Archives for category: Data

We have had quite a lot of back and forth on this blog about Boston charter schools, in anticipation of the vote this November in Massachusetts about lifting the charter cap and adding another 12 charter schools every year forever. Pro-charter advocates argue that the Boston charters are not only outstanding in test scores but that their attrition rate is no different from that of the public schools, or possibly even less than the public schools.

Jersey Jazzman (aka Mark Weber) is a teacher and is studying for his doctorate at Rutgers, where he specializes in data analysis.

In this post, he demolishes the claim that Boston charters have a low attrition rate. As he shows, using state data,

In the last decade, Boston’s charter sector has had substantially greater cohort attrition than the Boston Public Schools. In fact, even though the data is noisy, you could make a pretty good case the difference in cohort attrition rates has grown over the last five years.

Is this proof that the independent charters are doing a bad job? I wouldn’t say so; I’m sure these schools are full of dedicated staff, working hard to serve their students. But there is little doubt that the public schools are doing a job that charters are not: they are educating the kids who don’t stay in the charters, or who arrive too late to feel like enrolling in them is a good choice.

This is a serious issue, and the voters of Massachusetts should be made aware of it before they cast their votes. We know that charter schools have had detrimental effects on the finances of their host school systems in other states. Massachusetts’ charter law has one of the more generous reimbursement policies for host schools, but these laws do little more than delay the inevitable: charter expansion, by definition, is inefficient because administrative functions are replicated. And that means less money in the classroom.

Is it really worth expanding charters and risking further injury to BPS when the charter sector appears, at least at the high school level, to rely so heavily on cohort attrition?

Launa Hall, a third grade teacher in northern Virginia, is writing a book of essays about education. This one appeared in the Washington Post.

She writes:

My third-graders tumbled into the classroom, and one child I’d especially been watching for — I need to protect her privacy, so I’ll call her Janie — immediately noticed the two poster-size charts I’d hung low on the wall. Still wearing her jacket, she let her backpack drop to the floor and raised one finger to touch her name on the math achievement chart. Slowly, she traced the row of dots representing her scores for each state standard on the latest practice test. Red, red, yellow, red, green, red, red. Janie is a child capable of much drama, but that morning she just lowered her gaze to the floor and shuffled to her chair.

In our test-mired public schools, those charts are known as data walls, and before I caved in and made some for my Northern Virginia classroom last spring, they’d been proliferating in schools across the country — an outgrowth of “data-driven instruction” and the scramble for test scores at all costs. Making data public, say advocates such as Boston Plan for Excellence, instills a “healthy competitive culture.” But that’s not what I saw in my classroom.

She put up the data walls with reluctance, and the more she saw of them, the more convinced she became that they served to humiliate children.

I regretted those data walls immediately. Even an adult faced with a row of red dots after her name for all her peers to see would have to dig deep into her hard-won sense of self to put into context what those red dots meant in her life and what she would do about them. An 8-year-old just feels shame….

It also turns out that posting students’ names on data walls without parental consent may violate privacy laws. At the time, neither I nor my colleagues at the school knew that, and judging from the pictures on Pinterest, we were hardly alone. The Education Department encourages teachers to swap out names for numbers or some other code. And sure, that would be more palatable and consistent with the letter, if not the intent, of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. But it would be every bit as dispiriting. My third-graders would have figured out in 30 seconds who was who, coded or not.

The data walls made it harder for me to reach and teach my students, driving a wedge into relationships I’d worked hard to establish. I knew Janie to be an extremely bright child — with lots of stresses in her life. She and I had been working as a team in small group sessions and in extra practice after school. But the morning I hung the data walls, she became Child X with lots of red dots, and I became Teacher X with a chart.

Why does official policy these days aim to hurt children as a way of motivating them? What kind of motivation grows from shame?

Articles like this are sad and even sickening. It is the story of a 29-year veteran in Brookline, Massachusetts, who teaches first grade. He is leaving.

It is outrageous to see beloved, dedicated teachers leave the classroom. Yet when you think of the steady barrage of hostile propaganda directed at them by the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, D.C. think tanks, and others, you can understand why they find it impossible to stay. I hope there is a new wave of articles about teachers who said: No matter what, I will not leave! I love my kids! I love my work! I will not let the reformers drive me away!

David Weinstein is throwing in the towel. He is in his early 50s. He shouldn’t be leaving so soon. He explains how teaching has changed, how much pressure is on the children, how much time is wasted collecting data that doesn’t help him as a teacher or his students.

