Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The school reform deniers

STOP THE PRESSES!  This is an absolutely BRILLIANT article by Brill, in which he introduces the word "deniers" (he also used it in his debate with Ravitch) to describe The Blob/unions, and compares them to those who once denied that smoking causes cancer.

These knowable facts produce five simple questions that, I think, have obvious answers:

1. Given that, other than retail sales clerks and cashiers, K-12 teachers are the largest work force – 3.2 million – of any single occupation in the United States, and that theirs is arguably the most important occupation, can there really be a debate about whether their performance should be measured and acted on so that what they do best can be studied and taught to others, so that the best ones can be encouraged and advanced to become mentors, and so that the worst ones can be retrained or ushered out of the classroom?

2. Can we really accept the teachers' unions' argument that because tests to measure a student's progress aren't perfect, or because the supervisor observations that are also part of any good teacher evaluation process are subjective, that we just shouldn't try, especially when our public schools are failing us so miserably?

To an outsider like me, that seems completely, undeniably insane – which was exactly Bill Gates's reaction when an education expert from Harvard first explained it to him in a 2007 meeting, after which Bill and Melinda Gates channeled much of the Gates Foundation's resources into encouraging school systems to measure and reward teacher performance.

3. In what other workplace would the most important workers be laid off only on the basis of how long they had been on the job, with the last in being the first out (a system called LIFO)?
The union's argument — which much of the press dutifully reports as if it is another of those on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand issues — is that if LIFO wasn't there to protect teachers, the most senior teachers would be fired first so that the principals could save money. Apart from the fact that this underscores the insanity of paying people based only on how long they have been on the job, it also ignores the obvious fact that while that discriminatory strategy may have been used in the first half of the last century, when these LIFO restrictions were put in place, it plainly isn't possible since the passage of the federal age discrimination act in 1967. Not only would that kind of discrimination be illegal, it is also the easiest discrimination claim to sue an employer for. If an employer lays off 100 people and they are disproportionally old, it's an open and shut case, with the simple age data as Exhibit A. It's not anything like the difficulty of proving discrimination in hiring.

4. Isn't it obvious that union leaders have a basic conflict of interest with their own members in this debate? If the most important factor in a teacher's professional life became promotions or salary bumps based on his or her individual performance, then the union contract – whose core provision is lockstep compensation, based only on how long a teacher has been on the job – would become that much less important. So union membership and union dues would become that much less important.

That's why so many dedicated, high-performing teachers I met felt alienated from their union (and why turnout in union elections is so relatively low).

In fact, I found that by taking apart and re-doing the typical contract that union leaders fight so hard to protect we could spend the same overall amount on public school teachers yet afford to pay teachers $65,000 to $165,000, instead of the $30,000-$110,000 we generally pay, thereby offering the compensation and merit-based environment necessary to attract and keep dedicated professionals. Among the ways to do that: 1) substitute standard 401 (k) pension plans for the costly back-loaded pensions that benefit the senior teachers who are most likely to vote in the low-turnout teachers' union elections (and that now costs major urban school systems $10,000-$20,000 per teacher); 2) allow for slightly larger class size (which would free up $7,000-$20,000 per teacher across the country); eliminate the 10-15 sick or personal days in a 34-38 week work year prevalent across the country (and stop allowing teachers to cash in the days they don't use); 3) stop paying automatic salary increases (now amounting to $5 billion a year nationally) just because a teacher gets some advanced degree, when all the research now shows zero correlation between those degrees and teacher effectiveness; 4) stop paying automatic seniority-based increases above what would now be the higher starting salaries and use that money to pay the top third or top quarter of performers the highest salaries; 5) stop paying teachers for doing union work or for the two or three years that they remain idle pending tenure-required disciplinary or removal hearings; and 6) allow for distance learning that allows more students to take advanced courses and implement other technology-enabled efficiencies that the unions have resisted.

With the saving generated from this "grand bargain" to revitalize public school teaching – in essence by swapping performance for protection — we could give teachers the kind of status, career paths and compensation that countries with the best public education results offer. It would be great for kids. And it would be great for the majority of teachers who are dedicated professionals, and who in various polls and recent union contract votes have consistently demonstrated a disdain for civil service-like tenure protection and a yearning to be treated and rewarded like professionals. But it would be an unsettling departure for traditional union leaders who still see the old lockstep contract as the key to preserving their power.

5. Can we regard the opposition of Democrats to reforms that would eliminate the unions' stranglehold on public education, including even LIFO, as anything other than obedience to the teachers' union leaders who are their patrons – especially in the face of a growing cadre of Democrats, including the Democratic president, who now favor these reforms because they have come to believe that school reform is the civil rights issue of our time?

…That's why my prescription for how we turn around public schools — not by abolishing the unions but by persuading or forcing them to engage in real reforms so that they can help move those 3.2 million teachers in the right direction – might surprise some reformers, as well as Weingarten (who I think could become a "Nixon to China" figure in that effort). In other words, once you get into the weeds of reporting about our schools, the solution becomes more complicated than either side would have you believe.

That said, the issue of whether we need to throw out a system in which we allow unaccountable, unmeasured civil servants to produce failure when our nation's economy, security, and core values depend on success is not complicated at all. It doesn't take Woodward and Bernstein to see that the deniers are running on empty. It reminds me of the old debates over whether cigarette smoking is bad for your health. Curing lung cancer is complicated. Identifying a leading cause wasn't. It only seemed complicated for as long as it did because those with an interest in denying the obvious spent so much for so long to keep the debate going.


