Sarah Garland, writing for the HECHINGER Report, says that the Reagan-era report “A Nation at Risk” (1983) laid the groundwork for today’s regime of high-takes testing, longer school hours, and tougher accountability measures. The conservative Republicans he quotes express satisfaction with the Obama administration’s embrace of their agenda. The enduring puzzle: who stole the Democratic agenda of equity and teacher professionalism?
The Vermont State Board of Education adopted a resolution on assessment and accountability with a message: We will not let the federal government bully our children. We read research and incorporate it into our policy decisions. This set of principles and resolutions could serve as a guide for every state and school district about the appropriate uses of assessment and the true goals of education in our society.
Vermont State Board of Education
Statement and Resolution on Assessment and Accountability Adopted August 19, 2014
The Vermont State Board of Education is committed to ensuring that all students develop the knowledge, capabilities and dispositions they need to thrive as citizens in their communities, higher education and their careers in the 21st century. The Board of Education’s Education Quality Standards (EQS) rules aim to ensure that all students in Vermont public schools are afforded educational opportunities that are substantially equal in quality, and enable them to achieve or exceed the standards approved by the State Board of Education.
These rules were designed to ensure continuous improvement in student performance, instruction and leadership, so that all students are able to develop high levels of skill and capability across seven essential domains: literacy, mathematics, scientific inquiry and knowledge, global citizenship, physical and health education and wellness, artistic expression, and transferable 21st century skills.
To achieve these goals, educators need to make use of diverse indicators of student learning and strengths, in order to comprehensively assess student progress and adjust their practice to continuously improve learning. They also need to document the opportunities schools provide to further the goals of equity and growth.
Uniform standardized tests, administered across all schools, are a critical tool for schools’ improvement efforts. Without some stable and valid external measure, we cannot evaluate how effective we are in our efforts to improve schools and learning. Standardized tests – along with teacher-developed assessments and student work samples — can give educators and citizens insight into the skills, knowledge and capabilities our students have developed.
What standardized tests can do that teacher developed tests cannot do is give us reliable, comparative data. We can use test scores to tell whether we are doing better over time. Of particular note, standardized tests help monitor how well we serve students with different life circumstances and challenges. When used appropriately, standardized tests are a sound and objective way to evaluate student progress.
Despite their value, there are many things tests cannot tell us. Standardized tests like the NECAP and soon, the SBAC, can tell us something about how students are doing in a limited set of narrowly defined subjects overall, as measured at a given time. However, they cannot tell us how to help students do even better. Nor can they adequately capture the strengths of all children, nor the growth that can be ascribed to individual teachers. And under high-stakes conditions, when schools feel extraordinary pressure to raise scores, even rising scores may not be a signal that students are actually learning more. At best, a standardized test is an incomplete picture of learning: without additional measures, a single test is inadequate to capture a years’ worth of learning and growth.
Along a related dimension, the American Psychological Association wrote:
“(N)o test is valid for all purposes. Indeed, tests vary in their intended uses and in their ability to provide meaningful assessments of student learning. Therefore, while the goal of using large-scale testing to measure and improve student and school system performance is laudable, it is also critical that such tests are sound, are scored properly, and are used appropriately.”
Unfortunately, the way in which standardized tests have been used under federal law as almost the single measure of school quality has resulted in the frequent misuse of these instruments across the nation.
Because of the risk of inappropriate uses of testing, the Vermont State Board of Education herewith adopts a series of guiding principles for the appropriate use of standardized tests to support continuous improvements of learning.
1. The Proper Role of Standardized Testing – The purpose of any large scale assessment must be clearly stated and the assessments must be demonstrated as scientifically and empirically valid for that purpose(s) prior to their use. This includes research and verification as to whether a student’s performance on tests is actually predictive of performance on other indicators we care about, including post-secondary success, graduation rates and future employment.
In addition, standardized test results should be used only in concert with a diverse set of measures that capture evidence of student growth and school impact across all important outcomes outlined in the Education Quality Standards.
