Tag Archives: McKinsey and Company

COVID Learning Loss Over-Hyped

15 Oct

By Thomas Ultican 10/15/2020

Warnings about learning losses due to the pandemic dominate education media; especially the media created and financed by billionaires. Based on a briefing by NWEA, McKinsey & Company claims “the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars) … solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses.” The Hoover Institute’s CREDO warns “the findings are chilling.”

One of my favorite education bloggers, Nancy Flanagan, says it well,

“Test-data estimates, alarmist language and shady research do nothing to help us with the most critical problem we have right now: keeping kids connected to their schoolwork and their teachers. However that’s offered and as imperfect as it may be.”

The popular blogger Peter Greene goes to the essence of the issue noting:

“So why has CREDO decided to throw its weight behind this baloney? Well, the testing industry is in a bit of a stir right now. The BS Test was canceled last spring, and nobody is very excited about bringing it back this year, either. So the testing industry and their reformy friends are trying to sell the notion that students and schools and teachers are adrift right now, and the only way anyone will know how students are doing is to break out the industry’s products and start generating some revenue data.”

The Billionaire Created Echo Chamber

The first COVID-slide bang on the bell came from the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) which sells MAP tests. Their computer delivered assessments of mathematics and English are given three times each school year; fall, winter and spring. The tests are not aligned to one class level so they are only partially aligned with state curricular standards.

Using data from approximately 350,000 students who took MAP tests in school years 2017-18 and 2018-19, analysts at NWEA created a paper that guessed at what the negative education effects from the school shut downs would be. The paper was published on May 27, 2020 by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University.

In the paper, NWEA stated,

“In this study, we produce a series of projections of COVID-19-related learning loss and its potential effect on test scores in the 2020-21 school year based on (a) estimates from prior literature and (b) analyses of typical summer learning patterns of five million students. Under these projections, students are likely to return in fall 2020 with approximately 63-68% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year and with 37-50% of the learning gains in math.”

“Specifically, we compared typical growth trajectories across a standard-length school year to learning projections that assume students are out of school for the last three months of the 2019-20 school year.”

In other words, NWEA used data from their computer generated testing which is noisy and only reliably measures student family economic status. They massaged this noisy data with debunked growth model algorithms which amplify noise. They assumed that no education at all occurred after March 2020 and correlated the results with disputed summer learning loss research to make their guesses.

Within four days, the famous consulting firm Mckinsey & Company produced its own report based on the NWEA paper. To the NWEA material they added some of their own economic predictions based largely on the work of Hoover Institute’s Eric Hanushek. He rose to prominence producing research showing “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.”

Mckinsey’s consultants focused much of their report on the damage that is sure to visit minority communities. If the virus is not contained and school is not full time in person, they claim students will lose an average of seven months of learning. And they further state, “But black students may fall behind by 10.3 months, Hispanic students by 9.2 months, and low-income students by more than a year.”

Hard to comprehend how a student falls behind more than a year in one year.

On June 5, 2020, the well known neoliberal publication The Wall Street Journal weighed in. Using the NWEA report, they claimed “remote learning” did not work.

By June 9, the billionaire funded education news outlet, The 74 Media, Inc., jumped in with Learning Losses Will Widen Already Dramatic Achievement Gaps Within Classrooms. Their claim says, “Solid data about the specific concepts each student does or doesn’t understand will be crucial.” They are saying testing is vital.

Another billionaire funded education focused publication, EdWeek, delivered Tips for Measuring and Responding to COVID-19 Learning Loss.”

Based on the NWEA data the education publishing company Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published “What Schools Can Do To Make Up For COVID-19 Learning Loss.Market Insider reported that the publishers of I-ready, Curriculum and Associates, says, “According to the findings, while ‘COVID slide’ can be significant, the effects differ markedly based on a range of variables, including age, race, and income level.”

All of these claims are based on one very faulty paper produced by NWEA in May and this is only a sample of what has been published.

The 74 Media, Inc. was founded by the former NBC and CNN news anchor Campbell Brown. It was funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation and others. Brown was erroneously convinced that teachers unions were protecting sexual predators and her husband Dan Senor, was on the board of Michelle Rhee’s anti-teachers union organization StudentsFirst. To this day, the publication adheres to its anti-teachers union foundation and promotes public school privatization.

The latest article in The 74 about the “COVID slide” along with a report from the Hoover Institute’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes  (CREDO) illustrates the billionaire financed media empire echo effect.