The school reform deniers

Aug 21, 2011 19:37 EDT


By Steven Brill
All opinions expressed are his own.

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The parents: the force that can’t be beat

Here's Joel Klein, following up on Brill's comment about "not…abolishing the unions but…persuading or forcing them to engage in real reforms", highlighting the need to engage parents:

But relying on strong leaders alone is folly. Their survival, as Fenty's experience suggests, depends on building political constituencies that will support them, and push them to be even more aggressive. If that is to happen, we have to start with parents, who must stop tolerating a system that is failing their kids, and start insisting on great schools and teachers.

The unions know that parents are the only force they can't beat and, as a result, they've done an incredible job over the past couple of decades cultivating them as allies. But, increasingly, parents — especially those in high-poverty communities — are coming to understand that it's their kids who are bearing the brunt of the current union-driven, adults-first focus of public education.

Klein also gives a nice and well-deserved shout-out for an important new book by Terry Moe, Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools (www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0815721293/tilsoncapitalpar):

When it comes to persuading the unions, there's another recent book, "Special Interests", by Stanford professor Terry Moe, that's well worth reading. Moe spends considerable time discussing what he views as the misguided notion of "reform unionism," which is similar to Brill's idea of persuading the unions to get on board for real reform. The simple truth, according to Moe, is that "beneath all the talk, important fundamentals are at work — and the fundamentals drive most of the action. Teachers fully expect that their leaders will protect their jobs, promote their economic well being, and win work rules that give them valuable rights and prerogatives." Union leaders who fail to do those things, Moe adds, "do so at their own peril." In fact, more than once, union leaders have told me that, even though a proposed reform made sense, they couldn't support it and survive — and, they would always add, for good measure, that whoever replaced them would be worse for reform.

Let me be clear, reformers should always seek "to persuade" the unions to join them, and there are several encouraging examples to support this approach — some that I personally achieved together with NYC's union president Randi Weingarten, and others that Brill recounts in "Class Warfare". But so long as persuasion is the reformers' only weapon, Moe concludes, "the reform movement will never get where it aims to go. It will never be able to build a school system that is organized for effective performance. It will never be able to simply do what's best for children."

Brill's second theory of change — " forcing [the unions] to engage in real reform" — appears to be more realistic.


The parents: the force that can't be beat

Aug 22, 2011 11:59 EDT


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Eager for Spotlight, but Not if It Is on a Testing Scandal

Here's Michael Winerip (who else?) on the supposed DC testing scandal that Michelle Rhee is supposedly trying to cover up. 

And yet, as voracious as she is for the media spotlight, Ms. Rhee will not talk to USA Today.

At the end of March, three of the paper's reporters — Marisol Bello, Jack Gillum and Greg Toppo — broke a story about the high rate of erasures and suspiciously high test-score gains at 41 Washington schools while Ms. Rhee was chancellor.

In reality, the situation is far more complex than Winerip lets on.  It's an extremely important issue, worthy of real thought and discussion.  First, it's blindingly obvious that if one introduces rewards for good performance and penalties (including loss of job) for poor performance, and the way performance is evaluated is, in part, via tests, then there is strong incentive to cheat on these tests and, given the opportunity, many people will do so.  (Do you think the College Board understands this when administering SATs, achievement tests, AP exams, etc.???)  Therefore, we reformers, as we introduce accountability systems into school systems that previously had none (shocking, isn't it?), need to be VERY conscious of this issue and take strong steps to deter cheating, ideally before it happens (by having rigorous monitoring) and also afterward, by examining erasures, statistical anomalies, etc., thoroughly investigating suspicious activity, and really punishing those who cheat.  Otherwise, we'll get more Atlantas and that would be a DISASTER for reform efforts.  Despite the fact that union members engaged in the bad behavior and nobody thinks Beverly Hall was a real reformer, deniers like Ravitch are ironically using the Atlanta scandal as a weapon against reform: "You see, this is what happens when you introduce accountability, in part by using tests.  The poor teachers, under so much pressure, have no choice but to cheat."  Could you imagine anyone saying, "We're not going to publish money managers' performance figures because if we did so, they'd have incentive to engage in insider trading."???  No, instead, the SEC carefully monitors insider trading, investigates suspicious activity (including wiretaps, subpoenas, etc.), and puts bad people in jail.  That's what needs to happen in our school systems as well…


Eager for Spotlight, but Not if It Is on a Testing Scandal

Published: August 21, 2011


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DCPS's Response to Test Security Issues under Rhee

Michelle Rhee was of course aware of the risk of increased cheating and took strong steps to make sure it didn't happen, including hiring an outside firm, Caveon.  In addition, she's strongly supported that independent investigation of issues raised by the USA Today story.  Finally, it's nonsense that she's ducked this issue.  Here's Rhee's statement yesterday:


"We believe that public trust is a critical component in ensuring a reliable system in how we assess progress.   That is why we brought in independent investigators to look at how tests were administered.  These investigators found no evidence of widespread wrongdoing, and we took whatever follow up steps they called for to improve testing security.  It is for these same reasons that we spent hours with, and provided unprecedented access to, USA Today and why I was personally available to journalists after the story broke.  And it is why we continue to support further investigation even in light of subsequent and contemporaneous tests corroborating the progress of the Districts students."


