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Eckhart Tolle Meets John Dewey

20 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/20/2020

Professor Michael J. Hynes new book Staying Grounded; 12 Principles for Transforming School Leader Effectiveness inspired this title. I have an aversion to self-help writings and new-age philosophy. After reading two chapters, that is exactly how I saw this book. It made me wonder why my friend Diane Ravitch recommended it. After reading a few more chapters, I got it. There is a lot to like. If the principles taught in this book were widely embraced, it would be a boon to education everywhere.

Staying Grounded Picture

In the introduction Hynes tells the reader that he will reveal his ideas concerning the purpose of schooling and how to ensure that each child reveals their potential. He opens by recommending the “philosophy that recognizes the fact that all children are different and meet them where they are.”

This a great starting point but it runs squarely into the devilish nature of standards based education. At the beginning of the new millennia, the cruel standards based philosophy began dominating classrooms. It was heartbreaking to observe students who although learning; were not learning fast enough. Instead of being encouraged while their intellectual abilities grew, they were crushed and taught to hate learning. That definitely was not meeting “them where they are.”

The book started naturally enough with principle one. It opened by quoting the Buddha, “It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.” The point was that a busy administrator needed some regular self care. Buddhist philosophy is known as the inner path. Principle one was all about entering the inner path. It ends with another of the Buddha’s admired philosophical points, “When things change inside you … things change around you.”

Principle two continued imparting more new age philosophy to fix the budding administrator’s attitude. The reader is assured attitude is more important than aptitude in the life of a successful school leader. A positive attitude is held up as key. Hynes notes, “90% of the people you complain to don’t care and the other 10% are glad you have the problem.” An amusing and insightful quote, but it still only obliquely addressed education philosophy and leadership.

Principle three, “It’s All About Relationships” brought a big change to the tenor and usefulness of the book. In a vignette, a Deputy Superintendent named Julio V. Delgado shared, “Like many administrators, I was chasing scores, looking for a magic curriculum to close the achievement gap, and best of all, looking at what other districts were doing so I could replicate it ‘back home.’” He recognized a fundamental error in his approach and concluded, “It’s the connections and relationships we make and foster among others, that lead us to success and serve as the ultimate model for children as they develop.”

In the organization of each chapter the principle is stated, personal stories are shared by various school leaders interspersed with explanations of the principle. There are descriptions of the principles benefit to all stake holders – leaders, teachers, parents and students. The conclusion is practical guidance for how to implement the principle. Starting with principle three this section becomes specific and challenges the budding school leader with concrete suggestions. This is where I started seeing the great value in what Professor Hynes was sharing.

What is the Purpose of Education?

This is a question of central importance to the development of our culture and civilization. Professor Hynes addresses it by stating,

“It is important to recognize that other people, including many of your fellow educators, administrators, and our students’ parents might have a different point of view concerning what education should be all about. That’s okay! What’s important is that you define in your own words, your purpose of what education is to you.”

In responding to the question, I decided to look a little at what Hynes and others have written. Hynes quoted James Harvey, the President of the National Superintendents Roundtable, “K-12 education should prepare students for life – for college, for work, for living within a family and within a community, and for participating effectively in the democratic process.” Although future employment is needed for most young people, Harvey believes K-12 education is more than just job training.

Hynes also looked back to the great humanist Eleanor Roosevelt’s thoughts on the issue. In 1930, she wrote,

“Perhaps because there are so many books and the branches of knowledge in which we can learn facts are so multitudinous today, we begin to hear more frequently that the function of education is to give children a desire to learn and to teach them how to use their minds and where to go to acquire facts when their curiosity is aroused. Even more all-embracing than this is the statement made not long ago, before a group of English headmasters, by the Archbishop of York, that ‘the true purpose of education is to produce citizens.’”

“But there still remains a vast amount to be done before we accomplish our first objective-informed and intelligent citizens, and, secondly, bring about the realization that we are all responsible for the trend of thought and the action of our times.”

There is a danger lurking in Roosevelt’s view. While production of good citizens is an admirable goal, there is a dystopian risk of reinforcing the utilitarian view of human life. When she was writing these words, the Japanese and German education systems were focused on producing a certain type of personality reduced to a subordinate position and viewed as a means to other ends.

Daisaku Ikeda, the Buddhist teacher and founder of Soka schools, writes that Japan is suffering “the consequences of making education subordinate to bureaucratic and political agendas under the control of the Ministry of Education.” With the passage of the “No Child Left Behind” Act, the US abandoned the philosophy of local control and embraced the concept of a powerful bureaucracy steering education. As a society, we turned our backs on two centuries of steadily improving free universal public education and adopted a system vulnerable to political agendas.

That 2002 decision was a huge backwards step for “a society that serves the essential needs of education.” Columbia University’s Professor Robert Thurman, in an interview at Boston’s Ikeda Center, responded to the question, “How do you view the role of education in society…?” He replied,

“I think the question should rather be, What is the role of society in education? Because in my view education is the purpose of human life. It’s not that the purpose of education is to fit out humans to go and produce something.”

In his book Democracy and Education, John Dewey stated,

“Discipline, culture, social efficiency, personal refinement, improvement of character are but phases of the growth of capacity nobly to share in such a balanced experience. And education is not a mere means to such a life. Education is such a life. To maintain capacity for such education is the essence of morals. For conscious life is a continual beginning afresh.”

Dewey’s contemporary in Japan, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, wrote,

“What is the purpose of national education? Rather than devise complex theoretical interpretations, it is better to start by looking to the lovely child who sits on your knee and ask yourself: What can I do to assure that this child will be able to lead the happiest life possible?”

The purpose of education is to create the space for people to fully manifest their abilities and express their inner essence while going through the natural stages of human development. In accord with Dewey, I believe, “To maintain capacity for such education is the essence of morals.” As Makiguchi said, assure that students can “lead the happiest life possible.”

Create a Better Education Structure

The rest of Michael Hynes book is filled with ideas for improving leadership skills in education. He advices superintendents to substitute teach and goes into great detail about how to derive the maximum benefit from the experience. Hynes spends four pages discussing shadowing students. He describes how to do it and its benefits. Hynes addresses many if not most of the issues a budding administrator needs to excel at in order to be a positive change maker. Administrators adopting Hynes 12-principles will benefit not only themselves but also their schools, students and communities.

However, this book can also be seen as dealing with the unfortunate outcomes of the authoritarian structural flaw innate to schools. The central figure (principal or superintendent) have the predominance of power in a system where administrators rule. Under this organization the only path to professional advancement is leaving the classroom to become an administrator.

I suggest changing this undemocratic autocratic scheme by employing democratic principles of governance that shares power between students, teachers and administrators.

Create an educator’s track the leads to advancement as a master teacher, department leader and curriculum expert. Teaching assignments and professional evaluations would fall under the responsibilities of this group. They would hold sway over new hires to their department.

When it came to school policies and final curricular decisions, students would be consulted and their input would have real significance.

Administrators would be responsible for facilities, daily discipline issues and communicating with parents.

The three groups would meet regularly and continually engage in dialog to reach consensus on all school issues.

Conclusion

Michael Hynes’s Staying Grounded is a good read filled with many wonderful concepts for improving school operations. I recommend the book.

Finally, I really liked this quote Hynes shared from Aristotle,

“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

CREDO’s New Study Biased against Public Schools

14 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/14/2020

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) started releasing the results of its new Cities Study Project in mid-2019. It is not a coincidence that the cities chosen for the study have long been targeted for public school privatization. The ten cities selected are: Indianapolis; Baton Rouge; Camden; Kansas City; Memphis; New Orleans; Oakland; St. Louis; San Antonio; and Washington DC. This CREDO study is even more opaque and biased than its previous efforts.

Who is CREDO?

