Archives for category: Accountability

The Albert Shanker Institute studied teacher diversity in nine important cities: Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

What they learned was that the proportion of black teachers had declined, in some cities dramatically over the past decade.

All of these cities–to a greater or lesser degree–have been targets of corporate reform.

The black share of teachers’ positions declined by 1% in Boston’s charter sector, 24% in New Orleans, nearly 28% in Washington, D.C.

Is there a principle here? The more corporate reform, the fewer black teachers?

Michael Grunwald, who usually writes about politics, not education, has posted a mostly admiring profile of Arne Duncan.

Bottom line: He really cares!

What he leaves out: Arne’s persistent support for privatization of public education.

He does touch on the opposition to high-stakes testing, but skirts the hot-button issue of teacher evaluation by test scores.

But he does feel bad about the instability that has occurred in Chicago since he left.

And Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell cries when he talks about Arne. Michael Grunwald probably doesn’t know that Ted gave up a $750,000 a year job as CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, the leading privatization organization in education, to join Arne.

As Grunwald says, you can’t understand Arne if you don’t understand basketball. I know a lot about education, but I don’t understand basketball. So that’s my problem.


Patrick Kerkstra writes that he was always skeptical when anyone suggested that charters (at least some of them) were seeking profits. Now, having read about what is happening in Philadelphia, he is not so sure. I remember the early days of the charter movement. My colleague Checker Finn Jr. used to say, again and again, that there was a deal: if the state gives us (charters) autonomy, we will be accountable. The charters have autonomy but they no longer want accountability.

Kerkstra sees three big issues:

  1. Charters are no more efficient about their use of money than district officials. People should get over the belief that private=smarter, better.
  2. Profit-minded businesses are destroying whatever moral authority the education reform movement had.
    I’ve long cringed when ed reform skeptics attacked the motives of charter advocates and others who’d like to see the public school system reinvented (or scrapped). With very rare exceptions, the individuals I’ve interviewed and spoken with in the ed reform movement over the years are True Believers: their fury and impatience with traditional public education is real and righteous. I haven’t always agreed with where they’re coming from, to say the least, but I’ve long dismissed accusations that reformers are in it for the money.

    Now I’m not so sure. There plainly is a large and growing group of interests within the education reform movement that stand to profit as traditional public education shrinks….

    Charters were supposed to be different. Traditional public schools were beholden: to teacher’s unions, to political masters, to a powerful class of consultants and attorneys. Charters were supposed to be the indies. But as the charter movement grows, a big corps of financial interests has grown up around it. Increasingly, charters look just as financially beholden to an array of interests, only it’s harder to tell exactly who and what those interests are.

    This is a really significant problem for ed reform advocates, and I’m not sure that it can be solved. The moral clarity of the early charter movement — nonprofit, about the kids, self-reliant — well, that’s gone. Increasingly, it seems not just fair to question the motives of ed reformers, but necessary.

  3.  The School District’s charter oversight office is still understaffed and under-resourced. And charter operators frequently bristle at the prospect of more accountability. But something’s got to give here. The charter movement can’t keep growing and eating up tax dollars while operating in the relative darkness.

Tim Farley is a public school parent and advocate in upstate New York. In this post, he describes the way that the New York State Education Department has manipulated test scores to avoid providing needed academic interventions for students who fail.

With the Common Core tests producing a failure rate of 70%, who will give the students the remediation to which they are legally entitled?

Fred LeBrun is rapidly emerging as the most astute education writer in New York State. He writes for the Albany Times-Union so there is a good chance that the Governor’s staff and the legislative staff read what he writes. I hope so.

In this article, he skewers Cuomo’s plan to put struggling schools into “receivership.” That’ll fix them. Millions will be burned while the state ignores the root causes of low-performance in school: poverty. It seems that all the schools on the Governor’s list are in poor communities. Black and brown children will be Cuomo’s playthings, as teachers and principals and other staff are fired and new ones brought in, who will also be fired.

It is painful to read. You know that millions of dollars will be spent on consultants, and by the time the money is all gone, there will be more schools to hand over to Cuomo’s hedge fund buddies to turn into low-performing charters.

LeBrun writes:

While New York public education struggles to resolve an idiotic dependence on standardized tests, waiting in the wings is another poorly-thought-out plan threatening more harm than benefit: school receivership.