And below is Rhee's extensive response – here's an excerpt:

DCPS's Forceful Response to Test Security Issues under Rhee 

·      DCPS has responded forcefully to test security issues, and has continuously worked to improve testing policies and security. This has included working with OSSE to develop new and enhanced security protocols for schools administering tests and reviewing and enhancing that response each year. The district provided every school with an independent observer trained in test security protocols, and enhanced monitoring at schools identified as having prior issues. And the district conducted unscheduled surprise inspections of testing schools to ensure security of test material storage and handling.

·      DCPS hired Caveon LLC – a national leader in testing security – to conduct thorough, independent investigations of testing data and school protocols. Caveon's review of testing security measures has resulted in stricter, strengthened protocols. Where Caveon's independent investigations showed improprieties, DCPS took the appropriate action – including dismissing teachers, removing them from administering tests, and other disciplinary steps.

·      It should also be noted that this year's steady city test scores under the enhanced testing regime confirm the improvements in student achievement demonstrated in previous test scores, and which are also corroborated by the unquestioned, contemporary NAEP test results.  

In summary: Was there cheating in DC under Rhee?  Of course.  Was there more cheating than before Rhee came in?  I'd be shocked if there wasn't, given there was no accountability at all before Rhee, so there was no incentive to cheat.  Was the cheating so widespread that it created a picture of progress under Rhee that didn't really happen?  Nobody knows for sure until the results of the investigation are known, but I highly doubt it.  There's too much other evidence – like NAEP scores that rose more than any other city – of real progress.  Finally, did Rhee condone cheating to try to inflate test scores, or try to cover it up?  Hell no!


DCPS's Forceful Response to Test Security Issues under Rhee 

·      DCPS has responded forcefully to test security issues, and has continuously worked to improve testing policies and security. This has included working with OSSE to develop new and enhanced security protocols for schools administering tests and reviewing and enhancing that response each year. The district provided every school with an independent observer trained in test security protocols, and enhanced monitoring at schools identified as having prior issues. And the district conducted unscheduled surprise inspections of testing schools to ensure security of test material storage and handling.

·      DCPS hired Caveon LLC – a national leader in testing security – to conduct thorough, independent investigations of testing data and school protocols. Caveon's review of testing security measures has resulted in stricter, strengthened protocols. Where Caveon's independent investigations showed improprieties, DCPS took the appropriate action – including dismissing teachers, removing them from administering tests, and other disciplinary steps.

·      It should also be noted that this year's steady city test scores under the enhanced testing regime confirm the improvements in student achievement demonstrated in previous test scores, and which are also corroborated by the unquestioned, contemporary NAEP test results.  

DCPS's Transparent and Cooperative Approach to Inquiries Surrounding Erasure Analysis

·      DCPS, under Chancellor Rhee, and later StudentsFirst, were highly cooperative with USA Today's inquiries that spanned several months and consumed several man hours.   DCPS was similarly cooperative when the Washington Post ran a series of stories covering the same substance of the USA Today stories two years earlier.  

·      In the case of USA Today, Ms. Bello and Mr. Gillum were provided unprecedented time and access to report out their story.  Several senior members of DCPS under, including the Chief of Data and Accountability, and a number of senior staff at StudentsFirst after Ms. Rhee left DCPS, spent hours with Ms. Bello and Mr. Gillum answering their questions.  They were provided the information and data they requested up to the point of being able to identify individual students and teachers - which we simply were not willing to do. 

·      In addition to the access to the personnel, data and vendors including Caveon that were provided to Ms. Bello and Gillum, Chancelloe Rhee personally provided extensive responses to the questions posed to her as is documented by the unusual step of posting the correspondence between the reporters and her office online.  Those responses answered the substance of Ms. Bello and Mr. Gillum's questions directly, especially in light of the fact that many of the questions that USA Today raised were previously raised and answered by a series of articles two years earlier by the Washington Post.  

·      Chancellor Rhee also made herself personally available for no less than six interviews requests in the first week after the USA Today story ran alone.

·      While Ms. Bello and Mr. Gillum may be disappointed that DCPS wasn't willing to compromise student and teacher confidentiality or that the District wouldn't allow reporters to roam around campuses to gather more information during school hours – a decision made by the district itself after Chancellor Rhee's tenure - the access they were provided was extensive and formed much of the substance of the story they eventually published.  



Ø  DCPS Took A Series of Proactive Security Measures. According to a press release from DCPS, "To support our commitment to integrity and accountability, we established a number of additional testing precautions this year to help ensure that each of our testing sites adheres to our administration protocols:

          We brought in Caveon, LLC, an independent firm with leading market expertise in test security, to conduct independent reviews of school testing protocols and staff training.

          We incorporated stricter protocols for receiving, storing and returning test materials into the school test plans per an independent review conducted by Caveon, LLC, after the 2010 CAS administration.

          We provided every school with an independent observer from Central Office trained in test security protocols for the duration of the DC CAS testing window as well as additional monitoring for schools that have been identified as having prior test security issues.

          We conducted unscheduled visits to testing schools to observe maintenance of secure test material storage and handling.

