Archives for category: Data

Mercedes Schneider reports on an important court case in Louisiana.

In 2010, a research group called “Research on Reforms,” which is skeptical of privatization, was denied access to state data by the Louisiana Department of Education. The same decided student data was released by the state agency to CREDO, which studies charter school performance.

ROR sued for access to the data available exclusively to CREDO. A lower court rejected their request, but last month a state appeals court ruled that ROR should have access to the data.

Let the data wars begin!

The connections between Pearson and the Néw Jersey State Department of Education are close, reports Bob Braun:

“Bari Anhalt Erlichson, an assistant New Jersey education commissioner and chief testing officer who supervises PARCC testing throughout the state, has a personal connection of sorts to PARCC’s developer, the British publishing giant Pearson. Anhalt Erlichson is married to Andrew Erlichson, a vice president of a company named MongoDB. MongoDB (the name comes from humongous database) is a subcontractor to Pearson, developing its national student database that provides the larger company with access to student records in New Jersey and the nation.

“Anhalt Erlichson wrote a memorandum to New Jersey educators March 17 defending the actions of her department and Pearson in monitoring the social media of New Jersey students while they took the PARCC tests. She blamed the uproar caused by the revelation of the cyber-spying on the failure of parents and educators to understand social media.

“She did not mention her personal ties to a company that profits from the business relationship to Pearson–and the state education department….

“State education department spokesmen declined to answer inquiries about Erlichson’s connections to MongoDB.”

As we saw in Atlanta, people will do all sorts of things, good and bad, to reach targets. Data can be very pliable.

Gerald Grob, Professor of the History of Medicine Emeritus at Ritgers University, published a book in 2014 titled: AGING BONES: A SHORT HISTORY OF OSTEOPOROSIS. It includes the following example of the creative use of statistics.

Grob analyzed clinical trials of such drugs as Fosamax. He wrote to tell me, “Merck reported a 50% reduction in hip fractures, and the drug made billions for the company. The 50% figure, of course, was the relative reduction, which has no meaning. The absolute reduction was from 2.2% in the placebo group to 1.1% in the treated group. The absolute reduction was this 1.1%, a hardly impressive statistic. Moreover, it did not take into account the adverse effects of the drug. Above all, it ignored the fact that about three-quarters of all hip fractures occur among people with normal bone mineral density for their age and result from falls.”

Fun with numbers!

Horace Meister, a regular contributor, has discovered a shocking instance of contradictory research, posted a year apart by the same “independent” governmental agency. The first report, published a year ago, criticized New York City’s charter schools for enrolling small proportions of high-need students; the second report, published a month ago, claimed that the city’s charter schools had a lower attrition rate of high-needs students than public schools. Meister read the two reports carefully and with growing disgust. He concluded that the Independent Budget Office had massaged the data to reach a conclusion favoring the powerful charter lobby. Eva Moskowitz read the second report and wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal called “The Myth of Charter School ‘Cherry Picking.’” Horace Meister says it is not myth: it is reality.



Meister writes:



In January 2014 the Independent Budget Office in New York City released a report on student attrition rates in the charter school sector in New York City.[i] A year later, in January 2015, the very same office released an “update” of the earlier report.[ii] The story behind this “updated”[iii] report reveals all that is wrong with education policy in the United States.


The original report had a number of fascinating revelations. It turns out that, as a sector, charter schools in New York City are using student demographics and attrition to boost their “performance” in ways that public schools cannot. This, of course, is not an indictment of any particular charter school or the dedicated staff in a specific charter school. It is an indictment of the overall corporate reform policy that favors charter schools over public schools, allows the charter sector to operate under a different set of rules than public schools so that charter schools can employ these sorts of gimmicks, and then dares to claim that charter schools are somehow better overall for students than public schools.


What did the original report reveal?