He sums up:

I guess the big-picture problem is that all this stuff we’re talking about here is coming from on top, from above, be it the federal government, the commonwealth of Massachusetts, the school administration. But the voices of teachers are lost. I mean, nobody talks to teachers. Or, if they do talk to teachers, they’re not listening to teachers.

Since former Governor Bobby Jindal took control of the state education department in Louisiana, there have been numerous battles over access to public information.

The state superintendent appointed by Jindal, ex-TFA Broadie John White, has just made plain that public information is not public.

Mercedes Schneider reports that White has sued a citizen who made the mistake of seeking information from the state education department. Apparently John White doesn’t realize that he works for the public and is paid by the public.

As she says, this is a new low.

Katherine Stewart and Matthew Stewart, parents in the renowned Brookline school district in Massachusetts, are concerned about their school board’s ties to Bill Gates and  other corporate reformers. Katherine Stewart is the author of “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children.”

They write:

“In the ongoing standoff between the Brookline Educators Union and the Brookline School Committee, the School Committee has framed the dispute as one of making do with limited resources and ensuring equity for all students. But in fact, fundamental choices about how we educate our children are also at stake. The teachers are asking for more time to spend with students and more control over their own teaching. The School Committee, on the other hand, appears intent on investing teacher time and town funds in a management system aimed at top-down control of educators through data collection and high-stakes, standardized testing. The differences are not about the value of equity but how best to achieve it….”

The Stewarts go on to detail the connections between at least three members of the board and corporate reform. They implicitly raise the question: Is the board working for the children of Brookline or for Bill Gates and other corporate reformers?



“The Chairman of the School Committee, Susan Wolf Ditkoff, is a partner at The Bridgespan Group, a management consulting firm specializing in the philanthropy sector. Another member, Beth Jackson Stram, is also an associate at the same firm. A third member, Lisa Jackson, operates a consulting company that lists Bridgespan as one of its founders. In 2010, Bridgespan played an instrumental role in bringing Common Core to Massachusetts. The firm was hired to assist the state in its application for Race-to-the-Top funds from the federal government. Bridgespan reportedly received a $500,000 fee for that project, half of which was paid by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation….


“According to its tax filings, the Gates Foundation disbursed more than $5.5 million to The Bridgespan Group between 2010 and 2014. To judge from flattering material posted on its website, Bridgespan is also closely involved with The Broad Foundation and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, both of which promote similar education reform agendas. Tax filings from Bridgespan show that Susan Ditkoff’s total compensation in 2014 was just short of $300,000.”


Transparency would be a good start.

Peter Greene reliably reads all the studies, think tank reports, foundation proclamations, and other stuff that pours forth from the Think About Education Industry.


In this post, he is thinking about something else, something very important: his 18-month-old grandson.


This is a young man with a long list of studies, reports, and policy briefs. Well, diapers, not so much briefs.


As Peter writes:


He is, at 18 months, a Man of Adventure. He knows many exciting activities, such as Putting One Thing Inside of Another Thing, or Stomping Vigorously Upon the Ground. He knows the word “dog” and is involved extensive survey of just how many dogs there are in the world, which also involves working out which survey items are dogs, and which are not. In the photo above, you can gauge his mastery of Spoon Technique as applied to Ice Cream. This is part of his extensive study on What Can Be Safely and Enjoyably Eaten.


 While outdoors he devotes his time to Running Studies, by which I don’t mean the management of studies, but the study of actual running. A popular game– Walking Up The Top of the Hill, followed by the sequel, Running to the Bottom of the Hill (“Hill” here defined as “Stretch of mildly tilted ground”). This dovetails with another one of his spirited experiments on the question of When Is It a Good Time To Applaud and Cheer? (The complete answer has not yet been compiled, but it clearly includes “after you have made it to the top of the hill” and “after you have run down.”)


Peter knows that somewhere there are people with Very Important Titles trying to figure out ways to determine whether this child is improving. What test should be devised? How should he be measured? Will he ever amount to anything if he doesn’t have a battery of tests to rate him, rank him, and enable comparison to children of the same age in other states and nations?

I recently posted about a new partnership between the National PTA and the Data Quality Campaign. In response, our wonderful reader-researcher Laura Chapman dug deep into the money flow and produced this commentary:



Ah data. You can be sure the PTA is uninformed about the data being collected with their tax dollars. Here are some not widely publicized facts.


