? How can they be held to firm standards and expectations without providing specific achievement goals, that is, “benchmarks”? And how are people and institutions to be motivated unless rewards are tied to measureable performance? To those in thrall to the culture of accountability, to call its virtues into question is tantamount to championing secrecy, irresponsibility, and, worst of all, imprecision. It is to mark oneself as an enemy of democratic transparency.

To be sure, decision-making based on standardized measurement is often superior to judgment based on personal experience and expertise. Decisions based on big data are useful when the experience of any single practitioner is likely to be too limited to develop an intuitive feel for or reliable measure of efficacy. When a physician confronts the symptoms of a rare disorder, for example, she is better advised to rely on standardized criteria based on the aggregation of many cases. Data-based checklists—standardized procedures for how to proceed under routine or sometimes emergency conditions—have proven valuable in fields as varied as airline operation, rescue squad work, urban policing, and nuclear power plant safety, among a great many.

Clearly, the attempt to measure performance, however difficult it can be, is intrinsically desirable if what is actually measured is a reasonable proxy for what is intended to be measured. But that is not always the case, and between the two is where the blind spots form.

Measurement schemes are deceptively attractive because they often “prove” themselves through low-hanging fruit. They may indeed identify and help to remedy specific problems: It’s good to know which hospitals have the highest rates of infections, which airlines have the best on-time arrival records, and so on, because it can energize and improve performance. But, in many cases, the extension of standardized measurement may suffer diminished utility and even become counterproductive if sensible pragmatism gives way to metric madness. Measurement can readily become counterproductive when it tries to measure the unmeasurable and quantify the unquantifiable, whether to determine rewards or for other purposes. This tends to be the case as the scale of what is being measured grows while the activity itself becomes functionally differentiated, and when those tasked with doing the measuring are detached organizationally from the activity being measured.

He writes specifically about education:

No Child, Doctor, or Cop Left Behind

In the public sector, the show horse of accountability became “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB), an educational act signed into law with bipartisan support by George W. Bush in 2001 whose formal title was, “An act to close the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice, so that no child is left behind.”

The NCLB legislation grew out of more than a decade of heavy lobbying by business groups concerned about the quality of the workforce, civil rights groups worried about differential group achievement, and educational reformers who demanded national standards, tests, and assessment. The benefit of such measures was oversold, in terms little short of utopian.

Thus William Kolberg of the National Alliance of Business asserted that, “the establishment of a system of national standards, coupled with assessment, would ensure that every student leaves compulsory school with a demonstrated ability to read, write, compute and perform at world-class levels in general school subjects.” The first fruit of this effort, on the Federal level, was the “Improving America’s Schools Act” adopted under President Clinton in 1994. Meanwhile, in Texas, Governor George W. Bush became a champion of mandated testing and educational accountability, a stance that presaged his support for NCLB.

Under NCLB states were to test every student in grades 3–8 each year in math, reading, and science. The act was meant to bring all students to “academic proficiency” by 2014, and to ensure that each group of students (including blacks and Hispanics) within each school made “adequate yearly progress” toward proficiency each year. It imposed an escalating series of penalties and sanctions for schools in which the designated groups of students did not make adequate progress. Despite opposition from conservative Republicans antipathetic to the spread of Federal power over education, and of some liberal Democrats, the act was co-sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy and passed both houses of Congress with majority Republican and Democratic support. Advocates of the reforms maintained that the act would create incentives for improved outcomes by aligning the behavior of teachers, students, and schools with “the performance goals of the system.”

Yet more than a decade after its implementation, the benefits of the accountability provisions of NCLB remain elusive. Its advocates grasp at any evidence of improvement on any test at any grade in any demographic group for proof of NCLB’s efficacy. But test scores for primary school students have gone up only slightly, and no more quickly than before the legislation was enacted. Its impact on the test scores of high school students has been more limited still.

The unintended consequences of NCLB’s testing-and-accountability regime are more tangible, however, and exemplify many of the characteristic pitfalls of the culture of accountability. Under NCLB, scores on standardized tests are the numerical metric by which success and failure are judged. And the stakes are high for teachers and principals, whose salaries and very jobs depend on this performance indicator. It is no wonder, then, that teachers (encouraged by their principals) divert class time toward the subjects tested—mathematics and English—and away from history, social studies, art, and music. Instruction in math and English is narrowly focused on the skills required by the test rather than broader cognitive processes: Students learn test-taking strategies rather than substantive knowledge. Much class time is devoted to practicing for tests, hardly a source of stimulation for pupils.