  1. Charter schools in New York City serve a much more advantaged student population than public schools. The very first table in the report showed that charter schools served 80% fewer English Language Learner students than nearby public schools. Charter schools serve 1/9th the proportion of the highest needs special education students as nearby public schools. Charter schools served a much more economically advantaged student body than nearby public schools—with three times as many students paying full-price for lunch than nearby public schools.
  2. By only accepting students in certain grades charter schools are able to artificially boost their outcomes as compared to nearby public schools. “The increased incidence of transfer to a traditional public school, instead of a charter school, might be due to the fact that many charters limit admissions to traditional starting points (such as kindergarten for elementary schools).” Of course it is the students with higher needs and higher absentee rates who are most likely to transfer at points other than the traditional ones. And, of course, it is illegal for public schools to bar students from admission at points other than the traditional ones, though this tactic is widely employed by charter schools. The disruptions caused by in-migration are also eliminated.
  3. Students with low test scores are more likely to leave charter schools. “The results are revealing. Among students in charter schools, those who remained in their kindergarten schools through third grade had higher average scale scores in both reading (English Language Arts) and mathematics in third grade compared with those who had left for another New York City public school (Figure 3)… One important difference between the two types of schools, particularly manifest when the percentage of students meeting or exceeding proficiency standard is used as the metric, is that the gap between the stayers and movers was significantly larger in charters compared with those in traditional public school.”
  4. Special education students with the highest needs are significantly more likely to leave charter schools than public schools. After leaving the charter schools these students go to public schools. “The attrition rates are higher for special education students who start kindergarten in charter schools than for special education students who start in neighboring traditional public schools. Only 20 percent of students classified as requiring special education who started kindergarten in charter schools remained in the same school after three years, with the vast majority transferring to another New York City public school (see Table 5). The corresponding persistence rate for students in nearby traditional public schools is 50 percent…Of those continuing in the same charter school, 10 percent were identified as special education students by the third year, and of those transferring out to another charter school, 16 percent were special education students (see Figure 2). But of those transferring out to another traditional public school, fully 27 percent were classified as special education students.” Of course the highest need special education students are also, as a rule, the students who perform the poorest on standardized tests.


Reading the original report a couple of unanswered questions suggest themselves. How do individual charter schools or charter school chains differ in the extent to which they employ the four tactics described above? Why did the report only look at the data on students in kindergarten through 3rd grade? In middle schools, where every grade takes high-stakes standardized tests, does the charter sector employ the four tactics to an even greater effect? How does the fact that charter schools only accept students who actively apply to their school impact the overall attrition patterns? As the original report asks, do “other factors such as unobserved differences in student characteristics contribute to some of the gaps in mobility patterns?”


An objective observer would expect that any updated report, such as the one the Independent Budget Office just released, would address at least some of the above questions. But it did not. Instead the “Independent” Budget Office folded under the pressure brought to bear by charter school advocates and their paid researchers. Immediately after the original report was released, a “researcher,” paid for by the Walton Foundation, complained that the report only looked at the highest need special education students and not all special education students.[iv] While true, this has no bearing on the four tactics that the report conclusively showed the charter sector employs to game their results.


A couple of weeks ago, the “Independent” Budget Office, caving to the pressure, “updated” the report to include a cohort of students through 4th grade. Their “finding:” across all special education students, such students are slightly more likely to remain in charter schools than public schools. The media parroted these claims. This “finding” is, however, entirely bogus. Instead of using the categories that generally correspond to the level of need (namely whether the student requires a self-contained class or can be supported in mixed classes or even classes that are entirely general education), the report uses the named disability category (namely speech impaired, learning disabled, other health impaired, all other disabilities) of each student. This, of course, tells us nothing about the severity of each student’s need within the category. Instead it covers up the fact, which we already know from the original report, that charter schools are much more likely than public schools to selectively attrite the students with the highest level of special education needs, the very same students who are most likely to bring down their test scores. But now special interests and the media can trumpet the fact that charter schools in New York City keep their special education students at higher rates than public schools.


Ignored in the new analysis is the fact that the charters serve an entirely different mix of special education students, i.e. students much, much less likely to require the highest level of accommodations and supports. Importantly, the “Independent” Budget Office did not just add these broader-brushed approaches to the analyses of the original report; it declined to repeat, with the updated dataset, the analysis of the sky-high attrition rates of highest need special education students at charter schools. It declined to repeat, with the updated dataset, the analysis of higher attrition among students with low test scores at charter schools. It declined to repeat, with the updated dataset, the analysis of student creaming by charter schools. It declined to break down the updated dataset so that we could learn more about the tactics employed by individual charter schools and charter school chains. It declined to even look at the unanswered questions about charter middle schools.