          We conducted an independent review of every school test plan." [DCPS Press Release, 3/28/11]


Ø  Caveon President Said He Was Given Enough Data To Conduct a Thorough Investigation. In an interview with WUSA, Caveon President John Fremer was asked if he "given enough data to do a thorough job?" and responded that he was. [WUSA Interview]

Ø  Independent Analysis Found No Evidence of Cheating In 2009. According to a memo from independent investigation firm Caveon, "Caveon did not find evidence of cheating at any of the schools. For one school, we suggested further follow up by DCPS, but even in that case there was no definitive evidence of cheating." [Caveon Memo Clarification Statement, 3/28/11]

Ø  Independent Investigators Found Plausible Explanations For High Erasure Rates Across the District. According to a memo from independent investigators, "The complete responses to each question for each educator interviewed were reported to DCPS along with a school summary and an overall review of all the interviews. In no instance did Caveon conclude that cheating had been revealed by the process. Instead, plausible explanations were provided as to the reason for the high erasure rates." [Caveon Memo Clarification Statement, 3/28/11] 

Ø  Memo From Independent Investigators Cited Many Possible Reasons For Erasures and Gains. According to a memo from independent investigators, there were many reasons explaining the erasure levels, including teaching test and review strategies, encouraging students to mark questions they are unsure of or mark off wrong answers, and students having to correct a whole series of answers after marking the wrong row earlier in the test. The memo also speculated that more targeted or intensive teaching practices (such as new programs, Saturday school, after school tutoring, etc.) would increase scores.   [Caveon Memo Clarification Statement, 3/28/11] 

Ø  Independent Investigators: We Had Complete Freedom to Investigate, No Pressure to Sugar Coat Results. According to a memo from independent investigation firm Caveon, "Caveon had complete freedom to carry out the interviews and review data with strong encouragement to use our best professional judgment and experience to inform our results and conclusions. There was no encouragement to minimize problems or "sugar coat" our results." [Caveon Memo Clarification Statement, 3/28/11]


Rhee Interviews/Statements in First Week Subsequent to USA Today story

Ø  In an interview with Tavis Smiley on 3/29/11, Rhee discussed the USA Today story and issues raised.



Ø  In an interview with the Kojo Nnamdi show on 4/4/11, Rhee discussed testing issues and the issues raised by the USA Today story.




Ø  In a series of statements to Politico, Rhee and a spokesman responded to the USA Today story.



Ø  In an interview with the Washington Post's Jay Matthews, Rhee discussed the issues raised by the story (and her initial response)



Ø  Rhee discussed testing issue and USA Today story with WUSA on 4/4/11



Ø  Rhee address potential cheating issues in Huffington Post op-ed on 4/6/11


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City Reports Increase in Allegations of Cheating by Educators

Here's a related NYT article on whether NYC is doing enough to combat cheating.  It's good that both the city and state are taking the issue seriously and clearly there needs to be an analysis of erasures, which can be a very good indicator of cheating:

Annual allegations of test-tampering and grade-changing by educators have more than tripled since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took control of New York City's school system, outpacing a broader increase in complaints of adult misconduct in schools during the same period, according to the special commissioner of investigation.

The commissioner, Richard J. Condon, attributed the rise both to the expansion of the school system — its budget has more than doubled, to $24 billion from $11.5 billion when he took office in 2002, and the number of schools has grown to 1,700 from 1,200 — and to the higher stakes attached to standardized tests and classroom grades. The city's performance bonuses, teacher evaluations, school progress reports and decisions on closings are all increasingly tied to student performance.

"When you start giving money to the schools to do well, that's another incentive to appear to do well if you are not doing well," said Mr. Condon, a plain-spoken former New York police commissioner. "If a lot of the evaluation is based on how the students do, that's an incentive for the teachers to try to help the students do well, even in ways that are unacceptable."

But the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, said in an interview that he did not believe that the increase in allegations meant that more misconduct was taking place. Instead, he credited improved reporting, driven by things like stronger whistle-blower protections and the ease of sending an anonymous complaint by e-mail. He noted that only a few were proved each year.

"People are reporting things, that's fine; we want people to report things," Mr. Walcott said. But, he added, "people could be reporting for real and not necessarily real reasons."

Mr. Walcott's chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, went further, saying, "When there is conflict that exists in a school — sometimes between teachers, sometimes between teachers and administration — it is not unusual that there are reports and allegations made as a result of that."


August 22, 2011

City Reports Increase in Allegations of Cheating by Educators



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Explaining Charter School Effectiveness

I haven't read this entire study yet, but this looks very interesting and important, highlighting that not all charter schools are great, but inner-city, "no excuses" schools are, overall, making a big difference:


Explaining Charter School Effectiveness

Joshua D. AngristParag A. Pathak

Christopher R. Walters

NBER Working Paper No. 17332
Issued in August 2011
NBER Program(s):   CH   ED   LS   PE 

Estimates using admissions lotteries suggest that urban charter schools boost student achievement, while charter schools in other settings do not. We explore student-level and school-level explanations for these differences using a large sample of Massachusetts charter schools. Our results show that urban charter schools boost achievement well beyond ambient non-charter levels (that is, the average achievement level for urban non-charter students), and beyond non-urban achievement in math. Student demographics explain some of these gains since urban charters are most effective for non-whites and low-baseline achievers. At the same time, non-urban charter schools are uniformly ineffective. Our estimates also reveal important school-level heterogeneity in the urban charter sample. A non-lottery analysis suggests that urban schools with binding, well-documented admissions lotteries generate larger score gains than under-subscribed urban charter schools with poor lottery records. We link the magnitude of charter impacts to distinctive pedagogical features of urban charters such as the length of the school day and school philosophy. The relative effectiveness of urban lottery-sample charters is accounted for by over-subscribed urban schools' embrace of the No Excuses approach to education.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from SSRN.com ($5) for electronic delivery.