Between 2005 and early 2011, the Gates’ Foundation invested $75 million in a major advocacy campaign for data gathering, aided by the National Governor’s Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, Achieve, and The Education Trust—most of these groups recipients of Gates money. During the same period, the Gates Foundation also awarded grants totaling $390,493,545 for projects to gather data and build systems for reporting on teacher effectiveness. This multi-faceted campaign, called the Teacher Student Data Link (TSDL) envisioned the linked data serving 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.
Gates and his friends intended to document and rate the work of teachers and a bit more: They wanted data that required major restructuring of the work of teachers so everything about the new system of education would be based on data-gathering and surveillance.


The TSDL system ( in use in many states) required that all courses be identified by standards for achievement and alphanumeric codes for data-entry. All responsibilities for learning had to be assigned to one or more “teachers of record” in charge of a student or class. A teacher of record was assigned a unique identifier (think barcode) for an entire career in teaching. A record would be generated whenever a teacher of record has some specified proportion of responsibility for a student’s learning activities.


Learning activities had to be defined by the performance measures (e.g., cut scores for proficiency) for each particular standard for every subject and grade level. The TSDL system was designed to enable 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”—a level of surveillance that proponents claimed was comparable to business practices (TSDL, 2011, “Key Components”).


The system was and is intended to 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. Why? All of this data could be used to determine the “best value” investments to make in education, with monitoring and changes in policies to ensure improvements in outcomes. Data analyses would include as many demographic factors as possible, including health records for preschoolers.


The Gates-funded TSDL campaign added resources to a parallel federal initiative. Between 2006 and 2015, the US Department of Education (USDE) has invested nearly $900 million in the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) Grant Program. Almost every state has received multi-year grants to standardize data on education. Operated by the Institute of Education Sciences, the SLDS program is: “designed to aid state education agencies in developing and implementing longitudinal data systems.


What is the point of the SLDS program? “These systems are intended to enhance the ability of States to efficiently and accurately manage, analyze, and use education data, including individual student records…to help States, districts, schools, and teachers make data-driven decisions to improve student learning, as well as facilitate research to increase student achievement and close achievement gaps” (USDE, 2011, Overview).


The most recent data-mongering activity from USDE, rationalized as “helping keep students safe and improving their learning environments” is a suite of on-line School Climate Surveys (EDSCLS). The surveys will allow states, districts, and schools to “collect and act on reliable, nationally-validated school climate data in real-time,” (as soon as it is entered).


The School Climate Surveys are for students in grades 5-12, instructional staff, non-instructional staff in the schools they attend and parents/guardians. Data is stored on local data systems, not by USDE. Even so, but the aim is to have national “benchmarks” online by 2017 for local and state comparisons with national scores.


Student surveys (73 questions) offer scores for the entire school disaggregated by gender, grade level, ethnicity (Hispanic/Latino or not), and race (five mentioned, combinations allowed).
The Instructional Staff Survey has 82 Questions. Responses can be disaggregated by gender, grade level assignment, ethnicity, race, teaching assignment (special education or not), years working at this school (1-3, 4-9, 10-19, 20 or more).
The Non-instructional Staff Survey has 103 questions, but 21 are only for the principal. Demographic information for disaggregated scores is the same as for s instructional staff)
The Parent Survey has 43 questions, for item-by-item analysis, without any sub-scores or and summary scores. Demographic information is requested for gender, ethnicity, and race.


These four surveys address three domains of school climate: Engagement, Safety, and Environment, and thirteen topics (constructs).
Engagement topics are: 1. Cultural and linguistic competence, 2. Relationships, and 3. School participation.
Safety topics are: 4. Emotional safety, 5. Physical safety, 6. Bullying/cyberbullying, 7. Substance abuse, and 8. Emergency readiness/management (item-by-item analysis, no summary score)


Environment topics are: 9. Physical environment, 10. Instructional environment, 11. Physical health (information for staff, but no scores for students) 12. Mental health, and 13. Discipline.


Almost all questions call for marking answers “yes” or “no,” or with the scale “strongly agree,” agree,” ”disagree” “strongly disagree.” Some questions about drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse ask for one of these responses: “Not a problem,” Small problem,” “ Somewhat a problem,” “Large problem.” None of the questions can be answered “Do not know.”