Fortunately, for those interested in the truth, at about the same time, other data were released showing just how much the charter sector in New York City relies on tricks, rather than true educational innovations, to produce their “results.”[v] The data break down the comparisons between charter schools and public schools, school by school and district by district.[vi]


It turns out that the charter sector suspends students at rates up to twenty-six times higher than public schools in the same geographic region, despite the fact that the charter schools serve only a self-selected student body.[vii] These data may explain how charters are able to selectively attrite the most troublesome students who bring down their test scores. They harass the students until they leave for the public schools, which are of course morally and legally obligated to accept every student.


It turns out that public schools serve up to five times as many students living in temporary housing as charter schools in the same geographic region.[viii] This little fact may be one of those “other factors,” mentioned in passing by the “Independent” Budget Office, that explain why public schools have a slightly higher overall student transition rate than charter schools. Obviously kids with no permanent home are more likely to move around and switch schools.


It turns out that all of the highest-flying charter schools serve a much, much more advantaged student body than the local public schools.[ix] It is almost shocking to see not a single charter school represented among the schools in the top quarter of student need, in any of New York City’s 32 geographic regions. The gaps in student need are even higher when looking at charter schools co-located in the same buildings as public schools.[x] In co-locations the public school serves up to six times as many students living in temporary housing, up to twenty times as many English Language Learners, and many multiples the number of special education students as the charter school in the very same building!


What we have here is a failure to tell the truth. The “Independent” Budget Office, aided by a compliant press, has whitewashed the story of inequity that it itself had helped flesh out just a year earlier.


The data could not be any clearer. Charter schools have no secret sauce. In fact, they are creating more segregation and greater inequity in our school system. The time has come to end the charade. Charter schools must be folded under the umbrella of the public school system. We must then have the difficult conversations that have been avoided due to all the tumult and distractions caused by the charter school corporate reform agenda.[xi] How do we serve all students in a nation with significant, perhaps increasing, opportunity gaps? What can schools do to help mitigate the overwhelming disadvantages that students growing up in poverty face? Since it is obvious that schools can’t do much in isolation what can we, as a nation, do to support schools in their work of providing opportunity to all students?






[iii] Apologies in advance for the generous use of scare quotes. But it’s almost impossible to tell this sordid tale without them.


[iv] This researcher had, by this time, already made many claims about special education students and charter schools in New York City that had been debunked. See for example




[vi] The fact that the teacher’s union had to collate this data and not a single “independent” journalist could be bothered to do so, despite the regular appearance of newspaper stories and editorials praising charter schools, tells us just how biased the media is when it comes to education policy. It suggests that media outlets would benefit by being more skeptical of charter school claims when deciding upon and reporting upon their stories.










[xi] It may not take a conspiracy theorist to assume that this conversation is exactly what the special interests groups that back charter schools want to prevent from happening.

Benjamin Riley, formerly of the NewSchools Venture Fund (which invests in charter schools and other “reform” ideas) has put together a group called Deans for Impact. This group will advocate for data-based decisions, perhaps including test-based evaluation of teachers (VAM).


Here is the group’s website.


Paul Thomas comments on this group in this post. These deans, he says, are announcing that they want to ruin their own field with data, data, data, without waiting for the feds to make them do it.


He writes:


Accountability seems to be a SF [science fiction] plague, spawned in the bowels of government like the root of the zombie apocalypse.

Pick your analogy, but the newest round isn’t really any different than all the rounds before.

The USDOE announces accountability for teacher education, in part using value-added methods drawn from student scores on high-stakes tests.

NEPC [National Education Policy Center] offers an evidence-based review, refuting accountability based on student test scores as a way to reform teacher education.

But in the wake of misguided bureaucracy and policy, possibly the most disturbing part of this pattern of doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is that educators themselves invariably line up demanding that we be allowed to do that same thing ourselves (including our own continuous complaints about all the bureaucracy with which we gleefully fall in line).


And Thomas adds:


Let’s be clear, instead, that accountability (a lack of or the type of) has never been the problem; thus, accountability is not the solution.


Let’s be clear that while teacher quality and teacher preparation obviously matter, they mostly cannot and do not matter when the teaching and learning conditions in schools prevent effective teaching, when children’s live render them incapable of learning.


Mercedes Schneider also wrote about this new reformer organization. As you might expect, Schneider delves into Riley’s background at NewSchools Venture Fund. She also analyzes the funder of “Deans for Impact.”


She writes:


So now, Riley has started a “venture” using (according to EdWeek) a one-million-dollar grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Ironically, in 2013, the Schustermans also donated over one million dollars to Teach for America (TFA), whose temp teachers are “trained” in five weeks and who are assumed prepared because, after all, they are “talent.”