So far you haven’t heard a great deal about it because the dramatic consequences are a year off, but you will. And, unlike the statewide disgust over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s testing obsession that affects every school district and has gotten a lot of press, the threat of receivership at the moment hangs over only 144 “struggling” schools — not districts — all of them among the state’s poorest. Of these, 20 are labeled by the state Education Department as “persistently struggling” because of the length of time they’ve been “struggling” and need to turn themselves around in just a year, or else. The rest have two years.

In the Capital Region, only Albany’s William S. Hackett Middle School is on the persistent list, but if a handful of schools in Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Amsterdam, including Albany High School, don’t show appropriate progress, they will join Hackett next year.

What happens now for schools like Hackett is as complicated as directions to Atlantis, and about as reliable.

Albany school Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard becomes the acting school receiver, with broad powers, for the next year. A required community engagement team composed of the principal, staff, teachers, parents and even students from Hackett will forward recommendations for improvements to the superintendent, who will use them to help create her intervention plan to turn the school around. The plan is due at State Ed for approval by the end of this month. Over the next year, the community team will look over her shoulder as the intervention plan unfolds.

In the meantime, the school receiver can do pretty much what she wants (with approval from State Ed): change the curriculum, replace teachers and administrators, increase salaries, reallocate the budget, expand the school day or year, turn Hackett into a community school, even convert to a charter school. Although there’s enormous rigmarole attached to much of it, including going charter. Remember, the receiver in this case remains the superintendent for the rest of the district, so she is answerable for any wild and crazy ideas to the voters through the school board.

Anyway, to help start the process, Vanden Wyngaard can apply for a grant from a $75 million pot set up by the state, although she’ll have plenty of competition from other “persistently struggling” school receivers in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Yonkers, New York City and elsewhere. She has a year to do her turnaround. Or the hammer falls and we are off to Neverland.

Then the state would appoint an independent receiver who is answerable only to State Ed. At which time the process of community involvement, an intervention plan, and the rest are repeated, only now change is apt to be far more radical, with wholesale staff firings. An independent receiver can be a person from an approved list that doesn’t yet exist, or an institution or charter school. Although charter schools upstate have been mostly a bust, as Albany well knows. Middle school charters in Albany could not save themselves, let alone others.

So. If you’re getting the idea that this receivership idea seems like a plan designed to fail and thus prepare the way for school privatizers to make a bundle, move over.

For one thing, the state has yet to give school receivers a clear idea of what would constitute appropriate progress to avoid an independent receiver. Presumably, we’ll know by the end of the month when intervention plans have to be approved. What is expected and how reasonable it is will answer a great deal.

Because just a year to show any marked improvement on any front for a school like Hackett, no matter how thoughtfully considered, broadly accepted by the community, or earnestly pursued, is absurd. Real change needs time for all stakeholders to become invested. Teachers at Hackett today are still complaining that attendance and discipline as major problems, just as it was when I substituted there, oh, a half century ago. These are, after all, manifestations of the poverty and despair underlying most of Hackett’s problems; they don’t go away. They are the community’s problems, not just Hackett’s.

And for any turnaround plan to stand a chance of success, it will need tons of money and sustained financing for years. Curiously, while the law creating school receiverships is rich in the detail of who can be fired and not rehired, on punitive measures, and what extraordinary powers a receiver may exercise, it does not specify who will pay for an independent receiver.

Keeping in mind, always, that the state has an abysmal record in meeting its education commitments. At the moment, the state owes New York City more than $2 billion in aid; Albany more than $37 million; Schenectady nearly $60 million.

So there you have it. A boondoggle in the making. Cuomo forced us to accept a mandate of an independent receiver for certain schools labeled struggling by his cohorts at State Ed, but so far there isn’t a hint of state money to pay for it. Can you imagine what that burden will do for school budgets like Albany’s?

Oh, and it gets better. Amusingly, the concept of “struggling” public schools is defined by the educational establishment as the bottom 5 percent of all state schools based on a host of criteria. Which means no matter how much struggling schools improve, there will always be 5 percent at the bottom who potentially need a receiver.

What a surprise. • 518-454-5453

This is a terrific article about the Common Core test results. It explains in layman’s language how the test scores are calculated and converted to scale scores.

When you read the “results” in the newspaper or get the results for your child or your class, you need to understand that the “scores” are not really scores:

The only things that have been released are percentages of students who supposedly meet “proficiency” levels. Those are not test scores—certainly not what parents would understand as scores. They are entirely subjective measurements.

Here’s why. When a child takes a standardized test, his or her results are turned into a “raw score,” that is, the actual number of questions answered correctly, or when an answer is worth more than one point, the actual number of points the child received. That is the only real objective “score,” and yet, Common Core raw scores have not been released.