Hanushek and Raymond

Husband and Wife Team Who Founded CREDO

In the early 1980s, Margaret (Macke) Raymond was completing a lengthy graduate school agenda at the University of Rochester, a relatively small private university in Rochester, New York. She garnered an MS of public policy in 1980, a community medicine MS in 1982, an MA of political science in 1983 and finished with a PhD in political science in 1985. From 1985 to 2000 she ran Raymond Consulting and worked a few years in the telecommunications industry.

At that same time, Eric Hanushek was Professor of Economics and Political Science at Rochester University. The former Air Force cadet had earned a doctorate of Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968. It was Hanushek’s 1981 paper “Throwing Money at Schools” that put him on the watch list of right leaning philanthropies and institutions. In his notice making missive he stated,

“The conventional wisdom about public schools is that they face serious problems in terms of performance and that improving schools requires additional money. However, the available evidence suggests that there is no relationship between expenditures and the achievement of students and that such traditional remedies as reducing class sizes or hiring better trained teachers are unlikely to improve matters.”

In a 1981 Ed Week commentary referencing this paper, Hanushek points to SAT testing as the gold standard for judging school performance. In complete accordance with the old aphorism, “to a man with a hammer all problems look like a nail,” Hanushek brags, “Advanced statistical techniques are employed to disentangle the influences on achievement of schools and teachers from those of other factors such as family backgrounds and student abilities.”

A 1999 announcement from Rochester University said, “The Center for Research on Education Outcomes has been established at the University of Rochester’s Wallis Institute of Political Economy…” In the same posting, it was revealed, “Two foundations have committed $1.25 million to fund a three-and one-half year initiative to address the current shortage of evaluation research in education policy matters.” CREDO never made the name of the two foundations public, but a knowledgeable academic says one of them was the Walton Family Foundation.

The announcement listed two employees of the new center, Eric Hanushek and Margaret Raymond. Hanushek was listed first but Raymond was cited as the founding Director.

CREDO moved from the University of Rochester to Stanford University’s Hoover Institute in July, 2000 which made networking in conservative circles much easier.  In CREDO’s 2nd year report, they stated that moving to the Hoover Institute brought them many new contacts including the New Schools Venture Fund, the District of Columbia Charter School Board, the Teacher Union Reform Network and others.

A description of the Hoover Institute from Source Watch says,

“The Hoover Institution is influential in the American conservative and libertarian movements, and the Institution has long been a place of scholarship for high profile conservatives with government experience. A number of fellows have connections to or positions in the Bush administration, and other Republican administrations. … Other fellows of the Institution include such high profile conservatives as Condoleezza Rice, George Shultz, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, and Edwin Meese.”

Macke Raymond’s 2015 Hoover Institute Fellow’s profile says in part, “In partnership with the Walton Family Foundation and Pearson Learning Systems, Raymond is leading a national study of the effectiveness of public charter schools.” 

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post has pointed out that Eric Hanushek

“… a Hoover economist was a pioneer in creating systems that evaluate teachers by student standardized tests, a method that many assessment experts say should not be used in the high-stakes ways that school reformers are using them. He is often cited in CREDO studies as a ‘principal investigator.”’

Discredited and Biased

The Forbes commentator, Peter Greene, wrote about Eric Hanushek for his popular blog Curmudgucation:

“Now when Hanushek says that teachers make a huge difference, he is obliquely referencing his own crazy-pants assertion that having a good first grade teacher will make you almost a million bucks richer over your lifetime (you can also find the same baloney being sliced by Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff). Both researchers demonstrate their complete lack of understanding of the difference between correlation and causation.”

Greene also shares the following graphic that clearly highlights the difference between correlation and causation.

Divorce caused by Margarine consumption

Does Margarine Consumption Cause Divorce?

Business writer Andrea Gabor states that CREDO studies which compare charter schools with public schools start with two key assumptions “A) That standardized-test scores are an adequate measure of school quality and B) that creaming in charter schools does not exist.”

With regards to assumption ‘A’, using standardized testing for this purpose has been shown faulty from studies dating back to the eugenics movement (which originated high stakes standardized testing) to recent works debunking them for mistaking correlation versus causation and for not being able to compensate for the problem of error.

As for assumption B, there is no doubt that most charter schools push out and avoid students that are classified as special education, language learners or discipline problems. The data proving that is in state enrollment reports wherever charter schools exist.

In the new research labled “Cities Studies Project”, the Technical Appendix says the reports uses growth models but doesn’t share which of the many growth models it uses. It also says,

“In our study, scores for all these separate tests are transformed to a common scale. All test scores have been converted to standardized scores to fit a ‘bell curve’, in order to allow for year-to-year computations of growth.”

The Education Growth Model Handbook lists seven types of growth models in general use and their requirements. Most growth models require vertical scales but that does not seem possible with CREDO’s use of multiple tests many of which are not vertically scaled. Their mathematical conversions add another locus of error. Growth models have proven to be unstable and have never been satisfactorily validated.

The research methodology used in the “Cities Studies Project” appears to be the same as that used in CREDO’s 2015 Urban Charter School Study Report on 41 Regions.” A particularly troubling practice employed then and apparently still being used is the “virtual twin” method which creates a pro-charter school bias.

Professor Andrew Maul of UC Santa-Barbara reviewed the 2015 study for the National Education Policy Center. He noted the CREDO method does not compare charter school performance to actual public schools; rather it creates mathematical simulations. Maul described the “virtual twin” schema employed to develop a “virtual control record.” He reports,

“CREDO’s approach to this estimate is the construction of a ‘Virtual Control Record’ (VCR) for each student in a charter school, obtained by averaging together up to seven students in “feeder” public schools (i.e., those schools whose students transfer to charters) with the same gender, ethnicity, English proficiency status, eligibility for subsidized meals, special education status, grade level, and a similar score from a prior year’s standardized test (within a tenth of a standard deviation) as the specified charter student.”

Maul adds, “The study’s “virtual twin” technique is insufficiently documented, and it remains unclear and puzzling why the researchers use this approach rather than the more accepted approach of propensity score matching.”

The stipulation that “virtual twins” come from “feeder schools” biases the study in favor of charter schools. Andrea Gabor explained that in practice, CREDO used less than five students transferring to a charter school as the cutoff for using a particular public school’s data. She reports that the, “study excludes public schools that do NOT send students to charters, thus introducing a bias against the best urban public schools, especially small public schools that may send few, if any, students to charters.” Gabor gave the example of two well regarded New York title-1 schools, Global Technology Preparatory and West Side Collaborative which were excluded. They are noted for scoring well on testing, but did not meet the transfer criteria yet easily matched the required demographics.

The CREDO study is singularly focused on test results as determinate of school quality and ignores other advantages of public schools. It is a well known fact that many charter school systems like IDEA and Success Academy spend an inordinate amount of time teaching to and preparing for standardized tests. To these criticisms, Professor Mark Weber of Rutgers University adds a few more observations:

“Cities Studies Project” Technical Appendix states,

“To assist the reader in interpreting the meaning of effect sizes, we include an estimate of the average number of days of learning required to achieve a particular effect size. This estimate was calculated by Dr. Eric Hanushek and Dr. Margaret Raymond based on the latest (2017) 4th and 8th grade test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).”

Converstion to Days of Learning

The CREDO Days of Learning Conversion Table from “Cities Studies Project”

This metric seems to have been created with next to nothing validating it. Mark Webber quoted the psychometrician Michael T. Kane,

“The 2015 study (p. 5) cites a paper published in Education Next (Hanushek, Peterson & Woessmann, 2012) that asserts: “On most measures of student performance, student growth is typically about 1 full std. dev. on standardized tests between 4th and 8th grade, or about 25 percent of a std. dev. from one grade to the next.” (p. 3-4) No citation, however, is given to back up this claim: it is simply stated as a received truth.”

CREDO tells us that Hanushek and Raymond did something with NAEP data from 2017 but still do not offer any justification for the conversion. It appears at best to be sloppy science and the headlines engendered from it are nothing short of propaganda.