Even worse than the perverse incentives involved in “teaching to the test” is the technique of improving average achievement levels by reclassifying weaker students as disabled, thus removing them from the assessment pool. Then there is out-and-out cheating, as teachers alter student answers or toss out tests by students likely to be low scorers, phenomena well documented in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Dallas, and other cities. Mayors and governors have diminished the difficulty of tests, or lowered the grades required to pass the test, in order to raise the pass rate and thus demonstrate the success of their educational reforms—and get more Federal money by so doing.

Another effect of NCLB is the demoralization of teachers. Many teachers perceive the regimen created by the culture of accountability as robbing them of their autonomy, and of the ability to use their discretion and creativity in designing and implementing the curriculum. The result has been a wave of early retirements by experienced teachers, and the movement of the more creative ones away from public and toward private schools, which are not bound by NCLB.

Despite the pitfalls of NCLB, the Obama Administration doubled down on accountability and metrics in K-12 education. In 2009, it introduced “Race to the Top”, which used funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to induce states “to adopt college- and career-ready standards and assessments; build data systems that measure student growth and success; and link student achievement to teachers and administrators.” This shows what happens these days when accountability metrics do not yield the result desired: Measure more, but differently, until you get the result you want.

Metric madness is not limited to education. Some of the problems evident in NCLB pop up in fields from medicine to policing.

Steve Nelson declares flatly that:

Assessment may be the most damaging concept in contemporary education debate.

Education reform is obsessed with assessment and accountability. Whether in the form of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, or the slightly more reasonable Common Core, billions of dollars are devoted to defining what kids should know and then assessing whether they know it. I won’t waste my keystrokes or your time reiterating the evils of the testing and assessment industry. Lots of folks have done that quite thoroughly.

Most thoughtful educational commentary suggests how assessments might be better. I, like many others, have pointed out the foolishness of many exams based on the Common Core. Appropriately, the phrase “fill in the bubble” has become shorthand for poor educational practice.

I don’t think the criticisms go nearly far enough. There is no need for these assessments at all.

What do we learn from these standardized tests?

Aggregate test results in any school or district reveal these three things:

1. The wealth or poverty of the school or district.


2. The extent to which the school or district skewed its curriculum and teaching practices toward the service of elevating test scores.


3. The extent to which the school or district assembled, through selective/deceptive enrollment practices or geographic luck, a group of students who were more likely to do well on the tests.

And these are the factors on which we are basing policy and demoralizing a generation of kids and, particularly, teachers!

Here is a thought:

Real education reform will come when, and only when, we address poverty, fund schools properly and honor the teaching profession with good pay and the respect teachers deserve.

Kim Irvine, English teacher in Ogden, Utah, knows the new state superintendent quite well. Brad Smith, a lawyer with no education experience, was superintendent in Ogden, where he implemented a series of failed “reform” policies. So, it being Utah, he was elevated to state superintendent.

Kim Smith here describes the havoc and disruption he imposed on Ogden. Watch out, Utah parents and teachers! Know what to expect and push back hard. As hard as you can.

This is the canary in the coalmine…

Few people in this state realize that many Utah teachers are holding their collective breath waiting for the state superintendant to unveil his educational plan. There are concerns because his previously unsuccessful reforms as a district superintendent are often pointed to as an exemplar. Not many people across the state know what these reforms could look like, but the teachers, parents, and students from Ogden, do.

Based on that perspective, there are a few points that should be considered, especially for the parents whose students will be educated under this new plan. Recently, an article addressed ten signs of a failing district. [i] Please refer back to the article because the descriptions of these ten sign are both illuminating and powerful. Here are the ten signs:

  1. The large majority of teachers have fewer than 5 years experience.
  2. Teachers are overwhelmed with requests for data.
  3. Teachers receive no support from administrators on discipline issues.
  4. Professional development is limited to indoctrination and data.
  5. The message is tightly controlled, eliminating constructive criticism.
  6. School Board members serve as rubber stamps.
  7. The community is not involved in its schools.
  8. The district is top heavy with administrators.
  9. An overemphasis has been placed on technology.
  10. Not enough emphasis is being place on civics and citizenship.

Watch how closely this mirrors the events that happened in Ogden as Mr. Smith implemented his reforms.