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The Effect of School Uniforms on Student Achievement and Behavior

Here's another NBER paper on in the impact of school uniforms: "we find evidence that uniform adoption improves attendance in secondary grades, while in elementary schools they generate large increases in teacher retention."

Dressed for Success? The Effect of School Uniforms on Student Achievement and Behavior

Elisabetta Gentile, Scott A. Imberman

NBER Working Paper No. 17337
Issued in August 2011
NBER Program(s):   CH   ED   LS

Uniform use in public schools is rising, but we know little about how they affect students. Using a unique dataset from a large urban school district in the southwest United States, we assess how uniforms affect behavior, achievement and other outcomes. Each school in the district determines adoption independently, providing variation over schools and time. By including student and school fixed-effects we find evidence that uniform adoption improves attendance in secondary grades, while in elementary schools they generate large increases in teacher retention.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from SSRN.com ($5) for electronic delivery.

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Ravitch is NOT a paid union spokesperson

I perhaps took a bit of dramatic license calling Ravitch a "paid union spokesperson" (though I so much liked the acronym, PUS!).  To be clear, she is NOT actually a paid union spokesperson.  But she has, by her own admission, taken approximately $50,000 in speaking fees from the union over the past year or so and, while not officially a union spokesperson, I cannot find a single thing she's said or written in recent years that couldn't have been written by Randi.  That said, I do not think the speaking fees she's received have in any way influenced her views. Rather, she is in demand and able to command speaking fees BECAUSE of her views.


And by the way, it turns out that she won't be on the panel in NYC on Thursday that I advertised in my last email – hey, being on a panel with a pi**ed off Eva would scare me away too! ;-)

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Brill versus Ravitch

The Brill-Ravitch debate on C-SPAN2 (www.c-spanvideo.org/program/StevenB) has generated lots of commentary, mostly about Ravitch's misleading talking points.  Here's Matthew Ladner on Jay Greene's blog:

Brill versus Ravitch

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)


C-SPAN brought in Diane Ravitch to interview/debate Steven Brill. Check it out.

Too much Ravitch nonsense to refute, but her talking points about the PISA tests are just too simple-minded for words. So if you look at only the very wealthiest schools in America, they outscore the national average in Finland and South Korea.


No mention of how the very wealthiest schools in America compare to the very wealthiest schools in Finland and South Korea, or that our African-American kids score closer to the average score in Mexico than that in Finland.

Ravitch goes into her absurd poverty litany as if they don't have poverty in other countries. Mexico will be delighted to learn that their poverty problem has disappeared! I wonder how much we spend per pupil here in America compared to other countries. Oh wait, they keep track of that sort of thing.

Brill says Ravitch's attempts at spin remind him of Thank You for Smoking. That's not fair. Nick Taylor was at least good for a laugh.

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Longhorns 17, Badgers 1

And here are two blog posts by David Burge, rebutting the nonsense that students do better in states with strong teachers unions, a typical union talking point that Ravitch made in her debate with Brill.  Burge takes data from Wisconsin (strong union – or at least used to be!) and Texas (weak union) and shows that Texas students do MASSIVELY better than Wisconsin ones when one does an apples-to-apples comparison:

The point being, I suppose, is that unionized teachers stand as a thin chalk-stained line keeping Wisconsin from descending into the dystopian non-union educational hellscape of Texas. Interesting, if it wasn't complete bullshit.

As a son of Iowa, I'm no stranger to bragging about my home state's ranking on various standardized test. Like Wisconsin we Iowans usually rank near the top of the heap on average ACT/SAT scores. We are usually joined there by Minnesota, Nebraska, and the various Dakotas; Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire...

... beginning to see a pattern? Perhaps because a state's "average ACT/SAT" is, for all intents and purposes, a proxy for the percent of white people who live there. In fact, the lion's share of state-to-state variance in test scores is accounted for by differences in ethnic composition. Minority students - regardless of state residence - tend to score lower than white students on standardized test, and the higher the proportion of minority students in a state the lower its overall test scores tend to be.

Please note: this has nothing to do with innate ability or aptitude. Quite to the contrary, I believe the test gap between minority students and white students can be attributed to differences in socioeconomic status. And poverty. And yes, racism. And yes, family structure. Whatever combination of reasons, the gap exists, and it's mathematical sophistry to compare the combined average test scores in a state like Wisconsin (4% black, 4% Hispanic) with a state like Texas (12% black, 30% Hispanic).

So how to compare educational achievement between two states with such dissimilar populations? In data analysis this is usually done by treating ethnicity as a "covariate." A very simple way to do this is by comparing educational achievement between states within the same ethnic group. In other words, do black students perform better in Wisconsin than Texas? Do Hispanic students perform better in Wisconsin or Texas? White students? If Wisconsin's kids consistently beat their Texas counterparts, after controlling for ethnicity, then there's a strong case that maybe Texas schools ought to become a union shop.

Luckily, there is data to answer this question via the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The NAEP is an annual standardized test given to 4th and 8th graders around the country to measure proficiency in math, science, and reading. Participation is fairly universal; if you've had a 4th or 8th grader in the last few years, you're probably familiar with it. Results are compiled on the NAEP website, broken down by grade, state, subject and ethnicity.