The 74 article says,

“Data released last week by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University provided a sobering estimate of the learning loss caused by school closures: Across 19 states, it ranged from a third of a year to a year in reading, and from three-fourths of a school year to 232 days in math. The report suggested frequent assessment going forward and said new approaches to teaching will be needed to ‘plot a recovery course.”’

This data is based on the much criticized CREDO days of learning metric. The report is saying that students can lose 232 days of math learning in 180 days. It is a specious argument; however their real agenda seems to be advocating “frequent assessment going forward.”

The 74 continues, For the report, CREDO worked with NWEA, a nonprofit assessment organization, to build on earlier estimates of the impact of school closures and the limitations of virtual instruction on student learning.”

CREDO added a projection of individual student future exam results to the NWEA data. It is not all that different than the exam score scandal in England this spring. The British government used projected computer-generated scores to replace exams that were canceled because of the COVID-19 and 40% of their students saw grades tumble. The bottom line is these projections are not that good.

The 74 reports: ‘“The takeaways from this analysis are upsetting, but needed,’ said Jim Cowen, executive director of the nonprofit Collaborative for Student Success, which advocates for high academic standards and holding schools accountable for student progress.” Cowen is also quoted recommending “those annual tests remain the best tool to inform accountability systems, school report cards, and continuous improvement efforts over the long-term.”

The bottom of the Collaborative for Student Success web page reveals, “The Collaborative for Student Success is a project of the New Venture Fund.” If unfamiliar with New Venture Fund, the article Organized to Disrupt details the massive billionaire pro-school privatization funding they receive.

Paige Kowalski, executive vice president of the Data Quality Campaign is quoted by The 74. The article states, “Kowalski stressed the importance of conducting assessments in the spring of 2021 and ‘getting at the heart of the data’ demonstrating why students might not participate, such as school buildings still being closed or parents opting out.”

The Data Quality Campaign lists as partners almost every organization in which billionaires working to privatize public education invest.

CREDO’s Conclusions

CREDO: “First, the findings are chilling – if .31 std roughly equals a full year of learning, then recovery of the 2019-2020 losses could take years.”

If the report was meaningful and learning could be measured in days the findings might be chilling. However the report is a gross use of arithmetic and learning cannot be measured in days. When days of learning related to standard deviation change is used in a study, the study is meaningless.

CREDO: “Second, the wide variation within states (and often within schools) means that conventional models of classroom-based instruction – a one-to-many, fixed pace approach — will not meet the needs of students. New approaches must be allowed to ensure high quality instruction is available in different settings, recognizing that different skills may be needed for the different channels.”

Here it appears CREDO is putting in a plug for competency based education (CBE) delivered by computers. CBE has a history of failure going back to the early 1970’s when it was known as mastery education or as teachers called it “sheets and seats.”

CREDO: “Third, the need for rigorous student-level learning assessments has never been higher.”

This is the apparent purpose of the paper; selling testing. People are starting to realize standardized testing is a complete fraud; a waste of time, resources and money. The only useful purpose ever for this kind of testing was as a fraudulent means to claim public schools were failing and must be privatized.

CREDO: “Fourth, the measures of average loss and the range around it immediately call into question the existing practice of letting communities plot their own path forward.”

Here CREDO has joined with the billionaire promoted call to end democracy and local control of schools. It is UN-American and disgusting. Even the Hoover Institute should be revolted. After all, they used to be champions of the American ideal.

This is not the first time America has faced a crisis and schooling was disrupted. There was the Spanish Flu, World War II, Segregation battles in the south, catastrophic storms, etc. Public school has been the one institution that continually rose to the occasion and taught the children.

Today, without much support from the federal government, public schools are once again stepping up to the challenge. Millions of cyber capable devices have been distributed, internet hotspots have been created and teachers are adapting to teaching on line. It is not wonderful and students are especially missing the social aspect associated with in person school, but it has value and students are learning.

The COVID-slide is about undermining public schools and is not a real phenomenon.

Reopening Schools and Debunking Demagoguery

21 Jun

By Thomas Ultican 6/21/2020

Education professionals throughout America are feverishly engaged in preparing for the first school year in the unprecedented Sars-Cov-2 era. Simultaneously, demagogues are pushing an often uninformed agenda.

For example, congressmen Jim Banks of Indiana and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin have introduced legislation to force all schools to open with in-person classes by September or else lose federal funding.