Using CREDO Claims to Sell Privatizing Public Schools

Neerav Kingsland the Managing Partner of the City Fund posted to his Blog last July when the first results from “Cities Studies Project” arrived explaining,

“Last year, Arnold Ventures commissioned CREDO (out of Stanford University) to study the effects of charter, innovation, and traditional schools in select cities across the country.”

“Most of the cities included in the study were cities where Arnold Ventures (and now The City Fund) have partnered with local leaders to expand high-quality schools.”

“Camden’s city level effects are large.”

“In just two years, scores are up ~.15 standard deviations in math and ~.05 standard deviations in reading (compared to similar schools across the state).”

The reality is those changes are very small. Noise in the data is a better explanation than awesome charter schools for these tiny differences.

In Indianapolis, the CEO of The Mind Trust, Brandon Brown, just wrote an Indy Star opinion piece stating,

“A 2019 study from Stanford University found that students who attend Innovation Network Schools achieve the equivalent of 53 additional days of learning in English and 89 additional days of learning in math each year when compared to their traditional public school peers. This equates to several years of additional learning during the span of a K-12 academic career, and the gains are largest for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.”

In the billionaire financed effort to privatize public education, CREDO has become their source for data proving things like smaller class sizes and teacher professionalism are not important. The “Cities Studies Project” commissioned by an organization intent on privatizing public schools through promoting the portfolio management scheme – The City Fund – is biased toward the privatization agenda. Rather than shining the light of scholarly work on education policy, it obscures reality with obfuscation.

Responding to the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews

5 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/5/2020

It came as a surprise when Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews reached out to me. After indicating that he was writing a book, Mathew’s said that he had just come upon my pieceA Texas Sized Destroy Public Education IDEA.He flatteringly wrote, “… your analysis is impressive and I want to include some of it in my book.” He also sent an article and a book chapter asking for comments.

In the article about IDEA, I had written,

In 2016, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post rated IDEA charter high school the most challenging in the nation. Mathews rates schools by what he calls “the Challenge Index,” which takes the total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge tests given at a school each year and divides by the number of seniors who graduated in May or June. Charter schools that shed students without replacing them now own all of the top spots in this index; not deeply meaningful.”

Jay’s message to me was very respectful with a genuine feeling of interest in my opinion; however, we do have very different views. I will endeavor to address those differences honestly and respectfully.

The chapter he sent me is focused on his “Challenge Index” and its rationale. The article was a piece he did for his Washington Post column in November about a high school teacher who teaches AP English Language arts. He explained how that teacher came to appreciate the value of expanding AP access.

Some Personal Background

I grew up on a ranch in rural Idaho with a cowman for a father, a sheepherder for a grandfather and a school teacher for a mom. She studied teaching at Albion Normal School in the southern Idaho Mountains. Coincidentally, it is the same school attended by the force behind “A Nation at Risk,” Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell.

My mother often claimed that the key difference that made public education in America superior and more democratic than any other system in the world was that in America there was no high stakes testing.

In the 1960’s, before education standards and AP curricula there was an aphorism,

“American high school students are the laziest in the world. They seldom study and spend their time playing, socializing and competing in sports. Then they graduate from high school and over the summer a miracle occurs. They arrive at college to become the world’s leading scholars.”

After an engineering career in Silicon Valley as a researcher in the disc drive industry, I decided to become a teacher. During my fifteen years in the classroom, I taught advanced mathematics, conceptual physics, two flavors of AP physics and AP environmental science. In the end, I have concluded that my mother was right about high stakes testing and that the aphorism about American students captures an important reality.

Most surprisingly, I now believe that AP style college level classes in high school are bad pedagogy.

Mathews and Ultican

AP, IB or Cambridge Courses are Bad Pedagogy

This will probably be viewed as heresy by many of my fellow educators. It certainly would be by Will Robertson, the AP English teacher Jay wrote about in November. In 2005, Roberson’s Corbett High School near Portland, Oregon required that every student take at least seven AP classes. Robertson wrote a lengthy memo to the administration about why it was such a mistake. After three years, he realized that the students he feared would be defeated by the AP rigor were meeting the challenge and wrote another lengthy memo admitting his error.

I contend that the challenge Robertson’s students are meeting is not appropriate for their mental health and development.

A fundamental flaw in modern education reform is the push toward inappropriate curricular pacing. Kindergarten has become the new first grade where students who should be learning through play are sitting at desks doing math and language arts work sheets.

In their recent book, Let the Children Play, Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle write, “The global education race for ‘higher standards’ at lower financial costs have turned many schools to factories that try to produce standardized products efficiently on tight schedules.” Modern education reform is developmentally inappropriate. As Gloria Ladson-Billings, Distinguished Professor in Urban Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison states, “Anyone who fully understands child development knows that children’s ‘play’ is children’s ‘work.’”

This problem is infecting all levels of k-12 education. High school is not the appropriate level for college work. Young brains need to be protected from high stress during a period of rampant hormonal changes and emotional immaturity. Vicki Abeles, the director of the documentary film “Race to Nowhere”, describes in her book, Beyond Measure, the damage modern education reform is reeking on children and our culture.

When we start talking about challenging teenagers we need to make sure those challenges are appropriate for healthy development. Two quotes from Abeles’s book strongly imply that we have moved way past appropriate.

Adele opens chapter one, “Sicker, Not Smarter”, with a quote from Saint Louis University School of Medicine professor and pediatrician Stuart Slavin:

“My personal feeling is that we are conducting an enormous and unprecedented social experiment on an entire generation of American children, and the evidence of a negative impact on adolescent mental health is overwhelming. This is particularly disturbing given the fact that having mental health problems in the teen years predisposes to mental health problems in adulthood.” 

Abeles also shared a powerful anecdote from a student named Emily:

“Junior year is supposedly the most important in high school and my effort just wasn’t going to cut it, not if I wanted to go to a decent college, and without a degree from a top university I was not going to be successful…. I had failed. All those years of late nights studying for AP classes followed by 5 AM water polo or swim practices, what would they come to? Nothing, just like me. In a world where we must excel in not one but many areas, I had not done so in any. I would rather be dead than face the years to come, sure to be filled with constant reminders of my failure. In my mind, there was only one way out.”

Last year a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association documented the significantly rising suicide rates for ages 15-19 in America.

AP and other similar programs are a net negative for the holistic growth of students and undermines their positive social development in the crucial teenage years. Just like kindergarten is not developmentally appropriate as the new first grade, high school is not developmentally appropriate as the new college.

Unlike genuine college courses taught by gifted professionals operating in a sphere of respected autonomy, these high school level college courses employ the enfeebled teach to the test methodology. An AP syllabus must be approved by College Board and in practice that means using an approved syllabus provided by College Board as a template. Worse yet, the entire course is centered on preparing for the end of year AP exam which is supported by a large test preparation industry.

I have read your opinion that “teaching to the test” is not a problem but we just disagree. I think it leads to lifeless uninspired classrooms.

The “Challenge Index”

Since I view college level work in high school as a negative, I obviously disagree with a system that rates schools higher if more of their students participate in these programs. However, I will respond to some of the points you make in your “Challenge Index” book chapter.

You definitely deserve credit for trying to come up with a method for evaluating schools that eliminates the standardized testing advantages schools in wealthy communities have. When reading about what you learned studying Garfield High in East Los Angeles, I appreciated the egalitarian motivation for the approach you invented. You wrote,

“I decided one way to draw attention to the issue was to rank high schools in a unconventional way that illuminated the hidden strengths I had found at Garfield. Instead of measuring them by state, SAT or ACT test scores, I assessed them by their success in getting less than stellar students into the most challenging courses and tests.”