So how does brokeass, dumbass, redneck Texas stack up against progressive unionized Wisconsin?

2009 4th Grade Math

White students: Texas 254, Wisconsin 250 (national average 248)
Black students: Texas 231, Wisconsin 217 (national 222)
Hispanic students: Texas 233, Wisconsin 228 (national 227)

2009 8th Grade Math

White students: Texas 301, Wisconsin 294 (national 294)
Black students: Texas 272, Wisconsin 254 (national 260)
Hispanic students: Texas 277, Wisconsin 268 (national 260)

2009 4th Grade Reading

White students: Texas 232, Wisconsin 227 (national 229)
Black students: Texas 213, Wisconsin 192 (national 204)
Hispanic students: Texas 210, Wisconsin 202 (national 204)

2009 8th Grade Reading

White students: Texas 273, Wisconsin 271 (national 271)
Black students: Texas 249, Wisconsin 238 (national 245)
Hispanic students: Texas 251, Wisconsin 250 (national 248)

2009 4th Grade Science

White students: Texas 168, Wisconsin 164 (national 162)
Black students: Texas 139, Wisconsin 121 (national 127)
Hispanic students: Wisconsin 138, Texas 136 (national 130)

2009 8th Grade Science

White students: Texas 167, Wisconsin 165 (national 161)
Black students: Texas 133, Wisconsin 120 (national 125)
Hispanic students: Texas 141, Wisconsin 134 (national 131)

To recap: white students in Texas perform better than white students in Wisconsin, black students in Texas perform better than black students in Wisconsin, Hispanic students in Texas perform better than Hispanic students in Wisconsin. In 18 separate ethnicity-controlled comparisons, the only one where Wisconsin students performed better than their peers in Texas was 4th grade science for Hispanic students (statistically insignificant), and this was reversed by 8th grade. Further, Texas students exceeded the national average for their ethnic cohort in all 18 comparisons; Wisconsinites were below the national average in 8, above average in 8.

Perhaps the most striking thing in these numbers is the within-state gap between white and minority students. Not only did white Texas students outperform white Wisconsin students, the gap between white students and minority students in Texas was much less than the gap between white and minority students in Wisconsin. In other words, students are better off in Texas schools than in Wisconsin schools - especially minority students.

Conclusion: instead of chanting slogans in Madison, maybe it's time for Wisconsin teachers to take refresher lessons from their non-union counterparts in the Lone Star State.


Longhorns 17, Badgers 1



Badgering the Witless


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Messing With Texas

Speaking of Texas, since I included a blog post by RiShawn Biddle in my last email criticizing Gov. Perry, it's only fair that I include this blurb from a NYT op ed yesterday:

On Friday, in a Bloomberg Television interview, Education Secretary Arne Duncan tried to open up another anti-Texan front, saying he feels "very, very badly for the children" in Texas's supposedly underfinanced public schools. But here, too, the evidence doesn't back up Duncan's criticism. Texas does have higher high school dropout rates than the average American state. But then again, Texas isn't an average state: it's an enormous melting pot that shares a porous, 1,969-mile border with Mexico. Once you control for demographics and compare like with like, the Texan educational record looks much more impressive.

When a 2009 McKinsey study contrasted Perry's home state to the similarly sized and situated California, it found that Texas students were "one to two years of learning ahead of California students of the same age, even though Texas has less income per capita and spends less per pupil than California."

When it comes to minority achievement, Texas looks even better: On the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress math exam, black eighth graders in Texas outscored black eighth graders in every other state.


August 21, 2011

Messing With Texas



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School reform advocate Kira Orange Jones is running for state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

This is very exciting – I know Kira Orange Jones and she rocks!

It's official: Kira Orange Jones is running to represent New Orleans on the state education board.

View full sizeKira Orange Jones, left, has decided to seek the seat on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education now held by Louella Givens, right.

Just about everyone involved in the city's schools has waited for months to learn whether Orange Jones, who heads the local Teach for America office, would challenge incumbent Louella Givens for a seat on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE.

It's likely to be a closely watched campaign and a major test of public support for the reform movement that has reshaped the city's public schools since Hurricane Katrina.

Givens, a New Orleans lawyer and former teacher, has been a thorn in the side of that movement, voting consistently against former state Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek as he pushed to take over low-performing schools, convert most of them into independent charters and weaken the power of local school boards.

…Orange Jones grew up in the Bronx section of New York. She spent two years in Baton Rouge as a TFA fourth-grade teacher, earned a master's degree in education from Harvard and founded a nonprofit called Right Quick Productions, a group aimed at educating students in documentary filmmaking. She moved to New Orleans to head the local Teach for America office in 2007.


School reform advocate Kira Orange Jones is running for state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Published: Saturday, August 20, 2011, 2:00 PM

By Andrew Vanacore, The Times-Picayune The Times-Picayune

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Mt. Vernon's charter school battle hurts students

A nice op ed by NYCSA's Peter Murphy supporting the Amani Charter School in Westchester (I included an email from the founder in a recent email):

It's one thing to debate charter school policy, which has been hot and heavy in New York going on 15 years. It's quite another to victimize students and their families when you don't get your way. The state Education Department, and its new commissioner, John King, need to act swiftly to put a stop to Mount Vernon district officials' attempt to deny children what his own agency and Regents board approved for them.