2. Public Reporting Requirement – It is a state and local obligation to report on the quality of the schools to the citizenry. Standardized testing is part of this reporting obligation. The state board encourages local public reporting of a diverse and comprehensive set of school quality indicators in local school, faculty and community communications.
3. Judicious and Proportionate Testing – The State Board of Education advocates for reducing the amount of time spent on summative, standardized testing and encourages the federal government to reduce the current requirements for annual testing in multiple subjects in every grade, 3-8, and then again in high school. Excessive testing diverts resources and time away from learning while providing little additional value for accountability purposes.
4. Test Development Criteria – Any broad scale standardized assessment used in the state of Vermont must be developed and used appropriately in accord with the principles adopted by the American Educational Research Association, the National Council on Measurement in Education, and the American Psychological Association.
5. Value-added scores – Although the federal government is encouraging states to use value added scores for teacher, principal and school evaluations, this policy direction is not appropriate. A strong body of recent research has found that there is no valid method of calculating “value-added” scores which compare pass rates from one year to the next, nor do current value-added models adequately account for factors outside the school that influence student performance scores. Thus, other than for research or experimental purposes, this technique will not be employed in Vermont schools for any consequential purpose.
6. Mastery level or Cut-Off scores – While the federal government continues to require the use of subjectively determined, cut-off scores; employing such metrics lacks scientific foundation. The skills needed for success in society are rich and diverse. Consequently, there is no single point on a testing scale that has proven accurate in measuring the success of a school or in measuring the talents of an individual. Claims to the contrary are technically indefensible and their application would be unethical.
The use of cut-off scores reports findings only at one point on a statistical distribution. Scale scores provide significantly more information. They allow a more valid disaggregation of scores by sub-group, provide better measures of progress and provide a more comprehensive view of achievement gaps.
7. Use of cut scores and proficiency categories for reporting purposes – Under NCLB states are required to report school level test results in terms of the Percentage of Proficient Students. The federally mandated reporting method has several well-documented negative effects that compromise our ability to meaningfully examine schools’ improvement efforts:
Interpretations based on “percent proficient” hides the full range of scores and how they have changed. Thus, underlying trends in performance are often hidden.
The targets established for proficiency are subjectively determined and are not based on research. Interpretations based on “percent proficient” also lack predictive validity.
Modest changes to these subjective cut scores can dramatically affect the percent of students who meet the target. Whether a cut score is set high or low arbitrarily changes the size of the achievement gap independent of the students’ learning. Thus, the results can be misleading.
So that we can more validly and meaningfully describe school- and state-level progress, the State Board of Education endorses reporting performance in terms of scale scores and standard deviations rather than percent proficient. We will comply with federal requirements, but will emphasize defensible and useful reporting metrics.
8. The Federal, State and Local Obligation for Assuring Adequacy and Equality of Opportunity – Much as the state must insure a high quality education for all children, the school must be provided with adequate and equitable resources from the federal, state and local governments and must use these resources wisely and judiciously. Thus, any report on a school based on the state’s EQS standards must also include a report on the adequacy of resources provided by or to that school in light of the school’s unique needs. Such evaluations shall address the adequacy of resources, the judicious use of resources and identify any deficiencies.