I have looked at the survey questions, developed by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), and concluded they are not ready for prime time. Here are a few of the problems.


This whole project looks like a rush job. The time for public comment about this project was extremely short. USDE did not change flaws in the piloted surveys, claiming that there was no budget for revisions.


The flaws are numerous. Many of the survey questions assume that respondents have an all encompassing and informed basis for offering judgments about school practices and policies. Some questions are so poorly crafted they incorporate several well-known problems in survey design–including more than one important idea, referring to abstract concepts, and assuming responders have sufficient knowledge. Here is an example from the student survey with all three problems. “Question 8. This school provides instructional materials (e.g., textbooks, handouts) that reflect my cultural background, ethnicity, and identity.”



Many questions have no frame of reference for a personal judgment:



From the student survey:


“17. Students respect one another.”

“18. Students like one another.“
Other questions call for inferences about the thinking of others.


“50. Students at this school think it is okay to get drunk.”


Some questions assert values, then ask for agreement or disagreement.


In the parents survey,


“7. This school communicates how important it is to respect students of all sexual orientations.”
Others assume omniscience:


“41. School rules are applied equally to all students.” Some questions seem to hold staff responsible for circumstances beyond their immediate control. 74. [Principal Only] The following are a problem in the neighborhood where this school is located: garbage, litter, or broken glass in the street or road, on the sidewalks, or in yards. ( Strongly agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly disagree).



Overall, the surveys and the examples of data analysis they provides are unlikely to produce “actionable interventions” as intended. The questions are so poorly crafted that they are likely to generate misleading data with many schools cast in a very bad light. See, for example, page 26 data from this source.



The responsibility for privacy rests with the schools, districts and states, but everything in on line. A brief inspection of the background questions should raise major questions about privacy, especially for students who identify themselves with enough detail–gender, ethnicity, race, grade level (20 data points minimum)–to produce survey answers that match only one person or a very few individuals.



My advice, not just to the PTA: Stay away from these data monsters. They drown everyone in data points. Results from the School Climate Surveys are processed to make colorful charts and graphs, but they are based of fuzzy and flawed “perceptions” and unwarranted assumptions. The surveys offer 63 data points for profiling the participants, but only four possible responses to each of 283 questions of dubious technical merit.



Perhaps most important for parents: Some questions seem to breech the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) for topics in student surveys, especially questions pertaining to “illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, or demeaning behavior.” More on FERPA at


It would be nice to think that FERPA really protects student privacy. But former Secretary Duncan loosened the FERPA protections in 2011, to make it easier for outsiders to obtain student data. That was the premise behind the Gates’ Foundation’s inBloom project, which was set to collect personally identifiable data from several states and districts and store it in a cloud managed by Amazon. That project was brought down by parental objections, which caused the states and districts to back out.

Pasi Sahlberg and Jonathan Hasak wrote a post about the failure of Big Data to introduce effective reforms into education. Big Data are the kind of massive globs of information that cannot be analyzed by one or several people; they require a computer to seek the meaning in the numbers. Big Data are supposed to change everything, and indeed they have proved useful in many areas of modern life in understanding large patterns of activity. Traffic patterns, disease outbreaks, criminal behavior, and so on. But those who try to understand children and teaching and learning through Big Data have failed to produce useful insights. They have produced correlations but not revealed causation. In reading their article, I am reminded of the sense of frustration I felt when I was a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In the early years of my seven-year stint, I was excited by the data. About the fourth or fifth year, I began to be disillusioned when I realized that we got virtually the same results every time. Scores went up or down a point or two. The basic patterns were the same. We learned nothing about what was causing the patterns.


Sahlberg and Hasak argue on behalf of “small data,” the information about interactions and events that happen in the classroom, where learning does or does not take place:


We believe that it is becoming evident that big data alone won’t be able to fix education systems. Decision-makers need to gain a better understanding of what good teaching is and how it leads to better learning in schools. This is where information about details, relationships and narratives in schools become important. These are what Martin Lindstrom calls “small data”: small clues that uncover huge trends. In education, these small clues are often hidden in the invisible fabric of schools. Understanding this fabric must become a priority for improving education.