Mt. Vernon's charter school battle hurts students

Aug 22, 2011
Written by
Peter Murphy


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Monday, August 29, 2011

Brill-Ravitch debate

I enjoyed the Ravitch-Brill debate, which aired last night on C-SPAN2 and can be seen in its entirely here: www.c-spanvideo.org/program/StevenB.  I was pleased to see that Ravitch's first "question" – in reality, debating point – was about DFER and who are the people behind it.  She tried to differentiate between DFER's source of funding ("Wall St. hedge funds") vs. the unions ("classroom teachers").  Brill's response: in truth, the unions are spending taxpayer money by taking a piece of the money that goes to teachers (who, of course, have no choice in whether to join the union and pay dues, and essentially no voice in how their money is spent).  Ravitch's second point was that Brill wants to eliminate unions, which Brill denied, saying he wants unions to become more reform oriented.  She then said states that do the best on NAEP scores have strong unions, the classic union talking point that utterly confuses causation and correlation. 


Student performance is highly correlated with parental education – and there's obviously causation here.  The states with the highest percentage of adults with college degrees (MA, NY, NJ, etc.) tend to be the east and west coast states which also happen to have strong unions.  Hence, the correlation that Ravitch and the unions refer to, but to argue that strong unions CAUSE high student achievement is ludicrous.  In fairness, however, to argue that unions CAUSE low student achievement is almost as equally ludicrous.  For my further thoughts on unions, which you may find more nuanced than you expect, see pages 96-103 (especially 101-103) of my school reform presentation, which (as always) is posted at: www.arightdenied.org/presentation-slides


Here's the text of page 103, which is entitled, "But it's not just the unions."


      Even in states where the unions are weak, the same problems exist and the system is highly resistant to change

      The unions aren't the primary cause, but rather mostly the result of the terrible system

-          Organizations tend to get the union they deserve     

      Reform is often viewed as a threat to good jobs for local residents – there are huge racial dynamics at work

      The real problem isn't the unions, but "The Blob": the whole system of millions of jobs, the politicians who feed off it, the bureaucratic inertia that's built up over decades, etc.

      Even if we overcame the political obstacles, implementing reform and improving such a big, broken system is enormously difficult and will take a long time

-          It's important to have realistic expectations – but also not to get discouraged

-          The journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step – and we're many steps into the journey and making real progress


The debate gets very testy at many points because Brill challenges Ravitch's standard talking points, but at least they ended by agreeing that it would be a great experiment if KIPP took over an entire failing district like Detroit.  The closest KIPP is coming to this today is in Houston, where KIPP and Yes Prep are on course to take nearly 20% of all public school students in the district within a decade.  One could also argue that John White taking over New Orleans, which is nearly 80% charter schools now, and Cami Anderson taking over Newark are somewhat analogous.

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Correlation vs. causation

This is what I wrote about correlation vs. causation in 2007:

Correlation vs. causation



Last week's front-page WSJ article about the controversy integrating schools in Milton, MA (http://edreform.blogspot.com/2007/10/school-integration-efforts-face-renewed.html) got me thinking about a joke I first heard earlier this year, which I found hilarious:


At a U2 concert in Dublin, Bono asked the  audience for a moment of silence.   When the room became perfectly quiet, he began to clap his hands slowly.  Then, into the microphone, he said, "Every time I clap my hands, a child in Africa dies."  After a few moments, a lone voice from the crowd pierced the profound silence: "Fookin' stop doing  it then!"


The reason this is so funny is that the guy confuses correllation and causation (another classic example is that flood deaths in Bangladesh are highly correlated with ice cream sales in NYC, but nobody thinks that our consumption of ice cream is killing Bangladeshis -- it's just that both peak in July and August).


While these are examples are silly ones, it's actually very common for people to confuse correlation and causation, which is, in part, what I think is going on in Milton, MA (and around the country): perfectly sensible people look at the fact that: 1) primarily black and Latino schools, on average, do very poorly academically and 2) primarily white or Asian schools, on average, do much better academically, and conclude (often subconsciously) that black and Latino students cause schools to be bad, and that therefore the best solution is to send as many black and Latino students as possible to primarily white/Asian schools. 


I am not making this up: here's an excerpt from Wendy Kopp's commencement speech at Mt. Holyoke last May (http://edreform.blogspot.com/2007/07/wendy-kopps-commencement-speech.html):


Most Americans view educational inequity  as an intractable problem.  Every year, Gallup surveys the public, asking why we have low educational outcomes in low-income communities.  Out of twenty options, the public responds  'lack of student motivation,' 'lack of parental involvement,' and 'home-life  issues.'  In other words, most Americans believe this is an  entrenched societal problem rather than a problem that our schools can change.


In other words, Americans have it precisely backwards: they think schools are being victimized by lousy students, parents and communities, rather than the reverse!


To be fair, as I've noted many times before, it's really, really hard to operate a safe, effective public school in an inner-city community, but it can done.  It must be done!  As for those so-called unmotivated students with uninvolved parents and home-life issues, go visit any No Excuses charter school (like KIPP's Open House this Wed.) and you'll see that the right school can turn those same kids into hard-working, high-achieving, college-bound students with engaged parents.