One of the first actions as newly appointed superintendent that really caught the ire of the community was to fire all of the librarians in the district including many reading specialists, citing potential increases in the cost of benefits under the Affordable Care Act. [ii] Smith also went on to explain that Ogden School District is the only remaining district on the Wasatch Front to employ licensed teachers as media specialists in their libraries. [iii]This turned out to be false, but deaf to the public outcry by parents, teachers, and students, the librarians did, indeed, lose their jobs. Many had been in the district for decades. After all was said and done, a handful of librarians remained. [iv]

Scripted Teaching

The next concern arose because of mandated training and implementation of scripted curriculum. Although many requests were made to the district about the expense of this program, the district would never release exact numbers. It has been reported the cost of this scripted program is upwards of $800,000 a year for the English instruction alone. This is horrifying to anyone, but especially someone who understands that these supplies are “consumables”. They are basically a bunch of worksheets bound together that the students write in and are thrown away each year and replaced. This is a very expensive and not a very effective way to teach as many research studies show. “One program cannot meet the needs of all children. Teachers need to be trained and empowered to make decisions about how best to teach their students.”[v]

Teacher Attrition

Many teachers began to leave Ogden District for several reasons including heavy-handed discipline, scripted programs, and a huge increase in data gathering and analysis paperwork. Other teachers were simply non-renewed. The local paper reported, “District teacher turnover 57% from 2006 to 2013.” Actual numbers appear that the trend is not only not slowing, but also increasing. According to the district’s records just about the same number of teachers left again the next year which would bring the cumulative to 72% turn over in teachers. Smith said. “Reforms were implemented, and they are choosing to go elsewhere to work.”[vi]

Teacher, Jennifer Claesgens, whose resume includes a Ph.D. in science and mathematics education, experience teaching high school, and four years as an assistant professor at Northern Arizona University’s Center for Science Teaching and Learning, responded to having her teaching contract not renewed by speaking out. According to the Standard Examiner, “She wonders if the real reason she was let go was that she questioned some school policies. ‘I didn’t understand why we didn’t have finals at a high school, if we want students to be prepared for college. I didn’t understand why kids were allowed to play sports if they weren’t even in school that day, or were flunking classes…I questioned those things because I really feel that you need to have expectations of students.”’[vii]

Confiscation of Teachers’ salaries

Another large reason that teachers are fleeing the Ogden District are the ways, under the reforms, teacher discipline is handled. Currently, when a teacher is placed on what the district calls, “Tier Two Remediation,” they lose the state money. This represents several thousand dollars that is “confiscated” by the district. This practice has become rather commonplace in the Ogden School District, yet I haven’t heard of this happening to other teachers across the state. A concern here is that this seems to be a conflict of interest. The district is fiscally motivated to place teachers on discipline. Personally, I know several teachers who have had this happen to them. It is a stressful, demeaning, and hurtful punishment that pushes the boundaries of appropriateness, especially when Utah teachers struggle with low wages and shrinking benefits as it is.

Mr. Smith’s Superintendent Bonuses and OSD Board’s “Rubber Stamp of Approval for Renewed Contract

In the midst of all of this, the Ogden School District Board unanimously renewed Brad Smith’s contract for another two years. What surprised the community was to hear of Mr. Smith’s incentive pay and bonus plan, which seemed highly inappropriate due to the financial woes claimed by the district. The Standard Examiner covered the story, “…but his potential performance pay goes up. Before, Smith was assessed three times a year and got a $10,000 bonus each time he met the criteria. Now, Smith will be assessed four times yearly, and get $9,000 each time he meets criteria…” Board President Shane Story.[viii]

Even though many were present at this board meeting in protest of the many controversial policies, The Ogden School Board voted unanimously to renew Superintendent Brad Smith’s contract for two more years.[ix] This was particularly disturbing considering there was no formal offering of the job to other job applicants despite the public outcry. Here is a video of some of these concerns voiced at that meeting:


Data Shenanigans

But most importantly, it is vital to examine the data proffered by Mr. Smith as proof that his non-traditional methods actually work. Initially, the data showed that there were increases in student scoring at a few schools at the elementary levels, but those successes were short lived. There was minimal, consistent improvement at the secondary level. In 2014, as the state testing data came in, it became apparent that the reforms left a lot to be desired. The Deseret News reported shocking figures of proficiency rates in both the junior highs and high schools in Ogden District. Some of the most dismal were the math scores:

Ogden High= 4% proficient in math

Ben Lomond High= 5.9% proficient in math

Mound Fort Jr= 6.9% proficient in math

Highland Jr= 12.0% proficient in math

Mount Ogden Jr= 26.3% proficient in math

In 2014, two years after Mr. Smith started his sweeping reforms, the Deseret News reported the following:

“…Ogden, where English language arts scores fell by almost 77 percent — about 30 percent beyond the average drop experienced by Utah’s elementary schools. In the last four years, Dee and other Ogden schools have been hailed as having turned the tide in academic performance, fighting their way out of the bottom ranks through administrative overhauls and data-driven teaching initiatives. Between 2010 and 2013, Dee had gone from being among the worst-performing schools in the state to more than doubling its proficiency scores in language arts.”[x]

The paper even created a graph to illustrate how quickly the scores fell after being used as proof that Mr. Smith’s reform efforts were a smashing success. [xi]

Something else that is troubling about these numbers is that the math simply doesn’t add up to reflect authentic student growth and success. For instance, the graduation rates reported from Ogden District that same year were 71%. [xii]

Doesn’t that graduation figure become suspect when one considers that almost 90 percent of secondary students in Ogden District were not proficient in math? This means that almost 90% of the junior high and high school students in the district were not at grade level.