Resolution on Assessment and Accountability Vermont State Board of Education
WHEREAS, our nation and Vermont’s future well-being relies on a high-quality public education system that prepares all students for college, careers, citizenship and lifelong learning, and strengthens the nation’s and the state’s social and economic well-being; and
WHEREAS, our nation’s school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money and energy on high-stakes standardized testing, in which student performance on standardized tests is used to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators and schools; and
WHEREAS, the overreliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability systems is undermining educational quality and equity in the nation’s public schools by hampering educators’ efforts to focus on the broad range of learning experiences that promote the innovation, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and deep subject-matter knowledge that will allow students to thrive in a democracy and an increasingly global society and economy; and
WHEREAS, it is widely recognized that standardized testing is an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness; and
WHEREAS, a compelling body of national research shows the over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in areas such as narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, and undermining school climate; and
WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing has negative effects for students from all backgrounds, and especially for low-income students, English language learners, children of color, and those with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, the culture and structure of the systems in which students learn must change in order to foster engaging school experiences that promote joy in learning, depth of thought and breadth of knowledge for students; therefore be it
RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education requests that the Secretary of Education reexamine public school accountability systems in this state, and develop a system based on multiple forms of assessment which has at its center qualitative assessments, does not require extensive standardized testing, more accurately reflects the broad range of student learning, decreases the role of compliance monitoring, and is used to support students and improve schools; and
RESOLVED, that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on the United States Congress and Administration to accordingly amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act”) to reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality, eschew the use of student test scores in evaluating educators, and allow flexibility that reflects the unique circumstances of all states; and
RESOLVED that the Vermont State Board of Education calls on other state and national organizations to act in concert with these goals to improve and broaden educational goals, provide adequate resources, and ensure a high quality education for all children of the state and the nation.
Give it up, reformers. The scores on the ACT are flat from 2010-2014, despite the billions wasted on testing, test-based teacher evaluation, and merit pay. Your reforms have reformed nothing. They have failed. Pay attention.
Improve the lives of children and families. Improve working conditions in the school. Demand equitable resources for schools. Reduce class sizes for needy children. Do what works. Throw your punishments and sanctions into the ash-heap of history. It will happen sooner or later.
Start now to build the structures that work for students and teachers.
National Center for Fair & Open Testing
for further information:
Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773
cell (239) 699-0468
for use with annual ACT scores on or after Wednesday, August 20, 2014
STAGNANT ACT SCORES SHOW TEST-DRIVEN U.S. SCHOOL POLICIES
HAVE NOT IMPROVED COLLEGE READINESS,
EVEN WHEN MEASURED BY OTHER TESTS
Another year of flat scores on the ACT, the nation’s most widely administered college admissions exam, provides further evidence that a decade of test-driven public school policies has not improved educational quality.
Reacting to ACT scores released today, Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) said, “Proponents of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ ‘Race to the Top,’ ‘waivers,’ and similar state-level programs promised that focusing on testing would boost college readiness while narrowing score gaps between racial groups. The data show a total failure according to their own measures. Doubling down on unsuccessful policies with more high-stakes,
K-12 testing, as Common Core exam proponents propose, is an exercise in stubbornness, not meaningful school improvement.” (see http://fairtest.org/common-core-assessments-factsheet)
Stagnant scores and racial gaps have also been reported on the federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the SAT college admissions test.
Schaeffer continued, “The lack of progress toward excellence and equity will provide further ammunition for the country’s growing testing resistance and reform movement. Ending the counter-productive fixation on standardized exams is necessary to create the space for better assessments that actually enhance learning and teaching.” FairTest actively supported this past spring’s opt-out campaigns and other protests that focused attention on testing overuse and misuse.
FairTest is also a national leader for test-optional higher education admissions. More than 830 accredited, bachelor-degree granting colleges and universities now do not require all or many applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores (see http://fairtest.org/university/optional). Eight more schools – Wesleyan University, Old Dominion University, Hofstra University, Temple University, Montclair State University, Beloit College, Bryn Mawr College and Emmanuel College — dropped test-score requirements already this summer. In addition, Hampshire College, which long was test-optional, is now “test-blind.”
– – 3 0 – -
2014 COLLEGE-BOUND SENIORS AVERAGE ACT SCORES
1,845,787 million test takers
COMPOSITE SCORE FIVE-YEAR SCORE TREND
(2010 – 2014)
ALL TEST-TAKERS 21.0 0.0
African-American 17.0 + 0.1
American Indian 18.0 – 1.0
Asian 23.5 + 0.1
Hispanic 18.8 + 0.2
White 22.3 0.0
Source: ACT, The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2014
A reader sent me to this article at The Daily Kos, which asked the simple question: when are students more important than free markets? The author’s argument is that the governor and the legislature are so head over heels in love with free markets that they have exempted charter schools from most of the state’s laws. Charters must follow the state curriculum and take the state tests but are freed from complying with more than 150 other state laws and regulations. One immediately wonders why the legislature requires public schools to obey all those laws and regulations that are somehow unreasonable and unnecessary for charter schools.