Raw scores are adjusted—in an ideal world to account for the difficulty of questions from year to year—and converted to “scale scores.” A good way to understand those is to think of the SAT. When we say a college applicant scored a 600 on the math portion of the SAT test, we do not mean he or she got 600 answers right, we mean the raw scores were run through a formula that created a scale score—and that formula may change depending on which version of the SAT was taken. Standardized test administrators rarely publicize scale scores and the Common Core administrators have not.

Then the test administrators decide on “cut scores,” that is, the numerical levels of scale scores where a student is declared to be basic, proficient or advanced

The cut scores are the passing marks. They are arbitrary and subjective decisions made by fallible human beings. They can raise the passing mark to create large numbers of “failures,” or they can lower the passing mark to create a “success” story, to celebrate their wonderful policies. In some cases, the cut score is set high, so many students “fail.” The next year, or year after, the cut scores are lowered, and HOORAY! Our Wise Leadership Has Create Success!

As Horn writes:

Now, when a news story says that proficiency percentages were “higher than expected,” you should know what was “expected.” The Common Core consortiums gave the strong impression that they would align their levels of “proficiency” with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) nationwide standardized test. (That is, by the way, an absurdly high standard. Diane Ravitch explains that on the NAEP, “Proficient is akin to a solid A.”)

Score setting is a subjective decision, implemented by adjusting the scale and/or cut scores. If proficiency percentages are “higher than expected,” it simply means the consortium deliberately set the scores for proficiency to make results look better than the NAEP’s. And that is all it means.

It is no different from what many states did to standardized test results in anticipation of the Common Core exams. New York intentionally lowered and subsequently increased statewide results on its standardized tests. Florida lowered passing scores on its assessment so fewer children and schools would be declared failures. The District of Columbia lowered cut scores so more students would appear to have done well. Other states did the same.

The bottom line is this: The 2015 Common Core tests simply did not and cannot measure if students did better or worse. The “Smarter Balanced” consortium (with its corporate partner McGraw-Hill), the only one to release results so far, decided to make them look better than the NAEP, but worse than prior standardized tests. The PARCC consortium (with corporate partner Pearson) is now likely to do the same. It’s fair to say the results are rigged, or as the Washington Post more gently has put it, “proficiency rates…are as much a product of policymakers’ decisions as they are of student performance.”

You MUST MUST MUST MUST open the link to the cut scores announced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which Horn helpfully supplies. Scroll down to pp. 5-6. You will see that the cut scores predict that most students will “fail” in every grade. Only the top two levels are considered “passing,” that is, proficiency and advanced. In third grade math, 61% are predicted to “fail.” In fifth grade math, 67% are predicted to “fail.” In eighth grade math, 68% are predicted to “fail.”

The ELA predicted failure rates are slightly better, but even there, the majority of students are expected to “fail” because the cut score was so high.

If they chose different cut scores, the proportion passing or failing would be different, higher or lower.

This is not unique to the Common Core tests. This is the way all standardized testing is graded.

You can see how easy it is for political figures to manipulate the passing rates to their advantage.

Jeff Bryant laments that so many elected officials, who call themselves progressive, have fallen for “education reform” in its most punitive form. For example, even Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders voted for the Murphy Amendment when the Senate was shaping its bill to revise NCLB. The amendment, offered by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, would have kept the federal government in charge of defining what is a “failing school” and prescribing how states should intervene. Thankfully, the amendment was voted down, but most Democratic senators, including Warren and Sanders, voted for it. A group of civil rights organizations lobbied to retain annual high-stakes testing, even though these tests label minority children as failures and subject them to relentless test prep, robbing them of a full education. Fortunately other civil rights leaders, such as the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, have spoken out against high-stakes testing, as have grassroots leaders of civil rights groups.

Bryant asks:

What’s going on here? Why are progressive leaders in the Democratic Party out of touch with progressive education? Is education somehow so different from issues like finance and macroeconomics that it doesn’t belong in the same populist tent with breaking up Wall Street banks and raising the minimum wage?

To gain insight into these questions, Bryant interviewed Rep. Mark Takano of California. Takano is unusual for many reasons as a member of Congress. For one, he is an experienced educator, which is a rarity in that legislative body. He knows what he is talking about. He has been in the trenches. He was a classroom teacher for nearly 24 years before he was elected to Congress. He knows the real effects of federal policies. Other members of Congress focus on other issues, and few have any real understanding about the consequences of the policies they enact. Takano does. He knows about education.