In 2013, the Schustermans also supported Stand for Children (SFC) for $2.3 million; the Gates-Walton-Broad-funded NewSchools Venture Fund (NSVF) for $500,000; the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) for $25,000; KIPP charter schools, for over $100,000; Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) for $50,000, and Gates-Walton-Broad-funded Education Pioneers (EP) for $500,000. All of these organizations are known for devaluing education via privatization and test-score worship.


And now, thanks to Riley and his Schusterman million, we have deans who are willing to follow a guy who helped draft legislation to create teacher-prep charter schools.


Be careful, O Deans of Impact.


If teacher-prep charter “academies” are somehow worked into your traditional teacher training programs, your programs run the risk of being supplanted by a privatized substitute.


Higher ed charter co-location.


Already, you have agreed to play the test-score-driven, common-metric game easily recognized as a privatization gateway. Too, Riley is advertising that he wants to “remain relatively small,” which makes you sound like an unsuspecting petri dish for a man who wishes his GREAT legislation might find a testing ground.


Perhaps not. Perhaps I am wrong.


But watch out.


Jason Stanford of Austin asks, what is the point of testing? The answer, he supposes, is to collect data. What is the point of data? Stop and think about it.

“To many, the answer is more testing. And because they’re testing darn near every child in America in most core subjects, now education reformers are going after the K in K-12. The Education Commission of the States says kindergarteners are now being given standardized tests in 25 states as well as the District of Columbia to measure whether they are ready for the rigor of crayons, naptime, and singing the alphabet song.

“These tests aren’t kid stuff, either. In Maryland, where teachers are asking for the state to suspend the tests, the average kindergartener takes more than 1 hour and 25 minutes to complete the tests. Teachers report that students don’t understand that they’re being tested to measure what they don’t know. When these 5-year-olds don’t know an answer, they think they’re stupid. We’re talking oceans of tears here.

“Remind me what the point of the tests is? To one state education official, the tests “will help improve early education,” which confuses things further. Remember, the thermometer doesn’t cook the meat.”

“So let’s go back to the original question: What is the point of data? With standardized tests, the point was supposed to be to diagnose which schools and students needed extra help. At least, that’s how they sold it to Dallas schools in the 1980s, then Texas schools in the 1990s, and then the whole country with No Child Left Behind.”

A regular commenter on the blog, Laura H. Chapman, shares her research on data mining:


Policies on data mining? “The future, like everything else, is no longer quite what it used to be.” Paul Valéry, poet.


It is no surprise that the Gates funded Teacher-Student Data Link Project started in 2005 is going full steam ahead. By 2011 his project said the link between teacher and student data would serve eight purposes:


1. Determine which teachers help students become college-ready and successful,

2. Determine characteristics of effective educators,

3. Identify programs that prepare highly qualified and effective teachers,

4. Assess the value of non-traditional teacher preparation programs,

5. Evaluate professional development programs,

6. Determine variables that help or hinder student learning,

7. Plan effective assistance for teachers early in their career, and

8. Inform policy makers of best value practices, including compensation.


The system is intended to ensure all courses are based on standards, and all responsibilities for learning are assigned to one or more “teachers of record” in charge of a student or class so that a record is generated whenever a “teacher of record” has a specific proportion of responsibility for a student’s learning activities.


These activities must be defined by performance measures for a particular standard, by subject, and grade level.


The TSDL system requires period-by-period tracking of teachers and students every day; including “tests, quizzes, projects, homework, classroom participation, or other forms of day-to-day assessments and progress measures.” Ultimately, the system will keep current and longitudinal data on the performance of teachers and individual students, as well schools, districts, states, and educators ranging from principals to higher education faculty.


This data will then be used to determine the “best value” investments in education, taking into account as many demographic factors as possible, including….health records for preschoolers. but the cradle is next, and it is part of USDE’s technology plan.


Since 2006, the USDE has also invested over $700 million in the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) to help states “efficiently and accurately manage, analyze, and use education data, including individual student records”…and make “data-driven decisions to improve student learning, as well as facilitate research to increase student achievement and close achievement gaps.” The newest upgrade of the concpt is for these state-wide systems to become multi-state…and a national system. This goes WAY, WAy beyond (and may pre-empt) routine data-gathering by the National Bureau of Education Statistics.


