Archives for category: Data

Julian Vasquez Heilig collected data on New Orleans and Louisiana and wondered what the hullaballoo was about. The state is one of the lowest-performing in the nation, by federal measures; and the charter schools have produced mediocre results.

Heilig’s policy brief was sponsored by the Network for Public Education. Since NPE supports public schools, it is hardly surprising that it looks with disfavor on a massive experiment in privatization. Every high-performing nation in the world has an equitable public school system. We should too.

The report examines NAEP scores, ACT scores, high school graduation rates, dropout rates, AP course taking rates, and other criteria.

A useful conclusion to a day of all-New Orleans, all-the-time.

You might want to refer to this policy brief when your legislator or Governor offers a proposal for an “achievement school district” or an “opportunity school district” modeled on New Orleans “Recovery School District.”

Gene V. Glass is one of our mation’s superstar researchers of education. His field for many decades was measurement. He describes how hopeful the field was that better measurement of students would solve important problems.

But in this post, he explains that he is resigning from his field. Measurement has over promised and under delivered.

“The degrading of public education has involved impugning its effectiveness, cutting its budget, and busting its unions. Educational measurement has been the perfect tool for accomplishing all three: cheap and scientific looking….

“Teachers and many parents understand that children’s development is far too complex to capture with an hour or two taking a standardized test. So resistance has been met with legislated mandates. The test company lobbyists convince politicians that grading teachers and schools is as easy as grading cuts of meat. A huge publishing company from the UK has spent $8 million in the past decade lobbying Congress. Politicians believe that testing must be the cornerstone of any education policy.

“The results of this cronyism between corporations and politicians have been chaotic. Parents see the stress placed on their children and report them sick on test day. Educators, under pressure they see as illegitimate, break the rules imposed on them by governments. Many teachers put their best judgment and best lessons aside and drill children on how to score high on multiple-choice tests. And too many of the best teachers exit the profession.

“When measurement became the instrument of accountability, testing companies prospered and schools suffered. I have watched this happen for several years now. I have slowly withdrawn my intellectual commitment to the field of measurement. Recently I asked my dean to switch my affiliation from the measurement program to the policy program. I am no longer comfortable being associated with the discipline of educational measurement.”

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.

We have often heard that Mark Twain said that there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I checked with Wikipedia, and it turns out that this phrase has many fathers. For example, says Wikipedia:

Mark Twain popularized the saying in Chapters from My Autobiography, published in the North American Review in 1906. “Figures often beguile me,” he wrote, “particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'”

But there are other claimants to the phrase, as the article notes, including one who ranked false statements as “a fib, a lie, and statistics.” A variation on this phrase is: “simple liars, damned liars, and experts.”

And then we come to the “New Orleans Miracle.” According to recent research, test scores have improved dramatically since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina wiped out the public school district and replaced it with a district which is almost all-charter. Douglas Harris, director of the Research Alliance in New Orleans reported the results in the conservative journal Education Next, which promotes alternatives to public education. Bottom line, in his account: Wiping out the district, firing all the teachers, wiping out the union contract, hiring Teach for America to replace veteran teachers, has mostly good outcomes. Education Week reported Harris’s claim of dramatic progress.

But then there is Mercedes Schneider, who reports that the state released 2015 ACT scores for every district, and the New Orleans Recovery School District ranked 70th out of 73 districts in the state. Its ACT scores are virtually unchanged over the past three years. The RSD ACT scores of 16.6 are far below the state average of 19.4.

An average ACT score of 16.6 is low. Louisiana State University requires a composite score of 22. A composite of 20 qualifies for La’s tuition waiver to a 4-year institution; a composite of 17 qualifies for tuition waiver for 2-year technical college.

And here’s the latest study by Research on Reforms in New Orleans, comparing the Orleans Parish public schools to the reformers’ Recovery School District. “A study of three ninth grade cohorts, beginning with the 2006-07 year, shows that the percentage of OPSB 9th graders who graduate within four years is almost double that of RSD 9th graders, and the RSD’s dropout rate is nearly triple that of the OPSB.”