As I was entering the classroom, the disparity in AP course offerings between schools in wealthier neighborhoods and those in poor and minority communities was a hot topic of discussion. What we were not discussing is whether AP, IB and other courses of their ilk were appropriate. It was assumed they were. As a new teacher, I was an enthusiastic advocate for my AP classes at the 90%+ minority populated high school where I taught.

The following quotes from the “Challenge Index” chapter highlights a problem facing public education. You write that after introducing the “Challenge Index,”

“Newsweek asked me to do another national Challenge Index list in 2000 and again in 2003. In 2005 the magazine decided to make it an annual feature, calling it “America’s Best High Schools.” It assigned two researchers to help me collect information. In 2009 the list got more than 20 million page views.”

“Principals and superintendents at a few public schools, mostly in affluent parts of New England, told me they did not want to participate. They said their schools were not accurately represented by such a simple ratio, just one number. I explained to them why this was a useful tool for parents choosing schools and policy makers analyzing achievement. I said it might not appeal to everyone, but newspaper readers liked it, as they did other newsworthy ratios like Wall Street’s Dow Jones Average or baseball’s Earned Run Average.”

The arithmetic behind the “Challenge Index” is a simple ratio of the number of college level tests taken at a school divided by the number of graduating seniors. It is an easily understood metric but like standardized testing it does not meaningfully evaluate schools. Education is an extremely complex system and a simple explanation may be popular but damagingly misleading.

The over-representation of charter schools in the “Challenge Index” is an arithmetic issue. Charter schools typically do not replace students who leave. By their senior year, the graduating class is often only a third the size it was in freshman year. Public schools do not see that big decline in class size so the smaller denominator for charter schools misleadingly engenders large “Challenge Index” ratios.

The No Child Left Behind rules, the Race to the Top rules and your “Challenge Index” all try to evaluate schools with a simple metric, but education is so complex that these simple metrics are counter-productive.

For many decades, states have had agencies send teams to schools for more than a week to evaluate every aspect of the school and write detailed reports. Here in California that work is done by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). I have been involved in four WASC reviews. They were conducted by teams of administrators from around the state. WASC not only did a detailed evaluation of every aspect of the school but also worked collaboratively with the school to improve its roadmap for continuous improvement.

My bottom line is that simplified indexes run in popular news magazines may sell advertising but they are misleading and do damage. Many wonderful schools were erroneously deemed failures by No Child Left Behind testing. If education leaders had looked at the accrediting agency reports instead of just the simple standardized testing results, they would have never destroyed those schools operating mostly in poor minority neighborhoods. Likewise, your “Challenge Index” with its easy to understand ratio runs the risk of promoting unhealthy education practices.

Indianapolis: Home of America’s Second Most Privatized School System

27 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/27/2020

With the introduction of Innovation schools in 2015, Indianapolis Public Schools quickly became the second most privatized taxpayer supported school system in America. It has zoomed past Detroit and Washington DC in the privatization sweepstakes to only trail the poster child for disaster capitalism, New Orleans. The right wing billionaire funded organization, The Mind Trust, has played a major role in this outcome.

Brown and Money

The Mind Trust CEO Brandon Brown Enjoys Flood of Billionaire Dollars

Nations 2nd Most Privatized

How terms and principles are defined is crucial. For example, Stephanie Wang of Chalkbeat paraphrases The Mind Trust CEO, Brandon Brown as saying, “There has never been a civil rights movement that hasn’t been led by the people most directly affected by the work.” Brown often couches his work in terms of fighting for civil rights, but is stripping minority communities of their democratic right to a voice in the operation of neighborhood schools really fighting for civil rights?

Professor Noliwe Rooks labels the business of profiting from high levels of racial and economic segregation “segrenomics.” Professor Rooks is an accomplished woman of color who is director of American studies at Cornell University and she definitely would not see The Mind Trust as a civil rights organization.

Another term that needs a careful definition is public school. Network for Public Education Director Carol Burris provided a thoughtful and clear explanation of what constitutes a public school in an interview with the Busted Pencils pod cast. She said there are two aspects to qualifying as a public school: (1) The school must be publicly funded and (2) the school must be governed by an elected local entity such as a district board.

In September 2019, Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent, Aleesia Johnson, presented an updated facts and figures report. It showed 22,659 students in public schools with another 8,416 students in 20 Innovation schools and 1,562 students in state governed turnaround schools. By cross referencing the state list of Indianapolis charter schools with state charter school enrollment data, Indianapolis charter school enrollment was found to be 32,127 of which 2,340 were in schools designated innovation. In other words, of the 62,424 taxpayer supported students in Indianapolis only 36.3% were in schools controlled by local voters.

School Privatization Graphic

Number of Students in Various Indianapolis Taxpayer Funded Schools

In 2014, the Indiana state government responded to American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model legislation by creating innovation schools. David and Charles Koch, the main financial support behind the creation of ALEC, have a 50-year history of opposing public education. In a January news release, The Mind Trust explained, “Innovation Network Schools operate with full autonomy and are governed by independent nonprofit boards.” Like charter schools, innovation schools are governed by private boards independent of voter input. They no longer meet the definition for public schools.

An organization from Texas called Pastors for Children recently tweeted,

“If charter schools are public schools, then they should not have private boards.”

“Bring charters under local district control now.”

The same goes for innovations schools. There is no good reason that they are not under local district control but there is history.

In 1983, the Reagan era A Nation at Risk promoted the idea that public schools were failing by distorting data that showed the opposite. They touted reform based on business principles as the answer to this “failure.” In 1990, John Chubb’s and Terry Moe’s influential book stated that poor academic performance was “one of the prices Americans pay for choosing to exercise direct democratic control over their schools.” The billionaires Jon Arnold and Reed Hastings have taken this un-American and anti-democratic ideology to heart.

In 2018, Arnold and Hastings put up $100 million each to establish a new organization, The City Fund, dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school reform. Simply put, the portfolio model directs closing schools that score in the bottom 5% on standardized testing and reopening them as charter schools or innovation schools. This means that especially schools in poor and minority neighborhoods are at risk.

Paul Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education on the campus at the University of Washington, created the portfolio model as a path to privatizing public education.

Last year, The City Fund gave a three year $18 million grant to The Mind Trust. They claimed it was for “Operating support and support for expansion of high quality schools in Indianapolis, IN” which means advancing the portfolio model. A sure sign that an organization is promoting public school privatization is the ubiquitous claim that it is developing “high quality schools.”

Shockingly, the Indianapolis Public School district has a Portfolio Management page on their web site.

In 2018, The Mind Trust co-founder, David Harris, quit as CEO to become a Partner at The City Fund. He is still on The Mind Trust board where he serves alongside CBS Sunday Morning Anchor, Jane Pauley.

With Harris’s resignation, a new wave of TFA developed leaders took over.

The Billionaire Created Privatization Army

Mercedes Schneider writes in her book Chronicle of Echoes, “Wendy Kopp declared that she had a force of young, predominantly-Ivy League idealists for sale, and Big Money arrived on the scene to make the purchase.” Wendy Kopp was the founder of Teach For America (TFA) and the young idealists for sale were her temp teachers who had no intention of staying in the classroom. Schneider also shared that in 2011 the Walton Family Foundation donated $49.5 million to TFA. Furthermore, Schneider listed TFA corporate donors in the $100,000 to $999,000 category as:

“Anheuser-Busch, ATT, Bank of America, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Boeing, Cargill Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, Emerson, Entergy, ExxonMobil, Fedex, Fidelity Investment, GE, Marathon Oil, Monsanto, Peabody, Prudential, State Farm, Symantec, Travelers, Wells Fargo.”

She further pointed out that all of these big money donors are members of ALEC.

Since 2010, billionaires and corporations have continued making large investments in TFA. TFA’s latest IRS filing shows $235,973,769 in contributions for the fiscal year May 2017 to May 2018. The previous year’s grants totaled to $245,190,571. Additionally this so called non-profit now has a total asset value of $366,724,130 and the average yearly income of the top 10 earners at TFA is $325,134. Founder Wendy Kopp, listed as working 10-hours per week, was paid $136,879.