The Daily Kos article sends the reader to one of Ohio’s best blogs, called Plunderbund. There we learn more about the more than 150 state laws that charter schools are exempt from. Plunderbund writes:
“If it wasn’t so appalling, we might be able to laugh at the continued insistence that Ohio’s charter (community) schools are held to the same level of accountability as are traditional public schools. In fact, some charter school proponents actually insist that charters are held MORE accountable than their public school counterparts.”
And then goes on to show some of those laws that do not apply to charter schools.
For example:, writes Plunderbund:
“We’d like to highlight a few of these laws:
3301.07: State Board of Education minimum standards covering the assignment of professional personnel according to training and qualifications; instructional materials and equipment, including library facilities; proper organization, administration, and supervision of schools; buildings and grounds (other than any building health and safety standards); admission and promotion of students; phonics instruction; instruction in energy and resource conservation; and reporting requirements.
And in the footnotes, the LSC adds this for clarification: Ohio law also appears to exempt community schools from the provision of the State Board’s minimum education standards that requires teachers to be assigned to teach in the area or grade level in which they are licensed.
Charter schools? EXEMPT
3313.60: School course of study requirement
A sentence or two can’t quite do this one justice, and you really need to click the link and read the law to get the full effect, but a summary of the law reads like this: [A school district] shall prescribe a curriculum for all schools under its control … in any such curriculum there shall be included the study of the following subjects: The language arts, including reading, writing, spelling, oral and written English, and literature; Geography, the history of the United States and of Ohio, and national, state, and local government in the United States; Mathematics; Natural science, including instruction in the conservation of natural resources; Health education; Physical education; The fine arts, including music; First aid.
Charter schools? EXEMPT
3313.602(B) and (C) – Requirement that the “principles of democracy and ethics” be emphasized and discussed in appropriate parts of the curriculum and to encourage a school’s employees to be cognizant of their roles to instill in students “ethical principles and democratic ideals”.
This might explain why charter school proponents are able to, with a straight face and clean conscience, continue spreading the lie about them being “more accountable” than public schools — no need for those pesky ethical principles.
Charter Schools? EXEMPT
3315.07: Requirements related to the publishing of school materials for the public; prohibition against using public funds to support or oppose the passage of a school levy or bond issue or to compensate any district employee for time spent on any activity meant to influence the outcome of a levy or bond issue
Or stated in the language in which the law is written, “A charter school may use public funds to support or oppose the passage of a school levy or bond issue or to compensate any employee for time spent on any activity intended to influence the outcome of a school levy or bond issue election.”
Charter Schools? EXEMPT
3317.061: Requirement to annually report licensed employees to the State Board
Who’s working in those charter schools anyway? Apparently they aren’t required to report the names, salaries, college experience, degrees earned, or type of teaching license held.
Charter schools? EXEMPT
3317.15: Requirements specifying the number of speech-language pathologists and school psychologists a school district must hire”
Why comply with these laws and rules and regulations when the free market knows best?
Here is the deal in Ohio: Greater autonomy and flexibility in exchange for LESS accountability.
Paul Thomas writes that education policies now being decided by elected officials who don’t know that there is a research base, actual evidence that should be considered before acting. Some policies are popular despite the evidence about them, not because of it.
Thomas cites two policies, both promoted by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, that are popular these days despite the evidence: charter schools and third-grade retention.
The evidence about charter schools is that there are some with high scores, some with low scores, but on average they do not perform better than public schools, and they frequently perform much worse. They are not a miracle cure. They divert money from the public schools, weakening them, to take a chance on a charter that may fold. Charters are also more segregated than public schools. Why not improve the schools we have rather than create a separate school system that is not better?