It is not widely known that in 2009, USDE modified the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act so that student data—test scores, health records, learning issues, disciplinary reports—can be used for education studies without parental consent (The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 20 U.S.C. §1232g). Moreover, a 2012 issue brief from USDE outlined a program of data mining and learning analytics in partnership with commercial companies.


The envisioned data- mining program includes an automated, instant access, user-friendly “recommendation system” for teachers that links students’ test scores and their learning profiles to preferred instructional actions and resources. Enhancing teaching and learning through educational data mining and learning analytics: An issue brief. Retrieved from p. 29).


USDE is also pressing forward a “radical and rapid” transformation of public education. The new system is marketed and funded as “personalized, competency-based learning” 24/365 from multiple sources. It is intended to dismantle place-based schools, seat time, grade levels, subject-specific curricula, traditional concepts about “teachers” and diplomas. Multiple certifications with flower along with an abundace of badges earne for completing learning paths and play-lists of learning options, awarded by profit and non-profit “learning agents.” The role of “teacher” is envioned as a relic, along with the institution of public schools. See USDE, Office of Educational Technology, Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology, Washington, D.C., 2010.

EduShyster pays a visit to Salem, Massachusetts, where “school choice” has enabled the affluent families to go to some highly-resourced schools, while the less-affluent go to less-resourced schools.


If you want to see how bizarre and brain-dead “reform” is, look no farther than Salem. There, the town has fallen in love with jargon and data, and looks to edupreneurs to solve all problems by supplying edumanure.


She writes:


“At the center of the Open System beats an edupreneurial heart, one belonging to Empower Schools, founded by edupreneur Chris Gabrieli, whose list of political connections is as long as an extended school day, and Bret Alessi, former Education Pioneer and current Mass 2020 visionary. What precisely Empower Schools does, other than BELIEVE IN OPEN SYSTEMS…and produce case studies like this one, remains a bit vague-ish. What I can tell you is that Empower has quickly one over powerful friends aka *aligned leaders,* like Massachusetts Commissioner of College and Career Readiness, Mitchell D. Chester, who recently sang Empower’s praises to the Boston Globe in a story on how school partnerships with edupreneurial groups like Empower are failing to produce results…..Everybody who is anybody
But I digress. The important thing is that the Salem schools bus is hurtling towards a new system, an Open System, and that everyone who is anyone appears to be on board, from the city’s politically ambitious mayor, to the members of the Salem Partnership, to the members of the Community Advisory Board of the Salem Partnership, to the members of the Salem Education Foundation. In other words, everybody who is anybody in the city is *highly aligned,* jargonically speaking, behind a vision of what the city’s students need to succeed. A *laser-like focus on instruction* and *frequent assessments.* The Open System comes with transportation — and to quote district leaders, *data drives the bus.* And that teachers don’t just want to teach, they want to Teach Plus co-captain the data bus.”


But what happens when one family says “No, we don’t want our child to take the tests?” Shockingly, the family won the right to opt out. They have been joined by five other families. Hopefully there will be more. How will the “data bus” function if there is no data? Stay tuned. Will the data bus veer out of control? Or will it continue to drive right over the cliff with the children of Salem?



Recognizing that Race to the Top may be defunded in the next budget, Peter Greene explains the program’s original purposes, priorities, and policies.


Greene calls it a “giant turkey” with its neck on the chopping block and warns that it is too soon to celebrate. It might be saved at the last minute.


After surveying its many parts, he concludes:


“Yes, when lost in the haze of debate and discussion, sometimes it’s best to go back to the basics. Here it is– exactly what the feds wanted. Good paperwork. A teacher rank and rate system based on student test scores that would drive everything from training. More charters. More school takeovers.

“While the document says that RttT ‘will reward states that have demonstrated success in raising student achievement,’ that’s not really what it rewards. It rewards states for remaking their education systems along the lines demanded by the feds. And though the document promised that the best models would spread their reform ideas across the country, five years later, there are no signs of any such spreading infection. But then, there are no signs that any of these federal ideas about fixing schools has actually improved education for any students in this country.

“If Congress actually manages to shut this mess down, there will be no cause for tears.”

Be sure to read the first comment about the turmoil unleashed by Arne Duncan, and the effect of chaos on students.

On December 3, I engaged in conversation with Errol Louis of Néw York 1 and Andrea Gabor, Bloomberg Professor of Journalism at Baruch College.

The subject was “the uses and misuses of data in education.” If you have nothing better to do, you might enjoy watching.


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