The TFA Indianapolis web page says The Mind Trust played a critical role in bringing TFA to Indianapolis “and one-third of its current staff are Teach For America alums including its CEO, Brandon Brown.” The local TFA Executive Director, Amar Patel, noted, “Nearly 20 percent of schools here in Indianapolis are led by TFA alumni.”

TFA teachers are completely unqualified. Prior to taking over a classroom, TFA teachers receive just five weeks of training. Their training is test centric and employs behaviorist principles. TFA corps members study Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion. He never formally studied or practiced education.

TFA corps members are typically in their early 20’s and have just completed a bachelors degree – likely in a field unrelated to what they will teach. For example, Brandon Brown taught English the fall after he earned a Bachelor’s in political science and psychology. Worst of all, TFA corps members thoroughly assimilate the neoliberal message of failing schools, inept principals and bad teachers.

Real professional educators provide proof of mastery of the course they will teach and spend a minimum of one-year in a post-graduate teacher training program.

Another organization recruited to Indianapolis by The Mind Trust is TNTP (formerly The New Teachers Project). The Mind Trust states, “TNTP’s Indianapolis Teaching Fellows program has supported 375+ Indianapolis teachers since 2007, several of whom have been school or district teachers of the year.” TNTP was created at TFA in 1997 by Wendy Kopp and Michelle Rhee. It was designed to be an alternative route to teacher certification and professional development.

Before the billionaire driven push to privatize public education, a “non-profit” company like TNTP would have gotten no consideration for training teachers because they were unqualified. If policy makers in New York wanted to create and alternative teacher certification path, they would have turned to an established institution like Columbia University’s Teachers College to create and manage the program. They would not have turned to a private non-profit with no track record and little experience on staff.

An April 10, 2019 press release from The Mind Trust states:

“Today, the Indiana State Board of Education approved Relay Graduate School of Education … to prepare aspiring teachers for Indiana certification through its Teaching Residency program in Indianapolis. … The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit, has raised an initial $3.5 million to support the expansion of Relay Graduate School of Education to Indiana and the launch of the Relay Teaching Residency program in Indianapolis.”

The title of the post Relay Graduate School: a Slick ‘MarketWorld’ Education Fraudsuccinctly describes this new billionaire funded scheme to further de-professionalize teaching in America. Mercedes Schneider looked at Relay in March (2018) and began her post, “Relay Graduate School of Education (RGSE) is a corporate reform entity whose ‘deans’ need not possess the qualifications that deans of legitimate graduate schools possess (i.e., Ph.D.s; established professional careers in education, including publication in blind-review journals).”

Indianapolis TFA described their relationship the $15 billion Lilly Foundation started by the big-pharma founder Eli Lilly in 1937 and their relationship with Relay Graduate School:

“An instrumental player in bringing Teach For America to Indianapolis, the foundation continues to works closely with TFA to support the recruitment of a diverse pipeline of teachers for Indianapolis students.”

“Corps members new to teaching will have the opportunity to earn their teaching certification through a master’s degree at Relay Graduate School of Education, our graduate school partner. Most corps members will be able to qualify for AmeriCorps funding that covers the full cost of tuition.”

“The program culminates with a cash award of up to $2,500 for fellows to pursue their new solution.”

The Mind Trust reported on working with the Fairbanks Foundation to advance Relay Graduate School:

“The Mind Trust … is now accepting applications for the fourth cohort of Indianapolis school leaders to participate in Relay Graduate School of Education’s National Principals Academy Fellowship (NPAF), ….”

The Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation has awarded The Mind Trust a $990,000 grant to help sponsor Indianapolis school leader participation for the next three years, bringing the Foundation’s total investment in the program to $1,756,000.”

With the infusion of billionaire money, The Mind Trust is not only able to offer training stipends for teachers to attend these “reform” institutes, it can now pay people to spend a year or even two to develop new innovation school plans. This year, they proposed 10 new innovation schools. CEO Brandon Brown observed,

“With the creation of the state law, we were now positioned to do the work that The Mind Trust has been wanting to do for years, working collaboratively with the district to provide great leaders with high autonomies to create great schools. Shortly after, we created the fellowship program to provide school leaders the planning time they needed. It wasn’t clear that IPS had the resources internally to do this work on their own, and we were excited to collaborate with them.”

Besides spending liberally to push school privatization efforts within the education community, The Mind Trust is also paying community members to promote their privatization ideology. Chalkbeat reported on the new parent advocacy fellowships stating, “The fellowship comes with an estimated salary of $75,000 to $90,000 per year.”

Final Observations

Brandon Brown cites a recent study by Stanford’s CREDO group to justify privatizing schools. In an IndyStar op-ed, Brown stated, “A 2019 study from Stanford University found that students who attend Innovation Network Schools achieve the equivalent of 53 additional days of learning in English and 89 additional days of learning in math each year when compared to their traditional public school peers.”

The study referred to here is the CREDO Cities Studies Project in which CREDO applied an undisclosed growth model to Indiana testing data. CREDO is the only scholarly organization that gives any credence to the days of learning metric. Although the study comes from a purportedly scholarly institution, it has never been submitted for peer review. The use of growth models have never been proven reliable and CREDO is known to have received much of its funding from school privatization entities. Somehow, CREDO is able to interpret 0.05 standard deviation differences in a noisy study as equating to three months of learning. It’s hogwash.

Why are billionaires spending so much to undermine professionalism in public education? It is probably not altruism. More likely, they want to reduce the biggest cost associated with education; teacher’s salaries. In the antebellum south, plantation owners preached anti-tax ideology because they owned the most and paid the most. Today’s billionaires aren’t much different. Most of them won’t put their children in public schools and really don’t value high quality public education. It seems the big motivation is to reduce tax burdens and simultaneously create new education industries.

Federal Charter Schools Program a Fountain of Corruption and Disruption

19 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/19/2020

Last year, the Network for Public Education (NPE) published two investigations of the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). The first one called Asleep at the Wheel came in March. In it they made several claims including that hundreds of millions of dollars had gone to schools that never opened or were shut down. The authors, Carol Burris and Jeff Bryant, stated, “Therefore, we recommend that Congress end funding for new charter grants coming from CSP.” Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, harshly criticized the report to Congress saying, “It makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor.”  In response, NPE redoubled efforts and in December published Still Asleep at the Wheel where they documented that their conservative claims in the first report under-reported the extent of negligence associated with the CSP.

DeVos Graphic

US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

The Charter Schools Program

After Walter Mondale’s crushing defeat in 1984, a group of mostly southern Democrats including Bill Clinton founded the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). According to a 1997 article in the New Republic,

“… [T]he DLC’s mission was to wrest the Democratic Party away from its left-wing establishment—particularly minority interest groups and labor unions—in order to transform it into a party that championed middle-class values. The old Democrats called for minimum wage increases, antipoverty programs, protectionism, and school busing; the DLC’s self-described new Democrats sought balanced budgets, welfare reform, free trade agreements, and charter schools.”

In his book Kochland, Christopher Leonard wrote, “If the new era was defined by any term, it was still the soupy and ambiguous term of ‘neoliberalism,’ which combined the machinery of a welfare state with deregulatory efforts for the select few special interest groups that had the money and lobbying power to make their case heard in Washington, DC.”

The Charter Schools Program was established in Title 10 of the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965. The purposes cited were to provide support for the planning, program design, and initial implementation of charter schools. The intent stated was to enhance parent and student choices among public schools.  The business men and politicians writing the law believed these choices and standards would result in higher student achievement. In his paper “Schooling the State: ESEA and the Evolution of the U.S. Department of Education,” Patrick McGuinn explained,

“In the 1994 ESEA reauthorization, President Clinton—a former “education governor” and ‘New Democrat’— secured changes that would push states to increase performance reporting and embrace educational accountability. Under this new ESEA and a companion piece of legislation, Goals 2000, states were required to establish academic standards in each grade and create tests to assess whether students had mastered the standards. The tests were to be administered to all poor children at least once in grades three through five, six through nine, and ten through twelve.”