You may decide which statistics matter most to you. But whichever you choose, be sure to read Jennifer Berkshire’s account of what the reforms in New Orleans have produced. It is important context in which to place whatever data you think is most valuable.

Paul Thomas reviews the debate about The progress of Néw Orleans and concludes:

“So we are left with two truisms about education publications and education reform: (1) If “Education” is in the publication title, you better do your homework, and (2) if education reform is touted to achieve outcomes that seem too good to be true, then they likely aren’t true.”

Tom Scarice is the superintendent of schools in Madison, Connecticut. He is no fan of the corporate reform movement. He understands that what matters most in life can’t be measured.

Here he describes one of the most important moments in the life of his 8-year-old son: he hit a grand-slam homer, over the fence.

He writes:

I can still feel the slap of his small leather batting glove in the palm of my hand as he rounded first base. By the time he reached home plate, occasionally touching the ground in route, my 8-year-old son, Owen, and I shared a moment that cannot truly be captured by words, and by no means, captured by numbers.

Owen hit a grand slam …over the fence… in a baseball tournament watched by a generous crowd of his closest friends and teammates. A volcanic eruption of joy. An eternal moment between a father and son. The slap of our hands in mid-flight, a celebration marked by a selfless love that can only be felt by a parent.

There is a beautiful photo of Owen rounding first base, flying through the air, as his Dad slaps his palm.

The moment reminds Scarice of what matters most. Not data, but the story:

In a sense, this moment can be dehumanized with numbers and symbols replacing the faces and stories, with callous disregard for the humanity that makes us whole. For it is the stories themselves that give life and meaning to numbers.

He writes:

Nevertheless, that which is easiest to count, may very well be the least meaningful or important to count. For you can count how many times I tell my children I love them, but you cannot quantify how much I love them, nor, without context, does the number you count represent the depth of sacrifice and denial of self that characterizes a parent’s primal love for their child. In these circumstances, the very act of counting, without regard for the story or context, has the chilling effect of dehumanizing.

Sadly, too many teachers have been trapped in mindless data exercises that irresponsibly neglect the story behind the numbers, turning children into faceless numbers… hence dehumanizing the sacred process of fostering the growth and development of our children.

Perhaps it is true that no profound, complex problem in human history has been solved without data, quantitative or qualitative. Yet, decades ago, eminent scholar and “father of quality,” Dr. W. Edwards Deming identified “management by use only of visible figures, with little or no consideration of figures that are unknown or unknowable” as one of his seven “deadly diseases” of management.

This reveals a very critical consideration when looking at data, you must understand the system, and perhaps more importantly, the context or story, that generated the data. This poses yet another warning from Dr. Deming, namely, that “Statistical calculations based on warped figures lead to confusion, frustration and wrong decisions.”

These wise words are most timely as the educational community awaits the next batch of big data to be delivered, the results of the latest test promising to revolutionize schooling, the SBAC. A hollow promise, based on warped figures, that will certainly deliver hollow results.

What will the SBAC data mean? Nothing. Absolutely nothing at all. Numbers in isolation, lacking story and context.

I once had an exchange with Arne Duncan’s Assistant Secretary for Communications, Peter Cunningham, who has since moved on to become editor of the blog Education Post. We were talking about testing, and I contended that it played too large a role in assessment of children. Peter responded, “We measure what we treasure.” I disagreed. I said that “What we treasure, we cannot measure.”

What Tom Scarice has written proves my point. His son will have a batting average and runs batted in average; both will go up. But no data can capture Owen’s joy or Tom’s pride. Those are human qualities, and they evade metrics.

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:

Angie Sullivan, elementary teacher in Nevada, reports that the state finally put new money into the schools. But not for children or instruction. For Big Data.

Nevada is systematically destroying its public schools. It has authorized charters, some of the lowest performing in the nation. It has adopted a universal voucher program, whose only requirement is that the student previously attended public school for 100 days. It is already one of the worst-funded public school systems in the nation.

Angie writes:

“We spent money.

“And it’s another computer database.

“And it doesn’t work yet.

And we are supposed to believe it is for our safety?

“And this will be necessary and important to who since it is not supposed to have any identifiable information? People outside the state who do not care about our kids?