The third-grade retention policy is a simple idea: If students in third-grade can’t pass a third-grade reading test, they must be held back in third grade. Here too the evidence is strong. Thomas quotes a review of studies about the effects of third grade retention that shows that this policy yields little or no benefit to students and contributes ultimately to higher dropout rates.
Thomas encourages his own state of South Carolina to follow the example of Oklahoma, where parents and educators rose up to fight the third-grade retention policy. So determined were they that the legislature overwhelmingly voted to abolish the policy. Students who have not learned to read by the end of third grade need extra help, not a repetition of methods that didn’t work for them.
Lisa Woods, who has taught for 25 years, explains clearly in this post why schools will never run like businesses. It originally appeared. In the Greensboro (N.C.) News-Record.
She asks readers to imagine a job where one’s compensation depends one’s “job performance and value” depend on the following conditions:
“* You are meeting with 35 clients in a room designed to hold 20.
“* The air conditioning and/or heat may or may not be working, and your roof leaks in three places, one of which is the table where your customers are gathered.
“* Of the 35, five do not speak English, and no interpreters are provided.
“* Fifteen are there because they are forced by their “bosses” to be there but hate your product.
“* Eight do not have the funds to purchase your product.
“* Seven have no prior experience with your product and have no idea what it is or how to use it.
“* Two are removed for fighting over a chair.
“* Only two-thirds of your clients appear well-rested and well-fed.
“You are expected to:
“* Make your presentation in 40 minutes.
“* Have up-to-date, professionally created information concerning your product.
“* Keep complete paperwork and assessments of product understanding for each client and remediate where there is lack of understanding.
“* Use at least three different methods of conveying your information: visual, auditory and hands-on.
“The “criterion” for measuring your “worth and value” is that no less than 100 percent of your clients must buy and have the knowledge to assemble and use your product, both creatively and critically, and in conjunction with other products your company produces, of which you have working but limited knowledge
“Only half of the clients arrive with the necessary materials to be successful in their understanding of your product, and your presentation is disrupted at least five times during the 40 minutes.
“You have an outdated product manual and one old computer, but no presentation equipment. Your company’s budget has been cut every year for the past 10 years, the latest by a third. Does this mean you only create two-thirds of a presentation? These cuts include your mandatory training and presentation materials (current ones available to you are outdated by five years).
“You have no assistant, and you must do all the paperwork, research your knowledge deficiencies and produce professional-looking, updated materials during the 40 minutes allotted to you during the professional day. You cannot use your 30-minute lunch break. Half is spent monitoring other clients who are not your own.
“Your company cannot afford to train you in areas of its product line where you may be deficient, yet you are expected to have this knowledge and incorporate it into your product presentation in a meaningful way.
“You haven’t had a raise in eight years and your benefits have been purged, nor do you receive a commission for any product you sell. Do you purchase all the materials needed so your presentation is effective? Will you pay for the mandatory training necessary to do your job in a competent and professional manner?”
What business could succeed under those conditions?
Fred Smith worked for many years at the New York City Board of Education as a testing analyst. For all the parent groups who are upset by the over-testing of their children and concerned about the quality of the tests, Smith has become the go-to guy, who can be counted on to give a tough review of what the testing corporations are doing and what they should be doing.
In this post, Smith takes the New York State Education Department to task for withholding the technical report on the 2013 state tests. Just this week, responding to public outrage about its lack of transparency, the Department released 50% of the questions on the April 2014 tests. Until 2011, the SED released the entire exam with questions and answers. But no more. Since Pearson became the state’s testing agency, the state has been parsimonious in releasing questions and also technical data needed to understand the validity of the tests and the items.
The technical report for the 2013 tests should have been released in December 2013, but was not made public until July 2014. This is ridiculous. The information was available in Albany but was kept under wraps.
Smith says it is time for transparency and truth in testing. The public cannot trust the tests without seeing it and without allowing experienced experts like Smith to review its technical quality.
Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellweather Associates, a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a former deputy commissioner of education in New Jersey for Governor Christie, and a man with a long list of other affiliations with conservative groups and politicians, loves charter schools. he sees them as the wave of the future, replacing “failing” public schools in urban and suburban areas and bringing everyone the excellence that thus far has been elusive.