In “Still Asleep,” Burris recites,

“Begun with just $6 million in 1995, Congressional appropriations for the CSP jumped to $190 million by 2001 and nearly $219 million in 2004. In 2019, the federal Charter Schools Program was funded with $440 million in taxpayer dollars.”

The charter school theory was that these privately operated schools without interference from state education departments and local school districts would unleash dramatic innovation and improvement. In response to “Asleep,” DeVos wrote Representative Grijalva stating, “Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes has shown that charter school students outperform their peers in traditional public schools.” However, her Education department’s 2019 study concluded that charter schools do not get better academic results than public schools.

When Bill Clinton first pushed charter school legislation, it was promoted as an experiment. The experiment is now 25-years old. This new class of privatized schools has come with many unintended consequences. They have driven up education costs through the inefficiencies associated with running dual systems; they have undermined teacher professionalism; they have weakened one of the great pillars of democracy in America and they have diminished the role of schools as a unifying historical entity in neighborhoods. Unfortunately, they have not unleashed dramatic innovation and improvement; just disruption.

Asleep at the Wheel

The March 2019 paper “Asleep at the Wheel,” states in the executive summary,

“The federal outlays we examined are not modest expenditures amounting to little more than rounding errors. In its 2015 analysis, CSP stated that since its inception in 1994, the program had provided $3.3 billion to fund the startup, replication, and expansion of charter schools, creating 40 percent of operational public charter schools in the nation. We estimate that program funding has grown to well over $4 billion. That could bring the total of the potential waste to around $1billion.

“The waste of public dollars on closed charter schools is not the only concern. Of the grant recipients that manage to stay open, we uncovered extensive evidence that raises serious questions as to whether or not these schools are truly ‘high quality,’ meeting the CSP goal of providing equitable access for disadvantaged students.

“Through detailed examination of CSP’s application process, and by comparing claims made by charter grant applicants to information on state databases and school websites, we found numerous examples of federal tax dollars being misspent due to an inattentive process that routinely accepts applicants’ claims without scrutiny.”

“The CSP’s own analysis from 2006-2014 of its direct and state pass through funded programs found that nearly one out of three awardees were not currently in operation by the end of 2015.”

On April 10, 2019, Secretary of Education DeVos testified before the House Committee on Education and Labor where she was repeatedly queried about different claims made in “Asleep at the Wheel.” When Wisconsin Congressman Pocan asked about the more than $200 million grant to IDEA Charter Schools and their plan to lease a private jet for 6-years at $2 million per year, DeVos deflected and never answered the question but she did say, “The report that you referenced has been totally debunked as propaganda.” That was a lie. It still has not been totally debunked.

In a written reply to follow up questions by the committee DeVos stated,

“Quite simply, the Network for Public Education is anti-reform, anti-charter and anti-choice; accordingly, its report represents nothing more than a political attack.”

“Unfortunately, several of your colleagues appear to have embraced this report without a careful examination of it. This rush to judgment risks fracturing the longstanding bipartisan support for public charter schools, which so many American families have come to rely upon as the only alternative to failing public schools.”

 “What isn’t debatable is that the Network for Public Education had a purpose when it published its report: to smear public charter schools, the CSP program and its grantees under the guise of research. It makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor.”

“Since 2001, of the 5,265 charter schools that have received funding through a State entity or directly from the Department, 634 did not open and are unlikely to open in the future. As the developers of these schools received only CSP “planning” funds, which serve the specific purpose of enabling a charter school developer to explore the feasibility of opening a new charter school, the average award size for these schools was significantly lower than the average award size for CSP “implementation” grants and subgrants. In total, the funds awarded comprise less than 3.5 percent of the more than $2 billion in total awards made to public charter schools during the same period.”

The President of NPE, Diane Ravitch, has a long history of championing standards based education reform informed by standardized testing. It was only after reviewing years of data around 2007 that she concluded it was not working. She certainly never gave up on the idea of improving public education. Her criticism of charter schools has been the lack of oversight, profiteering and fraud that have plagued the industry.

As far as school “choice” is concerned. In her book School Choice, educator and NPE supporter Mercedes Schneider quoted a 2012 Educational Research Alliance study noting, “The combined pressure to enroll a greater number of students and raise test scores to meet state targets seems to have created perverse incentives, encouraging the practice of screening and selecting students.” Schneider observed, “[Milton] Friedman’s idea of the market as a disinterested player in the game of choice simply is not consistent with practice.”

Ironically, Secretary DeVos has a well known anti-public education bias. Christina Rizga wrote about the DeVoses’ philanthropy for Mother Jones stating,

“… [T]here’s the DeVoses’ long support of vouchers for private, religious schools; conservative Christian groups like the Foundation for Traditional Values, which has pushed to soften the separation of church and state; and organizations like Michigan’s Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which has championed the privatization of the education system.”

DeVos asserting NPE “makes sweeping conclusions without supporting data or methodological rigor” is a baseless claim. One of the reasons no one has been able to convincingly refute the conclusions in either “Asleep” or “Still Asleep” is because of the quality of the supporting data used and the careful rigor applied.

DeVos indicated that the spending on “ghost charters” [charters that never opened] was not nearly as high as stated. In a Washington Post article, Burris used DeVos’s data to defend the paper. DeVos stated, “In total, the funds awarded comprise less than 3.5 percent of the more than $2 billion in total awards made to public charter schools during the same period.” Burris pointed out,

“The total for grants in the 2015 data set we used for our report is $1,794,548,157. Of that amount, 3.5 percent is $62,809,185. Our report said $45.5 million was wasted on ghost schools. Again, it appears as if we did not catch all of the waste.”

Burris also noted that of the 5,265 grantee schools DeVos cited only 3,138 were still in existence according to a department contracted WestEd presentation. That means 2,127 schools either never opened or were closed; a rate of 40.4% of all charters that were funded from active grants during those years. In “Still Asleep,” the percentage of failed charter schools over the same period was stated as 37%.

In other words, using DeVos’s numbers and official reports contracted by the US Department of Education for checking; in all cases the NPE numbers proved to be conservative and accurate.

Conclusion

Both “Asleep” and “Still Asleep” are well researched fair important studies illuminating the profound corruption in the federal Charter School Program. “Still Asleep” notes, “Hundreds of millions of dollars sent to states with few rules of the road have resulted in the massive waste of federal tax dollars, as grants were doled out to individuals who had no credentials or experience to open up a new school.”

“Asleep” and “Still Asleep” are forty and forty-eight pages in length respectively. The data presented and the illustrative charter school antidotes are meticulously documented. These two documents reveal a corrupt raid on taxpayer money which is negatively impacting K-12 education in America. The “Still Asleep” recommendations seem like common sense. They urge:

“We therefore strongly recommend that Congress end appropriations for new charter school grants in the upcoming budget and continue funding only for obligated amounts only to legitimate projects. Once those grants have been closed, we recommend that the CSP be ended and that charter schools continue to receive federal support only through other federal funding streams such as Title I and IDEA. Students, not charter school entrepreneurs, should benefit from federal funds.

“We also recommend thorough audits by Congress of previous grant awards, the establishment of regulations to ensure grant awards still under term are being responsibly carried out and that misspent money is returned to the federal coffers.”