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Teacher evals

Speaking of interesting debates, Gary Rubenstein, Brill and I had one this morning.  It started with this email from Gary:


Would you be willing to ask Brill to ask the principal of PS 149, Kayrol Burgess-Harper about the test scores of that teacher Brill observed screaming the days of the week?  He wrote "she seemed to know exactly whom I was referring to."  Does she just 'seem' to know who he saw, or can she specifically identify him so we can check his value-added metrics and see if they are poor as one would predict?  (Perhaps a good way to test this is for her to first predict what his gains were and then check the numbers.)


My thought is that many poor teachers can't think of a much more creative thing to do than to drill for the standardized tests so their scores don't reflect how well they are teaching on the low end either.


I forwarded the email to Steve, who replied:


My impression is that she seemed to know from observations and from other teachers, the way most fourth grade teachers know who the good and bad third grade teachers are, etc.


But what's bizarre about this request is that you're asking me to ask her. Why don't you? Principal Harper and that teacher are both public officials. And you're entitled to that information. What amazed me in doing this book is that there was so little actual reporting; instead reporters reported on the various sides assertions.




Steve Brill


P.S. Implicit in the question is also the notion that I or anyone else who has ever run anything think that value added metrics are the be-all and end-all. For my money I'd let Principal Harper spend the first year just giving promoted status and bonuses to her subjective ten best teachers and have the ability to fire her subjective ten worst and have the next ten worst spend two hours a day extra in training and report back a month early. But then the union would demand "objective" reasons for the firings or the bonuses.


Here's what I added:


This is a really interesting conversation, especially your P.S. Steve.  It's the UNIONS that are responsible for the testing/value-added system that EVERYONE knows is quite imperfect – even the biggest defenders of the very best testing/value-added system admit (yes, publicly) that some teachers and even entire schools engage in "teaching to the test" to the detriment of real learning, there's a meaningful error rate, the results can be unstable year to year for some teachers, and it's useless for granular distinctions between, say, a teacher in the 55th percentile vs. 45th.  (I do maintain, however, that a teacher that is consistently in the bottom 10% is almost certain to be really lousy.)


Steve's suggestion is 100x more sensible, but the unions are so distrustful of the system and principals (to be fair, with good reason in many cases) that they're forcing an excessive testing regimen upon the system – and then, ironically, endless criticize that very system.  That's why so many people like me think that their real agenda is to not have any accountability at all: they think and perpetuate the myth that all teachers are equally wonderful, which is an insult to teachers in my opinion.


In my business – and in virtually any business in the country – I can fire whomever I like, if I am dissatisfied with them for whatever reason, even if they're good at their job – if I don't like their attitude or aren't a team player, for example (obviously within the bounds of the law: I can't fire someone because I don't like their ethnicity, age, etc.).  Does this sometimes result in someone being fired "unfairly"?  Sure.  (And if it violates the law, that person can sue me.)  But the alternative – what we have now in our schools, is far worse.

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Obama Shows Spunk Pushing Brave Education Plan

Jonathan Alter with a great column entitled "Obama Shows Spunk Pushing Brave Education Plan":

Although President Barack Obama is on the ropes, with even some Democratic allies describing him as weak and passive, this week he showed boldness and imagination in one vital area: education.

Obama backed Education Secretary Arne Duncan's announcement that he will grant waivers to states that want to be excused from the punitive provisions of No Child Left Behind, Washington's much-maligned 2002 overhaul of elementary and secondary education policy.

Republican lawmakers complain that the White House waivers run roughshod over the legislative branch -- and they're right. But gridlock demands more robust use of presidential authority and, at least in this case, we're getting it. Unless Duncan's action is challenged and reversed on constitutional grounds, No Child Left Behind will be left behind for good.

Under Obama, education was supposed to be fertile ground for bipartisan compromise. That's because Obama has executed a "Nixon to China" maneuver; only a Democratic president can successfully take on the teachers unions, and the president has done so in a shrewd way that avoids teacher bashing and keeps the lines of communication with the unions (big backers of Democrats) open.

Republican lawmakers broadly endorse Obama's policies, but they're philosophically committed to less federal involvement in education and politically committed to opposing the president whenever possible. So they've dragged their feet on reauthorizing NCLB, as have Senate Democrats who can't agree on how to move a bill.

Duncan's waivers, which are good for four years, actually enhance local control while ensuring greater accountability. But it's a different kind of local control and a different vision of accountability than we've seen before.

Obama and Duncan are selling something ambitious --a new relationship between Washington and the states. The idea is to set high education standards, then let states figure out how to meet them. "We want to give them a lot more flexibility, get out of their way and let them hit that higher bar," Duncan said last week.

…Steven Brill's forthcoming book, "Class Warfare," offers a compelling account of Race to the Top, which, for all of its success, has also been marred by the failure of some states to meet their commitments to more rigorous teacher evaluation.

For years, teachers unions have wanted their members to be considered professionals without being held accountable for performance like other professionals. The Obama policy goes a long way toward changing that. Not surprisingly, Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, told me this week that she opposes Duncan's waivers because they shift too much accountability to teachers.

Duncan will need to use the power of the executive branch to enforce both the requirements of Race to the Top and whatever broad reforms he demands in exchange for state waivers. If that requires withholding federal funds from recalcitrant states -- good. If it means overriding a dilatory and dysfunctional Congress -- even better.


Obama Shows Spunk Pushing Brave Education Plan

By Jonathan Alter Aug 11, 2011 7:59 PM ET Thu Aug 11 23:59:19 GMT 2011 8 Comments


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