Smarick sees two conversations going on today about charter schools. To one side are those like himself who are trying to figure out the new paradigm of schooling, in which privately-managed charter schools are a permanent part of the landscape. This conversation deals with finance, governance, how to get it right. It assumes that charter schools are a permanent part of the landscape and the question to be solved is one of tinkering.
On the other side are people who worry about whether charter schools are a blight that damages public education and should be closely scrutinized for their finances, their boasts, and their policies governing admissions and suspensions. This side refers to hedge fund managers, privateers, and exorbitant executive salaries, and makes big headlines out of what Smarick considers the extraordinary miscreant.
One could match anecdote with anecdote, but more important are questions about deregulation, about exclusion of students with disabilities and English language learners, lack of transparency, and lack of accountability by charter schools that refuse to tell the state or even their own boards how public money is spent. Will American education improve if more public money is shifted to non-educators who hire uncertified teachers and whose use of public money is not disclosed?
One of the most corrupt states in the nation, in relation to charter schools, is Ohio, where the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is legally headquartered and authorizes charter schools (none of its charter schools have been implicated in the major scandals.) the governor and the legislature receive handsome contributions from the charter industry. A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch written by Denis Smith, former overseer of charter schools for the Ohio State Department of Education, makes a valuable counterpoint to Smarick’s complaint about charter critics. Denis Smith writes about 19 Gulen-associated schools now under investigation.
“At a State Board of Education meeting this week, four former charter-school teachers testified on alleged unlawful conduct at Horizon Science Academy Dayton High School, including what The Dispatch described as “test cheating, attendance tampering, sexual misconduct and other misdeeds…….”
What the State Board heard from the teachers helped to shed light on a chain of 19 schools in Ohio managed by an out-of-state operation that staffs these buildings in part by employing Turkish citizens holding H-1B visas.
But what the board didn’t hear is that these same schools are governed by a group of individuals, nearly all men, who may not be “qualified voters” — in other words, American citizens. Or that some of the schools were raided by the FBI last month. Or that the inspiration for these schools is a mysterious exiled Turkish cleric named Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and leads a religious and political movement that seeks to destabilize the government of his native land.
As bizarre as this situation is, the very idea that the Gulen chain are public schools is illustrative of what ails the charter-school industry in Ohio.
Consider these glaring legal loopholes:
• Charter-school administrators are not required to hold any professional licenses or meet even minimal educational requirements.
• Charter-school board members aren’t elected by or responsible to the voters. Some are hand-picked by for-profit management companies runing schools.
• Charter-school board members do not have to be “qualified voters” (citizens) who are registered with the secretary of state’s office in recognition of their status as members of a public board.
• With hand-picked, unelected boards, charter-school administrators can pay themselves exorbitant salaries that can match those of local superintendents responsible for the education of thousands of students in multiple locations.
• Many charter schools employ highly paid administrators but compensate their teachers well below those in other public schools, leading to constant staff turnover.
• The for-profit management companies that operate many charter schools think that their mission and vision (read: profit) supersede the legitimate interests and aspirations of the public.
• Charter schools are exempt from more than 150 provisions of state law that otherwise are applicable to school districts, including a requirement to annually report the names, salaries and credentials of licensed employees to the State Board.
• There are no restrictions on the payment of public funds for recruitment of students, advertising or payment for celebrity endorsements; there is no ban on using public funds earmarked for charter schools for political campaign donations.
The issue confronting this state is not about any individual charter-school chain. It’s that the legislature has created an unregulated, incoherent nightmare that allows for-profit management companies, entrepreneurs, national charter-school chains and ill-prepared developers to operate in a murky industry that ill-serves young people.
If we are to have charter schools in Ohio, their legal basis must be that they exist in similar fashion with public schools, be subject to the same requirements and not be favored by so many questionable exemptions. Chapter 3314 of the Ohio Revised Code that governs the creation and operation of these schools must be scrapped in its entirety.