To be sure, there is not one right way to gather small data in education. Perhaps the most important next step is to realize the limitations of current big data-driven policies and practices. Too strong reliance on externally collected data may be misleading in policy-making. This is an example of what small data look like in practice:


*It reduces census-based national student assessments to the necessary minimum and transfer saved resources to enhance the quality of formative assessments in schools and teacher education on other alternative assessment methods. Evidence shows that formative and other school-based assessments are much more likely to improve quality of education than conventional standardized tests.
*It strengthens collective autonomy of schools by giving teachers more independence from bureaucracy and investing in teamwork in schools. This would enhance social capital that is proved to be critical aspects of building trust within education and enhancing student learning.
*It empowers students by involving them in assessing and reflecting their own learning and then incorporating that information into collective human judgment about teaching and learning (supported by national big data). Because there are different ways students can be smart in schools, no one way of measuring student achievement will reveal success. Students’ voices about their own growth may be those tiny clues that can uncover important trends of improving learning.

There are three so-called achievement school districts in the nation that have some history. One in Tennessee, one in Michigan, one inNew Orleans. The three are so what different: New Orleans district is all-charter, all privatized. The other two were created by the legislature to gather the state’s lowest-scoring schools into a single district, then turn them over to charter operators.


Opinions differ about New Orleans, but no one claims that it has closed achievement gaps or left no child behind. It is not a miracle district. Some critics have called it the lowest performing district in one of the lowest performing states.


Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority has no defenders. It is a disaster.


The Tennessee Achievement District was studied by Vanderbilt researchers, who reported there was no statistically significant improvement in test scores. Gary Rubinstein looked at state data and concluded that there was virtually no improvement: the lowest performing schools are still very low performing schools.


Yet Georgia and North Carolina both plan to create achievement school districts, and now Nevada wants one too. Why? It must be ALEC model legislation.


Angie Sullivan wrote this about Nevada, where she teaches:


“This was the scary announcement yesterday in Nevada Education:


“Board of Examiners meeting Tuesday, Canavero announced the appointment of Jana Wilcox-Lavin as the superintendent-in-residence of a new Achievement School District.


“Based on similar models in Louisiana and Tennessee, the state-run district will hand over control of persistently failing schools to charter management organizations.”

“Can someone explain to me why Nevada would want to create an Achievement School District – just as other states are closing their failing achievement school districts?


“Does anyone in the Department of Education or on the Nevada State School Board have google? I strongly suggest everyone google: achievement school districts Tennessee or Lousiana.


“Does anyone do research before they make these expensive decisions?


“It is obvious that the real plan is to privatize and destroy public schools like Tennesse and Louisiana. The data is in and students did not do better after expensive achievement school districts were created there. Extreme and documented failure.


“We are hiring someone from those failures to create a Nevada failure?


“Why are we doing this?


Tennessee: Legislators Propose Closing “Achievement School District”


Gary Rubinstein Reviews the Failure of the Tennessee Achievement School District


Tennessee: Memphis School Board Calls for Moratorium for Achievement School District


Tennessee: “Achievement School District” In Search of High-Performing Students


Tennessee Dad: It’s Time to Dump the “Achievement School District”


Andy Spears: Is Tennessee Sick of the (Low) Achievement School District?


North Carolina Parents: We Don’t Want an “Achievement School District”
“Bottom line: Business does not do better at running schools. Business type reforms are not changing schools for the better.


“The same data system that kills public schools -shows that privatization and business ran schools fail too – usually worse and more expensive.


“Somehow we are supposed to only use data to kill public schools but then ignore data that suggests expensive reforms are failures?


“Doesn’t Nevada already have enough failing segregated disenfranchising charters? Why don’t we clean up the charter messes we already made -rather than import a mess maker from another state to make another mess. Why are we renewing failing charters?


“We better start thinking about kids Nevada – rather than about making some business people very rich at the expense of our kids.


“We do not need to be scammed like Lousiana and Tennessee.





Jeff Bryant reviews the claims for and against the testing that has now become the central feature of April.


State and local officials assure us that the tests will help children, but they don’t.


State and local officials insist that they will close the achievement gap, but for decades they have measured it, not closed it.


Blah, blah, blah.


The tests in use today don’t help anyone but the testing corporations.


The results come back  in the fall or maybe as early as the summer, when the students have a different teacher or are not even in school.


The results don’t explain what the students got wrong so they have no diagnostic or instructional value.


They tell students if they passed or failed, but the students don’t know why and neither do the teachers.


What a waste of time and money.


The great puzzle is why all those officials–federal, state, and local–demand, insist, declare that students must take these useless tests. Why do they want the data when the data don’t help the students?