 

Faulty Billionaire Financed Education “Study”

9 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/9/2020

This January, the new organization Brightbeam and its CEO Chris Stewart published The Secret Shame: How America’s Most Progressive Cities Betray Their Commitment to Educational Opportunity for All.” The name clearly indicates the paper’s political leanings and the underlying data is suspicious. The paper is a polemic rather than a study. Like many “reports” coming from what Diane Ravitch labels the “disrupter” community, this 33-page document has not been submitted for peer-review. Never-the-less, it has been widely disseminated as legitimate research to the Brightbeam network including Education Post. It has also gone to hard right media like The Blaze and found its way into mainstream media like NBC and the Boston Herald.

About Brightbeam

Last year, Brightbeam was created to be the umbrella organization for the Education Post and other digital media sites. Brightbeam is the new operating name for the Results in Education Foundation (RIEF) which is the legal moniker for the obscure billionaire financed organization providing the operating funds for this new digital publishing group. Brightbeam also controls the cyber platforms, Citizen Education and Project Forever Free and it has influence over at least fourteen local internet publications in various American cities.

The billionaires financing Brightbeam include Michael Bloomberg, Alice Walton, Jim Walton, Laurene Jobs Powell and Mark Zuckerberg.

Chris Stewart who was named CEO of Brightbeam has been on the payroll at RIEF since its founding in 2014. The last available tax record puts his 2017 salary at $226,417.

The new “report” says, “Brightbeam is a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and a brighter future for every child.” A more apt description would be “a billionaire created organization dedicated to privatizing public schools and undermining teacher professionalism.”

Evaluating the “Study”

In his introduction to the paper, Stewart claims, “Students in America’s most progressive cities face greater racial inequity in achievement and graduation rates than students living in the nation’s most conservative cities.” Concerning the purportedly extra-large racial achievement gaps in “progressive cities” the paper states, “Of all the factors we looked at, progressivism is the greatest predictor.”

The authors’ explanation of their approach is skimpy. They write,

“To determine a rationale for what is a progressive city and what is a conservative city we relied on criteria developed independently by political scientists Chris Tausanovitch and Christopher Warshaw, who pooled data from seven large surveys of U.S. public opinion to rank the nation’s biggest cities in terms of conservatism. We then selected the 12 most conservative cities and the 12 least conservative cities from that list to establish the conservative and progressive cities that make up the base of this report.”

With those cities in mind, we pulled the publicly available school achievement and graduation data from public school districts in each of those cities. When we analyzed the achievement gaps between black and white students and the gaps between Latino and white students we found larger gaps than readers might expect from cities where progressive residents presumably hold the most political, administrative and cultural power.

Tausanovitch’s and Warshaw’s paper seems like a reasonable way to identify conservative and progressive leanings in cities. It is a five year old study and presumably attitudes have not gone through a sea change in that amount of time. However, the premise that the political ideology between those cities would have a dramatic effect on the achievement of minority students seems unlikely.

More troubling than the premise is the contention that standardized testing conducted using different testing regimes in 24 locations makes a valid comparison. Standardized testing provides data of questionable value even when everyone is taking the same test, but trying to align data from multiple testing types is fraught with error. The study provides almost no information about the data and methodology used.

On page nine, the study claims that the Black-White mathematics proficiency gap is 41.3% in progressive cities and 26.2% in conservative cities. This claim was checked by using the 2019 Nation Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) 8th grade math data for the 18 cities on the Tausnovich/Warshaw list that also had 2019 NAEP data. The average scale scores were subtracted and the difference was divided by the white student average scale score. The largest gap found was 21% in Washington DC. Even the 26.2% gap Brightbeam reported in conservative cities is a puzzle and the 41.3% number for progressive cities appears to be ludicrous.

Grade 8 Math Gap

Education Achievement Gaps Based on NAEP Data

San Francisco and Washington DC were rated respectively as number 1 and number 2 most progressive cities in the United States. The Brightbeam report states that in mathematics the Black-White achievement gap is 58% in San Francisco and 62% in Washington DC. Washington DC had the highest gap measured with NAEP data at 21%, however, that is almost 3 times less that the Brightbeam reported 62% claim.

San Francisco does not have easily attainable NAEP testing data, so the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) data for 2019 was used to check the gap claim. To calculate achievement gap measurements, percentages of all tested students who met or exceeded standards were summed for each ethnicity. Then a simple subtraction between the results of the various ethnic groups provided an achievement percentage difference. Using this method the Black-White achievement gap for mathematics was 32.7%. Outrageously high, but hardly the 58% gap that Brightbeam asserted.

While researching the achievement gaps in San Francisco, a fascinating correlation was discovered. The more an ethnic group utilized charter schools the worse their group’s education achievement.

San Francisco Charter Enrollment Chart

Negative Correlation for Academic Achievement in Charter Schools

The Brightbeam report states, “…three of the 12 conservative cities — Virginia Beach, Anaheim, and Fort Worth — have effectively closed the gap in at least one of the academic categories we looked at, literally achieving a gap of zero or one.” To test this claim, the same methodology used for San Francisco was applied to Anaheim using 2019 CAASPP data for both Black-White and Hispanic-White achievement gaps in math and English language arts. The results are in the Table 1.

Table 1: Anaheim Education Achievement Gaps

Compared

ELA Gap Math Gap
Black – White 14.6% 10.5%
Hispanic-White 22.2% 16.0%

Clearly, the Education Achievement Gaps are much more significant than the zero or one point gaps which Brightbeam declares.

A 2018 Brookings Institute study of education achievement gaps in America said that gaps were still too large between demographic groups but that they have been steadily improving. On the other hand, they noted, “In contrast to the improvement in racial and ethnic achievement gaps, however, achievement gaps based on students’ eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch—our best proxy for poverty in the NAEP data—do not show much progress.”

Another Brightbeam contention involves graduation rates. It praises the rates in Oklahoma City noting, “The Oklahoma City public school district only graduates 73% of its high school students in four years but the graduation rate is 10 percentage points higher for black students than for white students and 5 percentage points higher for Latino students than for whites.”

While this statement is true, it implies that the cause for the relative higher success rate for Black and Hispanic students in Oklahoma City is the conservative nature of the city. Brightbeam ignores the huge five-year demographic change among the graduates and the 18.5% drop in the white graduation rate. That is not a success to be celebrated.

Table 2: Graduation Rates in Oklahoma City

Ethnicity 2014 2018
Graduation Rate Demographic Mix Graduation Rate Demographic Mix
Black 75.8% 9.7% 77.8% 25.9%
Hispanic 77.6% 11.8% 75.9% 52.7%
White 84.7% 55.1% 66.3% 12.5%

Fraudulent digital credit recovery has rendered high school graduation rates a meaningless parameter for measuring school merit. America’s high school graduation rates peaked at about 77% in 1970 and then drifted down for almost four decades to 69% in 2007. By 2012 – after the education technology industry became involved with providing high school credits – 81% of the freshman cohort in America graduated on time. Bizarrely, students have been allowed to finish semester long classes in less than a week and obvious cheating is being ignored.

Selling Out the Black Community

The Brightbeam report is targeting the black community with its anti-public schools and anti-progressive message. Their report concludes, “All of us have an outstanding debt to our children. But, to return to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., America, and most especially these progressive cities, has given our black and brown children a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

Keith Benson, Ed. D, is an amazing educator, thinker and leader in Camden, New Jersey. Keith is currently head of the Camden Education Association and has spent 14 years in the Camden classrooms. He is also active in and been a leader of the Camden branch of the NAACP. Last year Keith published “Seeing No Evil, “For the Children”:Identifying the Black education reform establishment’s purposeful blind spots in advocating for expansion of corporate education reforms.” This insightful paper addresses the kind of destructive leadership provided by billionaire funded Black led organizations like Brightbeam. Benson wrote:

“…in decades before where education reform, namely school choice was largely a fringe issue championed by anti-union, ideological white conservatives, today’s education reform movement gained momentum as pro-reform white benefactors expanded their public relations campaign to include Black and Latino ‘leaders’ to accomplish the same goal of collapsing urban public schools and teacher unions.”