For these “schools of choice,” we have no other choice.”
In addition to Mr. Smith’s concerns, Ohio and other states should investigate the extraordinary salaries paid to charter CEOs, some of whom are not educators, yet are paid $400,000 or more. And inquire about the lobbyists hired by charter chains to obtain special privileges, or to obtain exemption from accountability. They might ask why charter boards in states like Ohio must sue the charter operator to get financial information. They might be vigilant about the for-profit entrepreneurs who have become multi-millionaires with money intended by taxpayers for schools, not investors. They might ask sharper questions about community public schools that lose resources to shady entrepreneurs and ultimately close.
So long as the charter industry buys favoritism from state legislatures, as long as amateurs win public dollars to run inferior schools, as long as virtual charter schools get rich while supplying poor results, there will continue to be critics–and should be.
Jon Pelto reports that New London, Connecticut, is about to award a lucrative contract as superintendent to a “reformer” who has called himself “Dr.” without having earned a doctorate. Pelto commends Hartford Courant reporter Jon Lender for digging up the story.
“For more than eight years, “Dr.” Terrence Carter, the incoming New London superintendent of schools and self-described education reform expert, bragged that he had a Ph.D.
“At one point, Carter’s bio materials claimed that he had a doctorate from Stanford University.
“In another article his doctorate came from a joint program between Stanford and Oxford.
“And more recently he claimed his doctorate was from Lesley University.
“But it was all a lie.
“Interestingly he also claimed that he was hand-picked to be an education reform leader by none-other than the Arne Duncan, President Obama’s anti-teacher, anti-public education, pro-Common Core Secretary of Education.
“In a breaking news story written by the Hartford Courant’s investigative reporter Jon Lender, we now learn that the incoming New London superintendent of schools is an expert —- an expert at falsifying his resume.
“And just watch how the Malloy administration, Commissioner Stefan Pryor, and Special Master Steven Adamowski try to explain this embarrassment.
“After reading the Courant article, one thing is clear.
“The New London Board of Education is scheduled to vote on “Dr.” Terrence Carter’s lucrative contract on Monday night.
“Before that meeting, Malloy and Pryor need to make sure that Carter withdraws his name from consideration.
“And if Malloy and Pryor fail to do that, then the New London Board needs to reject Carter and re-open the search.”
I did not write the following post. It was written by a high-level official at the New York City Department of Education who–for obvious reasons–requires anonymity. The story he tells is instructive. It is about how “reformers” claim victory by manipulating statistics. This is not an accusation directed at the de Blasio administration, but at their predecessors who regularly boasted that the new small high schools got better graduation rates that the large schools they replaced. The Gates Foundation bought this lie and has lauded its “success” in New York City.
Reformers Caught Lying. Again. This Time About Graduation Stats.
High school graduations are upon us. This is the time of year when parents, students, families, educators and communities celebrate the accomplishments of our high school seniors. It is a time to honor the work the graduates have done and to collectively share their hopes and dreams for the future.
At the same time, certain players in the world of education attempt to co-opt this time of year to propagandize for their favored reform policies. The latest example of this is a story about Frank McCourt High School, a small high school in New York City that “will send 97 percent of its first graduating class to college.” The story goes on to note that this school, along with 3 others, replaced a larger high school “which suffered from dismal academic and attendance records.” The reader is asked to believe one little and one big lie.
Let’s first take a look at the little lie. Does this school, in fact, have a 97% graduation/college going rate? The truth is that, on any reasonable calculation, it does not. According to the New York State data the cohort started with 100 freshmen. By sophomore year only 88 students remained. By junior year only 80. And by senior year only 69. Of these 69 survivors 67 are graduating. Seems more like a twisted version of the Hunger Games than a school for all students. One wonders: Where did the other 33 students go? Why does the media publicize such meaningless numbers without giving the full story? By now this trick should be well-known. A school that removes large numbers of students from its cohort should not be celebrated for its test scores or graduation rate. It is an artifact of arithmetic. If a school kicks out students with low test scores, it will have high test scores among the surviving students. If a school culls the students not on track to graduate it will have a high graduation rate among the surviving students.
