Archives for category: Data

When the idea of charters was first floated in the late 1980s, advocates offered a simple promise: Give us autonomy, and we will be accountable.

That was then, this is now.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association estimates that public schools lose $1.3 billion each year to the state’s 177 charters. It filed a “Right to Know” request seeking information about how charters spend public money on such matters as salaries, consultants, advertising, rentals, etc.

A charter spokesman said the PSBA request was “frivolous.” Thus far, not a single charter has responded to the request for financial data.

“We get hammered over spending, but think about charter schools – there’s little if any fiscal accountability,” said Lawrence Feinberg, a Haverford School District board member who heads the Keystone State Education Coalition, a grassroots public education advocacy group made up of school board members and administrators.

“Feinberg cited the state’s largest charter school, the Chester Community Charter School in Delaware County, which has a management contract with a firm headed by wealthy Montgomery County lawyer and political donor Vahan Gureghian.

“You go find out and tell me how much teachers get paid and how much Mr. Gureghian makes in profit,” said Feinberg. He also raised questions over how much charters spend on the ad campaigns that attract students away from traditional public schools.”


Audrey Amrein-Beardsley writes about a veteran teacher who refused to bow to the Great Data God.

Lisa Elliott is a champion of public education. She says in the accompanying video, which you must watch, “This is my home. These are the children I teach.” Her refusal to resign after 18 years of exemplary service, her going public with her courageous resistance, is exemplary. I am happy to place her on the blog honor roll.

Lisa Elliott, a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) and 18-year veteran teacher who has devoted her 18-year professional career to the Alhambra Elementary School District — a Title I school district (i.e., having at least 40% of the student population from low-income families) located in the Phoenix/Glendale area — expresses in this video how she refuses to be bullied by her district’s misuse of standardized test scores.

Approximately nine months ago she was asked to resign her teaching position by the district’s interim superintendent – Dr. Michael Rivera – due to her students’ low test scores for the 2013-2014 school year, and despite her students exceeding expectations on other indicators of learning and achievement. She “respectfully declined” submitting her resignation letter because, for a number of reasons, including that her “children are more than a test score.”

The post includes a video of Lisa Elliott, standing up to the VAMinsanity.

A strange affliction has taken control of American public education. Or perhaps it is better to say a group of people with a mindset from some fantasyland are now making policy, all geared to produce standardized children and standardized minds.

Here is an exemplar.

As I read this article, my eyes began to blur, the words lost all meaning. Who are these people? Why do they think that all children can be rated,ranked, and labeled by their scores on a standardized test? How do they define “proficiency”? What does it mean? Who decided?

One voice of reason: Bob Schaeffer of Fairtest says that “standards” are not objective, they are subjective.

If you can jump higher than me, am I a failure? If you can solve a crossword puzzle faster than me, are you better than me in general or just better at solving crossword puzzles?

I know that the people who are immersed in data and who believe in data like a religion, think they are being scientific. So did the eugenicisys of the 1920s,who thought they could use test scores to sort and label people and to decide who was allowed to reproduce; they thought they were “scientifically” improving the human race, like plant genetics or animal genetics. By the 1930s, they were recognized as quacks, but on another continent, a mad dictator loved the eugenics philosophy and drove the world mad.

Will anyone hear if I put in a word for humanism? For valuing the different gifts of each person? For loving every child, regardless of their test scores? For abandoning the nutty quest to have standards so high that most children are designated failures by arbitrary measures?

A teacher left this comment on the blog:

G. K. Chesterton said, ““The Madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” Those that champion ed-reform are basically those that have lost everything but their reason, they reduce education, as they reduce most everything else, to what can be benchmarked and quantified, in a data driven environment everything is “rational” and “reasonable” but little else. There is no room for whimsy, there is no room for beauty, there is no room for sanity.

But as long as the classroom teacher is sane, does see the importance of whimsy, beauty, the individual and the discovery of the individual that lives beneath the surface of every student, real education will ultimately triumph. The real subversive work of the teacher is what happens in the classroom. That is why I think it is important that we, as classroom teachers do not lose sight of what we are really called to do. I think sometimes we become so strident in our opposition to what is happening in the larger world that we lose sight of what we can accomplish in the world of the classroom. In our stridency we are in danger of losing everything but or reason and in the process become like those we oppose.

Our students have one crack at an education. Each student I teach in 9th, 11th, or 12th grade (the grades I teach) will only have one chance at 9th, 11th, and 12th grade and they deserve a meaningful and “sane” 9th, 11th, and 12th grade. It is important to fight as best we can the battles going on outside our classroom, but w also need to do the best we can to see to it that our students in our classrooms today get the best and most meaningful education we can give them.

Sometimes I believe I am being asked to teach with both hands tied behind my back, but as long as I have a voice to speak with I can leave the gesticulating to others. If we reach the students we teach they will become the future and the best way to change the insanity of the present is to prepare those that will inherit the future. If our students are able to keep their sanity as they go into the world there is a real possibility that they will make the world they help to shape a more sane one.

Two more words for the “The Educational Devil’s Dictionary:

Leader – First follower.

Leadership – The ability to get others to do what they are told by do doing what they, the leaders, are told better than anybody else.

J. D. Wilson, Jr.

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.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 150,285 other followers