“Michael Reagan, in ‘Think of the Children’ takes the ‘for the children’ argument to task calling it ‘pure BS…obvious political BS that has been used by politicians of both major parties’ and by people who lack ‘a legitimate or a reasonable argument.’ It is my contention here that the billionaire funded education reform movement and the Black Education Reform Establishment acting against urban public education for ‘the children,’ follows a similar rhetorical pattern.”

“In sum, through the education reform movement’s desire to close ‘failing schools’ and weaken teachers unions, it was experienced black teachers who bore the brunt of their contradictory advocacy which has only gained in strength and in allies that now includes the socially liberal, and persons of color. And while some critiques of urban public schools are accurate and warrant decisive systemic corrective action, it is simultaneously accurate that the single demographic most impacted by the policies advocated by today’s reformers are black educators, specifically, black women. Thus, while the Black Education Reform Establishment, as well as their wealthy white funders continuously champion dismantling urban teacher unions and closing “failing” schools in the name of benefiting the best hopes for urban black children, the Black Education Reform Establishment is targeting the same teachers most likely to help students of color achieve academically and usher them into post-secondary education.” (Emphasis added)

The billionaire sponsored paper from Chris Stewart and Brightbeam is not a study; not even close. It is propaganda. Mark Twain attributed Benjamin Disraeli with saying “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics.” The Brightbeam paper grossly violates all three of these categories of lies.

New Guides for Researchers, Bloggers and Parents

4 Apr

By Thomas Ultican 4/4/2020

Two new sources provide guidance for researching and decoding education jargon. At the beginning of the year, Teacher College Press published Diane Ravitch’s and Nancy Bailey’s EdSpeak and Doubletalk; A Glossary to Decipher Hypocrisy and Save Public Schooling. Near February’s completion, Garn Press published Mercedes Schneider’s new book, A Practical Guide To Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies , in which Schneider explains the investigative tools and techniques she uses plus provides examples from her own work.

A Practical Guide to Digital Research

Practical Guide

The fifth Network for Public Education (NPE) conference was held in Indianapolis, Indiana during October of 2018. I attended the session “Where did all this Money Come from: Locating and Following the Dark Money Trail” which was presented by Darcie Cimarusti, Andrea Gabor and Mercedes Schneider.

Cimarusti writes a blog called Mother Crusader which opens with the line “Never intended to become a parent advocate until I watched the great schools in my little town come under attack.” Darcie also works part time for NPE where she is half the two person staff and does research. Gabor is a Bloomberg chair of business journalism at Baruch College. She is a researcher who currently has ten books listed on Amazon. The MC of the session was the author of Guide to Digital Research, Mercedes Schneider.

The session had three presentations and a question and answer period. Darcie introduced the LittleSis data base and oligrapher. She shared her LittleSis map creation  “Louisiana 2011: Jeb Bush Calls and Billionaire Dollars Follow” and demonstrated its interactive functions. Andre presented “990S: Mining Nonprofit Tax Returns” where she used forms from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation to explain how to read them and where to find them. Finally, Mercedes used examples from New York to share how she researches campaign finance data.

In her new book, Mercedes reflects back on that NPE session and notes:

“In preparing for our presentation, Darcie asked me to send her the information I wished to include in my presentation slides.

“In that moment, I thought, ‘To do this justice, my slides would need to be the length of a book. And there’s no time for me to write a book before we present.

“So, the book was on my mind, particularly on one Saturday after the 2018 NPE.”

Schneider also shares, “Thus, the initial idea for this publication stemmed from my desire to equip parents and other community members to investigate the activities and spending of individuals and groups associated with market-based ed reform.”

This is Mercedes Schneider’s fourth book. She is a Louisiana native with secondary education degrees in English, German and guidance counseling.  Mercedes also has a PhD in applied statistics and research. Her three previous books are A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education, The Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools? and School Choice: The End of Public Education?

The educator, blogger and Forbes commentator Peter Greene when praising Mercedes work and her new book stated,

“… A Practical Guide To Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies is a thorough look at how to go cyberdigging, looking at both the techniques and the tools that can be used to uncover whatever truth is lurking out there. Because she provides plenty of examples and demonstrations of how these tools and techniques have worked for her, Schneider also gives us a sort of greatest hits collection.”

An example of one of those greatest hits Greene alludes to is when she reported in Chronicle of Echoes that Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers only taught full time for one semester. In the new book, she reveals how she found this information and that Weingarten’s legal name is Rhonda Weingarten.

Another hit was how she was able to discover who the anonymous donor to Education Post was. In 2014, the Washington Post introduced the new ed reform organization Education Post and stated its initial funding came from “the Broad Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Walton Family Foundation and an anonymous donor.” By reviewing the 2014 tax forms of the known donors, she was able to learn that they were actually giving their grants to the Results in Education Foundation which was financing Education Post. Once she found the name of the actual foundation she was able to reveal that Laurene Powell Jobs was the anonymous donor.

Schneider uses many episodes like the two mentioned above to demonstrate how to use different investigative tools and provides practical evidence for how she has applied them. The book is a wonderful extension to that 2018 NPE presentation.

EdSpeak and Doubletalk

EdSpeak

Thanks to the authors and the facilities at Teacher’s College, this is a living book. At the book’s cyber address, there is a link to a 58 page downloadable supplement as well as an updates tab.

Diane Ravitch explains in the introduction that she originally published EdSpeak in 2006, however she concludes:

“In the years since, a sea change has occurred in education and in the vocabulary used to describe plans, policies, pedagogy, and priorities. I realized that EdSpeak had become obsolete because times had changed.”

Diane says she found the perfect collaborator, Nancy Bailey, who is passionate about education and “knew more than I did about the language of the classroom, and who, as an experienced teacher, had firsthand experience of the impact of policy at the school and classroom level.”

Regents’ Professor of Education Emeritus at Arizona State University, David Berliner applauded the book. He writes,

“This glossary provides excellent and accurate definitions of the educational terms common to our times. Novice educators, school board members, and parents of school-age children can all use this book to decode the specialized vocabulary of this profession. In addition, the authors are unapologetically strong believers in our public schools, and it shows, making this book much more valuable. This is a glossary with an attitude, and because of that, I endorse it even more strongly.”

Concerning that last line, Ravitch states,

“This book is more than a glossary. It has a point of view – about public schools, about teachers and teaching, and particularly about the insidious efforts to undermine public schools and the teaching profession.”

The book is arranged into 18 chapters with each chapter arranged alphabetically. The online supplement has another 9 chapters.

How to use this reference book. One might have heard of a group called School Board Partners. A quick look at the books index would send you to page 78 in “Chapter 11: School Reform Groups and Terms, or ‘Money Talk.’” There you would find the description of School Board Partners:

“A group that pretends to be concerned about public schools and communities, but that encourages choice and privatization goals. School Board Partners claims that school boards are failing kids, and school board members need the help of outside mentors so they will make the right decisions to promote change and ‘buck the status quo.’ Their deceptive title is intended to confuse the public and to substitute themselves for existing state and national school board associations, which advocate on behalf of public schools. School Board Partners is currently funded by the same corporate reform groups that fund Education Cities, which include the Arnold, Dell, Gates, Kauffman, and Walton Family Foundations. Its real goal is to dissolve the school board’s connection to its own community and make it part of the privatization movement. Their current targeted cities include Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Stockton.”

In the book supplement there are definitions of terms like “restorative justice” and “backward mapping.” One of my favorite definitions, I found in the supplement was “research shows.” It is defined as,

“A phrase often used to evoke authority and end discussions even when research is equivocal. Parents and other non-educators must be wary of accepting the claim that ‘research shows’ a given outcome unless they receive a clear, impartial summary of the evidence.”

These two books bring light to the corrupt billionaire led privatization of America’s public schools and provide some tools that citizens can use to fight back. As an unapologetic advocate for elected school board led public schools, I hardily recommend these two new publications.