More and more testing…and now kindergarteners?

Lastly, many experienced educators are alarmed to hear the superintendent recommend standardized testing for our kindergarteners even though this flies in the face of a large body of educational research. [xiii] The Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI) has found that, “standardized testing in the early years causes stress, does not provide useful information, leads to harmful tracking and labeling of children, causes teaching to the test, and fails to set conditions for cooperative learning and problem-solving.” [xiv]


The Business Model in Education

So now that we await the new educational plan that the state superintendent plans to roll out in August, it is important to keep in mind that the business model does not work in education. Diane Ravitch, a national expert on education, historian of education and Research Professor of Education at New York University, and a former Assistant Secretary of Education under George W. Bush, describes Mr. Smith as follows: “Clearly, Ogden has decided to utilize a business plan. The superintendent has no education background. Class size doesn’t matter. Librarians don’t matter. The voices of concerned parents are ignored. As long as those test scores go up, the school board will declare success. After all, trained seals can perform no matter how many are in the pool.”[xv]

Concerns about Smith’s Reforms from the Community and Media

Alliance for a Better Utah describes Mr. Smith, “Between his credentials and behavior, educators in the state have plenty with which to be alarmed. Utah’s legislators historically have butted heads with educators, so a superintendent playing for the other team could have toxic consequences. The situation ought to be watched closely as Utah’s children will ultimately pay the price.”[xvi]

Recently, Paul Rolley, of the Salt Lake Tribune, pointed out some startling concerns in an article dated May 15th 2015 where he pointed out that Smith is a creation of the right wing:

“But Stephenson (Utah Senator) now has the education leader he always wanted. Smith, who immediately confronted the teachers union when he became superintendent of the Ogden School District and infamously slashed programs and people, seems to share Stephenson’s distrust of public school teachers and malevolence toward administrators bound philosophically to traditional education policies.”

Rolly went on further to express some concern over actions of state school board members as Smith’s reforms are adopted and the naysayers are eliminated:

“The few board members who met on their own and championed Smith have driven out other top professionals of the State Office of Education through their micro-managing and constant meddling, according to past and present education employees who have observed the recent carnage.”[xvii]


We, the Utah State Democratic Education Caucus is made up of parents, community leaders, students, teachers, administrators, and community members who are extremely concerned about the superintendent’s new 5 year educational plan especially since no one seems to be looking closely to the devastation he left behind in Ogden. Please, please heed our pleas. Be careful of glossy promises and slick brochures. Demand research backed programs that are authentic and peer reviewed, not just propaganda from vendors. We are your constituency and we are worried. At the beginning of this document we explained that this is the canary in the coalmine. The metaphoric canary is the remains of the Ogden School District. If you would like to speak to teachers, parents, or counselors who have seen this tragedy, we can arrange it. Please contact me and we will put you together.


Kim Irvine

Chair: Utah Democratic Education Caucus



[iii] Coverage from the local paper regarding firing the librarians and reading specialists:

~A few of the many letters to the editor from outraged parents fighting to keep the librarians



[v] Elaine Garan’s In Defense of Our Children: When Politics, Profit and Education Collide is a little book packed with insight and research.

[vi] Great information from local paper including stats and graphs on teacher attrition

[vii] Poignant story and video from the perspective of a talented, non-renewed teacher as Ogden fires 17 teachers

[viii] Great video interviews and coverage of Mr. Smith’s bonuses and other compelling issues:

[ix] Regardless of the public outcry, OSD Board unanimously renews Smith contract for two years.

[x] After reporting sweeping successes, the Deseret News points out several flaws

[xi] Deseret News graphic illustrating problems with previously successes in Ogden School District

[xii] Graduation data:

[xiii] Please go to 1:46:38 to hear Mr. Smith’s ideas on standardized testing for Utah kindergarteners.


[xv] National Education blog describes Smith:

[xvi] Alliance for a Better Utah describes Smith:

[xvii] Rolly article in Trib:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 156,333 other followers