At the same time McKinsey and Company, the 74 and other school privatization friendly groups are loudly proclaiming that an education gap disaster will devastate Black and Brown children if we do not reopen brick and mortar schools immediately.

Education Leaders are Getting Ready for Fall

Across California and the whole of the US, parents, students, teachers and administrators are involved in intense school reopening discussions with less than two months to go in some cases. County Health Departments in both Los Angeles and San Diego have indicated that masks will be mandatory for all students and school personnel.

California’s second largest school district, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), and other districts plan in-person, online and “hybrid” learning options. However, SDUSD will need an infusion of federal dollars to operate for the full year. Board President, John Lee Evans, says without financial help they will be forced to revert to all online learning in the winter semester.

On June 18th, Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista, Calafornia held a virtual meeting for all stakeholders to lay out plans for starting school on August 3rd. It will include distance learning through August 28th and then implements students on campus in three phases. The initial transition to on campus learning limits the number of students to 10% of the student body at any one time. This would be ramped up to 20% and then eventually 50% of students would be allowed on campus at one time.

Districts are busy stockpiling surgical face masks and placing future orders. They are also ordering infrared thermometers, specialized cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.

This kind of reopening planning is happening everywhere in America as the new school year approaches.

Perspective of the Pros in the Field

With school teachers facing a new school year, five veteran educators from San Diego County were interviewed. When all school campuses closed on March 13, these teachers participated in distance learning for the final three months of the school year.

They all felt that because of the hold harmless policies their districts embraced, the three months were not representative of what is possible. These five educators all taught at the high school level and when their students realized grades could only go up many students completely disengaged.

There was a large difference in engagement correlated with age. The more mature students were more engaged.

Student performance was related to type and level of classes. An AP physics teacher saw 90% attendance and felt most of his students did okay but not as well as his previous in person classes. He commented that, “some students seem to need the social environment in the classroom and became lost.”

On the other hand, the special education teacher co-teaching entry level math and English classes saw attendances of 25%-30%. As soon as his students found out about hold harmless, only a minority of students who were trying to raise their grades participated.

The Spanish teacher with 170 students on her rolls reports that 150 checked in but only about 40 who were trying to raise their grade actually engaged.

An AP literature teacher said that all of his AP students stayed with him until the AP exam but his one English 12 class, with the few exceptions of those who needed to raise their grades, basically checked out on March 13.

The literature teacher also mentioned that he felt like 100% distance learning was undermining his in-person credibility. Students communicate about their teachers and pass on who are the good teachers, whose classes are fun and who is interesting. They give each other tips on how to best navigate a certain teacher’s class. In cyber space, student-to-student communication is limited and it is almost impossible for a teacher to express their personality; be humorous, subtly sarcastic or employ irony.

The English and AP psychology teacher said after shifting to distance learning she thought she had found “nirvana.” Working from home, no commuting, grading was easy and then she started teaching a summer school session with 45 students who are re-taking a class they failed. She says, “Now, I am dealing with a different student population, the workload is overwhelming and students fake being in class.” She misses face to face classes.

The oldest teacher interviewed said if the fall reopening safety precautions were not robust, he might quit. One teacher was concerned about the possibility of bringing the virus home to her 85-years-old mother and another expressed mild concern about the implications of having been asthmatic as a child. The two youngest teachers expressed no concern about risk to their own health.

All five teachers were in favor of some form of hybrid model this fall. That would entail meeting all of their students on a weekly basis and conducting most lessons using distance learning principles. They seemed quite confident that this could be a successful model given the circumstances. Learning would still be at a high level but the social engagement teenagers need for mental health would be undermined.

Echelon Insights at the Harvard Kennedy School recently queried parents about their concerns regarding education and Covid-19. Weekly surveys (April 27 – May 25) of 500 K-12 parents were conducted. It seems the San Diego teachers and American parents have aligned beliefs about the need for safety and the promise of strong learning.

Parent-surveyParent-survey Continue Learning

Parents are more concerned about safety than getting school opened as fast as possible and it appears they believe their child will continue learning.

Schools Must Reopen Immediately!!!

The headline on a June 1st article by McKinsey and Company screams, “COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime.” The sub-title says, “New evidence shows that the shutdowns caused by COVID-19 could exacerbate existing achievement gaps.”

Much of the McKinsey article is based on the theoretical work of Erik Hanushek and Paul E. Peterson who have made careers out of creating biased studies designed to promote privatization of public education and undermine teacher professionalism. In addition, McKinsey relies heavily on information developed by Curriculum Associates the owners of I-Ready and data from NWEA the Portland based testing publisher that sells MAP testing.