“These are my questions:

“1. Does this database include charters which use tax payer money?

“2. Does this database include voucher recipients (homeschoolers and private schoolers) who use tax payer money?

“3. Does this database include for-profit and non-profit higher education – especially if students at those institutions have students benefitting from government loans?

“It would be difficult to be transparent and accountable unless every group using tax payer money was included.

“Especially if the purpose is to make every child participate in a longitudinal invasive study from preschool to career – possibly death.

“Sometimes I really worry. And this is one of those times.

“The privacy invasion and labeling is not helpful or necessary for me as a teacher or to my students.

“Statistical sampling has been used on purpose for good reason – routinely documenting everything and paying large amounts to store it or compare kids all over the nation at very young ages is weird and scary.

“For ten years we have over tested and over documented and it has helped ZERO kids. We are doing worse than we did before testing and becoming data driven. Across the nation, these number based reforms are failing.

“We are doing worse – money is being spent on the wrong remedies using assumptions based on numbers and return on investment formulas.

“My students are more than a score.

“I need supplies and support more than I need another database. And teachers need to be using best practice and spend almost all the instructional day on instruction -not preparing for a test or a report for a politician who does not know their name.

“These numbers have not helped me or my students get things we actually need and we have waited 15 years.

“God help us all – creating a record that follows babies into adulthood. What for?

“I’m so worried.


Jeannie Kaplan decides it is time to rename “reform.” She thinks it should be called “Dataism,” as in a religious faith or political ideology connected to the worship of Data. She lives in Denver, where she served on the school board for two terse. She has seen corporate reform up close, and it was not pretty. It smelled of Data-ism.

She writes:

We all know education reform is all about DATA. Data is used to fire employees, data is used to rank and rate schools, data is used to close schools, data is used to open charter schools and other non-union schools, data is used to make budgetary decisions, data is used to produce chaos and churn, data is used to outsource and privatize. Data is everywhere. Education reform is all about DATA. DATA is the driving force of education “reform.” It has become the be-all and end-all of public education, the king and queen, prince and princess of public education. DATA and education “reform” are often synonymous but only when the actual DATA can be Ignored, Spun, Manipulated if it doesn’t show “reform” success (which is most of the time). DATAISM: where data is IGNORED, SPUN, or MANIPULATED to give false results to the public. DATAISM. What do you think?

Open the post to see which terms are highlighted or linked.

Big data has captured the imagination of many corporate executives, but it has its limitations. When evaluations are turned into numbers and used to rank employees from best to worst, it crushes motivation. This was W. Edwards Deming’s advice many years ago, but then Bill Gates of Microsoft and Jack Welch of GE emerged as gurus of stack ranking.

But, lo! New studies confirm that stack ranking has negative consequences.

An article in the business section of the Néw York Times reports that stack ranking hurts morale.

“Big Data has made it possible to measure employee performance more thoroughly than ever. But two recent studies offer a warning: Be careful about how you deploy that data.

“Many managers assume that distributing a ranking of their employees’ performance is an effective motivational tool, said Iwan Barankay, an associate professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. The idea is that lower-ranking employees will strive to improve, while higher-ranking ones will work to maintain their edge.

“Professor Barankay sought to test this assumption in a study of 1,500 furniture sales workers that he conducted over three years in North America. One group of sales workers was shown how their sales ranked compared with their colleagues. Another group was not shown a comparison, but only their individual results.

“Professor Barankay found that the sales representatives who did not know how they ranked achieved higher subsequent sales than those who were aware of their comparative ranking. The results of the workers who had received high rankings neither improved nor worsened.

“Human nature combined with simple math caused the lower-ranking workers to falter, according to Professor Barankay. Most people optimistically assume that they are above average in their performance, he said. But real life is not Lake Wobegon, and most people, when measured against one another, will inevitably rank as average or below average. For these people, seeing their rank is demoralizing, causing their performance to wilt.”

Now it is time to read Deming. I recommend chapter 9 of Andrea Gabor’s book about Deming titled “The Man Who Discovered Quality.” Deming was adamantly opposed to perfoance pay or anything that undermined employees’ morale and collaboration. His message was to choose your employees well and give them the support to succeed. Most failures are system failures. Don’t blame the frontline workers for problems caused by the system.