You will enjoy reading the interview and learn from it.

Takano says, for example:

I saw education before No Child Left Behind. I also experienced education during No Child Left Behind up until I got elected to Congress. Basically, test and punish did not work. Because of No Child Left Behind, I suddenly had to follow a syllabus and a pacing guide dictated by the district office. There was less trust of the teacher, and that’s a mild way of putting it. We began being treated like we were a transmitter of someone else’s idea of what is good education. Effective education doesn’t work that way. Effective education is building relationships with students. It’s about teachers strategizing on how to engage students. You can’t do the canned lesson or scripted content.

I dare say no one else in Congress understands as much about the realities of the classroom as Mark Takano. Let us hope he is re-elected again and again and gains seniority on the House Education Committee.

We can all be grateful to know that there is a teacher in Congress. There should be many more.

You are surely familiar with Sheri Lederman. She is a fourth-grade teacher in Great Neck, Long Island, New York, whose “growth” scores dropped inexplicably from 14 of 20 to only 1 of 20 in a single year, causing her to be labeled “ineffective” on that measure. The score was assigned by a computer, which compared the growth of students in her class to avatar students in other parts of the state. The assumption is that children are inanimate objects that can be shaped and compelled to increase their standardized test scores. The computer is, in this case, at odds with Sheri’s principal, superintendent, parents, and former students.

Sheri’s husband Bruce Lederman is a lawyer. They decided not to accept this slap in the face to a teacher who had served with distinction for nearly 20 years. Bruce sued and the case was recently heard in state supreme court in Albany.

Here is a video about the case. Meet Sheri and Bruce, who are fighting for teachers across the state and the nation. The best part is the clip where Governor Andrew Cuomo declares his unqualified faith in using test scores to judge teachers and his belief that students will get a better education (or higher test scores) if teachers compete in a market.

This case is of national significance. It is a powerful weapon in the battle to restore humanity to teachers’ workplace.

A teacher sent this commentary about the disgraceful neglect of public education in Néw Mexico:

“I cannot understand why our governor, Susanna Martinez, was re-elected…. Certainly, her education policies have been disastrous. This administration has no respect for teachers and no understanding of education and other related issues.

“We’ve been treated to a great number of photo ops in which the governor drops in to a school and poses with a book in her hand in front of a group of children and then drops out again. I’m not aware that she has ever made any effort to understand the issues the schools in the various parts of New Mexico face. In fact, she and her Secretary of Education, Hannah Skandera, seem to be quite uninterested in anything teachers might have to say. After four years in office, Ms. Skandera, was finally pushed through and confirmed as secretary of education, even though she has no background in education. The state constitution requires that candidates for this position have a degree in education and experience as a teacher and administrator. The legislative members who voted to confirm her willfully ignored our own constitution when they confirmed her. Ms. Skandera was a protégé of Jeb Bush and is bent on implementing failed Florida policies.
Even though the state is supposedly spending more money than ever on education, our schools are seeing less and less of it. Apparently, a lot of money is going to “below the line” funding that the governor uses as a slush fund to promote such things as teacher merit pay. In the last nine+ years, teachers have averaged less than a half percent annual raise. Future raises look doubtful as long as this governor is in office.

“This team implemented by “rule” (they could not get it through the legislature) Skandera’s teacher evaluation system, in which a minimum of fifty percent of the evaluation is based on student standardized test scores. The testing this year will provide the third year of data. Will teachers begin to lose their jobs because of test scores? I am the testing coordinator in my school and after the first round of testing, personally witnessed students who mechanically pushed keys on the computer and did not bother to even read the questions this past spring. The computers in my school library were used for testing. It was closed from mid-March until the last day of school to accommodate PARCC, end of year tests and EOC’s.

“It’s no surprise that the largest district in the state started school with three hundred teacher vacancies.
I blame the people of this state for re-electing these people. Granted, the candidate who ran against Ms. Martinez could not compete against all the out of state money that flowed in to her re-election coffers. However, if people had examined the candidates and their policy platforms, perhaps the outcome would have been different. I think the most discouraging statement I heard after the election was that the governor’s opponent wasn’t “charismatic” enough. Until the people of this state (and this nation) wise up and cast their vote based on the candidate’s policy instead of their personality, we will not end up with the government that is the best for common people.”

In case you read the original post, I deleted the second sentence because it had a grammatical error.