Sounding very much like the authors of the infamous A Nation at Risk”, McKinsey claims:

“All told, we estimate that the average K–12 student in the United States could lose $61,000 to $82,000 in lifetime earnings (in constant 2020 dollars), or the equivalent of a year of full-time work, solely as a result of COVID-19–related learning losses.”

“Furthermore, if other countries mitigate the impact of lost learning and the United States does not, this will harm US competitiveness. By 2040, most of the current K–12 cohort will be in the workforce. We estimate a GDP loss of $173 billion to $271 billion a year—a 0.8 to 1.3 percent hit (Exhibit 5).”

Exibit 5 GDP Harmed

Exhibit 5 – What Magic Algorithms Produced this Fantasy?

At the billionaire created publication, The 74, a June 9th article ran under the heading, “New Research Predicts Steep COVID Learning Losses Will Widen Already Dramatic Achievement Gaps Within Classrooms.” The widening is supposed to happen because of poor parenting, lack of resources at home and learning gaps expanding during school closures.

They also make the senseless claim, “But now, especially without spring exams to guide them, schools will have no idea on day one of the 2020-21 school year what the array of needs in each class is.”

It should be noted that most teachers do their own student evaluations because they find the standardized testing data almost useless even if it is available when needed.

Republican Congressmen Jim Banks of Indiana and Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin have introduced the Reopen Our Schools Act. Congressman Banks stated,

“Reopening our schools is the lynchpin to reopening our economy. Many parents rely on their kids going to school so they can go to work. To get our society up and running again, we need our children back in school.”

Congressman Tiffany who joined congress this May added,

“These open-ended school shutdowns have set students back, made it harder for teachers to teach, and pushed parents to the breaking point. It’s time to reopen America and get back to school.”

In their announcement the congressmen referenced a Wall Street Journal report claiming remote learning this spring “didn’t work.” Like McKinsey and The 74, the Wall Street Journal references projections made in a May 27 paper by NWEA.

The Northwest Evaluation Association was founded in 1977 when a group of researchers and testing directors met at the Jolly Roger restaurant in Chehalis, Washington. The participants were unhappy with current standardized testing in the United States because it was the same test everywhere and unaligned with curriculum. They chose the small town of Chehalis because it was half way between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington where most of the members lived. Today, the organization is known as NWEA.

NWEA is another education service business that abuses the non-profit federal tax laws. In 2018, they sold over $148,000,000 in testing services and their tax document shows sixteen people with salaries ranging from $200,000 to $513,172.

NWEA publishes MAP testing which tests mathematics and English three times each school year; fall, winter and spring. The tests are not aligned to one class level so they are only partially aligned with state curricular standards. That is in part why teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School boycotted MAP testing contending, “the MAP is not worth the time and energy it takes to give.”

Using data from approximately 350,000 students who took MAP tests in school years 2017-18 and 2018-19, analysts at NWEA created a report based on projections that guessed at what the negative education effects from the school shut downs would be.

NWEA is known to have first rate psychometricians, however their expertise cannot make up for the noisy data known to exist with education testing or the fact that the growth models they use has never been satisfactorily validated or that their parabolic data fits might be inappropriate.

NWEA’s paper is well documented but still little more than a guess about education results made by people who are not professional educators. This is hardly the basis for insisting that we recklessly endanger the health of students, teachers and families by opening schools without making safety the number one priority.

Conclusion

The hybrid model for opening schools appears to be the best pandemic alternative. Students attend schools that are employing best health practices once a week. The rest of the week they participate in distance learning.

It has been widely espoused that poorer children do not have adequate equipment and connections for distance learning. However, most school districts have been providing devices and it should be possible for schools to setup socially distanced homework centers for students who don’t have available internet connections. For example, high school gymnasiums could easily accommodate 70 students safely distanced.

The reality is that we are facing a highly contagious virus to which human beings have no defense. This means that some cultural norms are not possible. Formerly in addition to academics, schools also were effectively daycare centers. In this environment, they cannot safely perform that function. Businesses, parents, schools and communities must work together to mitigate this unmet need.

Extra-curricular activities like sports, chorus, band and club meetings are not possible. That is a harsh consequence of the pandemic.

However, if professional educators and schools are supported, there is every reason to believe student learning can safely continue at a high rate, academic gaps will not increase and intellectual development will remain on track.