Laura Chapman read this post about proposed legislation to allow massive collection of college student data, and she did some research. This is what she found:

The proposed law to monetize the worth of a degree certainly reflects the values of Bill Gates and his “Data Quality Campaign,” and his desire to stack rank almost anything he can, preferably with publication in U.S. News and World report. I recall vividly that he once said he wanted kids to “get a college degree that is worth something,” meaning worth money.

In prior posts I have noted that, beginning in 2005, Gates funded the Data Quality Campaign” (Orwellian name), as if in tandem and designed to complement USDE funds for the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) program.

The Teacher-Student Data Link system (TSDL) system envisioned by Gates is in place as the records system for local to state reporting to USDE. In Ohio that system actually structures the categories for teacher evaluation. So, InBloom may be gone but the Gates vision has prevailed and, from the get go, his campaign was intended to “keep current and longitudinal data on the performance of teachers and individual students, as well as schools, districts, states, and educators ranging from principals to higher education faculty.

Moreover, as articulated in the Data Quality Campaign, one of the main purposes of the data gathering was to determine the “best value” investments to make in education and to monitor improvements in outcomes, taking into account as many demographic factors as possible, including health records for preschoolers. Access to such records has been made easier by USDE’s poking holes in the FERPA law that offered a bit of protection for the use of student data.

Now this proposed legislation is about higher education. Suppose it passes. Whether the oversight is done by a special agency or USDE is not clear. But if USDE has oversight of the law and the program, then all of the data management and cost/benefit on programs and degrees are likely to be outsourced to a private company, just as USDE’s data management is outsourced now. I discovered this by snooping around at the USDE website. In the process I discovered that USDE has two key people as privacy officers. One is Kathleen Styles, USDE’s first “Chief Privacy Officer”—Email: The second is Michael Hawes, who is her advisor and the person who oversees USDE’s extremely important “Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC).” Email:

Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) is supposed to be a “one-stop” resource for learning about “data privacy, confidentiality, and security practices related to student-level longitudinal data systems and other uses of student data.” PTAC provides timely information and updated guidance on privacy, confidentiality, and security practices through a variety of resources, including training materials and opportunities to receive direct assistance with privacy, security, and confidentiality of student data systems.” This technical assistance is targeted to meet the needs of state and local education agencies and…… institutions of higher education.

PTAC is really at the center of everything–The contractor for PTAC is responsible for working under “the guidance of the Chief Privacy Officer and in close collaboration with the FERPA Working Group,” which consists of representatives of the Office of Management, the Family Policy Compliance Office, and the Office of General Counsel. PTAC also “regularly consults” with the USDE’s Privacy Advisory Committee, whose members include Chief Statistician of National Center of Education Statistics, the program officer of the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS), and representatives from the office of Federal Student Aid, the Office of Civil Rights, and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (among others).

The for-profit company managing and warehousing USDE data and at the center of all of the work of all of these agencies is Applied Engineering Management Corporation (AEM). Since 2010, (AEM) appears to have been awarded about $12 million to set up the resources at PTAC.

AEM also has contracts with OTHER federal, state, and local governments and agencies.. Their work for USDE includes management of data gathering required to support the “No Child Left Behind” legislation, including the 180 data descriptions for EdFacts. EdFacts is the destination for all of those disaggregated test scores, and other data that law requires. AEM can do heavy-duty data warehousing.

AEM has also operated the National Student Loan Data System receiving data from every college, university, and agency that participates in Title IV loan guarantees and related programs. That work gives AEM a leg up as a possible contractor for more work under the proposed legislation.

AEM’s website also says it helps “educators in developing high quality longitudinal P-20 data warehouses and business intelligence solutions that stand the test of time and enable data-driven decision making.”

AEM–-the go-to corporation for USDE’s data management and privacy–-has managed to suppress its identity as the conduit for USDE’s “big data” projects and USDE’s (pitiful) guidance to state and local agencies on privacy. Use this phrase to get to the PTAC resources “Privacy Technical Assistance Center.”


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