Let’s move on to the big lie. Does this school, in fact, show that the reform strategy of closing large schools and replacing them with other smaller schools works? The full range of data show that it does not, as a number of facts pop-out.
There are 4 high schools co-located in the building that used to house Brandeis High School. One school, Innovation Diploma Plus (a “second-chance” school), had a 50.8% graduation rate last year. Another school, the Global Learning Collaborative, had a 52.7% graduation rate last year. Yet another school, the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers had a 39.8% graduation rate last year. We have already examined the claimed 97% graduation rate of the Frank McCourt High School, which also happens to screen its students before admissions.
The schools with the lower graduation rates retain almost all of their students. Unlike the school that boasts of its 97% graduation rate, the other three schools stay committed to all their students. Why do reformers refuse to evaluate schools based on their sticking with all their students? We know the answer. It is because charter schools and “miracle” schools will then be publicly exposed as largely frauds. So the metrics used to evaluate schools are deliberately constructed in ways that do not capture cohort retention in order to keep the myth alive. And the media agrees to overlook the tremendously high attrition rates at charter schools and other so-called “miracle” schools.
It may come as little surprise that the school with the lowest graduation rate has over 22% more English Language Learners, over 14% more students entering high school already overage, and over 40% more Black/Hispanic students than the school with the highest graduation rate.[i] This sheds some light on another reformer strategy. They like to tout free-market principles as they destroy community schools and create choice systems where students end up sorted into schools based on demographic characteristics and prior academic performance. This is not a solution. It does not improve education for all students. All it does is stick students in different containers, isolated from one another, thereby perpetuating a system of haves and have-nots. It is shocking that the reformers, who proclaim education the civil rights issue of our time, would support such an inequitable approach.
The total enrollment of all the high schools in the Brandeis High School building is 1,350 students. The shuttered school, Brandeis High School, had over 2,000 students. Where did the missing 600 students go? We know the answer. The missing 600 students were the more challenging students and students who did not get accepted to one of the small choice-in high schools. These students were deliberately sent to a specific group of, usually large, high schools that were then labeled “failures” too and shuttered. The Gates Foundation, an organization that has yet to meet a free-market education reform strategy it doesn’t like, has admitted that the national small school initiative was largely a failure. Despite this, MDRC, a research group in New York City, continues to publish Gates Foundation funded reports claiming that the small schools in New York City work.[ii]
It is now clear what New York City was doing during the Bloomberg era. Given the humungous size of the district they were able to play a shell game with students by passing the buck. Instead of figuring out how to reach the most challenging students and helping them succeed, the students were passed from school to school. This inevitably led to a domino effect of school closures. A shell game like this can be played in a district with almost 500 high schools, over two and half times as many as the next largest school district. Since there is a very long chain of dominos the “bad apple” students can be isolated into a specific group of schools making the remaining schools, which don’t accept those students, look good. But, as smaller districts have found out, it is not a workable long-term strategy when there is not an endless supply of schools to be used as sacrificial lambs.
Sooner or later the lies about numbers that reformers tell will catch up to them. Educators need to continue to advocate for approaches that are equitable and genuinely seek to improve the educational experience of all students. This includes developing curricula personalized for different students and improving wraparound services that extend beyond school walls. Ultimately, when the accounting fraud that is behind so many education reform initiatives collapses upon itself
[i] Frank McCourt has 55% Black/Hispanic students, 1% ELL students, 20.4% IEP students and .7% overage students. Global Learning has 90.3% Black/Hispanic students, 14.7% ELL students, 23% IEP students and 8.5% overage students. Green Careers has 95.6% Black/Hispanic students, 23.6% ELL students, 23.8 IEP students, and 15.15% overage students.
[ii] It is worth noting that the combined graduation rate of the 4 schools in the Brandies Building is 58.5% which is lower than the city-wide average of 72%.