Jonathan Alter is an insightful writer about politics but knows little about education. He doesn’t like public education. Unfortunately, he thinks he is an education expert. He had a starring role in “Waiting for ‘Superman,'” where he looked solemnly into the camera and said, “We know what works. Accountability works.” Right. Like No Child Left Behind was a huge success.

Alter adores charters. Recently he wrote an article for the Daily Beast about why liberals should love charters. He doesn’t like me because I don’t love charters. A few years ago, he got very angry at me when I wrote about schools–both charter and public–that claimed to have produced miraculous score increases. Alter and I debated on David Sirota’s radio show in Denver, and Alter made clear that he believes any claim that a charter school made about test scores and graduation rates, no matter how outlandish. I guess I should thank Alter for giving me some good laughs, like the time he compared me to Whittaker Chambers, the ex-Communist who turned against Alger Hiss (Chambers had moved from left to right, while I had moved, in Alter’s words, from right to left, which he thought was a very bad thing for me to do) or the time he interviewed Bill Gates and called me Gates’ “chief adversary.” That still makes me laugh. I loved that and wrote a reply to Gates’ questions in the Alter interview.

Mercedes Schneider responded to Alter and walked him through the facts about charters, and their lack of accountability and oversight. She schools him about the New Orleans “miracle.” She calls her post “Why Liberals Should Think Twice About ‘Learning to Love Charters.'” Alter, she notes, is oblivious to charter mismanagement and scandals, apparently never having heard of them. He knows nothing of the politicians and entrepreneurs who open charters to make a fast buck.

She writes:

In his piece, Alter repeats the misleading statement “charters are public schools.” However, charter schools take public money without being held accountable to the public for that money. That contributes to the charter school scandal and turnover, which Alter refuses to address, instead insisting that the fact that traditional public schools in general outperform charter schools “is not especially relevant” because those “underperforming charters” run by “inexperienced groups” just need closing.

Keep the charter churn going. Never mind how it affects children and communities.

Never mind that 80 percent of charter schools can’t cut it. Alter chooses to pick his own cherries once again and focus on “the top quintile” of charter schools that tend to be charter chains. Since according to Alter this top 20 percent of charters beats traditional public schools (even though such is really “irrelevant”), it justifies the whole under-regulated, scandal-ridden charter venture.

One of her best lines (classic-Mercedes):

Alter thinks it is better for the wealthy to make it possible for the inept to fund their own schools than to buy yachts.

If the Waltons wanted to truly improve public education, they would invest in yachts.

Peter Greene says that he might be convinced to love charters, but they would have to make some very important changes.

He writes:

I’m not categorically opposed to them on principle. My aunt ran a “free school” in Connecticut decades ago, and it was pretty cool. I have a friend whose son has been seriously assisted by cyber school, and I know a few other similar stories. I think it’s possible that charter schools could be an okay thing. But the charter systems we have now in this country are so very, very terrible I can’t even like them a little, let alone love them.

So when will I love charter schools?

I will love them when they’re fully accountable.

Public schools have to account for every dollar spent, every student who falls under their jurisdiction. Charter schools are only “public” when it’s time to be paid. The rest of the time they are non-transparent and non-accountable. We have charter scandals over and over and over and over again in which somebody just makes off with a pile of money, or isn’t really providing services they claim to be, or doesn’t really have a plan in place. This is bananas!

We’re learning that in the New Orleans Wide World O’Charters, nobody is accountable for the students. A school can purge a child from its records by essentially saying, “Yeah, she went somewhere” without even having to confirm what happened to the student. In New Orleans, there are thousands of students missing– school authorities literally do not know where those children are.

Charter schools will be accountable when they are just as transparent and just as accountable as public schools. Financial records completely open to the public. All meetings of governing bodies completely open to the public. And run by people who must answer to the public and whose first responsibility is not to the nominal owners of the school, but to the actual owners of the school– the people who pay the bills and fund the charter– the taxpayers.

I will love them when education is their primary mission

Private industry is plagued with a disease in this country, a disease that has convinced business leaders that the purpose of their widget company is not to make widgets, but to make good ROI for investors. This has led to all manner of stupid, destructive behavior, as well as a glut of really lousy widgets.

Modern charters all too often export that bad business attitude over to the world of education, with everyone from hedge fundies to pop stars getting into charter schools because someone told them it’s a great investment. If financial returns are located anywhere in your success metric for your charter school, just get the hell out. Because all that can mean is that you will view every student and staff member as a drain that is taking money away from you. You’ll want to select students based primarily on how they can help you achieve your financial goals (by looking good on paper and not costing much). I can’t think of a much worse attitude to bring into a school.


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